Noncomics: William Shatner – The Unauthorized Biography

Once again Uncle Rusty has delved into his Star Trek cabinet, and this time emerged with a rather odd publication indeed… This ain’t no comic-book, folks, though it looks and feels very much like one at first glance and first touch.

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William Shatner – The Unauthorized Biography is one of many similar books published by Celebrity Comics, a division of Personality Comics (though it has a “Celebrity Books” logo in the top-right of the front cover).

It’s a fifty-two-page comic-sized illustrated biography of noted Canadian actor William Shatner, published in July 1992 (so it’s a tad out of date now). If you’re a Shatner fan — and I consider myself such — this is a nice little gem, although it’s not without its flaws.

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Editorial stuff aside, the book contains eighteen pages of text (roughly about 9,000 words in total, or a little under ten times the length of this review) and twenty-eight full-page drawings of Shatner, plus that not-full-page pic on the left, above, and the front cover. The cover art is credited to J.R. (no idea who that is, but I’m guessing not Larry Hagman), and all of the interior art is by Nora Tapp, and it looks to me these weren’t commissioned for this publication but had been created by Ms Tapp over a number of years: some of them are extremely good, while others are… considerably less so.

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It begins… The biography, by Chris Larson, leads with a nice anecdote that serves to remind us just how influential the original Star Trek was, then skips back to Shatner’s childhood and formative years, with particular focus on his pre-Trek career as an award-winning and highly-sought-after stage actor.

The genesis of Star Trek is covered in some detail, as is the show’s initial impact and subsequent demise… and its refusal to stay dead. Shatner’s post-Trek career — which was both blessed and cursed by the spectre of Jim Kirk — is also covered, and though details of his personal life are included, they feel almost incidental, as though the biographer is rushing to get back to talking about Star Trek. The first six Trek movies also get a mention, and the biographer doesn’t pull many punches about the reception of the Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the least successful movie in the series by some considerably margin. Still, at least next up was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was very much a fan-favourite and a high point on which to end the series… and this biography.

On the whole, it’s well-written and the writer seems to have done his research, though there’s a couple of mistakes that should have been caught by the editor (confusing the episodes “Wink of an Eye” and “Amok Time” being the most glaring error). And speaking of research… there are very few sources cited. Not a good thing for a biography.

Throughout, Shatner is depicted as driven, smart, witty, somewhat self-deprecating, and post-Trek as a little bemused at the attention his most famous role tends to garner, as though he can’t quite believe that the shine still hasn’t worn off.

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A good example of the varying quality of the interior art… On the left, some guy, could be anyone. On the right, that’s very recognisably Bill Shatner. Holding a giant sandwich.

Shatner bio not-kirk sPossibly for copyright reasons (Star Trek‘s owners Paramount were notoriously lawyer-happy back in the early 1990s, as a lot of people who attempted to screen Trek episodes at their conventions can testify) none of the paintings definitively depict Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk.

Some of the renditions are close, and at first glance the casual reader might think, “Oh, Captain Kirk!” but take a second glance and it’s clear that even those pics adapted from photos of Kirk have been tweaked: uniforms colours changed, Star Fleet emblems removed, recognisable elements — such as phasers — replaced. In the image on the right, it’s pretty obvious from the position and angle of his fingers that he was not originally holding a bottle. (But I have to say, that’s a darned good likeness of his face!)

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I’ve managed to track down the reference photos for the three Kirk images here (well, the centre one — from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock — possibly isn’t the exact one used by the artist, but it’s close). Note that all Trek elements have been excluded: the shirt emblem, wrist braids, and the communicator (I’m asking myself why, if the artist wasn’t going to draw the communicator, she bothered drawing his hands at all). This page is also another example of the wide range in quality: the centre image is almost unrecognisable as Shatner, but the others are actually rather good.

At the back of the comic we’re treated to a three-page list of other titles in the series, many of which have Special Editions containing “bound in trading cards” or signed covers. Among the list of featured luminaries you’ll find all of the original Star Trek main cast, most of the Star Trek: The Next Generation main cast, lots of sports people, plus plenty of actors (Patrick Swayze, Christina Applegate, Sean Connery, Arnold Schwarzenegger), musicians (Madonna, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Guns ‘n’ Roses and one of my all-time favourite bands, the great Pink Floyd) and “adult” stars.

Overall, this is an imperfect but definitely tasty slice of Shatnery goodness that’s unusual enough to make a nice addition to any fan’s collection.

I’ll leave you now with this, my favourite image in the book: not because it’s particularly good, but it is perhaps an insight into how the artist sees the subject…

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