John Byrne talks about Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor

Star Trek visits the “Final […]

Star Trek visits the “Final Frontier” and boldly goes where no man has gone before. This April, John Byrne will take Doctor McCoy where we have nevers een him before. In Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, John Byrne takes Doctor McCoy to new worlds and new underdeveloped civilizations as we discover a side of the Star Trek Universe desperately in need of medical
care. John was nice enough to answer our questions about Star Trek and this new mini-series
First Comics News
: When did you first discover Star Trek?

John Byrne: I was just a few months past my 16th birthday, when the original series began being broadcast on Canadian TV — a week a head of its American debut, as it happened!  It was still quite Summery outside, and my parents were working in the garden.  At the commercial breaks on that first show –“The Man Trap” — I kept running to the back door and shouting for them to come in and see the new show.  The next week, they did, and like me became hooked.

1st: When working on a comic that depicts real people, what is involved in getting your version of their likeness approved?

John: In this case, nothing at all!  Or, at least, nothing that reached back to me.  I sent in a sketch of “my” McCoy to Chris Ryall, at IDW, and that was all it took.  Quite a difference from the nightmare I have experienced in years gone by, working on projects like this.  SPACE: 1999, for instance.

1st: Star Trek is know for its hard core fans, is there difficultly in crafting a story that appeals to Trekkers and civilians alike?

John: The original STAR TREK was written to be very “open” to anyone who happened to watch it.  A minimum of techno-babble, for instance, and virtually no episode to episode “continuity”.  It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which one would show an episode of TOS to a TREK “virgin”, and
find oneself thinking “Before I can show them this episode, I’d better show them this earlier one, and maybe this one, and this one, and…”  I take the same approach here.  As I was taught working at Marvel, “Every issue is the first issue for somebody.”

1st: Doctor McCoy has a lot of catch phrases, “I’m a doctor, not a…”, “He’s dead, Jim”, “I’m just a country doctor.” The fans want to see those type of phrases to give them the Star Trek experience, but as a writer, does inserting those catch phrases hamper storytelling?

John: I found a place for “I’m a doctor, not…” in the first issue, and that took care of that, as far as I was concerned!  One of the things I try to avoid with my TREK work is that ever lurking danger of “The Cutes”. Self-parody lies at the bottom of that slippery slope!

1st: In the real world there are groups like Doctors Without Borders, where doctors go to underdeveloped countries and provide basic medical care. Is this the same type of theme behind Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor?

John: Yup.  I invented an organization called “Frontier Medics“, run by the Federation, which Bones has joined as a way of finding something to do with his time after leaving Star Fleet.

1st: In Star Trek TOS most of the aliens were very humanoid, how unusual are the aliens in Frontier Doctor?

John: Throughout my career, when designing aliens, I have generally tried to avoid what I call “Central Casting Syndrome” — ie, aliens that look like humans with funny appliances on their faces, or wearing rubber suits — but in the STAR TREK “universe” humanoid is the way to go, so, except on the
“Alternate Covers”, that’s the rule I have followed.  I’ve tried to keep them at least interesting looking, though!  And so far, none of my aliens are completely indistinguishable from Earth humans, which was a common theme on TOS.

1st: What makes Doctor McCoy want to practice medicine in space instead of settling down as a country doctor?

John: Within the context of TREK’s “universe”, there would not be much call for “old country doctors”, except out on the frontiers of the Federation, where things might be a little more rough and ready.  Also, as he states in the first issue, McCoy just needed to “get out of the house”!

1st: At what point in Star Trek history is this series set?

John: Between the end of the original series, and the beginning of the first movie.  (Bones has his beard in this series!)

1st: Will we see any of the other Star Trek characters in Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor?

John: Looking for a “Captain’s Log” motif through which I cold provide necessary narration, I struck upon the idea of having McCoy writing “letters home” to Jim Kirk, who is back on Earth supervising the massive refit of the ENTERPRISE.  Kirk, in fact, appears on the first page of the first issue, beating McCoy in his own title!  Then I brought in Scotty for the second issue, in which Kirk appears again, briefly.  There are a couple of guest stars in the third issue, but saying who they are would be a bit of a
Spoiler.  In the fourth (of four) issue another familiar face is also seen — twice!

1st: What makes this series so cool no fan would want to miss the first issue?

John: My hope is that anyone who might be interested in what McCoy was up to in those “missing” years would pick this one up and become hooked.  Sort of like what happened to me, watching that first TV episode, lo these many years ago!

About Rik Offenberger

Rik Offenberger has worked in the comic field as a retailer, distributor, reporter and public relations coordinator since 1990. He owns and operates the e-mail bases Super Hero News service, and his published works in print can be seen in The Comics Buyers Guide, Comic Retailer, Borderline Magazine, Comics International and Alter Ego. On the internet he has worked as a writer and/or editor for Silver Bullet Comicbooks, Comics Continuum, Comic Bits Online, Comic Book Resources, Newsarama and here at First Comics News.