The illustrator worked on Star Trek: Waypoint #3 and is filling in for Tony Shasteen on two-issue story of Star Trek: Boldly Go.
Spending my Sunday night examining Zachary Quinto’s face in careful detail because I have pretty much the best job ever.
— Megan Levens (@SadMeganGirls) February 6, 2017
Jealous? Star Trek fans can’t be blamed for feeling envy when one of their own gets to become a part of the franchise. Add artist Megan Levens’ name to that list after illustrating the Deep Space Nine story for Star Trek: Waypoint #3. However, Levens time in the Final Frontier did not end there. She has been hired to fill in for regular Star Trek: Boldly Go artist Tony Shasteen, who is busy drawing the new Star Trek: Discovery comic for IDW.
Levens joins Johnson (who is also writing the Discovery comic) and Ryan Parrott for a two-part arc in Boldly Go #7-8, titled “Murder at Babel,” which reunites the Enterprise crew with Jaylah. She joins the new characters Johnson and Parrott introduced in Starfleet Academy in 2015.
“Sarah Gaydos and I just had a great time working on the Waypoint story,” Levens recalled. “She said, ‘do you want to do more Trek?’ She offered and I said, ‘yes please.’”
“Pinch me” moments for Levens have come at a flurried pace of late. When Star Trek Editor Gaydos approached her for the Waypoint anthology, Levens was just happy to be included. The fact she was given a DS9 tale with writer Cecil Castellucci made it all the more special, with the icing on the cake it being a Major Kira story.
“It was really meaningful to do a Major Kira story; she was my favorite character, DS9 was my show,” Levens said. “Being able to put my mark on that world was really amazing. I was a huge Trekker when I was in junior high and high school. It’s been really interesting to revisit that. Working on Star Trek is sort of a homecoming with me.”
Levens continued, explaining how she was able to capture Kira’s passion in Waypoint #3, “I just connected to the really strong female friendships I’ve had in my life, and pulled from those emotions. As a transplant to California, I related to the idea of finding a new family in friends and colleagues – I had those emotions in general. I joked with Sarah that I drew a lot of terrible DS9 fan art in high school.
Of course, drawing characters from her favorite show did have one drawback for Levens. “I held myself to such a high standard on the Waypoint story. When I was drawing Bashir, who I had a huge crush on – he was so dreamy – I feel like I did not capture his likeness well.”
While DS9 still holds a special place in her heart, as she has matured, so as her Star Trek tastes. These days, Levens finds herself drawn to the Vulcan characters of the franchise. Now she is drawing Spock, Sarek and T’Laan (the “awesome” protagonist from Starfleet Academy comic) in Boldly Go. Getting the opportunity to put her distinctive mark on two parts of the franchise is not bad for an artist who got her start drawing on the walls of her parent’s house.
Star Trek is not Levens’ first foray into the world of licensed comic books either, as she worked on a seven-issue run of Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer last year. She was able to take the lessons learned from her stint at the Hellmouth and incorporate them into her work on the Final Frontier. Her time on Buffy allowed her to refine her illustration style, which she has carried over to her work on Star Trek.
One of the difficulties in drawing licensed characters is being able to capture the actor’s appearances so networks will sign off on the art. In many of those stories, readers can see that character images came directly from reference photos. While it does not take away from the story or the artist’s ability, it does alter how the story is told. Levens however is one of those rare artists who are able to capture actor likenesses without surrendering their own individual style – the results of which leave the reader with a terrific experience.
“I actually had the great fortune of being on a panel with Georges Jeanty (Buffy the Vampire Slayer artist). He made the point, for him, he always approached actor likenesses as not drawing a photo of that character, but their likeness – they have to have character cues; Buffy’s eyes, Spike’s chin. I try to create a character design that isn’t tied to an individual still photo; otherwise, the head will have to turn a certain way. I’ve designed something that looks enough like Chris Pine, who I am working on right now.”
A picture can tell a thousand words. When looking at a photograph, it can be obvious what is going on in the subject’s mind. However, an illustrated picture of a person can be hit or miss depending on the artist’s style. Levens’ technique is tailor-made to display emotion a she always manages to capture what is going through her character’s mind at any given moment – especially in her illustrations of their eyes (refer to the last panel of Waypoint #3 as Kira walks the promenade).
“There’s that old saying, that ‘eyes are the windows to the soul.’ You can tell a person by the emotion that comes through the eyes. Every actor, there is something unique there. If I can just pull that off slightly, that sells the rest of it more.”
Before Star Trek and Buffy, Levens’ sequential story-telling was less action and more character-driven. Stories like Ares and Aphrodite for Oni Press and Madame Frankenstein for Image Comics, both with writer Jamie Rich, are character studies. The nice bit about Star Trek and Buffy for Levens is that those titles gave her new storytelling experiences to grow; both focus on strong character moments, while also adding in the occasional bat’leth attack or spaceship.
Star Trek: Boldly Go presents a new challenge for Levens. She is drawing these characters for the very first time. Sitting down on Super Bowl Sunday, she scrutinizes the facial details of Zachary Quinto as she watched a behind-the-scenes feature. It’s just one of the ways she attempts to capture actor likeness’ cues.
I love drawing Simon Pegg as Scotty – his eyes really translate well to my style, I love his facial expression and goofiness.
Freelance artists do not have it easy considering they never know where their next job is coming from. For many, another gig is needed to meet bills and such. Levens is one of the lucky ones, as she has been consistently busy for the past two years and was able to leave her job working in an art supply store.
Levens is living the dream of Star Trek fans. Now she looks to the next challenge in her career. She said she should would not mind being asked to draw The Next Generation, the show that ignited her passion in Star Trek – “I had a slumber party and wanted to watch TNG. The first episode I ever saw was ‘Skin of Evil,’ which was traumatic. I grew to love Tasha Yar in 20 minutes, and they killed her.” Yet she also has her sights set on checking off another bucket list item.
In general, I keep putting out in the universe that I would love to draw Ms. Marvel or She-Hulk. I haven’t had the chance to do a superhero book, but Star Trek is in between with fantastic worlds and characters.
The influence of Star Trek on Levens’ life is unmistakable, from admiring strong female characters like Kira, B’elanna Torres and Tasha Yar (“I had trouble speaking out and admired that trait in those characters”) to the Federation’s mission. Levens’ recently held a fundraiser for the ACLU, offering sketches for those who donated to the organization’s cause. She literally ripped a page from Star Trek’s playbook with her gesture, and is one way the franchise continues to influence her life.
It’s really hard not to talk about Star Trek in the current political climate. The message of Star Trek and the Federation is so positive, inclusive – live and let live. The Prime Directive is about observing, not directing or interfering – accepting no matter how hard it is and coming to terms to the fact that it’s not your place to come in and correct that. Live your own life and not impose your values on others.
So many fans realize upon revisiting the different series and episodes as they get older that the show takes on a different meaning for them. It is a testament to the longevity of the franchise. It still holds up and is relevant today. Even Levens has discovered something new about the character relationships and what they represented that she missed upon initial viewings.
Revisiting Voyager, I realize the feminism of Janeway and Seven of Nine that I didn’t get as a 14-year old. It totally crushes the Beichdel test. As an adult, I’m like, ‘oh yeah, now I know what it is that I connected with.’
Now, Star Trek is cool, too. When I was in high school, it was not cool. People are really getting what it’s about and why it connects with so many people, this inclusivity and love that are in this world.
Readers wanting to get a look at Levens’ previous sequential storytelling should check out her Waypoint story, Ares & Aphrodite, Madame Frankenstein as well as two other titles nearing their conclusions – Spell on Wheels for Dark Horse with Kate Leth, about three witches on a road trip, and Angel City for Oni Press with Janet Harvey.
Star Trek: Boldly Go #7 and #8 are scheduled to be in stores this April and May.