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…