Tuesday Trekkin’: 1970s Star Trek “Collector’s Art” animation cels.

“Wait a second, Dayton,” I can hear someone asking. “Tuesday Trekkin’? That sure sounds like the name for yet another irregularly recurring feature on your cute little blog.”

Guilty.

To be fair, this is actually something of a spin-off from another irregularly recurring feature which I tend to lump into the category “Feelin’ Nostalgic.” I decided I wanted a silo just for Star Trek-related posts of this sort. As for the “Tuesday Trekkin'” moniker? For that I have to give credit to a pair of friends, Dan Davidson and Bill Smith aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Over on Facebook, they have a fan group devoted to all things Trek and they like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there where they invite members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom.

So, with all that said, what am I gonna do over here? Well, I’m gonna ramble a bit about Trek things in the spirit of the #TrekTuesday tag. Might not be every Tuesday. Might not be but one Tuesday a month, depending on my schedule, my mood, and what I feel like yammering about. For this first installment, we’re revisiting a neat little bit of Star Trek merchandise from the days of yesteryear: “Collector’s Art” animation cells.

Promotional art for the Star Trek animated series, 1973.

Where do these things come from? To answer that, we have to travel back in time a bit. Most fans know there was an animated Star Trek series that ran on Saturday mornings on NBC during 1973-1974. Twenty-two half-hour episodes “continued” the five-year mission of Captain Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with (most of) the original TV series cast returning to lend their voices to their animated doppelgängers. The show’s stories were overseen by Dorothy Fontana, who’d served as a story editor on the original show as well as writing several of its more memorable episodes.

While there was a time when The Powers That Be seemed to distance themselves from the production, hardcore fans have always acknowledged it. For me, it was one of my first entry points to Star Trek fandom, as I remember watching at least some of the episodes during their original broadcast. These along with reruns of the original series and the various toys, models, games, books, comics, and so on were my gateway drug. I mean, look at what ended up happening.

In the mid 1970s, after the animated series had finished its run on NBC, Filmation began offering “sericels.” These are very similar to the actual cels created for animated feature films and television…you know, when everything was done by hand, frame by literal frame, before computer came along and dialed up the animation process to 11. Actual animation cels from these productions are popular with collectors, be they film/TV enthusiasts in general, comic and animation art aficionados, and so on. Among the offerings from Filmation’s range of “limited edition, collector’s art” sericels where pieces from several of their popular Saturday morning cartoons: The New Adventures of Batman, Tarzan – Lord of the Jungle, and Star Trek.

In most cases, the art didn’t necessarily reflect a scene from any of the actual episodes but instead resembled promotional art. An actual cel tends to be just one portion of a total scene painted on an otherwise transparent piece of acetate. Typically, this meant a person, animal, creature, or vehicle intended to move within a scene. A fully painted background would be created, over which you’d lay a series of animation cels featuring your character completing a range of motions, each of which would be filmed for a few frames. Example:

Animation cel of Captain Kirk, ready for superimposing over a snappy background.

When cels of this type pop up in places like eBay, they tend to fetch a pretty decent asking price. Meanwhile, the sericels are still attractive collectibles.

I first learned of these sericels from the pages of a paperback book. Specifically, it was my copy of Planet of Judgment, a novel written by Joe Haldeman and first published in August 1977. This was actually one of the first original Star Trek novels I read, after getting my grubby little paws on a few editions of the original series episode adaptations written by James Blish. Anyway, smack in the middle of this thing was a fold-out add for “limited edition” Star Trek “collector’s art” that immediately caught my 10-year old eyes. That’s right; a few years before I would learn that other publications offered all kinds of different and very interesting things on fold-out pages, here were little slices of Awesome with cool art from one of my favorite TV shows:

Unfortunately, the $21.50 price tag ($20 plus $1.50 postage and handling) was a bit too steep for my limited means at the time, and neither could I convince my parents how even one of these jewels might end up one day being of enormous collector value. At the time, my folks didn’t understand what I saw in “that silly space show,” and as you can plainly see I completely heeded their advice so far as forgetting such things and finding something more consequential to do with my life.

:: ahem ::

So, while I never did latch on to any of those original sericels, the 1990s brought a new wave of such art offering new “scenes” inspired by the animated Star Trek series. To me, these didn’t really grab my attention the way the original 70s version did, but they were affordable. The notable exceptions from this group were the onces that replicated concept art and “model sheets” for the show’s ships and characters, including “notes” from the artists about various details to keep in mind when drawing these for different scenes. Over the years I managed to acquire the Kirk and Enterprise cels, and I suspect like so much else that takes up space in my home office, they’ll accompany me into my casket when my wife cleans house following my death.

Well, there you go. If you’re looking for something to buy for me this holiday season, now you’ve got an idea or ten. Meanwhile, I suppose this doesn’t make for too bad a start to the “Tuesday Trekkin'” feature. Stay tuned for more of this inanity, coming soon to a web browser near you.

5 thoughts on “Tuesday Trekkin’: 1970s Star Trek “Collector’s Art” animation cels.

  1. Dayton, I remember seeing the cels in Star Trek books as a kid. Man I wish I had a couple of the Enterprise ones. Like you said $20 dollars was a lot of money back then.

    Liked by 2 people

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