I’ve been doing some digging around in the Vault lately, and found myself pawing through some of my older books. Among them are these twelve little jewels…ambassadors for Star Trek from a truly bygone era.
Published in 1977 and 1978, each of these “Fotonovels” takes an episode of the original Star Trek series and retells it in a neat little hybrid of paperback book, comic book, and film strips (anybody remember film strips from school?). Each installment boasted “300 Full Color Action Scenes” from the selected episode, with dialogue and exposition presented in “comic book style” with word and thought balloons and so on. The thought balloons often added material that wasn’t in the actual script (of course) and often didn’t feel like something the particular character might “think.” For example, as shown on the cover image for Fotonovel #12, “Amok Time,” Kirk’s thought balloon reads “Spock…must kill me…if he can…” (Yes, that’s gen-u-ine William Shatner dramatic pausing action going on right there).
“Photo novels,” from what I’ve learned over the years, were fairly popular in other countries as far back as the 1950s (including editions of American TV shows and films), but it seems as though no one attempted the concept in the U.S. until the 1970s. So far as Star Trek is concerned, the Fotonovel was indeed a neat concept, particularly for me as a kid, in the days before VCRs were common household items.
Other shows and films got the Fotonovel treatment during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the “cooler” ones I own are Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the first telemovie for The Incredible Hulk, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well the “Photostory” editions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and large trade paperback versions for the original Alien film and the movie Outland. However, as VCRs became more common and the costs of printing entire books of slick, glossy, full-color pictures became increasingly ginormous, the concept faded into obsolescence.
Over the years, the copies I had as a kid deteriorated to the point that a few of them were coming apart, but being an adult generally means having more disposable income, so as circumstances presented themselves I eventually replaced all twelve books with pristine copies lovingly sealed in mylar bags.
I know of a few attempts to resurrect the format in recent years (the Charlie’s Angels film, The Blair Witch Project, and the first Fantastic Four movie), but they didn’t catch on. Why bother with something like this, when the movie’s available on DVD a few months after it leaves theaters? Yep, the Fotonovel is a relic of Yesteryear, all right, but those little gems carry with them many fond memories from my childhood.
You can read more about the Fotonovels, and see larger versions of the covers, by visiting Memory Alpha.
(Cover images courtesy of Steve Roby and the Complete Starfleet Library. Thanks, Steve!)