Mike Johnson is a New York Times best-selling writer of comics and animation. His credits include STAR TREK and TRANSFORMERS: PRIME for IDW Publishing, SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN/BATMAN and SUPERGIRL for DC Comics, FRINGE for Wildstorm Productions, and episodes of the Emmy Award-winning TRANSFORMERS: PRIME television series for Hasbro and the Hub Network. Johnson previously worked for several years in feature film development and production. He is a graduate of Stanford University.
Yasmin Liang is a Hong Kong-born illustrator and comic book artist. Her credits include Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology (Secret Identities) 2012, Before, After & In Between: Comic Anthology 2012 and BOOM! Studios Steed and Mrs. Peel #4 - Ongoing 2013. She is a graduate of Parsons the New School for Design.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike and Yasmin @ IDW’s Starbase about their careers and what’s next for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Michael Garone: First job as a comic book writer-artist?
Yasmin Liang: I worked on Steed and Mrs. Peel Ongoing for BOOM! Studios from #4 until #11. Before that, it was short stories in anthologies like Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology (Secret Identities).
Mike Johnson: My old friend Michael Green had started to write an arc on Superman/Batman for DC, and he asked me to join him. I have no problem admitting I totally cheated my way in! Somehow I've stuck around!
MG: Who or what inspired you to become a writer? An artist?
YL: I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by comic book material to absorb as a child and eventually decided to pursue it as a career after much second-guessing. At first I read mostly newspaper strips before discovering DC comics and the Batman. I think it was a love of Carl Giles' work that pushed me in the direction of illustration before I realized that I continuously came back to comics as a narrative format in my illustrative work. Much of my love for the comic book narrative stems from my love of story-telling.
MJ: The seed was probably planted with the Richard Scarry books I had as a tot, which are comics in their own way given the combination of words and pictures. And then growing up I was obsessed with Narnia, Middle Earth, Asterix, Tintin, and the Claremont/Byrne X-Men.
MG: Do you relate any character development based on your own life experiences?
YL: Perhaps a little of Spock! Spock has a mixed heritage, much like myself. It's a bit difficult to describe, but having a mixed heritage can be a blessing and a burden. A lot of what Spock goes through as a half-Human and half-Vulcan, I can relate to.
MJ: My father is a doctor, and I grew up around medical talk, books, etc., so I probably relate to Bones out of familiarity. Not to mention that Bones and my father are both named Leonard, so maybe I was destined to write Star Trek stories.
MG: Who of all the characters you have ever written about and drawn is your favorite? Why?
YL: If I spend enough time with them, I fall in love with all the characters I work with. I think it's important to understand the character and where they come from, before attempting to draw them. I think it contributes a huge amount to how they carry themselves or where they would stand in a room even. I most enjoy the characters whose personalities inform their body language.
MJ: Yasmin said it best. I love them all. Dialogue-wise I love writing Spock. His unique syntax is always fun, and I enjoy trying to capture the sound of both Nimoy and Quinto on the page.
MG: Star Trek Ongoing Issue 29 hits stands this week and starts a new story arc. What can you reveal that’s not giving too much away?
MJ: It's a very different, very cool story that embraces the idea of infinite realities. In one of those realities the genders of the Enterprise crew are swapped, so we meet Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk and her team. The adventure really kicks into gear when Jane and the others meet their doppelgangers from "our" Trek universe. It's the kind of out-there story that made the original Trek show so unpredictable and fun.
MG: I, Enterprise is the next arc with issue 31. Can you elaborate on that story?
MJ: Issues #31 and #32 show the origin of Science Officer 0718, the bald android-looking guy we first saw in Star Trek Into Darkness. I can't say too much without giving away his secret, but it's one of the advantages of the comics that we can flesh out supporting characters in a way that there's just not time to do in a blockbuster movie.
MG: Is it difficult to write stories for this alternate universe?
MJ: Not too difficult, because the fact that it's a new timeline is very freeing. We're able to take risks and do things that might not work in the original timeline because we'd have to be careful not to contradict everything. Things like Spock and Uhura's relationship, and new crewmembers we didn't see in the original series, are examples of how the alternate universe opens up new areas for storytelling.
MG: Does Roberto Orci send in story ideas first and you have to build on that or is
it vice versa? Can you explain the process?
MJ: Bob is great about letting me run wild aboard the Enterprise. I bounce ideas off him, and he signs off to make sure nothing will conflict with what's being planned for the movies. Bob will also suggest characters and stories to use, such as making Robert April the antagonist in the Countdown to Darkness prequel, and re-imagining old episodes like "Return of the Archons" and "The Galileo 7."
MG: Will IDW be exploring the Prime Universe (original timeline) in the future for a team-up with the Alternates? Whether it be TNG or TOS crews?
MJ: I would love to have the two Kirk crews meet. That's the kind of story that would be hard to get onscreen now, but it's the kind of thing comics are perfect for. I will say that fans of TOS and TNG should keep an eye on the "Parallel Lives" story in #29 and #30.
MG: What is your favorite episode or two from the Original series?
MJ: Hard to pick from all the great ones, but I have a special fondness for "Amok Time" and Nimoy's performance in it. It brought an emotional truth to the show that proved Star Trek was not just about ray guns and aliens.
MG: Favorite & Worst Star Trek Moments from any of the TV series or movies?
MJ: Both involve Data for me. The best is not so much a moment as a whole episode, "The Measure of a Man", when Data's humanity is put on trial. The worst is when Data dies in the "Nemesis" movie. Not because I didn't think it was a poignant and meaningful death (I'm a "Nemesis" defender!) but because he's my favorite Trek character and I didn't want him to go.
MG: What can you talk about or reveal on what’s coming up in future issues?
MJ: We continue the ship's Five Year Mission that launched at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness. After "Parallel Lives" and "I, Enterprise" we have a MAJOR story arc launching that will hopefully be announced soon. I can't say much, but we should do another Q & A when the time comes...
MG: Do you have any current or future projects you can talk about?
YL: I'm currently working on Mrs. Pankhursts Amazons for BOOM! studios. It's about some very cool suffragettes. Hopefully, I'll be back for more Star Trek one day.
MJ: There are things percolating, but right now my focus is on telling the best Star Trek stories I can.
MG: Thanks for your time!
MJ: Live long and prosper!
Star Trek #29: Captain Jane Kirk leads the crew of the Enterprise on its five-year mission… That’s right... "Jane.”