The Final Frontier: Joshua Ortega talks "Star Trek" manga

[Tokyopop]Tokyopop's recent announcement of a new "Star Trek" manga, set during the time line of the original series (referred to as "TOS" by fans) featuring Captain Kirk & Spock, raised the eyebrows of many fans, who hadn't quite expected a new comic book to commemorate the franchise's 40th anniversary. With all television and movie projects on hold, "Star Trek" has seen better days, but writer Joshua Ortega is hoping to remind fans just why they fell in love with the adventures of the starship Enterprise (and all those other ships too). CBR News spoke with Ortega, who revealed that his involvement with Trek arose out of pursuing a different project.

"I had been talking to Jeremy Ross, the Editorial Director at Tokyopop, about doing some writing for them for about a year. Originally, we had talked about doing a set of new stories set within the world of my novel '((Frequencies)).' Spin-off stories, essentially, that would flesh out the futuristic setting. That may still be a possibility at some point in the future, but we decided that we'd try for a different project first.

"Jeremy suggested that I talk to Senior Editor Aaron Suhr, who was heading the 'Star Trek' project for them. Aaron and I hit it off immediately, I sent him a few pitches, and he really liked what I came up with."

Ortega was attracted to this project for one simple reason-- the chance to be involved with one of his favorite television series of all time. "Outside of the original 'Twilight Zone,' I don't think there's a show that's had more impact on me than the original Trek series. It was so groundbreaking, in so many ways...even in the late '70s when I first saw them on reruns and video!"

Ask anyone over 20 about Star Trek and chances are they'll know the names Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the "three musketeers" of the "TOS" and favorites of Ortega. "While I love the entire cast of the original series, it's always been about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy for me. Those three form one of the greatest trios in all of literature or film. Their dynamic, their personality differences, the way each one's strengths compliment or comedically clash against the other's...just great stuff.

"Can you tell which characters are the focus of my story? (Laughs)"

Lest you worry that Ortega's love for Trek will get in the way of making the book accessible, the scribe is quick to point out that his "Star Trek" is meant for fans of adventure, sci-fi and those who might just be curious. "At least with my story, I think anyone who enjoys space or SF stories will be able to pick it up and enjoy it. At the same time, between the research I did for the story and my fondness for the Original Series, I think hardcore fans are really gonna dig the story. It's called 'Anything But Alone,' and I did my best with it to evoke the feel of a classic Trek or SF story from the '60s. Wild technology, interesting characters, and of course, a good moral and philosophical dilemma."

Paramount has been open to Ortega's vision of the "TOS," while also making sure continuity is respected, and while "TOS" was the shortest of the Trek series, it is easily the favorite of Ortega. "It's the original! While I have enjoyed later incarnations of Trek, the Original Series really stands out for me, and a lot of that comes down, once again, to the characters of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. That era also has a freshness to it that just can't be beat, and an excellent sense of humor that was present in almost every episode."

With the cancellation of "Star Trek: Enterprise" earlier this year, many have speculated that the Trek franchise is outdated and not "sexy" enough to rival sci-fi such as "Star Wars," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Firefly," but Ortega has his own thoughts. "Since I've had the chance to work on both 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' this year, it's given me the chance to look at both franchises and compare their similarities and their differences...what's worked, and what hasn't.

"'Star Wars' has obviously been more successful in recent years, and I think that's due to a few different factors. One major factor is that 'Star Wars' went away for a while before coming back to the mainstream. While there were still books, comics, and games, 'Star Wars' kind of disappeared for a while when it came to TV or film. Anticipation was built up, and people got hyped again.

"Same thing happened with the 'Star Trek' movies. The Original Series had ended its run a decade earlier, so when the first movie came out, there was a huge amount of anticipation, and that energy carried the franchise through multiple films and a number of successful series...arguably, it carried it through too many series and films.

"Look for a lull in television and film, then a very successful return of 'Star Trek' somewhere down the line.

"Another factor worth mentioning is that 'Star Trek' is science fiction, whereas 'Star Wars' is more space opera, and much more fantastic and mythical. SF isn't doing as well in general these days...superheroes are huge, fantasy is huge, and though they are similar to SF, they are much more mythical and epic in their scope.

"In that sense, Trek's future success could be tied into a 'mythicizing' of the franchise, or it could just coincide with the inevitable resurgence of science fiction in the mainstream."

By now you're probably wondering who the artist is on "Star Trek" and well…keep wondering. "I believe Tokyopop is still keeping that info under wraps, but expect some announcements soon..." teases Ortega.

With his name about to be known by Trek fans all over the world, and with "((Frequencies))" still selling briskly, it might be fair to wonder if Ortega is being typecast as a fantasy/sci-fi writer…but then again, you might not know Ortega. "It's definitely something that I've thought about, and it's one of the reasons I've waited to release the sequel to '((Frequencies)).

"My background is in journalism, I've written a novel, I'm now working on multiple comic/graphic novel projects, I've written two screenplays this year, and I'm in talks with a few different video game companies about writing for that medium as well.

"In those various media, I've worked on SF, fantasy, horror, superheroes, space opera, and a real-world thriller. So I think I've already branched out quite a bit-in both genre and media-to the point that it'd be pretty tough to typecast me these days."

So in the end, if you're curious about "Star Trek" or just a fan of Joshua Ortega's writing, such as his popular Top Cow series "Necromancer," then the scribe has a few words for you. "As long as they enjoy some combination of Star Trek, science fiction, and/or comics, readers are in for a real treat with this project...the 'Star Trek: The Original Series' graphic novel is going to make for some excellent reading."

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