Byrne Ventures to Strange New Worlds (via Comic Shop News)
Wednesday, Oct 30th, 2013
John Byrne is no stranger to the world of Star Trek, having written and illustrated a number of tales for IDW's Star Trek franchise. But readers have never seen a story like the one that Byrne is producing for the extra-length Star Trek Annual 2013.
Rather than producing traditional pen-and-ink comic book art for his original Star Trek tale, Byrne has created a "lost episode" of the television series, using carefully selected photographs to create a "photonovel" for an original story, "Strange New Worlds," that stands as a direct sequel to the fan-favorite episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before."
"There was a visual richness to that second pilot that really drew me in," writer/artist John Byrne said, "and since I have long wanted to experiment with something like this project, that episode seemed the perfect choice for a sequel.
Years ago, James T. Kirk saved his ship, but the price was the life of his oldest friend in Starfleet-or was it? Fans will see Gary Mitchell's story take a surprising turn in Byrne's "Strange New Worlds." But the uniqueness of this project does not end with the plotline; rather, it continues with the photomontage art form that Byrne has chosen to tell this original story. Star Trek photonovels, in which a book was created by adapting a film or television episode using actual film stills in place of traditional artwork and adding narrative text and dialogue presented in word balloons, were popular in the late 1970s.
The difference here, though, is that Byrne didn't just insert film stills, he created them. In order to tell a new Star Trek story in this "fumetti" style, he did much more than pluck existing images; instead, he composited together multiple elements from various film stills, manipulating them to tell the exact story he wanted. This required meticulous planning on his part, making sure that the look of the characters remained consistent, that photos with appropriate backgrounds were carefully selected, and that the photo angles, lighting, etc., worked to create the same sense of realism that readers would expect from an actual television episode or comic book.
"This project started out as just a fun diversion for John in between other projects," Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall explained, "and as is wont to happen with John Byrne, it continued to grow and become something much bigger than his original intent. It's a blast to see an 'all-new' original series episode done this way. Byrne has produced over 500 pages of Star Trek comics for us already, but I can promise readers that they've never seen this kind of Star Trek comic from him before."
This seems like the sort of project that would take an incredible amount of research and prep time; just how long did it take Byrne to put the whole story together? Was that longer than he would have spent on an illustrated version of the same story? "'How long' is a tricky question when it comes to this project," Byrne said. "It's been percolating in my head for close on forty years, since I first saw those paperback 'fotonovels' back in the Seventies. Those were so poorly done, with 'balloons' just slapped into frames of film without any consideration of composition. I knew there must be a better way!
"At around the same time, I was starting to wonder if it might be possible to create a 'lost episode' by cutting together clips from the original shows, all of which were, by then, available on various forms of video recordings. I lacked the technology-and the skill!-to pull that off, and with all the other things on my plate, both notions just bubbled in the back of my brain for a few decades.
"The amount of time the pages take to assemble varies enormously. The very first page in the published story is built almost entirely from pictures lifted whole, with no Photoshop tinkering needed. Obviously, a page like that comes together very quickly. Elsewhere in the book are pages with a lot more construction, transplanting groups of figures into new backgrounds and the like. Those took much longer. There were two pages, in fact, that took nearly a week to assemble-and I ended up cutting them entirely from the finished story!"
Did Byrne have to rough out the page and panel design as a sort of storyboard before looking for just the right photos for each panel, or did he see it envision the final page in his head and go from there? "I started playing around with this semi-seriously about eight months ago. (I discuss the process at length in a thread on my Forum at ByrneRobotics.com, here: http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=43808&PN=1&totPosts=5 39). I started by planning an 'adaptation' of the first broadcast episode of the original series (TOS), 'The Man Trap.' It was a kind of clumsy and haphazard start, but I definitely felt there was something there, something I could work with. Not long after, it dawned on me that this was the way in which I could finally create that 'lost episode.'
"Fortunately (or not, depending on your views on my mental health!) the first two seasons of TOS are so deeply imbedded in my brain that calling up images was the easiest part. In fact, I began telling people that it was almost embarrassing the way I'd find myself thinking something like 'Here I need a shot of Spock with a phaser in his right and hand a communicator in his left, facing right --- oh, yeah, that would be in....'
"Also, the whole process was very 'organic.' Sometimes my memory of a particular shot would not be entirely accurate, and I would have to hunt for another that would serve the purpose. Often, while making those hunts, I would come upon other images that would better fit other scenes I had planned, or even suggest different scenes entirely. So, as I went along, I allowed the project to 'grow' in directions it often seemed to be dictating itself."
Was it challenging to find not only the right shots taken from the proper angles, but also taken from episodes that depicted each character at more or less the same period in their Star Trek television career? It would seem that you couldn't go from a more slender Kirk in one panel to a slightly more beefy Kirk in the next-or did Byrne fix any of that in post-production? "Finding all the shots I needed meant I had to use images from all three seasons, mixed together. The most dramatic changes in the look of the actors (mostly hair) came in the third season, so I avoided those shots as much as I could, but sometimes....
"My principal concern was the 'acting.' I wanted to be as true to the various performance styles as I could be, which meant looking for shots where the expressions and body language most closely matched how I imagined William Shatner, or Leonard Nimoy, or any of the others would play a particular line of dialog."
What about backgrounds?â€ˆDid Byrne allow himself any leeway in touching up backgrounds to create a uniform page design?â€ˆDid he retouch any special effects for the printed page, similar to the way they were touched up for the reissued videos a few years ago? "'Touching up' isn't quite the right term. I found myself doing quite a bit of 'surgery' on some shots, recompositing figures especially. There are many panels where characters have been added or removed, and in each instance I had to 'clone' the backgrounds in around those figures using Photoshop.
"The special effects I left mostly as they were, for the sake of "purity". There was only one exception, and I wrestled with that for a while before allowing myself to make the modifications. That was the glowing eyes of the Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner characters. The silvery contact lenses used in production worked very well, I thought, in the actual episode, but in still pictures it was very often all too obvious that silvery contact lenses was exactly what we were looking at. So, after four decades of drawing characters with glowing eyes, I finally allowed myself the small indulgence of a bit of touch-up there. It was literally the last thing I did before sending the pages off to Chris Ryall."
After putting this much work into the Star Trek Annual, is this project a one-time thing, or does Byrne envision committing himself to doing something like this again in the future?â€ˆ"I hope to do more. Chris and I have been talking about a second story, this time possibly to be done as two regular sized issues. If nothing else, that will give us the necessary page count for a trade paperback release! But, quite frankly, if Chris asked me to do this as an ongoing monthly, I think I'd be game for it."
Star Trek Annual 2013 is slated for mid-December release from IDW. (Soon thereafter, we suspect that fans of the original Star Trek are going to be filling up IDW's email boxes with requests that John Byrne make this an ongoing series!)
-by Cliff Biggers