glimpses behind the scenes at what creates the magic we experience of film & tv- & other!

Writing For Star Trek

Blast from the Past!

Roddenberry’s company is releasing pieces from their “vault” about early days of Star Trek.  One letter shows some of the considerations in having Klingons as the heavies in the future.   Good heavens! Might we have lost our Klingons???? By this time, 1973, the original series had been cancelled and was entering immortality under syndication.  The animated series started in 1973.

Letter - Klingons 1973 p1

Letter - Klingons 1973 p2

 

 

I wonder what in the guilds meant Klingons had to be “fully humanoid”.

If you’d like to see what else these “vaults” have,  check out “Roddenberry” on Facebook.


How Comics Got Respect

Wonder Woman 1940s

Comics in my youth

comics now - Batwoman by JH Williams III, 2014

comics now – Batwoman by JH Williams III, 2014

 

How did comics get from here to there?

 

 

 

 

IDW Star Trek Ongoing #1

IDW Star Trek Ongoing #1

Sure, I read comics as a kid. And while munching pizza in college. A few since. The ones based on the new Star Trek movies got me re-dedicated.  I could get my Star Trek “fix” between movies, especially my Spock fix.  Minor characters in the Star Trek 2009 movie,  “Cupcake” and Keenser, had their own issues, giving them more depth.  That was cool. But even more cool was that the next movie had “easter eggs” from stories in the comics!!  The screen writers and comic writers apparently talked to each other. Maybe not just Star Trek folks – these days a whole lot of the movies and tv shows are based on comics, way beyond Superman and Batman. What’s that all about?

I asked Bram Meehan, a graphic designer, comic author and aficionado who teaches classes on the visual language of comics. Bram laughed, “The producers and writers themselves grew up on comics. Loving comics. Now they’ve gotten into the positions that they can get funding for what they love.”  Aha.  That might also explain why everybody and his brother signs up for even small parts in movies like the Avengers.  Granted, it’s a job. But they seem to be having so much fun!

 

watchmen-face-rorshack

Watchmen by Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins was acknowledged as literature.

Poking around Big Adventure Comics, my local comic store, showed me that the genre has changed.  When I admitted my ignorance of the visual and story changes, they kindly took me in hand and directed me to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. OMG! I see why they now call them “graphic novels”.  Complex plots and brilliantly complex art! A lot more blood, yes.  Also symbols like that little smiley face that clued linkages.  Shifting points of view. Multiple subplots & time settings intermingled, but I could follow because each had their own graphic style. Graphics in the comics of my youth pretty much showed people doing static stuff while saying words. Here the graphics carried the story even more than the words. Some such as Moore’s Promethea illustrated sophisticated metaphysical concepts.  Plus there are now “trades”, collections of related issues in a single volume – a real book, ideal for people like me who get impatient at the cliffhanger serialization of individual issues.

Bram Meehan in the flesh

Bram Meehan in the flesh

 

Bram Meehan, cartoon style, by Chris Askham

Bram Meehan, cartoon style, by Chris Askham

I asked Bram: How did all this happen? The sophistication, and also the proliferation of comic inspired movies & shows. Bram answered that not only have comic lovers moved into positions of influence but also the technology became available to realize their visions. As I mentioned, Bram teaches the visual language of comics. He got me looking at how comics have developed over the years.

 

 

Those in my long ago youth were not very different from the first full page comic in the early 1900’s.

Little Nemo, 1907

Little Nemo, 1907 by Windor McKay

 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the 1930's

1930s:Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster create Superman

 

I read Donald Duck, but it was  Superman and Batman who had my heart. The superheroes I grew up with developed from Superman’s first appearance in the 1930’s and became their own genre. Even these days, many people associate comics with superheroes.

I had crushes on The Challengers of the Unknown. Bram pointed out that while the Challengers were a team of four, there were none of the interpersonal dynamics that came later with teams like The Fantastic Four.

 

 

Jack Kirby helped shape the visual language of modern comics

Jack Kirby added many heroes that became The Avengers & helped shape the visual language of modern comics

The hunger for superheroes comics prompted Jack Kirby, co-creator of my beloved Challengers,  to create more heroes, from Captain America (1940s) to all the guys and gals we now see as The Avengers, appearing on your movie and TV screens!  In his early years, Kirby also developed romance comics, which in the 1950’s seriously warped most of my dating life.  Kirby and Stan Lee co-created many of the Marvel comics, each bringing their own skills.  Stan Lee boosted sales by giving superheroes issues and challenges. Aha! That must have been when I switched my affections to Spiderman and Daredevil!  Kirby’s visual motifs influenced young artists to produce to the Marvel style and more efficiently meet the horrendous deadlines. Writers and artists had to produce 22 pages every month/per issues, some working on multiple issues. Any conventions that helped them be more efficient were readily adopted!  Bram pointed out that Kirby moved comics to more abstract visuals, where “the nature of the art reflected the excitement of the story”. That set the bar for the whole superhero genre.

 

Mad Magazine started as a satirical comic by Bill Gaines

Mad Magazine started as a satirical comic by Bill Gaines

Gaines started a trend in letting his creative team develop their own style & be credited for it

The 50’s, when I was cuddling up to superheroes, also saw the birth of Mad, which later became a guilty pleasure for many of my college mates. Gaines started a trend in letting his creative team develop their own styles. And he credited them for it.

Creative rights are still a big issue for comic creators.

 

 

 

underground comix scene, later 1960's

underground comix scene, later 1960’s

 

Censors ruled the 50’s – which of course led to an underground movement in comics as well as everything else.

 

 

Will Eisner's 1970s "comics" were considered "graphic novels"

Will Eisner’s “comics” were considered “graphic novels”-Late 1970’s

 

 

 

 

Comics had other subjects as well. Will Eisner’s Joe Dope was used as a training tool in the military. Eisner wrote training comics into the 70’s and also expanded to short story cycles about Jewish characters in a tenement in New York City, stories about their struggles and disillusionment. The comics with these self-contained stories started being known as “graphic novels”.

 

 

 

Maus coverMaus sampleThe 1980’s were a hotbed of innovation for comics.  Maus won Art Speigelman a Pulitizer Prize.  It was political commentary based on his father’s experience as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.  People were depicted as animals. (Hmm, remember Orwell’s Animal Farm?)
Bram said Speigelman “.. raised the profile of comics with a book that really rattled the public perception of what comics are. ”

 

 

Most comics by Image Comics are creator-owned.

Most comics by Image Comics are creator-owned. Partner studio TMP produces Spawn.

Bram continued, “The comics creators that eventually formed Image Comics in the ’90s, despite their business problems, started the rise of the value of the creator (in their case, generally the artist) in the mainstream. Fans formed around the characters, but now also around the people that made them.” I’m not familiar with Image Comics, so I went to Wikipedia:

” In the early 1990s, several freelance illustrators doing popular work for Marvel Comics grew frustrated …that the artwork and new characters they created were being merchandised heavily, with the artists receiving only standard page rates for their work and modest royalties on sales of the comics... In December 1991, a group of these illustrators approached Marvel president Terry Stewart and demanded that the company give them ownership and creative control over their work. … Marvel did not meet their demands.

“In response, eight creators announced the founding of Image Comics….This development was nicknamed the “X-odus”, because several of the creators involved …were famous for their work on the X-Men franchise. Marvel’s stock fell $3.25/share when the news became public.” According to Image Comics,  “The majority of the comics and graphic novels published by Image are creator-owned.”

Marvel and DC still dominate monthly comics, but Bram points out that “.. a revolution in the printing and production technologies … led to more powerful tools being put in the hands of more content creators, with more cost-effective ways of distribution to smaller audiences, both print and digital.”   Going to some Comic Cons and walking down crowded aisles in the comics section certainly showed me the truth of that!

Breathtaking visuals

Breathtaking visuals

My favorite comic con find has been Mouse GuardThe glorious images grabbed me as I wandered past. No surprise that it won an Eisner Award!  Creator David Petersen was sitting there with a stack of books, under the banner for Archaia Entertainment. Archaia started as a small independent publisher which has since merged with another publisher. I’ve since found that it’s published several graphic novels I follow: Lucid and Mr. Murder is Dead.

 

 

ReadingOrder

Reading order is important! from Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

Drawing Words & Writing

Some of the comics I saw puzzled me. I couldn’t read them! Words & images swirled all over the page in a baffling manner. Heavens, am I that out of sync? Bram grinned. Apparently I’m not alone.  The proliferation of independent producers means that some don’t know what’s needed to guide the reader through the story.  There are rules. Not all comic creators know them. Bram sent me to an article by Eddie Campbell in The Comics Journal: http://www.tcj.com/campbells-rules-of-comprehension/. Campbell’s rules address context, completeness, sequence and timing. Ahhh, the comics that baffled me violated those rules!

New developments give independent artists ways to create their own comics.

New developments give independent artists ways to create their own comics.

Bram recommends that those interested in creating a comic dive in.  That’s what he and his wife Monica did. When they started, they realized that they may not have specific training in making comics, but knew how to complete a visual project. “With the changes in technology and our training in it, it wasn’t necessary to follow the traditional method of making comics (the writer/penciler/inker/colorist/letterer system), and so we set out to do our own — and learn what goes into making a comic.” Their comic is Raised By Squirrels (http://www.raisedbysquirrels.com/).”

Whew! This is a whole complex area of art!  If you want to know more,  take one of Bram’s classes:  http://www.brammeehan.com/

 

 

 


Star Trek Plots

Author David Forrest advised on Star Trek plots – what kinds of neurological disorders the crew might display as a result of an alien action. He talks about it in this CBS video clip:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7403022n


Rules for Writers

Phoenix comicconUPDATE:  Star Trek writer Morgan Gendel (featured below) will be at STAR BASE INDY in December 2011 in Indianapolis with his  “Journey to the Inner Light” program as well as a writers workshop where he will work with a small group of aspiring writers for 2 hours to create The Next (Hypothetical) Star Trek Series. For more information, contact Morgan@cashmereroad.com.

A delight of attending a “con” is that you get to hear writers talk about their art and some of the weird things they have to go through in writing for TV. I attended “Sci-Fi and Fantasy on TV” at the Phoenix Comic Con. Panelists were Morgan Gendel, who wrote several beloved episodes of STNG; Robert J. Sawyer, author of FlashForward; and John Scalzi, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. These three experts had some fascinating insights into the “rules” sci-fi writers need to keep in mind.


SCIENCE

No science!If you’re reading this, you probably love Sci-Fi.  But network executives have a prejudice against it. “Every time you put science in a TV show, you lose 10,000 viewers.” “People will only watch sci if if they don’t know it’s sci fi.” It is to these people the writers have to be able to sell ideas for a new TV series.  So Sci-Fi shows have an uphill battle to start with.

If you’re writing for a sci-fi series, one constraint is that if you write about known science, you have to adhere to the scientific facts. And studio executives may even treat fictional “science” as though it is real. So the less explanation, the better. Give just enough to seem logical. The writers go to the science advisers saying “this is what we want to do” – and the advisers tell them how to do it without enraging viewers.

For example, remember Star Trek Next Generation “Starship Mine”, where Picard is left alone on the ship and must thwart thieves’ attempt to steal trilithium? The writer, Morgan Gendel realized his plot needed “a big car wash in the sky.”  He researched and  came up with the Baryon sweep. Baryons are real, actually quark-based particles that interact with a force 100 times stronger than electromagnetic force.  Cool! That makes sense to an audience:  a starship needs to be rid of  stray particles picked up between the stars much as audio tape back in the day had to be degaussed magnetically. As the audience, we don’t need to get into quarks, etc. All we need to know was that it was a sweep that was necessary and would be lethal to organic life.  Yep, the less detail the better!!

RODDENBERRY RULES

Another rule – or tradition – is that Gene Roddenberry enforced his vision of a positive future from the original series into the second season of Next Generation.  With his death, writers felt free to violate his rule that in our future, people have evolved past personal conflict.

Star Trek was anti-politician and had episodes speaking out against war during the Vietnam Era. Enterprise changed this approach at the end of Season 2 when an alien probe attacks Earth, killing 7 million people. Enterprise focused on a George Bush approach of “kick ass and take revenge”. The panelists said the series never recovered. It had broken the rule of being anti-politician.

This point has been rolling around in my head. I loved The Original Series and Next Generation because they presented “teaching stories” and a future I’d like to live in: Roddenberry’s vision. To me, Star Trek lost steam after Roddenberry’s death, when the writers could take the lead characters into darker places.  Did other people react that way? Was there data on this?  I found the following chart on www.madmind.de:

Nielsen ratings for trek TV

Nielsen ratings for trek TV

Even though Roddenberry died the fifth season of Star Trek Next Generation, he had selected writers who could work within his “bible”: “depict human interaction ‘without drawing on the baser motives of greed, lust and power’ “(from Wikipedia ). Deep Space Nine wasn’t guided by Roddenberry’s rules – it started as high in the ratings as STNG but quickly dropped. Subsequent series kept dropping in popularity.  While there may also have been other factors, it would appear that abandoning Roddenberry’s vision did not lead to more viewers!

HOW LONG DO WE HAVE?

Another challenger that the panelists talked about was the uncertainty about how many episodes would be funded.  These days committing to a 5 year story arc would scare the studios.  Even for STNG, the networks wouldn’t commit beyond the pilot, so Paramount kept full control.  Writers have to grab the risk adverse studio execs with short term concepts. Most of what sells are series with relatively independent episodes. A serial that requires the audience to commit to watching all episodes doesn’t last long.

story arcs

http://www.hacktext.com/2011/03/story-arcs-beyond-tv-thinking-871/

So the first goal is “get it on the air”. This can mean starting with a plot line that you then realize you can’t sustain after the pilot. Ouch!  Writers start out with a plan they think will last for 24 episodes – then after 6 episodes you find you’ve run out of the plan.  Double ouch!!  You think there’s a multi-year master plan driving your favorite series? Dream on!


David Mack on Guidelines for Writing

Author David Mack explains the freedoms and restrictions when it comes to writing Star Trek novels.

A fan since the original series syndication days, Mack came out of film school hoping to write for Star Trek: The Next Generation. “I hit a lot of obstacles,” he said. “[Editor] John [Ordover] gave me a copy of the writers’ guidelines for the novels. I went home, read them, realized my proposal-in-progress violated every instruction on the page, and decided not to waste John’s time with it. He appreciated this gesture so much that we became friends.”

….Writing for Star Trek means making sure not to violate the canon, established in the television series and movies. “[Canon] is the primary product upon which all official licenses tie-in products – books, comics, games, merchandise, etc. – are based and with which they must be consistent,” said Mack. “This is the official decree of the Star Trek licensing office at CBS Television Consumer Products, which currently owns and controls all things related to Star Trek. Their word is law. End of story.”   …. much more freedom with their own original non-canon characters, and even with minor characters from canon Star Trek.

For more, see http://www.ufplanets.com/ufp/fnn/herald/march2011/index.html