A regular feature of magazines like Starlog were the one-shot ‘funnies’ that adorned the letters pages. Some were a little clever and delightful, others were typically nothing more than zingers. Both served a similar sort of purpose: to relieve any tensions in irate fan mail and, really, to have fun with some iconic creatures and characters, from Star Wars to a lot of Star Trek (perhaps understandably – Starlog, as its name attests, was originally intended to be a Trek-centric magazine.)
December 1986’s issue 113 featured an Aliens cartoon in its Fan Network section, a page dedicated to reader contributions like photos, cartoons, and convention reports and fan club activities. This one had Ripley entering the Alien hive and encountering something unexpected:
There was also a blurb in this issue quoting Sigourney Weaver: “I won’t do any more Ripley-type roles,” she said. Of course.
January 1987’s issue 114 had a gloomier sort of letters page, with readers expressing opinions on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or popularly known as, really, ‘Star Wars’) and also the realities of nuclear war with the Soviets. “It has been suggested,” reads one letter, “that orbiting lasers and/or laser reflecting mirrors could be used to start massive fires in fixed targets like cities – a holocaust without the aid of atomic bombs.” A lot of tension indeed.
The comic for this issue was drawn by veteran illustrator Mike Fisher. It pitted Rocky Balboa against the Alien, which wasn’t really inspired by anything in the letters pages but played around with an old joke that said Stallone would have to start fighting aliens since his Rocky character had already defeated every challenger on Earth.
Gags like these actually contributed to that year’s Predator – writers Jim and John Thomas both heard the joke sometime in 1985 and wrote the ‘The Hunter’, a proto-Predator that was “Rocky meets Alien, I guess,” according to its writers.
Issue 116 saw readers writing in to express awe and delight at Aliens and also had them throwing around theories about the Alien homeworld and the origin of the Aliens themselves. Others wrote in to question what they saw as incongruities in the story – questions which would be addressed by James Cameron in a following issue (see James Cameron Responds to Aliens Critics.)
The gag for this issue depicts Carter Burke stowing the Alien Queen aboard the ride home. It’s zinger-ladden and quite fun:
Issue 121, released in August 1987, included another Alien gag in the Fan Network section:
There was a dearth of Aliens articles and interviews at the time, including talks with Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen. I cannot pinpoint the exact issue that this following panel appeared (bad record keeping) but it’s a nice little ode to Believe It or Not, after which Ellen Ripley was named.
September 1987’s issue was a little prophetic with its cartoon:
The same issue had a special feature with James Cameron addressing the queries and criticisms of fans. His responses came with a couple of illustrations by Phil Foglio, the best being a good natured little gag at the critics’ expense:
December 1988’s issue 137 had the Alien infiltrate the Enterprise crew:
February 1989’s Starlog 139 played around with earlier concerns about SDI and replaced it with a deadlier payload:
Another Alien panel with a couple of happy-go-lucky creatures appeared in issue 148 from November 1989:
July 1992’s issue 180 had readers writing in to debate Star Trek and Space 1999, and also to express views on the expiring Cold War. George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin had declared that the decades long standoff was over on February 1st of that year, but, obviously, a lot of gloomy feeling persisted. One reader wrote that: “Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of George Bush … makes one seriously doubt that T2‘s ultimate point is in favour of global disarmament” and “our very freedom has been guaranteed by these weapons for 50 years”, along with terms like “Soviet Empire” and “Communist soil” sprinkled throughout.
Veering away from such loaded topics, illustrator Mike Fisher again put the Alien up against one of geekdom’s champions. This time, the ever resourceful MacGyver.
James Kester also had Weaver’s idea of copulating with the Alien come true. The romance quickly petered out:
Issue 182 featured another Alien gag as part of its Cosmic Improbabilities line.
The Fan Network page also toyed around with the upcoming Alien 3 and The Three Stooges:
This issue also featured the first of many letters criticising Alien 3, most especially the killing of Newt, Hicks and Bishop during the opening credits.
Issue 183, released in October 1992, saw the fan pages flooded with complaints about the third film. The grievances in question are nothing new by this point: the contrivances of Newt and Hicks’ deaths, the sad denouement of Bishop and Ripley’s sacrifice didn’t sit well with fans. “I could not believe my eyes!” opened one letter. “After watching the first two minutes, I was so mad I almost stood up and left the theater.” Other gripes included Newt’s autopsy, inconsistencies with the Alien’s gestation time, the likeness of Ripley’s descent into the flames to the end of Terminator 2, the over the top gore, and the behaviour of the Alien itself. Even fans who wrote in to express love for the film were confused by plot points (such as the infamous ‘magic egg’.)
There were predictions (“There will be no Alien 4”) and plaudits and condemnations alike for director David Fincher. Still, the magazine kept a sense of humour, pitting the Alien against Spielberg’s E.T., having it admire Ripley’s dome and joining the Enterprise crew once again.
There was also a joke at the expense of the Alien’s ability to take the shape of its host:
There was no Alien art in issue 184, but fans were still writing in to express disappointment and disgust at the third film. “Alien 3 is one of the worst pieces of trash I have ever seen,” read one. “The screenplay is a garbled mess,” and “the movie’s plot is simply a weak repeat of the first movie” were following complaints. More ire was directed at how the film was marketed (“The previews made it look a lot like Aliens. They even used the music from Aliens in the trailer”) and, again, the gore, the Alien creature’s propensity to slaughter everyone and also discrepancies in the design of the Sulaco and its cryotubes between the second and third films (“Fincher must think we’re idiots.”)
The nineties were the primetime of Alien merchandise, specifcially comics, games and toys. Issue 229, released in August 1996, poked fun at this by throwing the Alien into a Toy Story scenario.
It’s a nice little toon, especially when you consider that Toy Story had Joss Whedon as one of its writers, and Joss had written Alien Resurrection, which was less than a year from release at the time.
The following cartoons were graciously given to me by artist Mike Fisher, and they appeared in various Starlog issues during 2004-08.
Starlog itself sadly petered out. It celebrated its 30th birthday in 2006, but was bankrupted and eventually sold in 2008. The year before a warehouse containing back issues of both Starlog and Fangoria magazine burned to the ground. The magazine still persists online, and can be visited at Starlog.com.