Some of the great popular modern art of the 20th century was done in the form of movie posters and book covers. In these mediums, a designer is given the luxury of approaching another artist’s work and boiling its themes and most vivid imagery down to a single evocative image. But TV shows rarely, if ever, get this treatment, which means that when a show like Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek–which featured the work of some of the greatest visionaries and talents of the 1960s–never got a chance to have its own Saul Bass, Bill Gold, or Joaquin Pertierra poster designs.
But what if episodes of Star Trek weren’t just unceremoniously broadcast over the airwaves but played in local movie theaters? What if some of the top designers of the ’60s got a chance to make movie posters for each episode? That is the conceit of Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz, a wonderfully retro new book out now from Titan Books that gives a different ’60s-style poster design to every one of Star Trek‘s original 80 episodes.
“I was always inspired by Star Trek and the contemporary world that Gene Roddenberry was trying to escape from,” Ortiz tells Co.Design. “What was great about the series is that it was so many things at once, all wrapped up in sci-fi: it could be a courtroom drama, a western, a war tale, a horror story, a romance, or anything else, just set in space. What binds them all together, though, are the contemporary social and political backdrop of the ’60s and the ’70s.”
It is by channeling the style and aesthetic of the ’60s and ’70s seen in the designs of movie posters, pulp book covers, comic books, and advertisements that Ortiz pays tribute to the turbulent time in which he grew up, and the television show that helped get him through them. “I have more vivid memories of those decades than any that followed,” says Ortiz. “But those days weren’t all groovy. The assassinations, Vietnam, the civil and women’s rights movements, the draft, the Son of Sam, the Cold War.”
Feeling that it allowed for a more conceptual design approach, Ortiz often worked from memory of episodes or plot synopses available online rather than re-watching them. For example, Ortiz’s memories of a nuclear attack drill siren going off every day at noon when growing up in New York inspired his poster for the 1967 Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon,” in which the crew of the USS Enterprise visits a world fighting a computer simulated war against a neighboring planet, but with real fatalities: The losers of the war must “own up” to the virtualized fatalities by climbing into disintegration booths, matching them one-to-one.
Other posters borrow their influence from different sources. Ortiz’s poster for “The Space Seed” (Star Trek‘s first appearance of Khan) was inspired by the designs of graphic artist Saul Bass but also has a distinct propagandist bent, as a seed of terror grows from a skull in the form of a jagged, shadowy hand to grasp the Enterprise.
Episodes with a distinct message or moral attached to them (Roddenberry’s forte) made for particularly good posters. For example, for his cover of the third season episode “The Empath,” Ortiz channeled the style of Spanish cover illustrator Joaquin Perterria and shows just the charcoal outline of a woman’s face with a single tear streaking down it, shaped like the Enterprise. Her eyes may be planets.
“I was particularly affected by ‘The Empath,'” remembers Ortiz. “It’s a story of sacrifice that cemented the friendship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. It’s the episode that, to me, more than any other, demonstrates why Star Trek is more than just a sci-fi series.”
Star Trek: The Art Of Juan Ortiz is available now from Titan Books. It can be purchased on Amazon here.