NYCC 2022: Visiting The Final Frontier With `Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Artist Chris Fenolgio
by Tom Smithyman
While some artists spend their time at New York Comic Con negotiating new deals or connecting with other creative minds, Chris Fenolgio spent his con painting a mural on the side of the IDW booth. The artist on the new Star Trek: Lower Decks comic book series – the second issue of which is out Wednesday – took a few minutes to chat about his love of Star Trek and why the franchise is still relevant decades after it launched.
Tom Smithyman: You have spoken eloquently about your love of Star Trek. Talk about what it means to you to be working on a Trek comic book like Lower Decks.
Chris Fenolgio: I’ve been a big fan of Trek since I was a little kid. When I was growing up, Next Generation was still on the air, so I was catching it as it was coming out – as much as you could in the mid-90s – and being like 5.
I’ve always wanted to work on something Trek, but I have kind of a cartoony style, so I was always thinking I was never going to be able to draw a Next Gen series. And then Lower Decks came out.
Smithyman: Which is literally a cartoon set in the Next Gen era.
Fenolgio: Right! After watching the first season, I immediately loved it. And I wrote to IDW’s then editor of Star Trek and was like, `Hey, if you guys ever do a Lower Decks thing, I was to try out. Just let me try out. I don’t assume I’ll get it, but let me try out.’ He wrote back and said they didn’t have any plans for now.
So a few years later, they switched editors and Heather Antos put out a call asking: `Who likes Trek?’ When I responded, she asked me if I wanted to do some samples. So I did traditional samples. I did stuff for Discovery. I did drawings of Captain Picard, of Sisko – more in the vein of what you would think when you draw Star Trek. And I did the same thing, after I was done with those sample, I wrote her an email saying, “If you guys ever want to do a Lower Decks one, let me try out.” She told me to send her a few samples.
She really went to bat for me. She said I was the number one choice for her, and I got the job.
Smithyman: In my review of the first issue of Lower Decks, I praised you for nailing the look of the series and each character. Did you adapt your style to fit the show or was it kismet that you’re working on this particular book?
Fenolgio: The short answer is no. I don’t draw like that, necessarily, so I had to adapt it a little bit. But I can draw in different styles when I need to. It was just a lot of research and a lot of effort. But I just think the series really deserves that. When I read Ryan’s very first outline – the first page-and-a-half outline that he sent in – it was so close to the tone of the show that I knew I couldn’t do this just run through a Chris filter. It has to Lower Decks. It has to be that – true to the series. And that was my goal from day one. I want this to be the show in a comic, that’s what I want.
Smithyman: How long will the series run?
Fenolgio: Just three issues. But they’re 30 pages, so it’ll be 90 total.
Smithyman: Next Gen is over 30 years old now. What about that series that is so endearing to you?
Fenolgio: For me, it’s really the philosophy of the show – just this idea that people are not doing these things because of monetary concerns or to get something out of it. They’re doing it because trying to be the best people that they can. They have this collective sense of wanting to push humanity as far as they can. They want to be the best at their jobs, not because they want to get paid more but because they want to be good at it. And there’s a certain ethos to that. I just really wish more people had that. I wish I had more of that.
There’s that aspect to it that I think is really important. Something about that always spoke to me. I just think it’s such a good outlook. As an aspirational show, I think it’s an amazing thing to shoot for.
Smithyman: You’ve been painting a mural on the IDW booth all weekend. Tell me about it.
Fenolgio: IDW asked me to paint a mural for them of Lower Deck stuff. They were kind enough to fly me out here, and I put together a much-bigger-than-I-assumed-it-would-be mural for them. It was a lot of fun. I was able to squeeze in all four of the main characters. I wanted it to be a riff off of Fantastic Four #1. It’s just a lot of fun to put together.
I’ve never done a mural like that – or anything like that. I’ve painted before but not quite to that size. I like taking artistic challenges. The same thing with Lower Decks. I wanted it to be like the show. I like taking on artistic challenges to improve myself – to be the best that I can be.
Smithyman: What’s next for you professionally?
Fenolgio: Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I’ve been working so hard on Lower Decks, I haven’t really been thinking past it too much.
Smithyman: Are you done drawing the third issue?
Fenolgio: Not yet. I have 10 pages left to color.
Smithyman: Talk about working with writer Ryan North.
Fenolgio: Ryan North is Ryan North. They told me he was on the book, and I was like, `Really? You want me to draw something for Ryan North? Are you sure there’s not another Chris Fenolgio standing behind me?
Smithyman: Thanks for taking the time to talk. Now get back to that mural!