Beam Me Back, Scotty!
Updated: Jul 22
After 47 years, I’m returning to the USS Enterprise.
I do love Star Trek. It’s been a formative influence since I was a child. The show changed the way that I look at the world and gave me some moral guideposts to live by. It paved the way for my creative career and pointed me to move west. It was a Wagon Train to the Stars, if you will.
The mythos is deeply embedded in my life: Kirk, Spock, and many other characters I grew up with have been reciting bon mots in my head for decades (“Risk is our business!”) I still get a thrill from the sights and sounds of subspace—my office is lined with many, many CDs and DVDs of Trek music and programming. Not to mention figurines, model spaceships, paperback books… there’s a LOT of merch and I’ve sampled it all.
But for all of that, I haven’t been to an official Trek con since 1977. Not since I moved to San Francisco (ironically enough, the future headquarters of Starfleet.) In high school I attended several cons a year, the key events of that time being the original series of Star Trek Conventions, particularly the 3rd, 4th and 5th Internationals in New York City, run by a group of female fans known as The Committee.
Pardon my pride in having attended those early gatherings. Fifty years ago, our beloved show was merely in reruns, 79 episodes stripped in daily syndication seven days a week. That meant we could watch the whole series four-and-a-half times in a single year (and many did just that.) The repetition was bracing and the dialog, the tropes, the characters all became more resonant, more meaningful. But that’s all there was*, unless you could get to a convention, which I did.
Star Trek, in its first decade, represented a break with the world. And so many of us were fighting for civil rights (racial and gender freedoms were on the table) environmental concerns (the clean air and water acts were brand new) and world peace ( Vietnam was winding down, but the cold war still threatened to get very, very hot.) We needed to believe in a future worth having, so that we could face the challenges of the present.
Fortunately the show was a cut above 1960s television, and it still held up well a decade later. For one thing, it was relatively timeless—everything was intended to be modern and futuristic. It was a world completely dependent upon technology—which wouldn’t be our reality fo decades. More importantly, the show aimed higher—it was aspirational drama, projecting a world that was free of today’s strife and limitations. Our heroes were still recognizably human, but they were our best selves.
We teenagers and young adults, who had spent the past decade questioning the status quo and rejecting the establishment, connected with the promise of a United Federation of Planets. Where race, gender, and heritage were secondary to an individual’s identity and self worth—and cooperation was paramount. There was a socio-political component to being a Trekkie that went far beyond daydreaming of spaceships and ray guns. In fact, our heroes rarely used weapons to solve their problems, except as a last resort. They certainly talked a good game, and we aspired to follow in their footsteps.
I lived 48 miles outside of New York City in a small factory town that embraced sports, not sci-fi. But I was lucky enough to have a few friends who also set their sights on the stars, and we joined forces not just to attend the cons but conquer them. Our first visit was brief but memorable—we won some of the top prizes in the Masquerade contest. And over the next three years we’d continue to win prizes, make friends and greatly expand our horizons. Until we graduated high school and went our separate ways.
My graphic memoir When We Were Trekkies is a coming-of-age tale set in the world of cosplay and conventions. Through the process of writing and drawing these comix, I keep asking myself: Why were the conventions so important to me? Why did I invest so very much energy into dressing myself (and a dozen other pals) as aliens? And why, after moving to California, did I stop cold turkey? Especially when the fan experience was just taking off?
This August, I’ll be attending the biggest Star Trek convention on the planet. The 57-Year Mission, aka STLV, will be held over five days at The Rio in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ve never been to Sin City, nor have I set foot in a convention solely dedicated to strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations since I was a teenager. I expect it will be fun. I wonder if I’ll still feel at home with my fellow Trekkies?
That’s what I aim to find out. I hope you’ll join me on my five-day mission in August, or at least follow along this summer as i prepare for the journey. I’m moving my blog to Patreon, where each installment will debut, along with behind-the-scenes videos, exclusive artwork, and of course, more details about When We Were Trekkies.
Meanwhile, live long and… you know.
(*Yes, the Animated Series was around, but at age 16 it seemed too juvenile for me.)
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