My Afterlife As a Comic Book Character: Reflections from the Cast of 'Star Trek'
A visit to Seattle's Star Trek convention reveals the conflicted feelings cast members have towards being immortalized in comic form.
Many actors have portrayed Superman and Batman. Those characters began life as graphic fiction in the pages of comic books, and when Hollywood decided to project them on the screen, big or small, it was the job of the actor to embody the character, to fill out his chest, broadcast his bravery -- to fulfill expectations about physical and mental prowess.
Being a comic book character who derives his or her persona from a character already played by an actor is a very different thing. Rather than the comic book character driving the actor, the body of work associated with the actor becomes the basis of the mythology that lives on through comic books, often in fill-in-the-gaps stories, sometimes in parallel universes. For those who love the character, however, to adopt a character they loved on a screen, means maintaining consistent underpinning for the character -- a heart, that continues to beat even through the flesh-and-blood has become ink-and-paint.
I have personally watched every episode of every Star Trek series, many dozens of times. I have also enjoyed their two-dimensional representations in properties owned by Gold Key, Marvel, DC, and IDW.
I had the opportunity to discuss becoming a comic book character with several members of the Star Trek universe at a recent Creation Entertainment Star Trek Convention in Seattle, WA and ask them what it feels like to be a comic book character. I found most hadn't even thought about it, but some, like Gate McFadden, Star Trek: The Next Generation's Doctor Beverly Crusher, wholly embraced the idea:
"I often, in my life, I find myself being a comic book character. I love being a comic book character. The artwork is great. I love the words and sounds. It's self-contained. I love little stories like that. I love them, you know."
In order to attract attention and funding for her latest passion, the Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA (where she is currently directing The Last Look Back starring Star Trek co-star Brent Spiner), McFadden engages her alter ego "1/8th," an action figure depicting her as Star Trek: TNG's Crusher.
McFadden's tweets and accompanying images demonstrate a great sense of humor about her most iconic character. Here's an example.
Of " 1/8th" McFadden says "She's had a therapy session. She's takes off her clothes.
My action figure, my tweets are all about getting grants for the theater. I'm having fun with them. That's why I started doing them."
On comic book artists, McFadden quips that "It's interesting that sometimes I look fabulous and sometimes I look terrible. You can tell if the artists like the character or not by how well they are drawn."
It appears that J.K. Woodward, artist on Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation has reverence for the entirety of the Trek and Who universes.
I then caught up with Chase Masterson, Star Trek Deep Space Nine's Leeta -- wife to Ferengi Rom, amateur sociologist and former dabo girl.
When I asked her about being a comic book character she noted that "By and large, the greatest part of any fandom is to be a part of it. The stories are transcendent. The fans are sweet. They help make you aware of how the world works best. I'm having a blast."
Leeta stood up for worker's rights on Deep Space Nine, and so too does Masterson. The actress currently volunteers regularly with Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a "first chances" to former gang members. She scrolls through dozens of names of people who she calls, and can call her, for a check-in on reinventing their lives. "This is my passion," she says.
Next was Denise Crosby, Lt. Tasha Yar, late of Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, Romulan clone and time shifted volunteer hero. "I loved comics as a child," she says, "I used to love to go to Bob's Big Boy because I got to get Big Boy Comics. I never thought, you know, I would get to be part of this iconic life of comic books. I am so honored. Yes you can win Oscars and Tonys and Emmys, but how many people can actually be comic book characters. That is an award in itself."
I ask what it feels like to have other people's words come out of a likeness of you, when you've never read the script or utter those words. "Well, as long as I'm projected true to character," she notes, "and they keep my waist as a size 15, I'm OK with it. They tend to make you look pretty surreal."
I then chatted with LeVar Burton, Star Trek: The Next Generation's stalward engineer, Geordi LaForge. "I put comic books in the category of being an action figure, or a Pez. We have fan fiction," he continues, "when you're so lucky to portray an iconic character, you have to surrender ownership of that character to those who really love the character."
Finally I sat down with Jon Steuer, who played the young Alexander Rozhenko, Worf's son, in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Steuer wasn't recast, not because he wasn't warrior enough for the role, as is implied by a Jonathan Frakes quote on the Memory Alpha website. No, Steuer says, "they pulled out the tape measure. I had grown. They said 'this isn't going to work.'"
When asked about Rozhenko in comics Steuer said that "it's like being immortalized on TV and film. They flash freeze your persona. You are forever immortalized as you as that character, at whatever age you are. I find it a huge honor and a privilege. This is the only role I had as a SciFi role. To take on a role like that as an actor, it's a privilege, but it's also easier, as you are so out of yourself."
And of course, there is the business of comic books, summed up by a brief, one-line statement from Star Trek: The Next Generation's Marina Sirtis, the always indomitable Counselor Deana Troy: "I have only one thing to say. I want to know where my royalties are for using my likeness."
Some honored. Some offended by the business model. Most unaware of how pervasive their Trek personas have become in media other than film or video. Comic books create a true alternative universe, extensions of universes inhabited by real actors, living people who once uttered words from a script, but who now have little or no influence on their appearance, their behavior or their dialog. They have to just hope that the writers and the artists respect them and the property enough to represent them in, as Mr. Worf might say, "an honorable way."