Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Memory Bank: Star Trek Fotonovels (Mandala Productions; 1977 - 1978)

With the dawn of the home video market and the VHS format also came the death of the niche publication known as the "photonovel."  

If you grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you'll no doubt recall that photonovels represented an essential part of "fandom"  during that span.  Since you couldn't easily watch your favorite films or TV programs any time you wanted, save for the convenient or lucky rerun, the photonovel offered one the valuable opportunity to revisit favorite productions like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers or even Outland. 

In essence, the photonovel was a visual re-telling of a movie or TV episode that featured hundreds (perhaps even thousands...) of frames or stills from that production, as well as "balloon" dialogue (like a comic book) from the script or teleplay.  

The photonovels were gorgeous to look at, featured details you might have missed while watching the film, and also served as an important lesson in film grammar  In other words, you could see, moment to moment, how directors and editors had chosen to compose the action in various productions.  If you were an aspiring filmmaker or film critic, this last plus was a real kick.

In 1977 and 1978, an outfit called Mandala Productions, working for Bantam, released ten episodes of Star Trek in the photonovel or "fotonovel" format.  These episodes included "City on the Edge of Forever," "Where No Man Has Gone Before," "The Trouble with Tribbles," "A Taste of Armageddon," "Metamorphosis," "All Our Yesterdays," "The Galileo Seven," "A Piece of the Action," "Devil in the Dark" and "Day of the Dove."  

Each thick-bound fotonovel from Mandala featured "over 300" color photographs from the episode adapted, and even more than that.  Each fotonovel also featured reader mail and a cast list with descriptions of important characters.  Even better, following each adaptation was a "glossary" that provided definitions for things such as "sensors," "Pergium," "Thermo-Concrete," and more. 

Some editions even featured interviews with guest cast (Mariette Hartley was featured in #6: "All our Yesterdays"), a story quiz, and a sneak preview of the next Fotonovel.

As I wrote recently, I spent the better part of some of my youthful summers on six-week-long camping trips across the U.S., traveling from New Jersey to California and back.  I've seen just about every state in the country, save for Alaska and Hawaii at this point.  

Anyway, since we were making our family journey in a Ford van, we often went for long driving spells from state to state.  Regardless, I was away from the TV -- horrors! -- for long spells of time, and so these Star Trek Fotonovels went with me.  My edition of "Day of the Dove" has fallen apart, and my favorite edition of the bunch, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," is close behind it.  I loved "Where No Man..." so much because it was a pilot episode, and therefore filled with oddities such as the goose-neck screens, the phaser rifle and the transparent communicator.  The fotonovel gave me the opportunity to eat all of the detail up on this "alternate" Trek tech.

I've kept my Mandala Star Trek Fotonovels to this day, though of course, Star Trek is now available for our viewing pleasure on DVD, on Netflix, on Amazon and elsewhere.  

Still, there's something absolutely wonderful about experiencing the series in this colorful paperback format...


  1. I only ever had three of 'em, but I LOVED 'em.

  2. Nice write up on the Star Trek fotonovel books, John. These came out at about the time one of our local UHF stations was running Star Trek every weekday afternoon at 5pm and I would watch every one of them after work. This was the first time I was able to watch every episode in one time period. It was wonderful. I bought all the books and reread them many times – even using them as reference for my fannish Star Trek drawings. Regrettably, I sold all the books years ago and lost most of my drawings as well. But, I still have my memories of both. Thanks for the nostalgia Trek!

  3. Hi That Neil Guy and Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein,

    I'm so glad that you both also remember these Mandala Trek Fotonovels fondly. I know I do.

    I still love leafing through these books, and re-reading them. Mine are getting ratty after all these years, but I still love 'em...

    Thanks for sharing the great Trek memories, and memories of a time gone by.


  4. Donald G1:47 PM

    John, from your list, it looks like you missed the last two Mandala/Bantam photonovels published. Volume 11 was "The Deadly Years" and Volume Twelve was "Amok Time".

    My own copy of "City on the Edge" fell apart after some months, and "Tribbles" split down the middle. I managed to accidentally lose my copy of Volume 11 and replaced it, before finding my original copy some time later in the pastor's office of my grandmother's church. (I must've left it behind when helping at one autumn's church bazar.)

    I was always disappointed that only twelve were produced.

  5. I LOVED (and still love) Fotonovels. I had five or six of the Star Trek ones as a kid; I've since managed to put together a full collection of them, as well as Fotonovels for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Mork and Mindy, and Battlestar Galactica (the pilot episodes for each). I also remember there was one for the '78 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that I checked out from the library several times, but I haven't seen a copy of that one around in decades.

  6. I loved these and still have a few -- not sure how many -- in my "Star Trek" cache which has followed me around in my various moves! Thanks for this great write-up!