Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #83

By Nick Gazin

Dear Comic Bookos,

How are you? I am fine. Each week or so, I share some images, news, and reviews related to comics, illustration, art, and nerd interest in this column. I hope you love it.

 

Johnny Ryan showed me this Moebius movie called Time Masters that's on YouTube. I had no idea, but it's great. 

Check out this awesome GIF of Ray Smuckles doing the gothic dance. 

Last week I posted a comic, by Josh Burggraf, of Garfield morphing into Nancy. I'd like to mention that that comic was from a zine that Josh Bayer published called Suspect Device

Look at this beautiful poster. What is this for?

Star Trek: The Next Generation 365
Paula Block and Terry J. Erdman
Abrams

Star Trek: The Next Generation is the pinnacle of what the Star Trek franchise has achieved. The JJ Abrams movie is good, the original show is good, a few of the older movies are good, but ST: TNG is the best. 

I tried showing the original Star Trek to a smug and collegey friend of mine, one who smirked and commented that the only intelligent thing about the show was Spock. I didn't agree with her attitude, but Spock is the voice of logic on the show. The main idea was that decisions would be made by Kirk, while he was advised by Bones, a humanist, and Spock, a creature of pure logic. What makes The Next Generation so amazing is that every character acts like Spock. Data is like Spock because he's super logical. Worf is like Spock because he's the lone alien on board the bridge. The rest are all pretty Spock-like too in the way that they calmly interact with each other and deal with almost-certain death without freaking out or crying. There are many episodes where we watch our heroes on the bridge of their ship waiting seconds to see if they're about to get blown up, and they all keep their composure. It's not that they're emotionless. They just are masters of self-discipline. For a show with costumes and space ships, it's very quiet. A lot is implied and communicated by the actors, who are all incredible. 

That's the other thing about the show, all of the actors are great. Patrick Stewart is really great. Brent Spiner is great. Michael Dorn is great. Jonathan Frakes is great. Whoopi Goldberg is great. Wil Wheaton is so fucking annoying on this show, but he had a great episode in him toward the end of the series.

A lot of people tend to think of Star Trek as nerdier than Star Wars, but it isn't. It's definitely more boring to children, but Gene Roddenberry is way less of an asshole than George Lucas. Gene seemed loose and fun. His wife was on the first two shows and played the voice of the ship's computer across all the movies and shows until her death. 

So, I have established that Star Trek: The Next Generation was a great show, starring great actors, and created by a great guy. This is a great book about that great show. It's produced as part of Abrams 365 series, which is a series of very thick books about various popular things with 365 little articles in them. There's one for DC Comics, punk, the Beatles, Warhol, ways to save the Earth, and the original Star Trek show, too. I guess the idea is that you read one short article a day like a little calendar or something, but I just keep this book in bed with me and read it to calm me down enough to fall asleep and to psyche me up in the morning. 

Instead of approaching the subject of ST: TNG like some uptight PR team, they approach it as friendly and honest fans. The show's good enough that everyone can speak openly about when they didn't like something. Frakes, who played Riker, refers to an early episode as horrible and racist. The show's producers talk about when they didn't agree with Roddenberry's views on how the show should be done. There are also great photos and drawings and images from the production of the show and merchandise and information that approaches the subject from all sides and viewpoints. 

The design is great and consistent with the look of the show. This is the perfect Star Trek: The Next Generation book, and it makes me almost as happy as the TV show it's based around. If you're a fan of ST: TNG, this is not some corny accessory that you wait for a relative to get you. This is like a perfect companion to the show, and it feels like a friend. 

It's such a great book that I had to pester the authors, Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdman, about it. 

VICE: I love the new book and keep it in bed with me, where I fall asleep reading it. It's the perfect casual TNG book. 
Block & Erdman: Pretty heavy reading material for bed! Don’t dent your navel! 

I like the honesty in this book. The writers and actors are all very open about when they disagreed with Gene or thought an episode wasn't good. I have a lot of books about Star Wars, and no one ever admits that they disagree with a single thing George Lucas said.
Gene Roddenberry hired a lot of independent thinkers—people who loved Star Trek, but had their own opinions about its future course. Think of Lincoln’s “team of rivals.” For the most part, the writers’ room on TNG was a pretty democratic forum, particularly after Michael Piller came in to oversee them. And as the actors grew more confident in their roles, they felt free to provide a bit of input to the writers and producers as well. There were disagreements and heated discussions, and there were no guarantees that your opinion was the one that would come out on top, but people did have a chance to express those opinions. Writer Ronald D. Moore told us we could take an argument as far as we wanted, and there was no penalty.

How long did you two work on this for?
Abrams Books gave us the assignment near the end of 2010, and we turned in the manuscript in January of 2012. Of course, we were also doing photo research and turning in photography along the way.

How did you break up responsibilities between the two of you?
It’s an organic process. We’ve been writing together for almost two decades, so we have a pretty good system worked out. For each individual piece (or spread, in the case of this book), one of us will write a rough draft, then give it to the other one—who viciously tears it apart and puts it back together with his or her own take. Then it gets handed back, there’s a heated discussion, compromises are suggested, and then the originator reworks it. In the end, when we hold the finished book in our hands, it’s sometimes hard to remember who wrote what—but we’re both satisfied.

Are you annoyed that they used a photo of the Enterprise C on the promotional bookmark?
Funny you should mention that. When we first saw what they were planning on using for the bookmark, we were perplexed. Why not the Enterprise D? But then we realized that the Enterprise C is really identified only with The Next Generation—it’s the focal point of one of the most popular episodes. And we know that fans have been complaining for years that there was no good photography of the Enterprise C out there. So we thought, well, this should make them happy. The hardcore fans will understand the connection with TNG and get a kick out of it.

It's hard to point to the best thing about the book. The images are great, but I think it's your honest approach to the subject matter. I like that you don't pretend that every episode is great and you give more space to the stronger episodes.
Because of the format that Abrams has for their 365 line of books, we were limited on the number of pages available. For our previous book with the publisher, Star Trek: The Original Series 365, we had an easier time. There were only 79 episodes to cover, plus a bit on development of the show and a few side trips, like the dawn of conventions and so forth. We had as many as four spreads per episode—so even the “not so good” episodes got a lot of print.

TNG, however, has 177 episodes to cover. That worried us—at most we’d have two spreads per show. And we still wanted to include information about development and a few of those side trips. So we had to be brutal about how much space we allocated to any episode. Not even the writers think every episode they wrote was “art” and certainly the fans don’t, so it wasn’t hard to choose the ones that would get only one spread. And that gave us the room to give extra pages to the best of the bunch.

What made you decide not to address the ST: TNG movies?
Page count, as explained in the question above. We did touch on Star Trek Generations, because production of that movie actually overlapped with the final season, and that had to be mentioned. Truthfully, in the first book, we could have covered all of the movies based on the original series' crew, but our editor had in the back of his mind that someday Abrams might want to do a book about all of the Star Trek films. It proved to be a decision that helped us out with TNG 365 because there clearly wasn’t enough room to cover the TNG films. And who knows, maybe that Star Trek movie book could be a possibility down the road.

Are you excited about the forthcoming cinematic release of "Best of Both Worlds"?
We’re very excited! We’ve already purchased tickets. We went to the theater screenings for the season one and season two Blu-ray premieres too. The upgraded episodes looked great, and we loved seeing our old friends Mike and Denise Okuda, Herman Zimmerman, and Dan Curry on the big screen for the commentaries. We now live in a small town in southern Oregon, and we’re happy to say the theaters were crowded for both of the previous events. We suspect it will be sold out for “The Best of Both Worlds”! (Our next move, of course, will be to buy ourselves a Blu-ray player!) 

DId you spend much time interviewing the people who worked on the show?
Yes—but we deliberately didn’t go after all the actors because they’ve conveyed many of their memories at countless conventions. Our mandate was to find some new material that would be fresh and hopefully surprise readers. So we talked to Jonathan Frakes about how he started directly—which opened the door for other actors to do the same. We also interviewed LeVar Burton about his experiences directing, because that’s primarily what he’s doing these days. We talked to as many of the writers as we could get hold of, as well as the people responsible for the look of the show, including Herman Zimmerman, Andrew Probert, Rick Sternbach, and Michael Okuda. We interviewed Eric Stillwell about working in the Star Trek offices and Guy Vardaman and a bunch of others, all of whom are mentioned in the acknowledgments. Everyone was so giving with his or her time. Some of the writers have gone on to become leading producers on high-profile TV shows, and their schedules were hellish—but they all were eager to contribute and talked to us for hours. We were—and still are—extremely grateful.

What are your favorite and least favorite episodes?
We’re assuming you’re not going to restrict us to one of each type! Our favorites include “The Best of Both Worlds,” “The Inner Light,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Darmok,” “Cause and Effect,” “Relics,” “Tapestry”… We could go on. There’s a lot of great ones.

Least favorites are the usual suspects: “Code of Honor,” “Haven,” “The Royale,” “Shades of Gray,” “Masks”… Much of first season, when they were struggling to find a voice. We’ll stop there! 

I agree with all of the rest, but I really like "The Royale." I like how Twilight Zone-y it is. A lot of my favorite episodes are the ones where something weird is happening and the crew has to figure out what it is. I also dig the "Holodeck" episodes a lot, so my favorites are probably the two where Data and Geordi dress up like Sherlock Holmes.
We liked the Twilight Zone feeling too (particularly that revolving door in the middle of nowhere), but as writer Tracy Torme has mentioned in the past, his original script got tweaked and watered down so much that it never quite got to a truly eerie level. Torme said that he was also influenced by The Prisoner, a wonderfully surreal TV show from the 60s. We loved The Prisoner. And so, we hear, did Michael Piller. We can’t help but wonder what the episode would have been like if Torme’s original script had been produced a year later, after Piller was in charge of the writers’ room. 

Yeah the revolving door in the void is a really strong image! What are your favorite and least favorite story telling devices in the show?
That’s a toughie. Favorites? We loved that Michael Piller told the writers to do stories about the characters on the ship rather than the alien of the week. We liked Brannon Braga’s attempts at telling time travel type stories without using cliché time travel methods. We loved the willingness by the staff to expand all of the characters rather than just the big three—Picard, Riker, and Data. It’s something that was never done in the original series.

Least favorite? Reliance on the character of Q often concerned us. We loved the character and thought actor John de Lancie was brilliant at portraying him—but an omniscient character who could get you into or out of a situation in the blink of an eye was a little too convenient. Once they found their footing, the writing staff was so good it’s hard to fault their techniques. Ron Moore told us he felt the show was too tech dependent, so he deliberately reduced the amount of tech deus ex machina solutions when he worked on Battlestar Galactica.

Although I enjoy the Q episodes, his existence does seem to lessen the severity of any threat that Picard faces. It seems like he could probably just summon Q at any time to fish him out of trouble. Magic without extreme limitations is usually pretty bad for telling real stories.  
We agree absolutely. After the first season, the writers did seem to hold Q in reserve for more interesting situations, where he wouldn’t just be the magical way out of trouble. That said, without him, we’d never have seen Picard in tights and Worf as an unmerry man. 

One problem that I have with the show is that it seems like Geordi never got much of a personality. He's likable but it seems like his main personality traits are that he is bad with girls and friendly with robo people. Do you disagree? I just feel that a lot of the other characters were given much richer back stories, and he's just kinda standing around in his visor being helpful. 
You’re right on the mark with that opinion, although LeVar Burton was surprised when we asked him if he thought Geordi was too nice a guy, and if he wished Geordi had more of an edge. He said he loved Geordi’s humanity and wouldn’t change that. But he admitted that by the seventh season, the show had just touched the tip of the iceberg where the character’s background was concerned. He wished they’d had the opportunity to explore it further. Geordi was the nice guy who couldn’t get to second base—and even the writers knew it and periodically tried to broaden him. For example, Brannon Braga wrote “Identity Crisis” for Geordi because he felt LeVar Burton didn’t get enough screen time, and he needed to do something other than fix the engines. So he gave him a mystery that was also a bit of a horror story. 

What do you have coming out next?
We’ve just finished a book for Abrams, the publisher of Star Trek: The Next Generation 365. It’s called Star Trek Topps. Abrams and Topps recently joined up to produce a series of books on the most popular and iconic trading card sets that Topps produced over the years. Last year they came out with really fun books on Mars Attacks! and Garbage Pail Kids. They’re full color, with images of all the cards and stickers. Plus interviews and text about how the sets came about, and public reaction to them. We were tickled when they asked us to join in the fun and write a book about the 1976 Topps Star Trek trading-cards set—which looms large in the minds of many collectors. Like the other books, it even includes some brand-new cards—including Sulu, who was somehow left out of the original set! The book will be out in September 2013.

I love the recent Topps books that Abrams has put out, and I am psyched for the Star Trek cards book! Thanks for talking to me!
That’s it? Thanks—this was fun!

You can buy Star Trek the Next Generation 365 here.

The Manara Library Volume 3
Milo Manara with Federico Fellini and Silverio Pisu
Dark Horse

These Manara books that Dark Horse are releasing keep getting better and better. This one has some color comics and most importantly a comic that was written by Fellini. Manara drew plenty of scenes from Fellini's films into his comics and Fellini was always heavily inspired by comics sot it seemed natural for them to work together. 

This book begins with a brief introduction about the comics in this book. There's a short supernatural story about the Berlin Wall. Then there is a short comic about a woman who opens a magic drawer. Then there is a short comic about John Lennon going to Heaven. Then a comic about a naked kid playing a clarinet. The big centerpiece of the book is "Trip to Tulum," written by Fellini. The story is like a Little Nemo in Slumberland comic if it was made by Fellini and Manara instead of Winsor Mckay. The story begins with a man and woman going to find Fellini and then his hat flies off his head and he enters his screen alter ego, Marcello Mastroianni, in a plane submerged under a lake. They meet with other people and eventually travel to the Tower of Babel, which is like an Aztec luxury hotel. They are tested in bizarre, magical ways. Every page has a beautiful building or idea or naked lady drawn by Manara. I swear it's not frustrating when you actually look at it. 

This book also contains the Ape, a popular book of Manara's and various other short comics. If you want to see the work of an already great illustrator trying to bring life to the story of a guy he greatly admired, this is where it's at. The Dark Horse Milo Manara books are some of the best things being published now. Make sure you buy them. 

Buy Manara Library Volume 3 here

Ed the Happy Clown
Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly

This is a hardcover collecting the redrawn Ed the Happy Clown story. The Ed the Happy Clown story was originally serialized in Brown's old comic series, Yummy Fur. Later it was collected in a book that's been out of print for a long time. Then it was serialized in single issues and then it was reprinted in this hardcover book that is the same size as his other recent hardcover releases from D&Q, so it will look really nice next to those guys.

The story reads like it was made up as Chester drew it and it started off kind of carelessly and gradually got heavier and better drawn. The story is about a lot of different things happening simultaneously. The world in this comic is like our own and it's also like Hell. Look at the cover for a glimpse at how hellish it is. All sorts of terrible things happen to people in this book. One man's asshole is the other end of a vortex where some other dimension is dumping all of it's feces. Ronald Reagan is this weird, short little awful man and Nancy Reagan is some young slutty looking woman. Somehow Reagan's head is sewn onto the end of Ed the Happy Clown's penis and it's totally horrifying. As with all Chester Brown comics it ends with forty pages of notes at the end. 

It's a Chester Brown comic so you should get it. You're probably not going to get something better. The best part of this book is watching the development of Chester Brown's drawing abilities and honesty. 

Buy it here

Well that's all for this week! See you in seven days!

Nicholas

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