I don’t know what I was looking for in Titan Book’s latest multi-artist tribute to 50 years of Star Trek, but as a longtime and rabid fan, this was almost it…with some minor quibbles. The book was a bit like ordering an expensive meal at a lovely restaurant and receiving instead a very tasty salad with macaroni and cheese on the side. Quite good, but not as special as one might hope.
Much like the inquisitive and analytical Star Trek TOS character whom most of the artists professed as their favorite character during their accompanying interviews (guess who?), I would like to illuminate some issues inside of this not-inexpensive ($39.95) book.
Click ahead to read my full review of Star Trek: 50 Years, 50 Artists!
Most Contemporary artists use Photoshop and Illustrator to finish their work, which is in full force throughout the book. As so many of the artists featured say in their interviews, digital techniques greatly speed up the process and the creation of their art, which, if one is an illustrator by profession, would be understandably invaluable. However, as a by-product, the color all over the surface of many of the artworks is flat and completely uniform, with a feeling of artificiality that can be found in most computer generated works, sometimes even in motion pictures. In some of the works where there is an extremely shallow depth of field in the background or just a star field or nebula behind the characters, the pieces feel a bit like a modern movie poster. As we all know, some movie posters with highly manipulated actors’ photos layered one upon the other to form an even plane of contractually negotiated facial sizing are not the ones we cherish. We want Jaws. Just with Khan as Jaws.
Second, artists overwhelmingly used flattened perspective and cartoon figures in this book. I suppose it makes sense, because in order to conglomerate 50 years of characters across a wide selection of television shows and films, it’s a logical idea to group a bunch of recognizable figures together and draw them in an unexpected or cartoonish way. It’s a re-imagining of Star Trek while rendering the characters still recognizable. I really enjoy that type of work actually, but my problem here is that so many of the artists chosen for this book also came to this artistic conlusion, so the visual style became a bit repetitive. The stacked heads of multiple characters from the top of an image to the bottom became a common theme, executed by the artists with varying levels of success, charm, or a displayed knowledge and enthusiasm for the material. Some just feel like a brainstorming session, and others are actually quite clever and wonderful. This issue was more of a curating question than anything; many more variations of illustration styles were needed, in the first half of the book especially.
Finally, the repetition of scenes was also questionable, the most glaring were two nearly identical illustrations of Kirk and the Gorn (and I’m talking identical), presented twelve pages apart, and yet another Kirk and Gorn near the end of the book. Was this really the only iconic moment in 50 years of the franchise? Even in the Original Series alone? It made me feel as if there wasn’t enough depth of the level of fandom and knowledge needed to deeply mine the rich visual history of Star Trek. Still, this is not to say that some artists didn’t chose brilliant little moments to depict (I’m looking at you, tiny Kirk Spock and McCoy campfire scene on page 10)!
Also, let me say: I love Mr. Spock. I mean, I really love that character. That said, I could have done with fewer abstracted portraits of his face, of which I counted five. I mean, what is McCoy, invisible? He’s a Doctor, dammit!
Finally, there was one head-scratcher of an illustration, done by an artist who says in his interview that he was “raised primarily on another “Star” franchise.” This really pissed me off. You know why? Because his work showed it. Seen in his work is a barren wasteland planet, with three anonymous figures in non-recognizable spacesuits standing on a rock. I’m sorry, but it was not good enough for this project. Not enough love shown. As soon as I read the artist interview, I thought: “A-ha! Not a true believer!” You can actually feel love pulsing out of some of the works, while others seem disconnected from the series altogether. Thank goodness for the artist interviews, they really informed the work and the reader in an interesting way.
This does not mean that my review is completely negative, but I believe that an exhibition of these works might have been much livelier than the artistic rhythm that the publisher has chosen to present. Also, many of the artists’ rough drafts had more life and personality in them than the fully Photoshopped finished products, and I found myself wishing to see the raw pencil and pen works on a larger scale.
I hate to choose only one artwork to discuss from the book because there are several remarkable and true labors of love inside, but there is a total showstopper on page 9, also featured on the opening title page: Dusty Abell’s Star Trek: The Original Series Illustration, colored by Lovern Kindzierski. I had first seen this work on the internet about a year ago, and it was my screensaver for months. A “Where’s Waldo?” for Star Trek the Original Series, this beautifully illustrated phantasmagoria features almost every conceivable character ever seen on the show, from good guys to bad, and from Starfleet to those gorgeous, William Theiss-clad ladies who graced the television screen with their lovliness. They’re all there. It’s incredible, and so much fun to look at. It makes me totally happy.
Is this book worth $39.95? Perhaps. Just reading about the affection that most of the artists share for Star Trek, and their favorite moments or characters from the show or the films was almost as entertaining for me as the art was. I enjoy seeing how people interpret Star Trek. It makes me feel…young. Best of all: will you enjoy many lively debates with your friends over the worthiness and merit of each artwork in this book? Absolutely.