Live From the Convention Floor
Updated: Nov 11
Documenting early fandom in the first person.
The earliest days of Star Trek fandom did not benefit from a lot of in-depth media attention. Not beyond headline-making stunts like the letter-writing campaign that helped save the show from cancellation in its second season. Much of the remaining coverage in the 1970s, before the first motion picture, was of the one-note variety: “Can you believe that anyone cares so much about an old TV show that they would wear pointed ears in public?”
Of course we cared — and it wasn’t simply about any old TV show. But I digress.
When I put aside my hopes to produce and direct feature films, I looked around my studio for a small project to cleanse my creative palette. Something to nurse my grief and give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning (the pandemic was still in full swing, and depression seemed like a real possibility.) I remembered my early days of filmmaking in high school, and the other creative pursuits that ignited my imagination. There on the shelf, was a fat binder of old photos and newspaper clippings that had been thoughtfully collected by my old pal Larry.
Click on the pic for a closer look
While I made a twenty-minute “monster-kid” movie every summer, my best pals and I spent the rest of the year building elaborate costumes and attending early fan conventions in New York City. Best of all, we recorded the proceedings in considerable detail, especially remarkable in a world where pictures were shot on flimsy instamatic cameras and required a 3-5 day waiting period to see the results.
I leafed through this weighty tome, ancient pages crackling with dried glue and musty with the smell of 40-year old newsprint. There’s a story here, I thought. More than the pictures and ephemera could tell on their own. Why not use my experience as a journalist and graphic designer to turn this old scrapbook into a real history?
So for the next few months, I set about scanning 400 images and clippings, and reached out to my convention-going pals to see if they had more to contribute. (Yeah, we're still friends!) A field trip to New Jersey yielded another 100 outtakes and extras, not to mention more stories and memories, thanks to my close costume collaborator and dear friend Ron. All this immersion had an unexpected effect: part of my past came alive with a new meaning.
Between 1974 and 1977, I was a creative kid on fire with enthusiasm for science fiction, movies and comics. And those years yielded award-winning super-8 movies, artwork, stage performances and convention appearances. Achievements that I had previously dismissed as “kid stuff” were now clearly foundational to my life and career. And outside of the fan bubble, these experiences had some interest to others — as unusual and fun adventures. Something to laugh at, sure, but something to enjoy vicariously as well.
So in the process of creating this new scrapbook for my friends and family, I hit upon the idea of telling our story as a first-person adventure. A coming-of-age story set in a world of cosplay. And even as I was filling in the details of our history, searching the internet for particulars like when and where, I was creating a parallel narrative of how and why. Something that could only come from within.
As luck (?) would have it, I learned of a memoir writing workshop taught by another old friend around the same time. (These things aren't coincidental if they have meaning.) So I embarked on a new storytelling adventure, and in the process, found a way to recombine my skills and my history in a rewarding new pursuit.
By the time that I had completed the 90 pages of Teenage Trekkie Tales (from which these photos are collected) I had begun drafting a 250-page graphic novel. A story that sets these teenage fantasies in the context of real life. A time when science fiction was still about the future, and a place where dreamers and visionaries were not welcome. A crucible of bullying, denial and scarcity that would produce strength, character and purpose.
So, I present these excerpts from our history to provide a glimpse into the making of When We Were Trekkies. I spend a lot of time going back through this scrapbook, for photo reference when I'm drawing panels, and inspiration when I'm writing dialogue. I thought it would be fun to share a glimpse of my process, and maybe I'll share some chapters to compare with the finished issues of the mini-comic.
As Marlon Brando seriously intoned in Superman: The Movie, “This is not a fantasy.” Nope, it’s all quite true, I can tell you from experience.
* * * *
Thanks for reading! If you like my blog, and know someone else who might enjoy it as well, I'd appreciate you passing it along. Every little bit helps.