Editor's letter from the Starve Trek issue
What on earth (or possibly what in the universe) is this? That may well be your reaction when this particular issue of the NI lands on your doormat. Here you are subscribing to a reputable, serious magazine about international affairs and what do they deliver but. a comic book.
Veteran subscribers will know that this is not the first time one of our magazines has appeared in this form. Over the years we have produced a cartoon guide to nuclear power and two separate issues using this medium to explain the causes of world hunger. Indeed when I first became a subscriber to the NI I barely knew what to expect - for each orthodox magazine filled with a series of articles there seemed to be something wacky, whether it was an issue in the form of a world map or a novella written in an African village.
When I joined the co-operative back in 1984 I soon found out that such regular wackiness was less part of some grand strategy than a way of coping creatively with overwork and understaffing. Things have been a touch more settled in recent years but I've always felt there was much to be said for breaking out of your normal format once in a while so as to guard against predictability. There's more than one way to get a message across.
Hence our decision to explore some of our abiding concerns in a new way by harnessing the talent of PJ Polyp, who has both written and drawn Starve Trek. He is a social worker, world development campaigner and freelance cartoonist from Manchester - and he is a real find.
Comics are not what they used to be. Children's comics have always had their charm but just as US titles like Spiderman and The Silver Surfer gave a new and more sophisticated dimension to comic books from the 1950s onwards, so comic artists and writers in the 1980s have tried to push back the boundaries and take comic books deeper into artistic territory. Comics have now begun to deal with serious political issues: the UK weekly Crisis, which has recently hooked up with Amnesty International, is a notable example, while the campaigning lawyers at the US's Christic Institute popularized their radical message on Central America with an innovative comic book (Brought to Light).
Both those examples are dark in texture. Starve Trek, by contrast, pitches for humour in every frame. Humour is obviously the most subjective of responses but I find it very funny and I'm also amazed that I'm still picking up new visual puns and clever details on what must be about my twentieth read-through.
Why parody Star Trek anyway? Through its endless repeats on TV, its series of movies and latterly its move into 'the next generation', Star Trek is one of those few cultural icons which we all share, whether we live in Nova Scotia or Nelson, Cardiff or Cairns. There must be very few of you who have managed to avoid encountering the originals of Captain James Knee Jerk and Mr Squat.
This common reference-point gives us not only the chance of humour but also a more oblique but more entertaining way of approaching the NI's traditional territory: the inappropriate and self-serving nature of much Western aid to the Third World; the control of the global system by men (hence the telling paucity of women on the ship); the waste and destruction of the world's natural resources by Western culture; US intervention in Central America; and the hypocrisy attached to Western buzz-words like 'freedom' and 'democracy'. And through the comic-book format these messages may well get through to people who never normally hear them.
Normal service of a sort will be resumed next month when the NI journeys deep into the Amazon rainforest.