15 jaar TeeKay

TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub, was founded in January 1997. Fifteen years later TeeKay is still going strong after a lot of adventures. Mark Newbold (and others) interviewed Tim Veekhoven of TeeKay-421 about the remarkable first fifteen years of the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub.

Mark Newbold: It’s 15 years since you started TeeKay, back in 1997. The Special Editions had just been released, the prequels were on their way, and we’d just enjoyed ‘Shadows of the Empire’. What made you decide to launch TeeKay?
Tim Veekhoven: Well, TeeKay-421 rose out of the ashes of a smaller, local fan club called ‘Bounty Hunter Capture Log’ (BHCL). The three founders of TeeKay (Laurent Bettens, Christiaan Vertez and myself) were already involved in the creation of the magazine of that club, but when we realised that they weren’t planning to do any promotion at all during the Special Editions, we decided that something had to be done. We wanted the members to have a more steadfast club (the magazine appeared rather irregularly) and a club that wanted progress for the benefit of its members. We already made the last issue of the BHCL in 1996 and started with a new club and new magazine in March ’97 to make a fresh start.

So the decision to launch a club had already been made, but I guess we took it a bit more seriously and thought about the possible consequences of a foundation of a club. We wanted TeeKay to expand and we promoted the club as much as possible. When you start a club, you cannot forsake your members when you ‘suddenly’ realise how much work needs to be done in order to run a fan club decently.

Julian De Backer: Why did you decide to give the club the name TeeKay-421?
Tim: When we decided that we were going to start all over again, we immediately began looking for a name. We wanted something familiar, but not too familiar like ‘The Force’ or ‘The Jedi’. It was Laurent who thought about TeeKay-421 and Christiaan and myself immediately agreed. An idea I had was ‘Corellian Scroundrels’, but that was more a derogative of what was heard in the movies. Don’t forget that we only had three movies when TeeKay-421 was founded. But I still think it’s a great name. A lot of people ask us where the name comes from and when we explain the origin, they all agree that it was neatly chosen.

Julian: What were the fan club goals and has TeeKay managed to remain true to these goals throughout the years?
Tim: I’m very pleased that TeeKay has not ventured from its original goals. These goals were to offer fans information through the magazine (and later our website) and to unite the fans in Belgium. Our goals may have been limited in 1997 because we had little idea how successful the club could become. The only true goal that I might add today is to keep our members happy by offering them a surprise from time to time like a free poster or discounted merchandising.

Julian: Who designed the first logo of the fan club?
Tim: We’ve had three logos and the very first one was created by Christiaan, one of our founders. After a few years a blue logo, made by Nicolas Van Dyck, replaced it. That logo was used for quite some years until Gilles Verschuere, who was a graphic artist student at the time, was looking for a project to complete his studies. He chose TeeKay-421 and he designed a lot of useful items, including our current logo of which we’re very, very happy. It’s easily recognisable, but still maintains a level of originality.

Julian: What shops were the first sponsors of TeeKay-421?
Tim: Our very first sponsor was ‘The World of Images’, a shop in the centre of Antwerp near ‘The Meir’. On the first floor there was a room that Teekay used for several years to organise meetings. Another shop was ‘Labyrinth’ from Ostend, but both shops don’t exist anymore. Gadget was also one of our early sponsors and they’re still going strong today. We had our fanday in 2010 at Gadget and we plan to have our upcoming fanday there as well.

Mark: The magazine has come a long way since it’s early issues. What were your hopes and intentions of the magazine back when it began?
Tim: The magazine has indeed come a very long way since the early issues. The first issues combined the best features and ideas from the magazine of the BHCL with new ideas. We mustn’t forget that Internet was not that common in 1997 and a lot of fans relied on the magazine for anything that was news related.

Our intention has always been to publish content that should be interesting and that would enable our readers to learn something from it. We never published articles like: “My favourite character is …”. Through the course of the years we had some pretty deeply rooted articles like ‘Star Wars and the Cold War’, a comparison between the foundation of the Empire in Ancient Rome and the foundation of the Galactic Empire in ‘Star Wars’ or comparisons between ‘Star Wars’ and several mythological aspects. It probably has cost us a certain amount of members, but I always wanted a magazine for true fans and for fans that weren’t afraid to unlearn what they had learned.

Mark: Looking through the 15 years, what is the highlight?
Tim: That’s a tough one, because there are so many! At first there are the first years of TeeKay, which were rather tough financially. We have been lucky to get a few good active members in 1998 so our club expanded with an excellent website. In those first years we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and the technology still wasn’t what it is today.

‘The Phantom Menace’ certainly was another highlight, because TeeKay got a lot of attention from the media and we never had more members than in 1999. A bit of a shame since the TK Magazine was far inferior to what it is today. I remember going in Brussels from a radio station to the television studio during the promotion of TPM with a taxi paid by the national Belgian television and radio. We appeared on several popular television shows. When TPM was released in October we had a small event where we invited Jerome Blake and Hugh Quarshie.

Other highlights certainly are our tenth anniversary event in Berchem, where a lot of people showed up, and our fan day in 2010. TeeKay’s involvement with official releases and events, such as ‘The Exhibition’ or ‘Star Wars in Concert’, has also been fantastic.

In 1999 our website was chosen as the best non-professional website in Belgium! If we had won that prize today, we would have been in the news all over and we would have got a lot of attention. But in 1999 those awards were still pretty obscure, although the Webmaster of our site back then, did get some nice items.

Personally I still feel very proud about the fact that the National Library Albert I in Brussels asked us to send them a copy or every magazine we publish. Who knows what importance a surviving TK Magazine might play in a far away future. As an editor, this gives me a lot of satisfaction that people can always remember who TeeKay was and what TeeKay did.

Mark: When did you realise that TeeKay was becoming popular and essential to the Flemish reading public?
Tim: TeeKay had a solid start, but we didn’t immediately get an incredible amount of members. We slowly grew until TPM, which delivered us an unseen amount of new members. When the hype was gone, we lost some of those members throughout the years, but after TPM TeeKay had definitely made its name.

We also benefited from the fact that there never has been any Dutch or Flemish edition of ‘Star Wars Insider’. This made the TK Magazine the one and only publication about ‘Star Wars’ in Belgium (and later in the Netherlands as well).

Mark: Was it always the intention to focus only on Flemish readers, or has there ever been the thought of expanding into English?
Tim: Yes. That was a decision we made from the start. We wanted a magazine for Belgian fans that couldn’t understand English well enough and for younger fans that hadn’t (yet) had any English classes in school. We also didn’t want to sever our link with Belgium by publishing an English magazine.

I do not regret that this decision was made, but I sometimes wonder if we hadn’t been able to achieve more if the Magazine had been accessible for English-reading fans. Whenever I send the magazine to English-speaking fans, the reactions have been nothing but positive. They always say that the magazine looks great and that it really seems to have interesting articles, but that they can’t read anything of it.

There has been one attempt to translate the magazine into French, since that’s another official language in Belgium. But the French speaking Belgians had the French translation of the ‘Star Wars Insider’ and we decided not to pursue the matter. In the end, I don’t think we could have done it logistically as well. That translation took a lot of time. My late grandfather translated our special test magazine into French. We credited him as H-3PO, our TeeKay Protocol Droid.

Mark: When did you begin liaising with Lucasfilm?
Tim: In the beginning, we tried to remain in the shadows. We didn’t know how Lucasfilm would react and what their policy was towards fan clubs and magazines. Since the Insider was still copied and translated into other languages, we feared they might force us to translate it into Dutch. I didn’t want to copy the Insider, because anybody can do that. Besides, the content of the Insider is meant for more average fans than the content of the TK Magazine. When ‘Star Wars Insider’ talks about Jabba the Hutt, the TK Magazine will take about Jabba’s Skiff Guards. When ‘Star Wars Insider’ discusses posters from ‘Star Wars’, the TK Magazine will discuss posters from Dagobah or from Eastern Europe. I always try to limit the focus of an article. When you do that, you can keep the content detailed and interesting.

Gradually we became known at Lucasfilm and we’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with them. We always promote ‘Star Wars’ in the TK Magazine and we review (promote) a good deal of toys, books, games and comics.

Mark: Your magazine is noted for its stunning cover artwork. How do you manage to get such great artists?
Tim: Oh, we’ve been very lucky. Or perhaps Qui-Gon Jinn would say that nothing happens by coincidence. For our first nineteen issues we always used photographs or official artwork for the cover. We wanted to do something special for our 20th issue when TeeKay was five years old. We made some thorough searches at the art forums at The Force.net and we found an artist called Shawn Sheehan. He created a lot of wonderful and amazing artwork for the TK Magazine. I sometimes still can’t believe that he wants to do that for us. We also have been blessed by the help of other superb artists like Robb Mommaerts and Stefan Böttcher from Germany, who also works for the Official German fan club. Official artist Leah Mangue even drew a special TeeKay Christmas card in 2010!

We’re always looking for great front and back cover artists, so we can change the style from time to time or give some of our artists a much-deserved break.

Mark: There are not many print magazines left, and TeeKay stands above the crowd. Do you think you will remain a print publication, or is the change to online inevitable?
Tim: Only time will tell, but there are absolutely no plans at all to turn the TK Magazine into an online edition only. A printed magazine offers so much more than a digital edition and enables our members to hold a physical copy of a magazine in their hands. Books and magazines should never disappear in favour of ebooks. Both can exist perfectly together, but the TK Magazine will remain a true magazine for the time being.

Mark: You’ve interviewed many of the Star Wars greats, both on screen and behind the camera. Who would you most like to interview?
Tim: We’ve had some pretty good interviews throughout the years in the Magazine. If you consider the big names to be totally off limit, I think we gladly have settled for slightly smaller, but still amazing names. If there really were no limits at all, I would of course like to interview George Lucas. He stands above all when you talk about ‘Star Wars’. Nobody can ever beat him in importance.

Mark: The Clone Wars has had a great impact on ‘Star Wars’ over the last 4 years. What single event since TeeKay began has had the biggest impact on the club and the magazine?
Tim: I think the release of TPM since it enabled TeeKay to grow; it enabled TeeKay to settle itself as a brand and to gather a lot of publicity from appearing in the media. TPM had a terrible release date in Belgium where it was only released on October 13. But after a lot of cursing we began to realise its advantages for TeeKay. We got attention in the media not only in May, but also in October.

The Special Editions gave us a fine start and The Clone Wars keeps SW alive with a younger audience, but the hype of TPM was never seen again. We had a short resurgence with ‘The Exhibition’. This event got a massive amount of attention in the media and we were featured on the radio, in the newspaper and even in the national journal at 7 pm when the exhibition opened its doors.

Mark: You launched PeeKay to cater for the younger audience. What inspired this move?
Tim: PeeKay was an idea by Christoph Segers, our treasurer. He has always worked in elementary schools as a teacher, but also as a principal. He saw the increased interest of a younger audience at some events where TeeKay was present and he created PeeKay. When he couldn’t find the time to make the PeeKay-pages anymore, I took it upon myself to create them, but I can rely on the help of several people, like Anton Van Dort from The Netherlands. He’s a very versatile artist who draws a lot of cool pages to colour and helps me to invent games for kids.

Mathias Van Meerhaeghe: Is there a big difference between the amount of male and female members?
Tim: As expected, there is indeed a big difference. We certainly have female members and I guess other girls and women read the magazine from their boyfriends, friends, children or husbands. ‘Star Wars’ has always openly attracted more male than female fans, but girls and women are of course more than welcome to join our fan club!

Mark: Over the years, how many members of staff have passed through TeeKay?
Tim: Many! I’m not kidding. In 15 years we’ve seen many people come and go. They left for several reasons. Some had a small part in the history of the club, but some of them were important. Some lost their interest in ‘Star Wars’, others left because in the end they were only interested in cosplaying. Other people got married and got children or got a job and suddenly realised how much free time you have as a student. I’m the only one left from the founders and the only person in the fan club who has experienced TeeKay from its very first origins.

One of the most important facts in the history of TeeKay is that the club never faded away after one or more staff members left. People with exactly the same qualities didn’t always replace them, but their successors had other qualities. For instance, we’ve been very lucky to get great webmasters throughout the years and several people who are really good at graphic stuff.

Julian: What does the current staff of TeeKay-421 look like?
Tim: The complicated website updates are arranged by Stijn Creten, our webmaster and secretary. Events are been arranged by a couple of people including Christoph Segers. An Van De Poel provides administrative support and Kris Van de Sande is our graphic artists who knows every small detail about printing.

For the Magazine I can count on the writing skills of Kevin Beentjes, Sander De Lange, Jonas Veekhoven, Steve Van Dooren and a couple of other people. These authors really make the magazine work, because you need a certain amount of knowledge to write for our magazine. I cannot write all the articles myself, so I’m really glad that they’re around to offer their skills for the Magazine.

Kristof Van Gansen is our dedicated corrector, a task that shouldn’t be underestimated. Anton Van Dort is a great help for PeeKay and because of his great skills as an artist he’s able to offer much more to TeeKay.

For events all these people regularly volunteer and for the biggest events, there are some more people who’re willing to lend a proper hand whenever necessary like Jeroen Huylebroeck.

Mark: Run us through the creation of an average TeeKay issue.
Tim: In the last few years I’ve tried to work around one central theme. It’s easier to create articles around one theme and it’s also easier to decide the theme of the covers. The theme is usually decided a long time ahead of the release. When there isn’t a big event or a release, we check out potentially interesting themes. I try to pinpoint the cover artists as soon as possible. I want them to have enough time to finish their artwork and this is a search I don’t want to do when I’m already working on the magazine itself.

When I’m finishing a magazine, I already start to fill in the articles and reviews for the next issue. When a magazine is printed we have three months to complete the next issue. I see what articles can be written by other authors. Because we also work with several fixed article series, a magazine is often immediately filled and only several pages are left blank in the planning. Subsequently, all the authors think about a fitting theme for the articles that still need a proper theme. The deadline for normal articles is one month before the final deadline.

The authors begin writing and when something is finished, the texts get corrected by myself and by our corrector, Kristof Van Gansen. Gradually I start adding the corrected articles to our layout program and I create the layout ‘headers’ for new articles and interviews. When the deadline approaches the time-related articles get finished (the news- or release-related ones). I correct the magazine myself another time for spelling and errors and Kristof performs a last check-up.

When I prepare the magazine for the printer’s office, Kris Van de Sande, our graphic artist, merges both covers into one file. I send the files to the printer’s and in a few days the magazine is ready.

But then we still need to prepare them to be mailed! That’s another story that involves a lot of printing (letters and membership cards) and administrative tasks that keep us occupied for several hours.

Mark: What would you like to change about TeeKay, be it in the magazine or generally?
Tim: I’m pretty satisfied how things are going, but of course you must always try to improve what you have. We recently improved TeeKay’s presence at conventions by getting a new TeeKay display.

I’d really love to get a few additional enthusiastic volunteers in our staff. It’s very difficult to find people who are willing to devote their time to the fan club. There seems to be a big gap between being a satisfied and happy member and between becoming an active member of our staff. We do not only need good ideas, but more importantly, we need people who can work out ideas and bring them into the realm of reality and usability.

Julian: Has there ever been a moment when there were plans for quitting with the fan club.
Tim: No, there never were any plans like that. Many people came and disappeared (or stayed!), but I’ve never thought about quitting. TeeKay has gone through some difficult moments, especially when some staff members left us and we had to replace them. TeeKay has learned to concentrate on what it can do best. There are uncountable amounts of cosplayers organizations, but there are only a couple of clubs in the entire world where fans receive a proper magazine, where they can come to meetings, where they can win prizes and get a reduction at certain shops. We try to give our members as much as we can in exchange for their membership.

Mark: 15 years is amazing. You must be very proud.
Tim: Yes, of course we are. But as Dooku said, if you are too proud, you will also fall. Therefore you must always be vigilant and look to the present, the past and the future. We will always try to improve the modus operandi of TeeKay or seize the moment to offer our members a small surprise. We don’t get any financial support of the government and all our people are 100% volunteers.

Sometimes I wish TeeKay and its Magazine could get a bit more recognition. We exist for 15 years now and very few fan clubs have existed that long. Our Magazines have always been published regularly and our website has always been updated with the latest news since 1998. I think that’s because we’re just from Belgium. If we would have been born in the UK or the US, things might have turned out totally different for all of us.