Finding the Hidden Stories in New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei

JANM - New Frontiers, 2017

New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei

Edited by Jeff Yang and Keith Chow
SI Universe Media, LLC
August 2017

Growing up with only a very casual knowledge of Star Trek, I did not know who George Takei was until around a decade ago. Certainly, I had seen his face, passing TV sets, and had heard his character’s name–Hikaru Sulu–in conversations and shows. New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei invites readers, new and old alike, to get to know Takei and the life he’s led so far, alongside short comics from a diverse set of writers and artists. It’s an invitation worth taking up, and a collection that carries Takei’s legacy forward into the future.

New Frontiers was produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, which ran from March to August 2017. Like the exhibition, the graphic anthology was curated by writer Jeff Yang with The Nerds of Color founder Keith Chow, with over 80 writers and artists contributing their memories and words. The table of contents is a little overwhelming at first, but Yang and Chow lead you forward by splitting the collection into five parts, each highlighting a particular aspect of Takei’s life and work. Takei himself narrates the introductory comic in each part, explaining his memories through a young girl’s visit to the “New Frontiers” exhibition. It’s a good editorial decision: readers are anchored to Takei, likely the figure they “know” best out of this collection, and are drawn in to the succeeding comics that expand upon the section’s theme.

New Frontiers The Many Worlds of George Takei 2017 book cover

The themes themselves explore Takei’s early childhood, his time in an internment camp during World War II, his burgeoning acting career and role in Star Trek, his identity as a publicly out gay man, and the work he has done to help advance civil rights and diversity, online and off. Within each section, the comics are mixed bags, with strong emotional tugs in the first and third sections.

Highlights of the first section, “Excelsior (World One: Alien Nation),” worked mostly due to the balance between reflecting on identity and empowerment. Jenny Lam’s “Children of the World” juxtaposes digitized text against haunting pencil/ink work, straddling the lines of reflection and budding notes of clarity. “Family Recipe” by Paul Krueger and Wendy Xu is a one-pager that deftly utilizes its space with fun expressions and dynamic depictions of food (which just happens to also be one of my own favourite Filipino dishes). “Mi Nombre es Maddi” by Maddi Gonzales was beautifully simple, full-width snapshot panels grounding the script in single images.

“World Two: Framed!” is more uneven, with a few strong pieces like “Elegy for a Gunslinger” by Joann Yao and Iris Jong addressing the inner turmoil and doubt that a lot of people of colour (POC) feel about telling their stories and claiming their space. Olivia Li’s “Slant” is a gut-punch of a page, Polaroids illustrating the script just as masterfully as the single panels do, all set against a mirror. It’s also in this section that we find pieces like “From Sweden with Love” by Jamie Ford and EC Yi, a jarring entry that never quite reached satirical or reflective heights. “Hero” by Sarah Kuhn and Arielle Jovellanos rounds out the section with a “silent” story, but the lack of dialogue and text don’t detract from the emotion of the piece.

Several of the pieces in “World Three: For Our Love” run on the longer side–three or more pages–as they move between the intersections of race and gender/orientation. Here, pieces like “Hue” by Dorian Cliffe and Ryan Estrada reinforce how much we need comics for kids who are trying to figure out who they are. Trungles’ “Finding Shore” is an ethereal, pastel rumination, hope quietly etched into the lines of its characters’ expressions. The transition between sections three and four, “Justice For All,” feels a little abrupt, as the first few comics are non-autobiographical. Moving through the fourth section took me a little longer than I expected, as I adjusted to the different worlds and times. “Tribulation” by Madeline Zuluaga and “Stay Gold” by Chris Visions are the standout comics here, with their vibrant use of colour and dialogue illustrating how even our smallest actions towards justice and inclusion can move the world forward.

The collection chooses to settle last in the internet, with comics centered around the community that marginalized people can find within their screens. “World Five: Internet Famous” feels inevitable, what with each contributor to New Frontiers having come from seeing the call for submissions on social media or hearing about it from friends found online. Themes of freedom found and new perspectives abound in this section, from the delightful figures in “Out Online” by Charlotte Cha to the full, pink-tinged pages of “Digital Bear Space” by Quan. Mistakes made on social media get their moment too, in the black-and-white “One Bad Tweet” from Natasha L. Barredo.

Certainly there will be comics that resonate for some readers more than others, as they bring their personal experiences into the collection. As a tribute to George Takei, the book gives him space to tell his story and reflect on how he has come to survive. The true strength of New Frontiers is in how it welcomes those moments that might not be top-of-mind, that hide in the crevices of who we are, but which have played a part in building us anyway. They won’t be the same for all of us, and they shouldn’t be, and they remain valuable, reminders of what has come, and where we will boldly go next.

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz is a writer and boy band scholar. You can also find her at Book Riot for endless discussion and flailing over all things literature. Ice cream, Broadway musicals, and Arashi are her lifeblood.