SPACE.. The Final Frontier..

Here are some left-handed drawings from recent TV sketch nights drawing Star Trek. The bright colours and simple shapes, not to mention the broad characters and melodramatic action of James T. Kirk and his iconic space-faring crew can be quite fun to draw.


I remember the very first time I ever saw Star Trek; it was 1974, I was 10 years old and my family had just moved to England where we had, for the very first time, a colour TV. One of the first colour shows I ever remember seeing was Star Trek, which I’d never seen before, even in black and white. The bright primary colour scheme is obviously designed for the primitive colour TVs of the 60s/70s. Subtle it was not, but the comic book palette, hammy lighting, and the spaceships and aliens, made a vivid impression when I was used to black-and-white and only 10 years old. I was inspired to build a crude model of the starship Enterprise, using bits of junk around the house: 2 aluminium pie-tins as the saucer, some ’Smarties’ tubes as the nacelles, and a paper-towel roll as the fuselage, all connected with Icy pole sticks. Despite the hilariously naff image you must now have in your mind’s eye as a result of that description, the Pie-Tin Enterprise was the sleekest and fastest starship in the TeeveeRoom quadrant of the OurHouse galaxy.

The first episode of Star Trek I ever saw has the memorable image of the starship Enterprise being menaced by a giant HAND in space. The hand is attached to none other than the Greek god Apollo, who was merely another alien for captain Kirk to clash wills with. I credit this episode for a ’Chariots Of The Gods’ fixation that kept me reading cheesy paperback theories about aliens building the ancient world, from ages 10-13 (to the amused disgust of my father, the classical humanist). Of course, I’d missed the point; the message of Star Trek is that we HUMANS are capable of big things, and in this very episode we learn that no trumped-up Greek God is a match for James T. Kirk and the humanism of Star Trek. Despite his pompous posturings, Apollo gets a regulation Starfleet boot up his Olympian toga.


Starfleet encountered a lot of robe-and-sandal wearing aliens influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, when captain Kirk swaggered about the galaxy in the Enterprise. In fact, many aliens and locales encountered by the human race in the 23rd century looked coincidentally very much like whatever the Desilu/Paramount prop department already had lying around from old shows in the mid 1960s. Kirk and crew warp away to the Turkish-harem planet.. Then teleport down to the Medieval-castle planet, visit the 1940s Nazi planet, or drop in on the Cowboy planet, Or the 1930s-Chicago-Gangster planet.. ..well, you get the idea.

In the 1960s, the most famous Star Trek alien villains, the Klingons, were just swarthy, ambiguously-ethnic dudes with Fu Manchu moustaches. In the later movies and spinoff TV series from the 1980s and 1990s, Kirk’s nemeses were made to look properly alien, and had their own language and customs, but in the 1960s show, Klingons were merely a race of nefarious ‘Ming the Merciless’ types. This had long been the formula for baddies since the beginning of pulp literature; make them remind the audience of non-specific foreigners, and you’re done. This may have been budget limitations, as such lazy xenophobia is at odds with the inclusive casting of the crew of the Enterprise, who represent many races and nationalities. This was quite forward-thinking in a 1960s America which had not long ago been in a World war, was currently in a both a hot AND a cold war abroad, and wrestling with civil rights conflicts at home.


Leading the Enterprise crew is none other than James T. Kirk, sitting in his Starfleet captain’s chair like a smirking king upon his high-tech throne. I imagine a ‘real’ starship captain would never leave his command post, and would control things from afar, like modern commanders do, but like any good warrior king, captain James T. Kirk spends as much time on the battlefield as in the throne room. He accompanies many an away-team mission, where the red-shirts inevitably get charbroiled, while Kirk’s tunic gets torn in pec-revealing two-fisted judo action. My friend Steve once made the hilarious observation that captain James T. Kirk was essentially President John F. Kennedy in outer-space. Perhaps J.T.K’s strutting-rooster showdowns with Klingons, and slap-and-tickle sessions with green alien babes were indeed inspired by J.F.K shagging Marilyn Monroe while playing games of nuclear-chicken with Kruschev.

That same cocktail of political tensions, machismo and sex created James Bond too, so it must have been a 1960s thing. (Apparently, Ian Fleming was President Kennedy’s favourite fiction author, and it’s a scary thought that Fleming’s overblown and undercooked James Bond novels of the 1950s influenced real-world 1960s politics, by way of an avid fan becoming the US President.) James T. Kirk would have undoubtedly approved of John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Well played, Jack.” “Thanks, Jim.” Then the two of them could have met James Bond at the Playboy club on StarBase Alpha for some 3-dimensional Venusian Baccarat and zero-G hanky-panky with Orion cocktail waitresses.


In a few episodes, we see that some women have joined Starfleet just to bring James T. Kirk coffee in his captain’s chair. This show is set in the 23rd century, but we are often reminded that the writers themselves lived in the 1960s; the era of Mad Men. Female Enterprise crew rarely have leadership roles, mostly being nurses rather than doctors, and assistants rather than department heads. Lieutenant Uhura is indeed a Starfleet officer, and I am told that it was revolutionary at the time to have an African American female bridge officer as a main character. Yet, in the 1960s, even the imaginative powers of science fiction writers could not envision a 23rd century female Starfleet officer as doing anything more useful than essentially answering the phone and operating the switchboard. But, I have to remind myself, for a 1960s audience the fact that there were women AT ALL on a military vessel was progressive; the US Navy did not have a ship with a mixed male-female crew till 1972.

The Star Trek pilot from 1966; ‘The Cage’ can now be viewed on Netflix or DVD. It was never broadcast in this form, though re-cut as the 2-part ’Menagerie’ episode from season 1. The original ’Number One’, the Enterprise’s first officer, was envisaged by series creator Gene Roddenberry, as a capable and logical woman; a wise, captain’s counsel role, not unlike that which ultimately went to Spock. (Interestingly though, the original captain was a goon). The original female Starfleet uniforms were closer to the more practical unisex style of the later Star Trek spinoffs, and it’s clear that earlier than 1966, Roddenberry wanted not just a racially integrated show but with an attempt at progressive gender roles too. But the network (or perhaps mid 1960s focus groups) wanted this changed. So we have bee hive hairdos, go-go boots and mini skirts, and this decision to make the show more ‘hip’ to the standards of 1966 makes the portrayal of females the most dated element of Star Trek by far.


In Star Trek episodes, it is often mentioned in passing that 23rd century Earth has defeated poverty and racism. That would seem more of an achievement than the Star Trek adventures themselves. I would certainly like to see the solutions to these problems that have beset the human race since day one. In fact, it is remarkable how little about Earth we actually know, given how many episodes of Star Trek and its various spinoffs there have been over the almost 50 years since it first aired. Future Earth is apparently ‘fixed’, but we only see that world through the eyes of a regimented military organisation patrolling the fringes of human interstellar civilisation. Ultimately, which political solution worked? For obvious reasons, they kept the details vague, in the TV show at least.

Star Trek gives me nostalgia for an old idea of the future. I have an unmistakable affection for this show, despite, or perhaps because of, all its cheeseball budgetary limitations, and its dated vision of quaint, retro-futuristic optimism. There’s a strange blend of forward-thinking, and old-fashioned, cold war, bone-headed, machismo. Starfleet is ostensibly out there in space, to learn from the universe, but smugly bustles about the galaxy telling aliens what to do and bashing heads with them if they don’t see things our way. “Prime Directive” PC cultural sensitivities rarely hampered James T. Kirk from cockily brawling his way from one end of the galaxy to the other, and shagging his way back again. Yet, there’s an underlying likeable quality, a confidence that the human race will prevail, and we’ll eventually solve our problems with rationalism. There’s no problem we can’t fix with a technological dingus, no alien so powerful we can’t lick, or better yet, make friends with.


And if the manifest-destiny of Starfleet eventually meets THAT God a few galaxies over, and discovers that it too is an alien, will it be Yahweh or the highway for our favourite starshipful of ‘boldy-going’, busy-body humanists? Stay tuned for next week’s thrilling episode!

71 thoughts on “SPACE.. The Final Frontier..”

  1. I like the 1960’s/JFK/Bond theories. However, my theory about the early rich, lush, saturated colors is that it gave a more exotic, “alien” look to things. And more dramatic, comic book/pulp stylings. (And for cheap–just throw some gels over the lighting!) I love it! Plus, I recently finished watching another childhood fave of mine, The Wild, Wild West series, start to finish. That show started in b & w, then switched to color for season 2. Omg, and what color! It was equally extravagant and vivid, and it was not just in the lighting, but the whole art direction. It only lasted that way a few episodes before it came back to earth. My point is this: I wonder if the network wanted to strut the fact that this was now COLOR TV, b&w no more! However, I don’t know if this extended to other shows switching over at the time (or was only a feature of the fantasy/adventure shows…)

    I prefer the original Klingons to the later ones. Yes, they were lower budget. But they were meaner. They sneered lot. Maybe they were more Ming the Merciless, but Ming was one of the great villains of all time. I don’t think they reflected a racist approach, since they didn’t marry the Fu Man Chu’s to Asian performers. Later Klingons have a kind of constipated surliness by comparison. And, I actually fault the makeup on later Trek incarnations for a lack of imagination. Classic Trek didn’t have the budget or the technology to do truly alien beings (with some exceptions), but later Treks did, and yet they were always human-types, albeit with some extra bumps on the forehead or nose, some spots, color, or similar lameness. (Can you tell that no other Trek exists for me besides Classic Trek? ;) Oh, and Wrath of Khan, of course, and maybe ST:4…)

    I have to log a minor disagreement regarding Jeffrey Hunter as the original Captain, too. I dug him! He was a forceful commanding presence, just like Shatner. I think one couldn’t ever do better than Shatner, but Hunter was all right. They both took their cues from Leslie Nielsen, and Forbidden Planet. Classic Trek was a two-fisted action show, with some brains behind it. The best!

    I think it’s cool that you are drawing from tv. I’ve been doing that a lot also. For me, mostly it’s because I love drawing the faces of all these distinctive character actors–but I would be better to mix in some scenes and color, as you are. I really love the second drawing you did (yes, with the Enterprise being gripped by the giant hand!–Love that!)–it reminds me of that great Chuck Jones Road Runner cartoon, with the two rapt kids watching tv:

    • Yes, I agree that they used the colour well and to get maximum bang for the buck. Jeff Hunter was OK i suppose, but nowhere near as likeable as Shatner, despite the constant ribbing for his being a hammy actor! I’m with you; I like all versions of Star Trek, but the original is hard to beat.

  2. I really love the comparison between Capt Kirk, JFK and James Bond. I can see the three of them hanging out after work bragging to each other about their accomplishments. I really love all of the drawings, but my favorite of course is the one of you and Jo in front of the Telly. I love the sepia tones and color on the tv screen itself – really nice!

    • Julia>I know that the OFFICIAL story is that Captain James Kirk was inspired by Captain JAMES COOK (who by the way, claimed Australia for the British crown) but I really like Steve’s “JFK in Space” theory best. I’m glad you liked the pic of me and Jo. I think i made significant progress with that one.

  3. Thanks once again, dear boy, for the memories that your series of stuff consistently evokes for a partially-engaged-at-the-time and sometimes only semi-comprehending Dad. You need to draft-in some help from Jo to render a bit of time-warping telly watching with some other little boys, incl one (Alex) on a potty – from after you’d fled the family nest, of course. Please accept renewed congratters from me and Wendy, by the way, on the increasing mastery of the lefty mode. Abso bloody lutely marvellous. Love, Dad

    • Thanks Dad. The left arm retraining is one area of my rehab where I see changes month to month. I’m not sure if I will ever be fast enough to be a pro story artist again, we shall have to wait and see.

  4. I don’t think our family had a color TV til the early 70’s. My first memories of color TV was from visiting our neighbors to watch either Star Trek or Gilligan’s Island during the late 60’s. It too made an impression on us, but I think I related better with Gilligan than either Kirk, Bond, or JFK! BTW your “left handed sketches” are looking less and less like left handed drawing and looking more and more like just Jamie drawings.

    • yeah, My drawings are starting to look like mine. I still get frustrated quite a bit by the general slowness and lack of dexterity but I am making progress. Thanks for commenting.

  5. I agree that the one with you & Jo is a definite breakthrough; it is a unified image but has an interesting combination of various layers of personal, objective, fantastic & real memories. This is your genre alone. The one with the flight officer in the miniskirt is my second favorite one; to me it has a very lucid (almost Japanese looking) design to it.

    • Thanks, Rob. It’s very slow and laborious sometimes, but I’m getting somewhere so it’s worthwhile. I think my second fave was the one of Captain Kirk about to bludgeon the lizard, just because the drawing came a little easier that time.

    • When I was in the cave for a week I was surprised at how agonizing it was when i got down to business & painted (10 times more agony than when I work at other jobs) I vomited 3 times during one painting, once during another & came close to hurling during a third. I call this “emotion vomiting.” I’ve only emotion vomited once before when mixing bands when the front of house amp died in the middle of a Cabaret show with a full house so the paying audience could hear nothing. My mouth & throat went bone dry my heart was racing. I got the singer to announce a 10 minute break due to technical problems & then pointed his pissy little monitor speaker toward the audience & the show went on even though it was rough as guts & he could no longer hear himself. Luckily he was easygoing & didn’t become an arsehole & the audience still seemed to enjoy the show & didn’t complain. The owner of the sound system got there after the show & to save face for having dodgy equipment blamed the whole thing on me in front of all the managers & staff & guilt-tripped me about the thousands of dollars of damage she would have to pay. I emotion spewed about it the next day in Hyde Park on the way to another job because at that stage I wasn’t sure if I was at fault or not. Maybe the emotion spewing while painting was caused by the overwhelming feeling of futility, confusion & disgust that would prevail for 3/4 of the painting until something started to gel. For me creating stuff has to involve some kind of struggle & if doesn’t then that is even more cause for concern because it suggests complacency or indifference which can never yield good results. It sounds pretentious but the suffering is very real for me when making things I care about. The beauty of the cave was that no other humans had to be there when I was neurotically fussing around, emotion spewing etc; I’m sure it was not a pretty sight.

  6. Awesome drawings James! And all with one arm tied behind your back! ;)
    I have to say I was more of a ‘Lost In Space’ kid than ‘Star Trek’ one (and later I preferred ‘Star Wars’), but I’ve certainly grown to appreciate Kirk and the Enterprise … even if I haven’t seen all the episodes or movies yet!

    • Peter! I was a big LOST IN SPACE fan too, and I’ve probably sen more episodes of that. It’s just that STAR TREK made a bigger initial impression.

  7. I think of your writing (as you already know) as professionally publishable and wish you would. But these drawings!! I am astounded at the dexterity of your left hand that now can communicate your artistic genius. Wonderful work, James; absolutely wonderful.

    • Thank you, Melinda. I’m enjoying the writing as a way of keeping me sane. As to getting published, I like that idea but I’m not sure how to proceed. So I have a loose plan to self publish a book of my childhood recollections when I get enough material. Thanks for your comments about the drawings. I can feel the progress each month, which is gratifying.

  8. “…nostalgia for an old idea of the future…”

    Well put, and great analysis of the show. I watched it as a kid as well, plus the reruns that I saw after class in art school. I remember being riveted as a kid, and then still enjoying them as a college student, even though the the stories were VERY familiar by then. (same with the Twilight Zone) The ‘international’ flavor of the crew I could only compare to the Olympics as having the same level of diversity as presented on American TV. I do think the optimisim of humanity reflected the Kennedy era as it was portrayed to the public. Keep drawing & keep writing.

  9. Great sketches! I still remember the revelation that Kermit was actually green when Barney St Telly finally went colour. Don’t remember what year that would have been…

    • I think OZ got colour in 1975, but yeah Barney Street may not have gotten a colour telly till after I’d left? Seem to remember that Dad splurged on a lot of stuff arrived around then; video, game consoles, etc. Maybe 1983?

  10. Oh I love this article, James! So much nostalgia crammed there for me. I went through a stage where I desperately wanted those boots and a beehive and also be able to lay flat any desperadoes who came onto the Enterprise!! Love the post-stroke images, James. They are so soft and nuanced! Thanks so much for this multi-layered story!!! Marvellous!!


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