With the release of Star Trek/Green Lantern #1 and the SDCC news of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy just breaking Villordsutch managed to sit down and chat with the always busy Mike Johnson…
Villordsutch: Your name is attached in the top corner of all the Star Trek ongoing series comics Mike, and you’ve written up a lot of stories. Did you arrive at the IDW doors saying, “I have a plan for the next 5 years!” or are you part of an IDW’s current Star Trek plan for the next 5 years?
Mike Johnson: I wish I was clever enough to have five years planned out! My arrival was fortuitous, because at the time I was working for Alex Kurtzman & Bob Orci, who were in the process of writing and producing the 2009 STAR TREK movie. With their encouragement I had already been writing for DC Comics, and when the plan for a Star Trek prequel comic came around they asked me to work on it. I started writing full-time in 2011, when IDW was looking to start an ongoing Trek comic that would fill in the gap between the 2009 movie and INTO DARKNESS. We launched the new series with Bob Orci acting as our creative godfather, and thanks to the enthusiasm and support of the readers we have been able to keep the Ongoing Mission going on for the last four years. I’ve come up with new stories as the series has unfolded, working usually six months to a year in advance of the publication date.
V: Not only are you the “New Five Year Mission Guy” but you’ve just started what is perhaps the crossover event of 2015 with Star Trek/Green Lantern. How the heck did this come about? Were any other DC superheroes mooted initially, or was this always going to be a Green Lantern/NuTrek crossover?
MJ: IDW and DC had a very successful crossover a couple of years back with Star Trek and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and when it came time for another team-up it felt like Green Lantern was a natural. Both Trek and Green Lantern are epic space-faring sagas with fantastic characters, and it’s been a blast to work on. We didn’t discuss any other DC characters, although there’s definitely a “Trek meets Superman” story percolating somewhere in my brain.
V: Watching the recent SDCC news appear you also seem to be a bit of glutton for punishment as you are also undertaking a whole new Star Trek series of comic books following Kirk and Co. in their younger cadet days in Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. Will these be brand new adventures or are you going to be looking at the old Marvel series – from 1996 – for the inspiration, but bringing them more in line with the current rebooted time-line?
MJ: These are all-new adventures featuring the iconic crew at the Academy during the 2009 movie, between their arrival as cadets and their departure on the Enterprise after the destruction of Vulcan. We are also introducing a new cast of cadets at the Academy in the “present” time after the events of INTO DARKNESS, while the iconic crew (now a few years older) is away on their Five Year Mission. The two storylines will intercut and ultimately tie together in a cool way that I can’t spoil yet. I’m co-writing this series with Ryan Parrott, who readers will remember as the author of issues #18 and #20 of the Ongoing series, which featured flashback stories of Uhura & Spock (#18) and Chekov & Sulu (#20). Ryan’s a fantastic writer who knows Trek inside out and makes whatever he works on infinitely better.
V: Also mentioned at SDCC is your plan on dropping into the “Mirror, Mirror” Universe at issue #50 of the Star Trek Ongoing series, and you’ve only recently finished the rather brilliant The Q Gambit. How much fun do you have in alternative Star Trek Universes where the Prime Directive is nothing but a bad idea?
MJ: There’s nothing more fun than alternate reality or alternate history stories, and luckily they are a staple of Star Trek in all of its incarnations, so I don’t feel like I’m wandering too far off the path when I write them. You don’t want to overdo them, but they are a great opportunity to show other aspects of the characters we know so well. The new Mirror story will be three parts, running through issues 50, 51 and 52. The brilliant Tony Shasteen is already delivering Mirror Universe art that deserves its own movie.
V: With Star Trek #41 starting with Behemoth Part 1, we now see Kirk and Co begin their Five Year Mission. We’re introduced to a possible love interest for Chekov with a new character called Irina and also the abilities of 0718, an officer we’ve only seen in the background of the films, but who has been expanded in the comics. Across the web I’ve heard that the 50th Anniversary film will see the crew more bedded into their Five Year Mission, is your current goal with the comics to develop the backstory to get the readers to the point the film begins? If yes are Irina and 0718 going to main players in the forthcoming film?
MJ: We’re in the early stages of figuring out how the comics will tie into the next movie, but the plan is definitely to set up the film in a way similar to what we did with the previous two. I can’t promise we’ll see any particular character in the new film, because they’re telling a new story that will go in new directions, but what I’ve tried to do is use the comics to expand on characters we only saw briefly in the previous movies (like 0718) and to flesh out the lives of the main cast in ways that a two-hour movie just doesn’t have the time to do.
V: With the Star Trek comic universe now seemingly being what you do with your every waking moment – for your comic book life – do you get any time to actually write anywhere else? If yes what are you writing at the moment?
MJ: I do! I finished a six-issue run on SUPERGIRL for DC, and just finished the first volume of an original sci-fi series called EI8HT from Dark Horse Comics, co-written and with art by the great Rafael Albuquerque. I think fans of the Trek comics will get a kick out of EI8HT, which plays with similar themes but in a very different way.
V: When it came to your influences (either comic book, television, book or movie) which placed you in your position today, what would you have said made you say “I want to do that!”?
MJ: In terms of comics, I was lucky enough to grow up in the ’80s, when legends like Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Walt Simonson, George Perez and Frank Miller were creating iconic work every month. Other huge influences include the Asterix and Tintin series, where every book felt like its own epic movie. In a way I think I was always destined to try to work in comics.
V: Is there anything you’re reading at the moment that you think we should all be picking up? It doesn’t have to be a comic book if you’ve grabbed a book.
MJ: I’m a huge fan of author Neal Stephenson. I’m currently deep into the second volume of his Baroque Cycle. The scope of his imagination is unmatched. If you’re new to his work, I recommend his novel “Snow Crash”, which came out in the early ’90’s but grows more relevant every day.
V: Finally the passing on of knowledge, what if anything can you tell aspiring writers who wish to get into the comic book industry?
MJ: I always feel guilty answering this, because although I had written a lot before I was first published, it was only when a friend who was already a pro asked me to co-write that I actually broke into the industry. I was lucky. BUT I was prepared when that opportunity came along. So I’ll say: read as much as you can in any medium. Study the writers you like and ask yourself why you like them, try to break down what it is that they do: is it dialogue? Character building? World building? Pace, suspense, surprises? Then start writing your own. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. You need to get it out of your brain and on the page. Write the first draft just for you, don’t show anybody, then revise, because revisions are as important (if not more so) as that first version you put down. And don’t give up. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, how old you are, whatever. That first time you see your name in print makes everything that came before it worth it.
Villordsutch and Flickering Myth would like to thank Mike Johnson for this interview and if you want to follow Mike Johnson on Twitter you can find him here @mikecomix. Star Trek/Green Lantern #1 is currently available in comic books stores and if you’d like to begin reading EI8HT you can buy it digitally from Dark Horse here.
Villordsutch likes his sci-fi and looks like a tubby Viking according to his children. Visit hiswebsite and follow him on Twitter.