Tuesday 7 July 2020

Interview: Rich Handley on the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection

Rich Handley might be a name familiar to you if you're a fan of Star Trek comics. His famously complete collection made him a key figure in bringing back into print the almost-lost Star Trek comic strips from the US and UK. More recently he's been working with Eaglemoss on their Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection; initially writing introductions for many of the books, and now as editor of the series. We had a chat recently to discuss his work on the collection, and the hope it might be able to continue long enough to get to reprint every Star Trek comic. Continue below to find out more.

So to kick off, I know you've been involved in Star Trek comics as a collector and professionally for a long time. Can you fill us in on how you ended up in charge of the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection? And what it's been like getting to play with all the Star Trek comic toys as a result?
I'll paraphrase Commander Kor by saying it's been glorious.

My involvement with the Eaglemoss books goes back to shortly after the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection was first announced—but my love of Star Trek comics goes back to 1984, when I was 16 years old. I'd been a Trek fan since pretty much my toddler days, as I was born in 1968 and my mother was a first-generation fan who'd watched the show all the time while I was growing up. Although I can't say one-year-old me was a fan (one-year-old me was too busy drooling on myself, sucking my thumb and figuring out how to say words more complicated than "mama" and "dada"), I was present in the room, sitting in my playpen, while my mom watched the final season in its first run. So I can truthfully say the franchise has been in my life since the beginning.

By age 16, I'd watched each episode countless times and I'd read each novel as it came out. But teenage me craved more. One day, as I was walking through a bookstore in my home town of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a comic book cover caught my eye: issue #9 of DC's first Star Trek run. It announced "New Frontiers" on the cover, which piqued my curiosity, and the artwork was striking. I'd never been a comics reader before that point, other than perusing my cousins' funny books when I was a child of the '70s—Little Lulu, Archie, Fox and Hound, that sort of thing—so despite my love of the Trek franchise, the comics had largely been off my radar until I'd spotted that cover. I decided "Why the hell not?" and took it home, figuring that if I didn't enjoy it, I'd only be out 75 cents (comics were a lot cheaper back then). As it turned out, that wasn't a problem.

I soon began looking up local comic shops to find the first eight issues. That was easy, as they were all current. Then I went nuts tracking down the Marvel and Gold Key stories that had preceded DC's line, but this proved more challenging—still, I found them all. I've been collecting Trek comics ever since and have amassed every issue to date, including rare items fans might not know about. This culminated in my befriending Mark Martinez (proprietor of the Star Trek Comics Checklist), creating my own resource (The Complete Star Trek Comics Index), and eventually writing for Star Trek Communicator magazine back in the day, and later contributing to several unofficial Star Trek books offered by Sequart and ATB Publishing.

A few years back, I worked on five Star Trek hardcover books for IDW's Library of American Comics (LOAC) imprint, which reprinted all of the U.S. and U.K. Star Trek comic strips. The strips were scanned from my personal collection (you can imagine how tough it was to complete the full set of those stories in the pre-Internet days), and I wrote the supplementary materials for each volume. That was an amazing experience; working on an official Trek comic has always been number-one on my writing bucket list. Back when WildStorm had the license, editor Jeff Mariotte had invited me to write a tale for the Star Trek Special, but alas, since the company was about to lose the license, the budget was cut and I ended up being cut, too, since I'd been the last writer brought onboard. So joining the Trek comics fold with the LOAC books was extremely gratifying—and it opened up a door for me when Eaglemoss later obtained its license.
NB: Those comic strip books are probably the most beautifully presented Star Trek comics ever printed; large format perfect reproductions, and really beautiful books, with a binding that makes the spreads of the UK comics nice and readable. I never miss a chance to sing their praises; go get them. That said, all the strips are in the Graphic Novel Collection too now!

Rich continues...
Mark Martinez had alerted me to the Graphic Novel Collection's existence when it was announced, so I reached out to Eaglemoss to offer my services as a consultant in case they needed one, explaining my background and sending along a photo of my Star Trek comic shelves to showcase my alarmingly completist tendencies. I've been in the publishing world since the mid-1990s, so I half expected not to hear back from Eaglemoss, given how a lot of publishers tend to operate. To my surprise, editorial manager Ben Robinson wrote back almost immediately, saying he was grateful to have me aboard as a consultant. And that put me on the path to becoming the editor a few years later, though obviously I could not have foreseen that exciting outcome at the time.

Ben put me in touch with the previous editor, who invited me to start writing the introductions to the volumes, and I also helped with research and scanning whenever Eaglemoss couldn't get their hands on the original artwork for reproduction purposes. That turned into a highly enjoyable gig, with my intros alternating with those written by Robert Greenberger, former DC Star Trek editor and a longtime friend and occasional writing collaborator of mine. To date, I've written more than 100 of the intros, so when I see the series lining my shelves, I'm pretty damn proud.

As the series reached the late sixties in numbering, the previous editor stepped down, and Eaglemoss asked me to assume the editing role, much to my delight. I've worked as a full-time editor (magazines and other publications) going back to 1992, so I immediately said "yes." I came aboard as of volume 72 and took on the tasks of choosing the content for each book, writing the back-cover text, penning all the intros from that point forward (sorry, Bob G.!), ensuring the quality of each volume from an editorial standpoint, and so on. Now here we are, with the series approaching volume 140, which means I've been the editor for half the run—and it's been a great deal of fun. The 16-year-old who stared at the "New Frontiers" cover is still inside me, and he's amazed that this all happened.
Increasingly you've been reprinting titles that have never been collected or reprinted since their original publication. Are there any particular books that have brought you delight at that opportunity to bring them back into publication? And I wonder, is there anything you're saving for the final hurrah of the last issue?
Let me address that last question first, as I'm afraid I can't say much about the last issue at this point since it hasn't yet been announced. I can only say that the last issue will come after the second-to-last issue, and that there won't be an issue following it. :) But yes, there are definitely titles I was especially pleased to be able to present. There had been an unfortunate snafu involving volume 64 before I was the editor, as the stories contained within (issues #27-31 of DC's second series) were the wrong ones—they were supposed to be the same-numbered issues from the first series.

Although I'd been named editor as of volume 72, the content had already been chosen for up to volume 100. So the first thing I did, once I began choosing the content for 101 forward, was to rectify that oversight by collecting series one's issues #27-31. They're admittedly out of order with the rest of the series, so it's not an ideal solution, but I wanted to make sure readers at least had access to that first DC run in its entirety; the DC line remains among the finest Trek tales out there, and skipping five issues would have been a crime. We're now reprinting the second series, which means the issues erroneously put into volume 64 now fit into the ongoing narrative… even if they're in the wrong spot.

In addition, Eaglemoss had reprinted only some of the U.K. strips, with the remaining seven storylines and several annuals missing from the collection. So I made sure to complete the British run in volume 121 once we'd received another extension. Other stories I was pleased to make available have included the six Peter Pan/Power Records comics; the four oft-overlooked minicomics from Gold Key's four Enterprise Logs books; Gold Key's never-published 62nd issue; a lot of great Marvel material from the 1990s, including Star Trek Unlimited and The Untold Voyages; Wired magazine's Star Trek minicomic; IDW's adaption of "Balance of Terror"; and more.
Those have all been highlights for me too!

When you're dealing with these older books, are there challenges in reprinting them at all? In terms of getting a good quality reproduction? Your personal collection helped when IDW pulled together the excellent reprints of the old newspaper and UK comic strips. Have you had to lean on your own copies for Ealgemoss too?
The unfortunate truth is that when you're dealing with comics that are decades old, a lot of the original source artwork is no longer available; much of it now either resides in private collections or has simply been lost or discarded. As such, archival publishers like Eaglemoss, the Library of American Comics, and Manuscript Press (which produces Comics Revue magazine) must turn to private collectors, eBay auctions and other resources to compile everything they need to make their reprint collections complete.

Thankfully, Eaglemoss had been given a lot of material from IDW, including its reprints of Star Trek stories from older publishers, but there were gaps in what IDW had available. Fortunately, I have it all, so anything Eaglemoss didn't have, I ended up scanning. This proved fortuitous once the global pandemic struck and Eaglemoss's staff started working from home, away from all the materials in their offices. Since I work out of an office in my house, I was able to scan everything from that point forward, enabling us to keep producing books without interruption.
The series is currently set to run to 140 issues, which would leave a few books missing from the collection. I know you are really hoping to get another extension to 160 issues with the aim of reprinting all the older stuff. Am I right in thinking that might not be quite enough to catch up with all the IDW titles not yet in the collection? How many books would we need to get to capture everything?
While I can't get into specifics with regard to content not yet announced, I can tell you this: I've worked out a roadmap to be able to get all the remaining comics into a 141-160 extension. If that extension were to happen, we'd be able to present to fans everything published up to 2020. But that's a big "if," as that extension might not be forthcoming. Being completely honest, it comes down to numbers. In order for Eaglemoss to greenlight a final extension, it would need to see a financial reason to do so—in other words, sales on the existing books need to be higher than they are.

That is an attainable goal, in my opinion, if existing fans can convince others to start buying the books. But if truth be told, it's also a longshot. If fans want to see more books beyond volume 140, what's needed is a grassroots effort to help push and promote the series. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if fans help build it, more books could come. But the journey to get there would admittedly be an uphill one. I want to see us get there, as I am, first and foremost, a fan—I was a Star Trek comics reader for decades before I was a Star Trek comics editor, so when I say I want to be able to complete the series, it's not just because I get paid to make these books. It's because I want to see them on the Star Trek shelves lining my home office. If I weren't editing these volumes, I'd be buying them.
In the event you did catch up, do you know if the current license would allow Eaglemoss to continue to put out the odd book later as IDW releases new titles?
I don't know for sure, but I assume it would, as I'm unaware of any restrictions that would prevent the company from doing so.
There are still quite a few crossover books not in the collection, can we still expect these as special issues, as some of the other crossovers were earlier in the collection?
I don't have any updates about the crossovers at this time. My apologies.
Is there anything at all that just isn't going to happen? There's also the older photo-comic adaptations from various publishers, are they in your remit? (I can't say I'd be super excited to see reprints of the latter to be honest!)
Comics I can't see being reprinted would include the original Star Trek Fotonovels from Bantam Books, the similar Star Trek Photostories from Pocket Books, and the episode adaptations in Germany's Gong magazine. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see these included, but it would take too many volumes to reprint them all—and they're just adaptations of episodes and films, so that would take up too much real estate on what are essentially just abridged retellings of filmed stories fans can watch at any time. The original comics are what we're focused on with the Graphic Novel Collection.

In addition, anything not licensed is absolutely off the table. Star Trekker and Airship Enterprise from Antarctic Press would not be included, nor would the Indonesian Trek comics of the 1970s, which were never authorized by Paramount. "The Dragons of Berengaria," from Enterprise Incidents magazine, would also be unavailable, as would Morgan Gendel's The Outer Light and David Gerrold's Star Trek/Doctor Who parody. I happen to greatly enjoy both Airship Enterprise and "The Dragons of Berengaria," and I would love to include them in the Graphic Novel Collection, along with everything else I just name-checked… but legally it's just not doable.
One of the things I've really enjoyed about the more recent books is that you've been able to find place in the collection for some truly obscure comics, such as the Power Records comics, or the Wired Magazine Kelvin timeline comic. The one that has really delighted me the most though is that you're going to print for the first time the cancelled 62nd issue of the Gold Key series. Can you tell us how you were able to bring that into print, and what we can expect to see, compared to a normal reprint of a finalised book?
That, to me, is one thing I've been most proud of as editor. I've been a writer and editor for a long time, but I've been a reader for far longer. So I asked myself what I'd want to see if I were not involved in creating these books, and the answer was obvious: everything I'd spent a lot of time and money tracking down for my own collection—all the rarities, obscurities, and odds and ends that would be overlooked by casual fans and by editors not well-versed in that end of the hobby. The "lost" 62nd issue of Gold Key was one of the first things I thought of. When I asked Eaglemoss about the possibility of publishing it, I fully expected them to say "no." But they loved the idea!

For those wondering what this refers to, Gold Key's Trek run ended after 61 issues, but writer John Warner had turned in a 22-page script for a planned 62nd issue in 1979, titled "Trial By Fire." That issue remained in limbo for decades once Western Publishing dropped the series and Marvel obtained the Trek license, but Warner's script, along with 19 lettered and lightly penciled pages from artist Frank Bolle, surfaced online in 2005, courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Low-res scans of some of the pages have been shared informally among collectors, but thanks to Mark Martinez, who'd purchased the actual script and art pages from Heritage, the full comic was made available to Eaglemoss. Those actual pages are presented in the book. I'm still amazed that Gold Key #62 is finally being officially published 40 years later, and that I was able to make that happen.

Another thing fans might be delighted to see in print, by the way, is all the missing dialogue from DC's Star Trek: The Next Generation Special #1, in the stories by writers Kenneth Penders and Diane Duane. Production errors had resulted in panels or entire pages in both tales being originally printed sans dialogue, but Duane and Penders have graciously allowed us to present their scripts to Eaglemoss's readers, marking the first time the full stories in that special will be officially published.
Really cool the detail about the DC TNG Special; I had no idea that was even an issue that needed fixing!

To give us an idea of what to expect from the lost Gold Key issue, here's a sample page sent by Rich:

Back to Rich...

You once collected up a list of other unprinted Star Trek comics for the fab book of essays on Star Trek comics, New Life and New Civilizations. I note there are other books that also had artwork done for before being pulled. Are the further chances to resurrect lost projects still?
I would love to. Believe me, that'd be amazing. Given that volumes beyond 140 might not happen, though, I unfortunately don't foresee that being possible at the moment. Still, as Spock is fond of telling us, there are always possibilities. I, for one, would love to delve into the large pool of rejected, canceled and otherwise "lost" Star Trek comics and present them all to fans. But for that to happen, another extension would be required.

I must add, by the way, that the essay book you mention, Joseph Berenato's New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, is a must-read for Star Trek comic collectors. I was honored to have contributed to it. Joe did an outstanding job.
Some of the more completed cancelled books, with art, include an adaption of the Voyager pilot Caretaker, and an alternate reality DS9 book called What if Gul Dukat Had Become the Emissary. Giving them a second chance is a pretty compelling reason to support the series!

Continuing to think of obscurities: You recently unearthed and translated some really obscure original books published in Brazil; are we likely to get to read these too?
Quoting Looney Tunes: You might, rabbit… you might.
And I wonder also, is there any hope this collection might find a place for the official parody comics, The Trek Life, Starship Trekkers, and so forth?
It's funny you should ask that. I would love to include The Trek Life and Starship Trekkers if it were legally feasible to do so, and I've already been looking into the possibility of that happening. Again, though, another extension first needs to be given a greenlight, and that is by no means an outcome of which I'm confident.
Another tantalising prospect. Getting The Trek Life into print would be especially great, as alas most of the strips which were originally hosted on StarTrek.com are lost from the net thanks to successive redesigns shuffling them away.

One more wish list question: The spine art feature of this series is pretty fun (the books form an ever expanding picture of starships starshipping about), but it drives me crazy everything is out of order! Any chance, once the series is complete, Eaglemoss could make a pack of dust-jackets with more neutral spines to allow for an aesthetically pleasing rearrangement into whatever order we liked (by series, or publisher)?
That is a very cool idea! It's not something I could speak to, though, since it's not something I've discussed with Eaglemoss. Corporate decisions like that are a bit above my paygrade, I'm afraid. Either way, given the proliferation of fan-made DVD and Blu-ray covers, I'm amazed that enterprising (nudge, nudge) Star Trek fans haven't already done exactly what you're suggesting.

As well as editing, you've been writing a great regular blog on Star Trek comics for Eaglemoss' Hero Collector site too, taking us through the entire publishing history of Trek comics. Has revisiting all those books helped along the way with the editing of the series? And given Eaglemoss' recent expansion of their publishing efforts, do you think they might ever lean on your vast knowledge to pull together something more substantial (and printed) than a blog?
Thank you for the kind words. I've been having a blast writing these essays. Has it helped with my editing? No doubt. Rereading everything as research for the articles has reminded me of fun tidbits I might otherwise have forgotten about, and as I edit each volume and write the intros, having that knowledge fresh in my mind has been invaluable. I've reread these comics countless times throughout the years, but there are tons of them, so remembering everything is pretty much impossible.

As far as seeing the articles in print goes, a lot of people ask me that, which is nice to see—it means they're reading the column, for which I'm grateful. My complete non-answer is this: stay tuned!
Finally, how can we best support the collection to get it to 160+ issues? Does subscribing help sway the salespeople more than buying books individually for instance?
Really, it all comes down to sales numbers. New subscriptions help. Individual volume purchases help. Telling fellow fans about the series helps. Letting Eaglemoss know you want more volumes helps. Spreading the word via social media, blogs, etc., helps. In a nutshell, showing Eaglemoss that there is sufficient financial reason (and the financial end of things is key here) for them to make more books is what is necessary for there to be any chance of another 20-volume extension.

I say the following with 100 percent sincerity: I want to go beyond volume 140. Ben Robinson wants to go beyond volume 140. Designers Terry Sambridge and Ross Jackson want to go beyond volume 140. The folks in the sales, marketing and subscriptions departments want to go beyond volume 140. And the readers clearly want us to go beyond volume 140, if comments expressed by the members of two popular Facebook groups—the Eaglemoss Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection Fan Group, as well as Star Trek Comics: Across Generations—are any indication. But the truth is, making books costs money, especially licensed books.

It's not just a matter of paying me and the rest of the team, after all—there are licensing, printing and advertising costs involved in putting together any book with the words "Star Trek" on the cover, so there needs to be a profit in order to justify the expense. Everyone involved wants the series to keep going so we can proudly say we gave fans the entire history of Star Trek comic books. I would like nothing more than to be able to do that; it's something I would consider a highlight of my career. But it's a numbers game, it's a costly game to play, and it's played on a table slanted at 45 degrees.
Thanks to Rich for giving me the time to discuss the books, and for such thoughtful and in-depth answers. I for one have found the most recent issues in the Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection increasingly exciting to receive; getting the chance to read some really obscure comics, and get them into print in accessible way for the first time in decades in many cases; more often than not the first time since they were originally released.

I really hope the series can carry on to complete the mission to reprint all the Star Trek comics, so I encourage you to subscribe to the series yourself, or just to pick up the odd individual issues with the stories that most appeal - As Rich noted above, every little helps to show support for the line!



Unknown said...

Great interview! Thanks.

Here's to making it to 160.

Matt Gilbert said...

Fantastic interview with somevery exciting news! I really really want to see the series make it to volume 160 and include The Trek Life/Starship Trekkers. In addition to subscriptions and web shop purchases, I wonder if we couldn't somehow show Eaglemoss that we want 20 more volumes and will support it in the same way we did getting a campaign started to get the USS Titan model? Like Rich said, maybe a campaign with signatures would help them see that we will support it. And come on, once the series is complete, they have to know that more people will buy it after the fact knowing that it's a complete set rather than "almost complete".

8of5 said...

I think a petition a la Titan might be trickier, as the goal is not so precisely defined. A single ship with particularly strong story both in-universe and the real world was quite easy to mobilise around. I think as Rich says, our best hope is to simply spread the word, and encourage more people to buy into the collection to prove it's viability. If every would be petition signer even bought one book that could make quite a statement.

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