Song of the Whale

My son Conrad sent this link to me the other day. It’s beautiful on so many levels for me

  • It’s light jazz/fusion nudging up into New Age
  • It’s from Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home and we all know that  an even-numbered Trek film = great flick.

Mostly it conjures up memories of our family and I crossing back and forth over a BIG chunk of the United States and Canada in the late Eighties. It was before all our byzantine seat-belt laws were enacted so we were able to take the middle seat out of our 76 VW Combi giving us basically a toy room on wheels.

If you are in search of Nirvana, and I mean the state of mind rather than the musical group try this:

  • Driving in a light Alberta drizzle in May, the engine and drive train humming over miles and miles of superb pavement
  • The propane heater doing its best imitation of a fireplace
  • Sean’s of Battle Beasts defending the sink from a flank attack by Conner’s mini-Thundercats
  •  …and the soundtrack to “The Voyage Home” playing softly in the background.

IDW Comics “Wrath of Khan” Adaptation Covers

IDW WrathOfKhanTryptch

Shortly after we moved to Clarksville I was contacted by IDW Comics to do a trio of covers for their ‘Wrath of Khan” adaptation. I was elated to get the project, sure that I had finally cracked the comics market in a big way…until I found out that I was basically a nostalgia act. The decision had been made based on my covers for the Star Trek role-playing game from the 1980’s rather than on anything recent I had had published.

Then they told me that my covers would grace the “dealer incentive copies” of the print run – dealers would have to order twenty-five of the regular issues before they could order one with my art. Again, it  seemed like a good deal, my work being the Holy Grail and all until I determined that IDW Trek books were not exactly flying off comic shop shelves, which meant very few of my covers would be sold.

I fussed about it for about three minutes, then figured that if Steven Stills, Joe Walsh and  Blood, Sweat & Tears  could do the nostalgia circuit then so could I.

I designed the covers to work together in a triptych of sorts, which given the degree to which some fans venerate the Trek world is more accurate term than you’d think.  I’ve had complaints from readers that all the graphic devices and lines don’t match up precisely; all I can say is there are always trade-offs with printed work as it goes through preparation for the press.

Since my recent post of the Spock cover included the masthead I’ve left them off this image. This Kirk differs from the actual printed version; shortly after submitting the JPEG I got a call from the editor wanted a more aggressive expression which I dutifully painted and resubmitted. Somehow the original image made it to press instead of this one.

…one more to share…

2011-02-02 Spock

This was a commissioned piece that I drew a couple of years back. Sandy ‘Sam’ Rollins had me do a couple of Trek pieces for her older siblings Greg and Karen – and of course now I can’t remember who got which drawing. Not that it mattered: the Deitricks and the Hershbergers were all one conjoined circle in the big Venn diagram of life Back In The Day.

Rest in Peace Mr. Nimoy


I had been holding this image back until a specific post which would have dealt with  my third go-around with Trek illustration work (IDW’s Wrath of Khan covers) but it seems  more appropriate to run the image now.

When I was a high school freshman and being punched around on a regular basis it was important to me to have a safe place I could go to in my head – where my friend could immobilize the punch-ers with a simple neck-pinch. Later on when I was trying to cope with medical problems removing me from flight status it was calming to see that same friend coping with his humanity while trying to contact V’yger.

In general it was heart-warming to see the fantastic body of work (both old and new) that he built over the years:

  • matching fists and wits with Illya Kuryakin
  • accomplishing the “impossible” with Jim Phelps
  • cruising the main drag with the Bangles
  • coaxing a great motion picture out of three hunks and an infant.

In the end it still was his role as Spock that had the most impact on me – and not “Spock as scientist” but “Spock as moral compass”. As the airwaves in the late 60’s began to fill up with anti-heroes whose values would depend on the situation, it helped me to see a bit of Vulcan consistency….

Star Trek: Skybox Cards


I was lucky enough to purchase the big Bob Peake book last year. I’ve always loved his work and while I cannot begin to emulate his flamboyant macho drawing skills I’ve shamelessly horked some of his color schemes and compositions. (Don’t try to match illustration to illustration as I was never that successful enough in my emulation).  Mr. Peake even  managed to inspire one last time as I was reading his book. I can’t remember if the words were a quote – or if they came from his son who compiled the book. The thought was this: if Bob Peake were to try and get a start in today’s illustration market he’d have a very hard time with is particular out-of-the-box style.  When he was starting out illustrators usually dealt with just one person (the art director) while the norm now is art direction by committee …and any time you have to accommodate several opinions in one piece you end up with something much less dynamic that you’d otherwise produce.

That thought verbalized what I have been thinking about – and encountering – over the last couple of decades, ever since I first encountered the phenomenon while working the Skybox Star Trek MasterSeries II trading card line..It was the winter of 1993-1994 and I thought my work with Star Trek was all in the past. However, word through the illustrator’s grapevine was that Skybox was commissioning Trek work so I sent off packets to as many different Skybox addresses as I could find, which wasn’t easy in those pre-Internet days. I think I sent stuff to their printers, to their warehouse – maybe even to the guy who walked their dogs.  It was a shot in the dark but freelance was getting pretty thin and I wasn’t teaching enough to pay the bills.

The shot in the dark hit something because two months later I got a call from the agency that was putting the second series together. It was a dream project: nice rates, reasonable deadline and even an allowance for purchasing reference material ( i.e. toys).The images above were the two best pieces out of my particular assignment: a ten-card sub-set featuring various starships.

There was just one hitch: even though they’d hired me on the basis of my Trek covers, the committee that was overseeing the card line wasn’t  going to let me use the same strong graphic compositions as I had during the FASA , when I was just working with Jordan. I was able to work a little bit of graphic line work in the backgrounds but for the most part it was fairly straight representation work.

( It wasn’t the only speed bump in the job – I had one guy in Paramount licensing department turn back one of my cards because I didn’t have the correct number of lifeboat hatches on the ship in question.)

…and I was revising that painting and adding hatches I wondered if anyone had counted hatches on the Enterprise in Mr. Peake’s stunning Star Trek: The Motion Picture marquee poster back in 1978.

Bryan Gibson

What is it with upper respiratory infections and artists? I’ve battled serial asthma/bronchitis/pneumonia all of my life but I always figured that it was due to problems with my immune system ( that is one contributing factor but I will cover it later). However, when you figure in the following factors it’s  obvious that the constant coughing and wheezing has as much to do with the job as the genes:

  • Constant fatigue  ( working all night to meet deadlines)
  •  Environmental hazards (fumes from airbrush work, dust from sanding sculpts)
  • Low Income (Where does the money come from for treatment and medicine)

What brings all of this to mind? This morning I was reading about the passing of Bryan Gibson last February and as I thought back over the year it kind of startled me because I was ill with pneumonia at the same time…in fact shortly afterwards I had a near-fatal asthma attack that has caused me to carry an Epi-Pen (r) with me all the time now. I wonder if Bryan had that continual battle for breathing as I did or if it was a singular event.

I first became acquainted with Bryan in 1986 when out of the blue he called late one night to talk about Field Grade, a military-oriented fanzine he wanted to put together. He was looking for artists with military experience and he had gotten my name and number from Donna J. Barr (Bryan and I had never met but as we compared duty stations we figured that we’d actually worked on the same remote airhead/assault strip during JRX BRIM FROST 1981.)

To be honest his name didn’t set off any flares when he called , but when I looked back through my GDW library after the call  I got a bit queasy. . He had been so polite and deferential during the conversation that I assumed he was a fan with big dreams… but when I made the connection between the name and the work it occurred to me that perhaps Bryan had things turned around – I should have approached him first, cap in hand.

He was so blinking good and while I hadn’t noted the name his work had had me sweating bullets for some time. With his skill and speed I figured he’d be crowding me right out of the black&white game market at any moment, my only advantage being  my color work but I was not looking forward to that time when he bought a set of markers or picked up an airbrush…that and the fact that in true Southern style to Bryan deadlines were more like suggestions than hard & fast requirements.

We finally met in person in the early 90s when my family and I moved south so I could pursue a graduate degree. We’d link up at conventions and compare notes on business and hobbies. I still remember the day I showed him a letter I’d received from MG John Frost (6th Para) of Brunvel and Arnhem fame – his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas.

We lost touch around Y2K ( the year, not the scare) when my back “issues” started to make conventions a losing proposition. I wish we’d have stayed in touch but it’s like they say, you’re never thirsty until the canteen is empty. It is comforting to know that he’s now in a place where  he has all the paper and pens he’ll ever need and there are no more deadlines.

FASA Star Trek : ST:TNG Officer’s Manual // Equipment Cut-away Drawings


This was almost one of the coolest products ever to hit the street from FASA. I started work in late 1987 and I worked on it sporadically for the next couple of months. It was full of all sorts of nice techy information but evidently the Great Bird had problems with some of the text; book was pulled and edited down to a ghost of the original form (I think most of my cutaway drawings failed to make the cut). If you have the first volume you have a collectors’ item.

I worked hard to make the “guts” of each device look functional. Again, a background in industrial design followed by experience as a maintenance officer in the Army was of great help. In order to facilitate maintenance almost all complex devices in the military are built up out of smaller components; first and second echelon maintenance/repair consists mainly of testing and replacing those smaller modules. It  was disappointing to see wire & LED “spaghetti” when Data or some android was opened up on camera. Maybe it was a budget thing or  writers thought viewers needed 1950’s technology in understand what was going on.

STTNGPhaserOne   STNGOfficersManualPhaser

When I got to the Phasers I tried to carry on with the design philosophy used with the Original Series side-arms: the concealable Phaser 1 could clip into the Phaser 2 when more power was needed with the Phaser 2 clipping into a rifle when you really needed to knock something down. When I got to my version of the rifle I decided to have some fun.


Taking a page from George Lucas’ book I styled the rifle on a British STEN submachine gun i.e. the lethality of the base weapon is mirrored in the new device. I rationalized the long side-handle as being the base for a more accurate “triangulating” sighting system…and these weapons would need them because you’d have a hard time hitting anything with them.You’ll have a hard time finding a current military rifle without a pistol grip because they help shooters more instinctively aim. It plays on the way you hold your hand when you point a finger. Flatten the hand out and your aim gets even more shaky; when Worlds of Wonder used a flashlight -format for the initial prototypes for Lazer-Tag they found effective aim to be impossible.

The word must have gotten through: this “dust-buster” format got an angled-down handle towards the end of DS:9.

FASA Star Trek Boardgames

Operation Armageddon

I was startled to find this image while doing some ‘surfing” today. It brings back some difficult memories of hard lessons learned.

This was a comprehensive sketch for one of three strategy board games FASA was developing in the middle of their RPG run. Paramount had just announced modification to their licensing agreements; up to this point West End Games also had a licensed Trek game line but were limited to strategy board games but that policy was being changed. From that point on the various licenses were non-exclusive – the holders could develop board games, RPGS or whatever they thought would sell.

I got a panic call from Jordan: they needed comps for proposed games to go in the new catalog – but there was no budget to cover the cost. As at this point we were all still “friends” I did the work on spec, with the understanding that I’d get top dollar when the actual game covers were commissioned.

They never were…and it was at about this time that I noticed a distinct “coolness” radiating from Van Buren Avenue in Chicago and the whole “we’re in this together” atmosphere slowly faded away. It was a sad lesson: sometimes you can’t be as nice to people as you’d like to be. Sometimes people take it as a sign of weakness.

Sometimes people shoot themselves in the foot.

Trader Captains and Merchant Princes


This was a nice bookend of sorts; the second TREK supplement I did for FASA was a reworking of a Mitch O’Connell cover and this (almost) next to last FASA Trek supplement was an O’Connell rework as well. At the time I never got a straight answer as to “why’ they were having me do new covers  because Mitch’s work is great, but as time has passed I found out that I was being used as a club to keep him and other artists in line – in the same manner that other younger, less expensive artists were eventually used against me when I was better established and getting better rates

There were other aspects in the project that were equally stressful. I made a typographical error in the computer readout in the illustration but there was not enough time to send it back to be reworked. Oddly enough I was glad that I had to let a mistake like that stand because I would have been required to make another change had there been an extra week or so available.

I’d have been required to make the security guard white.

One reason the original TREK series appealed to me in the first place was the way people of all shapes, sizes and colors got along – so it was disconcerting to find that my efforts to put some variety in the RPG covers met with resistance. There were no crossed being burned – but there was always a “good reason” why I had to change this person or that person. I worked around the issue by featuring George Takei twice but with this cover I just made sure in the sketch that security guard had strong side-lighting so the skin-tone wasn’t so obvious, and once the sketch is OK’d…

It wasn’t the last time I would run into covert bias.  A few years later I had another client who fought tooth and nail to keep strong female characters off his covers so when I sent in a cover featuring an armed female adventurer standing guard while her male compatriot (with weapon holstered) was working on bypassing an alarm I came close to having the job cancelled and being banned from all future work.  

This was also one of my first “celebrity death covers” too. I had a lot of fun featuring Harry Mudd on the cover but two months later Roger C. Carmel (the actor who played him) died. It happened again twenty years later when Ricardo Montalban died two months after I included him in one of the covers I did for IDW Comics Wrath of Khan adaptation.

…so, the next time you start thinking that it would be fun for me to paint you into one of my covers you may want to get a check-up first!

The Dixie Gambit


I’m including this one only because my eldest son Conrad will never forgive me if I left it out. The Dixie Gambit was by far and away my least favorite FASA Trek cover. Why? There are too many reasons to reel them all off but A) the crewmen are not my best work involving the human figure and B) my first (and rejected) cover design was ever so much cooler, featuring Uhura dolled up in Klingon armor and doing her best “Dirty Harriet” while aiming a disruptor at an unseen target.

(‘Did I fire four phaser bolts or five? Go ahead – make my light-year”)

Technical specifications: Ditto as with the previous covers. Once I got comfortable with that mixed airbrush/paintbrush technique I stayed with it because it worked so well.