Following a summer of Star Trek comics tying in to the new film universe, IDW Publishing checks in with Captain Picard's crew in November with "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ghosts," a five-issue miniseries written by Zander Cannon with art by Javier Aranda. CBR News spoke with Cannon about the series and taking the long way around to becoming a Star Trek writer.
"'Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ghosts' starts out as a routine rescue mission above a planet on which there are two feuding nations, one of which is a Federation ally. After rescuing the lone survivor of the disaster, the crew of the Enterprise finds that he seems to be haunted by phantoms, one of which he says is Captain Picard," Cannon told CBR. "While they unravel that mystery, the tensions heat up between the two nations, and the crew has to investigate claims of espionage, kidnapping, and murder while keeping themselves out of harm's way."
Cannon, who is known for an indie sensibility in both his writing and art in books like WildStorm's "Top Ten" and "Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards" at his own Big Time Attic studio, hopes to bring his own style to bear in a truly authentic TNG tale. "Certainly the perspective will be different, although being faithful both to the Star Trek universe and to telling a clear, dense, and thoughtful story are extremely important to me," Cannon said. "I really wanted to bring to this story a sense of mystery and of procedure. Star Trek stories are very thoughtful and earnest in the way that they have the characters go about solving problems, and the idea of a persistent universe -- even if it's just dealing with the way the systems and chain of command work in the Federation -- makes the time you spend there that much more meaningful.
"As far as an indie sensibility goes, I suppose the story may be less of an action-adventure than other Star Trek comics, and more of a character-focused mystery/procedural. The dense storytelling style is intended also to be as true as possible to the measured pace of the show, and make the most out of the 110 or so pages we have."
The route to scripting a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was somewhat circuitous, Cannon said. "I'd been trying to do some drawing for Star Trek for a while, so I'd had a lot of interaction with the folks at IDW. When Scott Dunbier, my former editor on 'Top Ten,' came on board at IDW and became the Star Trek editor, he got in touch and asked if I'd be interested in pitching a story to write instead. There are actually a few other twists and turns to the story, but that's the gist of it."
Given that Star Trek tends to inspire a certain level of enthusiasm from its fanbase, one might wonder if there is an added pressure in creating new material for this universe -- even for a writer who followed Alan Moore on "Top 10." "Starting out, I did feel the same sort of pressure I felt on the first couple pages of 'Top Ten,' although unlike 'Top Ten,' the pressure I was putting on myself was to match the show more than the previous comics," Cannon said. "I had just watched a ton of episodes of TNG and had pretty well absorbed the tone and the general plot blueprint, but it still took me a long time to get the first couple pages done because I was really trying to nail that vibe.
"My next door neighbor has actually been an enormous help, because he's about the Trekkiest Trekkie you could ever meet, so he was the one who lent me several seasons of the show on DVD, the Enterprise-D technical manual, and was a great resource for little questions that would be tricky to look up (like the range on Counselor Troi's empathic powers)," Cannon continued. "I also did a lot of looking on websites like Ex Astris Scientia or TrekCore for room layouts and screenshots, and reading a bunch of scripts online.
"The trick, I feel, is to know enough to be comfortable putting your own stamp on the material; adding dimensions to the characters that people have seen hints of before, and being true to the rules that have been set up by the show (and memorized by the fans) without being derivative or dull."
Cannon stresses that while there may be others who know more about "Star Trek" and "The Next Generation" than he does, he has a feel for the characters and the way the universe works. "Until about 2006, I had maybe watched about five or six episodes of TNG, maybe a season of DS9, 'City on the Edge of Forever,' and a few of the movies. I was not by any stretch a Trekkie," the writer confessed. "But I always had a certain appreciation of the show, particularly TNG and DS9, for the thoughtfulness and intrigue that they put into this at least borderline-plausible world. When I talked with [Editor-in-Chief] Chris Ryall at IDW about drawing the comic and then started watching the DVDs to get a sense for it, I got completely hooked. I really felt like it was a place that you could live in for an hour at a time, and I appreciated the fact that -- and this seems dated now-- it was almost completely episodic. Only the tiniest plot details advance from episode to episode, and in part because of that, the show retains a very timeless feeling.
"I'm a total nerd for Star Trek now, but I'd still get laughed out of any trivia contests."
"Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ghosts" #1 goes on sale in November from IDW Publishing.