Beam Me Up, Manga

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In celebration of Star Trek's 40th anniversary, Tokyopop recently released Star Trek: The Manga, a graphic novel featuring five comic stories set in the world of The Original Series, you know, the one starring Captain Kirk and Spock.

One of the writers who contributed a story is Joshua Ortega. BF spoke to him about the project.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Starting off with the most obvious of obvious questions: how much of a Star Trek fan are you—and how do you prove it?

JOSHUA ORTEGA: I’m a huge fan of The Original Series and the first four Star Trek films, though I probably wouldn’t qualify as a Trekkie. I’ve enjoyed much of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine , but I’m less familiar with the more recent shows. I’d like to catch up on them one of these days, but that’s the danger of keeping busy... there’s not a lot of leisure time!

BF: Star Trek: The Manga revolves around the original series’ cast, with Kirk and Spock as the big two, naturally. What kind of adventures do they undertake?

JO: McCoy too, in the case of my story, “Anything But Alone,” and the rest of the stories as well… I’d almost look at them as “the Big Three.”

As far as what kind of adventures I had them undertake? Hopefully, an adventure that’s very faithful to the original series and 60’s SF in general. So far, the  response has been quite good from the comics community, but I haven’t heard back from any Trekkies yet…that’s the real test, right?

BF: Did Paramount allow you to add any new elements to the classic Star Trek mythos, or is this all about getting back to basics with the characters and their galaxies?

JO: For me, it was all about getting back to the basics. It’s such a great universe, I wasn’t really interested in changing things at all. Granted, you need to update some of the tech for the modern audience, but the feel, the action, the philosophical dilemmas, I wanted that to be faithful to The Original Series .

BF: With the original Star Trek series dating back to the 60s, most of the Trekkies who truly worship that show do not belong to this generation of younger readers. Yet, it’s teens and adolescents who comprise Tokyopop’s target audience. How do you go about reintroducing Star Trek to them?

JO: A good story should stand the test of time…or, at the very least, for about 50-100 years. Certainly, language can change enough over time to the point that it can be inaccessible, but I think the sensibilities of The Original Series can still play well with a modern or younger reader. Again, you need to update some of the tech and language, but I think you can remain true to The Original Series and still appeal to a modern audience…one way is with visuals, and that’s where a manga aesthetic is a great way to introduce Trek to a new audience.

BF: You started out as a novelist, then broke into the comics industry and you’re now playing your manga hand. How different is writing manga, with its decidedly faster pacing and different production format, from penning a US comic?

JO: The biggest difference for me was in terms of pacing and panel layout. You get used to having a typical panel range of 3-7 (or sometimes even 3-9) per page, whereas in most manga, you’ll find more of a 3-5 panel range, usually with a lot less dialogue. My story is certainly not traditional manga, and there are a few parts that have more dialogue than typical manga. Overall, I think it captures the spirit of the form pretty well, but I have lots to learn still, of course! (Laughs)

BF: While Star Trek has been ‘sequentialized’ in comics form before, it was never as a manga. Do you think that giving Star Trek the manga treatment is a natural evolution, and a product of its time?

JO: Yes, and yes. 

BF: Still, from a fanboy’s point of view, do you find it strange that one of the top properties in American pop culture gets tied into an Eastern-inspired movement?

JO: Not really at all, especially these days. So much precedent has already been set. Star Wars, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys … the list goes on and on. However, that’s not to say it’s not a fascinating melding of cultures… it is!

BF: As someone who’s had the chance to write both a Star Trek and a Star Wars story this year, why do you think it is that the latter is much more popular these days?

JO: It’s a great question, and I think there a few different reasons. One major factor is that Star Wars went away for awhile before coming back to the mainstream. While there were still comics, books, and games, the Star Wars films and television shows disappeared for a bit. That built up anticipation, and a lot of people got really excited again.

The same thing happened with the Star Trek movies. The Original Series had ended its run a decade earlier, so when that first movie came out, there was a huge amount of anticipation, and that energy carried the franchise through multiple films and a bunch of successful series. And arguably, it carried the franchise through too many series and films—in a sense, the property was milked dry.

Another factor I’ve mentioned before is that Star Trek is science fiction, while Star Wars is more space opera, and it’s a much more fantastic and mythical property. Ultimately, SF hasn’t done all that well in the last few years. Superheroes are huge, fantasy is huge, and though they are similar to SF, both genres are much more mythical and epic in their scope. However, with the success of Battlestar Galactica , it looks like there will be a nice resurgence in SF properties. These things tend to go in cycles, and I’m looking forward to SF’s renaissance in the mainstream.

BF: Star Wars also has a much bigger fan base among comic readers, while the last couple of (traditional US) Star Trek titles didn’t exactly sell like hotcakes. Do you think this graphic novel can help swing the momentum a bit?

JO: Yeah, hopefully it will. At the very least, it’ll be cool to give some manga fans—and hopefully younger readers as well—a chance to check out one of the greatest SF properties in a form that’s more accessible than previous efforts.

Just the fact that Tokyopop has such great placement and visibility in traditional bookstores and on Amazon will make a big difference right out of the gate. And if the buzz on the book is good, and people are enjoying it and talking about it… then yeah, Star Trek: The Manga should help swing the momentum a bit.

Then, when J.J. Abrams relaunches the film franchise, that’s when we should see all things Trek really pick up! [Laughs]

(Note: this interview was conducted before last week’s announcement that IDW will start publishing Star Trek comics as of early 2007. No word though on whether these reboots will be accompanied by a J.J. Abrams flick… sorry!)

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