John CookBy Sebastian Lorenz
Posted at March 8, 2000 - 6:00 AM GMT
Welcome back to another exiting week at the Community Profiles!
You know Sev Trek, the weekly Star Trek comic spoof? Well, probably, since it is the most successful parody on the internet, available in more than 20 languages (even klingon and vulcan). I talked to the master of all Sevs, cartoonist John Cook, who gives some insights on how everything evolved, gives an outlook at the upcoming Sev movie and more. Check out the home of Sev Trek and many more Sevs at the Sev Wide Web.
Sebastian Lorenz: First of all, who are you? How old and from where?
John Cook: Who are you? Sounds very Babylon 5. I'm a 28 year old Australian cartoonist.
John: Yes, I've been married to my wife Wendy for nearly 6 years. We just had a beautiful baby Gabrielle 4 months ago.
Sebastian: Congratulations! With a third member of your family, how did that change your daily routine, or your life? (if that is not a too private question...)
John: I don't mind talking about Gaby at all. In fact, most people try to STOP me talking about her! The first few weeks of our lives were very disruptive and I didn't get much work done. However, we've settled into a nice rhythm now. Wendy left her graphic design job to go on maternity leave which is a bonus for me as she is a whizz with computers and colours all my cartoons now. One of my favourite things about being a cartoonist working from home is I get to spend all day with Gaby while I work so I get to see many of the first things she does that a lot of other fathers might miss.
Sebastian: When did you get started with Sev Trek?
John: I published my first Sev Trek cartoon on the internet in about 1995. The actual idea probably originated several years earlier as doodles in my ideas book.
Sebastian: I'm doing cartoon drawings myself and from what I've experienced, my "doodles" :) looked very different a few years ago from what they look today. Has it been the same with your little Sevies?
John: Yes, in subtle ways. When I look at the cartoons I drew back then, I cringe because my characters look like wooden blocks with eyes. Nowadays, I try to put much more fluidity in my drawings (my general rule is to avoid drawing any straight lines) so although it's a subtle thing, to me I see a big difference.
Sebastian: Is there anything that you don't like to draw in your comic strips?
John: Yes, technical stuff like cars - I am unfortunately *hopeless* at cars. Speaking of past cartoons, this week Wendy was colouring one of the very first Twist cartoons I drew featuring giraffes driving a convertible. The car looked like a block of wood with wheels - horrible stuff!
Sebastian: Sev...hum...sounds pretty neat. Where does the name come from?
John: Sev is a word a friend of mine from high school used all the time. When I asked him where he got it from, he couldn't remember. I don't know why but the word just stuck with me and later started using it with my cartoons (Sev Trek, the Sev Files, Sev Wars, Sevylon 5, etc). I had no idea how much it would take off.
Sebastian: What does it mean?
John: As for the meaning, well, I can't reveal that. Not for any particular reason other than I love infuriating everyone who wants to know! :-)
Sebastian: Not even for us?
John: Well, sure, if you promise noone ever reads this interview :-)
Sebastian: Will you ever reveal the meaning of "Sev"?
John: Actually, yes. I have this cartoon called the Sevloid Chronicles which is an original scifi story (eg - not a parody of anything) set in the Sevloid Galaxy. I've actually written a story where the main characters go in search of the origin of their Galaxy's title. Well, I haven't written the whole story - mainly just the ending where they finally find out what it means. It's a funny scene but it will be a long time before I get around to publishing it.
Sebastian: How long does it take to you to draw and edit a comic strip until you've got the final version?
John: It takes about half an hour to an hour to pencil a comic strip. Sometimes it can take a little longer if I have to caricature new characters. It takes another 15 to 30 minutes to ink in the comic strip. Then I hand it over to Wendy who converts it into computer format and colours it - it usually takes her about half an hour to do that. So a single comic strip on average is about 90 minutes work.
Sebastian: How do you get the ideas? Do they just come while watching an episode or do sit down and think?
John: Depends on what you're talking about. For my scifi comic strips, I get a stream of ideas sent to me so I usually choose from there. Add the fact that all the punchlines are written by readers means they're probably the only cartoon that has more writers than comic strips!
For The Pits and Twist, usually Wendy and I sit down and nut out ideas together. Wendy writes most of the Twist these days as writing single panel cartoons is very difficult for me - I'm much better at writing dialogue and stories.
Often when writing scripts and stories, I get ideas while watching shows but more often, ideas leap into my head while reading online reviews of episodes or weird punchlines submitted in my cartoon competitions. But the most effective way of thinking of ideas seems to be while doing chores - the dishes, driving, showering - anytime when my mind is free to wander.
Sebastian: Is there actually a comic you've drawn which you don't like that much?
John: One of my many flaws is I'm a very lazy drawer so unfortunately, there are many cartoons that I've drawn that I feel I could've done better. Only on rare occasion do I redraw a cartoon if I don't like it. Certainly my worst cartoons are my early ones (so at least I am improving). In fact, I was looking through my oldest Pits comics recently and found it ironic that they were my worst drawn strips while also being some of the funniest. If I had the time and inclination, I'd probably redraw them. :-)
However, this year, I have resolved to make more effort with my drawing. In fact, I have just started drawing a new Sev Files book and it's the first cartoon I'm really making a big effort to draw well (I've been pencilling Page 1 on and off for over a week now).
Sebastian: A book? You mean a real book made from paper?
John: Yes, as real as you and me :-)
Sebastian: How do you know? ;) Anyway.You said, you are drawing a "new book"? Has there been a first one? Where published? (I beg your pardon but I haven't seen a Sev Trek book here in Germany, so...;)
John: I've published a Sev Trek book called "The Sev Trek Collective" which is a collection of all the comic strips over the first couple of years of Sev Trek's history. I also drew a number of cartoons specially for the book (including "Send in the Clones", a Voyager parody which is my favourite Sev Trek story so far). At the moment, you can buy it off my website. I haven't got around to organising distribution in overseas countries yet - sorry!
Sebastian: How many hits does your website get?
John: It's getting about 350,000 visitors a month at the moment. I've been spending much of my time lately on promoting the web site and building my hits.
Sebastian: Building your hits? What, you want MORE? :)
John: Yes, I'm crazy that way. Webmasters tend to be greedy for visitors - goes with the job. :-)
Sebastian: If you look back to the beginning, have you ever expected that Sev Trek would ever become as popular as it is now?
John: I had *no* idea. Sev Trek was originally just miscellaneous doodles in my ideas book written for my own pleasure. I never expected them to be publishable or marketable. This was before the idea of cartooning online even occured to me so my only avenue for selling my comic strips was to newspapers. I knew they would never be interested in such a special interest cartoon.
It was only when I published them on the internet that Sev Trek exploded. I really lucked onto something special with it but the best thing of all is I'm doing a cartoon about something I enjoy.
Sebastian: That is good. Did you start up at your current server sev.com.au?
John: No, I started at some place in Canada that offered free webspace. But it was very impractical - to update the website, I had to email the changes then wait for several days for them to upload them. Then I got a free website with my dialup account (notice this theme of me trying to get everything for free - I'm notoriously stingy). But I finally caved and forked out the money to get my wn server. It was worth it though - it allows me to put a lot more interactivity in the site. In fact, I'm converting my whole site into ASP at the moment ( a HUGE task) which gives me much more flexibility than the usual HTML.
Sebastian: Tell us something about the upcoming movie...no..tell us ALL about it.;)
John: It's moving slowly but steadily. I had no idea just how much work was involved. We spent what seemed an eternity just working on the models, the props and the sets before we could even start animating. Finally, a few weeks ago we started animating the first scene. It's starting to get very exciting seeing the story take shape on the screen.
Wally's voice impersonations of Picard and Data are just brilliant - you would swear Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were doing the voices! We're still deciding on the musician who will compose the soundtrack and theme music but the half dozen we're choosing from are all very talented. Our plan is to release the first trailer of the movie in May at the Friends of Science Fiction convention in Sydney and on the internet shortly after. I'll be posting more pics and info on the Sev Trek movie page on a regular basis.
Sebastian: Will it be a movie for the internet, tv, big screen? How will it be released?
John: Although we will be releasing trailers on the internet, the final movie is being made for TV. Initially we will release it on video but I hope that eventually we'll sell it to a TV channel somewhere and hopefully be given the opportunity to make many more episodes (I've already started developing future storylines).
Sebastian: Are you a Star Trek Fan (obviously ;)?
John: Of course. I'm a fan of most science fiction and am basically a nerd at heart (hey, I did study astrophysics at uni). Wendy thinks I've got a bit of a scam going here - I get to draw cartoons and write about stuff I love anyway - it's like doing a hobby all day long! :-)
Sebastian: How did you become one?
John: Well, that's going back. I seem to remember watching TNG during uni so that's probably when I became a diehard fan.
Sebastian: Your favorite Star Trek show?
John: A few weeks ago, I would've said I like all four shows equally, they're all different from each other and you can't compare them. However, just lately I've been watching a lot of TNG episodes (research for the Sev Trek movie) and I realised just how good a show it was - so I'd definitely say The Next Generation is the best show. The character interaction, particularly in the later seasons, is very watchable.
Sebastian: The worst Star Trek show?
John: Tough one to pick, this. You can't really compare TOS to Voyager. Voyager has incredible production values and special effects compared to the cardboard sets of TOS, but some of the scripts in TOS were original and ahead of their time.
Sebastian: Some other shows, movies you enjoy?
John: When Sev Trek became popular, I got a lot of emails from Babylon 5 fans urging me to start watching the show. I finally caved and over a lengthy period, watched the whole 5 year series. By the end of the second season, I was completely hooked and Babylon 5 is by far my favourite sci-fi show even over Star Trek. This will probably invoke the wrath of some Star Trek fans but I consider Deep Space 9 a watered down version of Babylon 5 - the sheer scope and depth of the 5 year arc just blew me away.
Sebastian: Do you own a starfleet uniforn or some other merchandising?
John: I must say I'm not really into uniforms or nick-nacks. The only merchandise I collect is the Star Trek Fact Files and that's more for visual reference for my cartoons. Oh and a whole bunch of Star Trek books (mostly Making Of type books) but again, I consider that almost research.
Sebastian: Have you ever been contacted by any guys over at the Paramount department? :-)
John: Never. Been asked a lot if I have been but it's never happened. Is it actually legal for you to draw comic of Star Trek or other copyright protected material? You have a license for doing that? I don't need a license. What I do is parody, it's just like any of those comedy shows that parody other shows. As long as I don't rip off their storylines, use their original artwork or pass my stuff off as official Star Trek stuff, what I'm doing is completely legal.
Sebastian: Your comics are popular around the world and available in various languages. You give licenses to foreign webmasters to translate and publish the comics is that right?
John: Well, yes, although not quite as formal as that - I get emails from overseas readers volunteering to translate into their native language and I reply saying "go for it!" I get a big kick out of seeing my cartoons in other languages.
Sebastian: In how many different languages is Sev Trek available anyway?
John: At least 22 languages at the moment. The weird thing is they have even been translated into Klingon and Vulcan (which are real languages). Even weirder is when I get emails from Klingon linguists pointing out inconsistencies in the Klingon translations!
Sebastian: Got contacted by famous people?
John: No but I have met Star Trek actors at the conventions I frequent. I'm not much of a collector but one thing I do collect is signatures. I have a growing pile of my original Sev Trek artworks with the actor's signature on them. One day I hope to frame them all and cover a wall with them.
Sebastian: You have a favorite star trek character?
John: Hmm. In TOS, Kirk is my favourite character to spoof - that man is a parody goldmine! In TNG, I most enjoy watching Data - Brent Spiner is a great actor and really gives the character a charm and naivete that is fun to watch. In DS9, probably Weyoun for sheer character. And Voyager, well, you can't go past Seven now, can you? On a purely acting level, of course! :-)
John: "There are four lights" is my favourite line from all the Trek series (of course, it's the context and the delivery that makes it special)
Sebastian: Yeah, that was a good episode. Speaking of episodes, you have a favorite one?
John: DS9's "The Visitor" is my favourite episode by far. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it but I did have a good blubber when I watched it - it's the only Trek episode that has moved me that much.
Sebastian: What do you think of the franchise's future? With Voyager leaving the air in 2001-Should they give it rest or launch three new shows or something? :)
John: Hard to say - it really depends on how good the new show is. On current trend, I'd say the franchise' future doesn't look good as Star Trek in general seems to be losing momentum and quality. They'd be better off giving the francise a rest for a couple of years but that's not going to happen. But you never know, maybe they'll surprise us and make a cracker jack show. After all, who would've thought TNG would emerge as such a success?
Sebastian: Three favorite Star Trek websites.
John: To be honest, the only Star Trek sites I visit regularly are review sites - psiphi.org and Jim Wright's Voyager reviews. Dare I add Sev Trek as my third web site? I do visit it fairly regularly :-)
Sebastian: 350.000 times a day? I see...:) Three favorite SciFi sites.
John: Actually, I do visit a lot of Star Wars rumour sites - I'm trying to keep informed about Episode 2 to help with a Sev Wars parody we may put into the Sev Trek movie. The sites I visit the most are supershadow.com, episodeii.com and TheForce.net.
Sebastian: Three favorite misc sites.
John: The one site I do visit daily is TheOneRing.net - a rumour site about the upcoming Lord of the Rings movie (which I'm anticipating even more than Episode 2). Other than that, I must confess I don't do much web surfing these days - too busy creating my own web pages :-)
Sebastian: How long will you keep going with Sev [whatever]? Did you already decide "I'm outta here in five years" or will you keep on doing that until...you know?
John: Getting to draw cartoons all day is like a dream fulfilled so I plan to keep cartooning forever. I have many, many stories I'd like to tell but with the website keeping me busy, it seems it will take a very long time to get them all out so I hope to continue drawing indefinitely.
Sebastian: Any other future plans?
John: My long term plans (God willing, of course) are to finish the Sev Files book and the Sev Trek movie sometime this year. Then I hope to do a second Sev Trek book and an assortment of books of my other cartoons. After that, I have no idea - I seem to get pulled into unexpected directions (like the Sev Trek movie) quite regularly so who knows where I'll be in a year's time. Ideally, I'd love to eventually produce a series of Sev Trek TV episodes.
Sebastian: Well, now that really is a big plan. Sev Trek on TV. Good luck with that, I probably am not the only one looking forward to it. Thanx for the interview, I really appreciate it.
Sebastian Lorenz writes regular interviews with leading figures in the online Star Trek community. He is also webmaster of Germany's No.1 Voyager website, Voyager Central, as well as co-editor of Europe's biggest sci-fi newsletter, the German-language Corona.