With some major changes in the editorial department behind the official Star Trek book line, it’s probably all too easy to overlook constants in other media. Paul Simpson is one of those constants: he’s the current editor of Titan’s Star Trek Magazine and, as he jokes when we first speak, he’s hoping to stick around for a while.
“I’ll actually celebrate my third anniversary on October the first!” he smiles, as our interview begins. Paul’s first issue as editor was the magazine’s impressive one-hundred-and-thirtieth (its third in the United States), which hit shelves back in 2007. “I worked as a freelancer on the magazine at various times over the years,” he explains. “I’d built up a relationship with numerous Trek cast members and producers during my years as editor of the then-independent science-fiction media magazine DreamWatch, and capitalised on that when I went freelance in 2000.
“Titan invited me to come on board to assist with the Total Sci-Fi Top 100 magazine in summer 2006, as it was originally intended to feature a lot of material from my period in charge of DreamWatch. At the time, they were looking for a full-time editor on Star Trek – John Freeman was helping out on a pro-tem basis – and it seemed to all of us like a good fit for me to take over.”
For anyone who’s not read a copy of the magazine, Paul explains that STM is “the only official licensed English language magazine, published six-weekly. It’s printed in the US and shipped worldwide, and available on subscription from Titan. We cover the whole franchise – my attitude is it’s all one thing, whether it’s the different incarnations of Kirk’s Enterprise, TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, the movies.”
Tonally, Paul describes the magazine as being “a bit lighter” these days. “The humour issue, out soon, doesn’t just have an analysis of the different sorts of humour; there’s also new material created by the guys behind The Completely Useless Star Trek Encyclopedia. If that’s popular, then it’ll become a regular feature, alongside our ongoing Trek Life strip. The only area we don’t cover is original fiction – we have a regular extract from a forthcoming Pocket Books Star Trek title, but we don’t have a licence to produce our own fiction, since that licence belongs, as it has for 30 years, to Pocket.”
As a dedicated follower of Star Trek in all its forms, Paul is the ideal man for the job of editor. “I’ve been a fan of the show since it began in the UK when I was six,” he recalls. “I have very clear memories of where I was when I first saw A Piece of the Action, and that terrific bit at the end of The Doomsday Machine when Kirk is desperate to be beamed aboard. I watched all the later incarnations as they started, and since I was lucky enough to go on set for the last three – DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise – I had a bit of a vested interest in them.”
Whatever Paul’s own individual Trek preferences are, they don’t influence his job. “Hopefully my personal favourites aren’t obvious to someone reading the magazine,” he says. “It’s my job to cater to everyone, from those who came on board with the first broadcast of The Man Trap in 1966, to those whose first exposure to Trek was the movie this summer.”
Said movie, which has adroitly introduced Kirk and Spock to a whole new audience, marked the end of a brief void following the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise, during which there was no new Star Trek material on television or in cinemas for the first time in over 15 years. Given that Paul’s time as editor began in the middle of this period, was it ever difficult to find material to fill the magazine’s pages?
“Let me think. 726 episodes. Ten movies. Lord knows how many tie-in pieces of merchandise? No, I’ve nearly always been in the position of having too much choice!” Right, that’s us told, then! “Luckily we never got to the level that Doctor Who Magazine had, with nine years of ‘dead air’ – the movie was announced not that long after Enterprise went off air so there was build up for that; some obvious, some not so.”
Following the release of this year’s J.J. Abrams Trek film, it would be fair to assume that the potential readership for STM has grown. I wonder whether this has changed Paul’s approach; whether he’s consciously trying to attract these new fans, and how.
“Design-wise, my fantastic designer Dan Bura reworked the magazine from top to bottom to reflect the new movie’s iconography,” he enthuses, “and to deal with some of the comments we’d received about the look during my tenure. As far as content goes, we’re folding the new movie into the mix – so the humour issue includes it; Nero’s discussed as one of the Trek villains etc – as well as continuing to present exclusive material that you won’t find elsewhere, either on the web on unofficial sites, or on the DVD.
“What I’m trying to do – and time will tell if it works – is to follow on from what movie producer Bryan Burk has said: J.J.’s movie is a doorway for fans to find out everything that came before. That’s why we covered the Borg in the first non-movie issue: they’re probably the biggest non-twenty-third-century item in the Trek universe.”
When older subjects are tackled, though, they’re always done in an accessible way. “We’re not taking quite as much for granted now,” says Paul, “particularly when talking about the non-Kirk era stuff, simply because there’s a new audience who don’t know what a Borg or a Ferengi is.”
At the same time, there will surely be readers who are more interested in Kes than the new Kirk. What does Paul see as the right balance between old and new? “I hope we’re achieving it!” he smiles. “There’s still a lot of interest in the making of the movie: with no official book on that on shelves at present, the magazine has really been the only place general fans can get the info. There’s been some stunning coverage in trade journals and Cinefex, but I think it’s fair to say that they don’t have the reach that we have.
“My aim is to produce material that isn’t elsewhere,” he continues, “so once I see the extra material on the Blu-ray and the DVD, I’ll work on our future coverage of the movie’s creation so people don’t go ‘Seen that!’
“At the same time, there’s a host of Star Trek fans who aren’t interested in the movie – either because it’s upset them, or they simply prefer one of the other iterations – so we will continue to cover those. I’ve not done a complete breakdown but I’d say that in the period leading to the movie we gave pretty even handed coverage to the shows, and I’m trying to ensure the same in the issues we’re doing now.”
Whatever one’s opinion on the balance of content, the magazine’s depth of access to Star Trek as a whole is undeniably impressive. Its three recent issues focusing solely on the new movie boasted page after page of interviews, sketches, and behind-the-scenes tidbits.
“We have a great relationship with the various powers that be,” nods Paul. “John Van Citters and Marian Cordry at CBS Consumer Products are our liaison points, and they are brilliant. Titan already had a long standing relationship with Bad Robot through the Alias and Lost magazines and we’ve been able to build that further with the movie coverage – with some invaluable help from Jessica Rovins and Ngoc Nguyen at Paramount Publicity.
“I was on set for the movie,” he elaborates, “as far as I’m aware, the only journalist outside Empire and Entertainment Weekly to do so – and spoke with all the cast both during filming and then in the build up to release, ready for our movie cast issue. Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman have subsequently been great about answering queries. We’re licensed so that means that everything in the mag – from the front cover image to the ad on the back cover – goes through approvals, which is why we can’t print rumours etc. That sometimes can put us on the back foot for news stories but the trade-off is in terms of access.”
For contractual reasons, much of the magazine’s movie coverage was done by Paul himself, but he’s brought on a number of new writers during his tenure, many of whom will be familiar to readers of Star Trek novels… “We’ve gone more analytical I think in my time,” Paul muses, “and for that I wanted people who I knew really understood the themes and characters – and if you’ve written these people, you know them! I’ve been pleasantly surprised that every one of the authors I’ve approached so far has been interested in writing, and I’ve made some strong friendships along the way.
“I also frequent the bulletin boards, notably the TrekBBS, and some of the people I’ve seen making cogent and sensible arguments on there have been approached. Not everyone I’ve spoken to has yet written for the mag – I have to get the right people for the right articles.”
“I hope that the new voices have enriched the magazine with some variety,” he adds. “If I give the same brief to all my regular writers, I’ll get vastly different pieces back. And I know that I’ll get a professional piece in, on deadline – and that if I ask for changes, they’ll be done quickly. That’s vital for editors and that’s why the same names appear regularly.
“Pocket [Books]’s loss has also been our gain – Marco Palmieri, one of the editors at Pocket who was laid off in their round of cuts last December, was invaluable during the movie issues. Everyone needs editing, and he caught errors in the stuff I’d written and saved my blushes. He’s now our news editor and occasional contributor, and all-round nice guy!”
Looking to the future, I ask Paul for a teaser of what’s upcoming from Star Trek Magazine. “In the short term, the humour issue is out very soon, with a villains issue following around Halloween. That includes an interview with Nick Meyer, the Star Trek II and VI writer/director, as well as the Top Ten Villains. It also will include exclusive movie imagery complementing the Art of Star Trek book that Titan Books are publishing in November – not reprints of the book, but actual new imagery. There’ll be a second supplement like that in the final issue of 2009 which will be focusing on the thirtieth anniversary of the first Star Trek movie – that will also have a new no-holds-barred interview with Walter Koenig, and some revealing interviews with personnel involved with the making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
“2010 kicks off with a Klingon-focussed issue, and we’ll be celebrating 15 years of Titan’s Star Trek publishing as well as 15 years of Voyager. We also have plans for tie-ins to the launch of Star Trek Online, which I hope will excite readers and maybe get some people looking at STO who wouldn’t normally.
“Beyond that, plans are fluid but as always, we will be examining aspects of the Star Trek universe, and keeping readers informed of developments on the next film. Much will depend on the date of that movie’s release and its shooting schedule – very much once bitten, twice shy in terms of making too many preparations!”
With so many plans on his plate, it’s probably a good idea to let Paul get back to work. Before he returns to Titan Towers, I ask him what he’d be doing if the Star Trek gig had never come up. “Probably freelancing still,” he suggests, “and hopefully contributing to STM under a different editor in the same way that my predecessor John Freeman is for me! Editing the mag is only part of my workload: I write for DreamWatch‘s online successor, TotalSciFi.com, do interviews for other Titan magazines, and work on other projects.
“As far as editing, the only one I think I’d want to do – for much the same reasons as I now do STM – is Doctor Who Magazine. I grew up loving the show, and was one of the contestants on the Doctor Who Mastermind in 2005” – disappointingly, this doesn’t seem to have reached YouTube – “and I’d enjoy writing for, or editing that. Along with a lot of other people in the industry, I suspect!”
Star Trek Magazine is released every six weeks by Titan.