By Jason Strangis
Often considered the best Star Trek episode of all time, The City on the Edge of Forever remains a classic to this day. Artist JK Woodward delivered a beautifully illustrated comic book version of the unedited script by Harlan Ellison from IDW Publishing last year. Woodward managed to perfectly capture classic Star Trek characters Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and added a stunning version of Joan Collins as social worker Edith Keeler. In the following interview, JK talks about Trek and other projects, such as his new creator-owned series Behemoth from Monkeybrain.
Jason Strangis: How did you get the assignment to illustrate The City on the Edge of Forever?
JK Woodward: I simply got an email from Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall. I had emailed him after finishing Assimilation 2, wondering about more Star Trek work, and was told there wasn't any at the moment. I soon got another email saying that there might be something, but it was super secret and had not been officially greenlit yet. When I heard what the project was, I kept my schedule open in the hopes we would do it. Weeks later, I got an email with just a clip art attachment. The clip art was of a traffic light with a large bright green light lit up. I was never more excited!
JS: Did you get the chance to meet and work with Harlan Ellison? What was he like?
JKW: I did! I first met him at a signing at Scott Tipton's comic store Blastoff, in North Hollywood. I had gone there specifically to meet him. I came in through the back room and met Scott and Chris and it took me forever to enter the front of the store. I was EXTREMELY trepidatious about meeting him. I had seen his documentary, Dreams with Sharp Teeth about a years before the meeting, and saw what he was like with some of his audience members in a certain scene and it scared the hell out me.
I was sure I would say something stupid and he would tear into me. So I stalled in the backroom of the store. Worse than that, I had brought a flask of bourbon and I just kept hitting it in an attempt to relax. Of course, the bourbon started to relax me, but it also increased the chance of saying something stupid. Well I finally got out there, Chris Ryall introduced me and I showed him some of the pages from issue 1 that I had started early. It actually went very well. Other than a derogatory quip about my wardrobe, he was very gracious and friendly. Later, we had dinner that very night with him and I got to know him more. Since then we've spent a lot of time together, both while working on the book and after the release. I consider him one of my most valuable friends and I call and visit as often as I can.
JKW: A great deal. There are several more characters, both major and minor, several more sets and several more wonders to see. The major differences are a villian named Beckwith, a scene with space pirates and a 10 foot ancient rock-like creatures who act as the Guardians of Forever. Also, there are a great deal more human moments between both Kirk and Edith Keeler as well as Kirk and Spock. Kirk also feels a lot more Affected by the emotional turmoil of his impossible decision. I find I really enjoy both versions.
JS: "The City on the Edge of Forever" is widely considered the best Star Trek episode, with a tragic, heartfelt ending. What makes that episode so special?
JKW: Kirk fails. I think it's really that simple for me. He is given an impossible situation he can't possibly win and he doesn't. There is no happy ending here. I also like the way the story handles the consequence of time travel. There's something really indescribably uncanny about the concept of existing outside of time (as they did on the planet in the beginning) and jumping in and out of it. Time travel was nothing new, but it always had the characters moving in time, not stepping out of it with the ability to observe the consequence.
More than anything though, I think it was the humanity of the story. You see a Kirk and a Spock you hadn't yet seen at that time.
JS: You also illustrated comic books involving characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Doctor Who. Have you always been a fan of Star Trek and science fiction?
JKW: Oh yes! I grew up reading Bradbury, Verne, Herbert, Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, anything I could get at the library. When I was 13, old enough to get work, I subscribed to a science fiction book club and got 4 titles a month delivered to my home. I also watched all the TV of the time. Trek, Doctor Who, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica…I just couldn't get enough science fiction.
JS: Besides working with Harlan Ellison, you also got the chance to collaborate with another famous scribe in Peter David for "Fallen Angel" at IDW. What was that experience like?
JKW: Incredible. I was told that Peter David had a title, that he was moving from DC to IDW and that he had chosen me to do the covers and interiors. I was working on my first paid comic job at the time when I got the news. I couldn't believe I was working with Peter David right out of the gate! The title was called Fallen Angel and I ended up working on the series for 3 years! After that we did 2 miniseries and we have full intention of doing more. I've known Peter and his family for more than 10 years now. They are great people and I consider myself lucky to have them as friends.
JS: What projects are keeping you busy these days?
JKW: Well, there are a few things I can't talk about just yet, but I've just finished a cover for Valiant and a cover for IDW and DC's latest collaboration, Star Trek/ Green Lantern. I also have a 12 page serial
appearing in Heavy Metal Magazine for the next year. This is a very exciting project because its already getting some Hollywood attention. You can find out more about that here.
But even more exciting to me as an artist is my latest book Behemoth! It's a collaboration with writer Chris Kipinak and it's my first creator-owned project. Everything up till now has been work for hire. Its also exhilarating to me because it debuts a brand new art style. Normally I hand paint everything, much in the same way Alex Ross does, but this time I'm doing ink washes and digital colours in what I think are some exciting results. At the very least it's a brand new look. We're releasing it through Monkeybrain Comics as a digital comic for now. This allows us to keep the cover price down to only 99 cents an issue!
Jason Strangis is a freelance writer who enjoys superheroes, sci-fi, and attending comic book conventions. He can be reached at email@example.com