Drawing AXANAR – an interview with “WHY WE FIGHT” artist MARK McCRARY

Last week, I premiered the first-ever AXANAR illustrated short story, “Why We Fight,” written by yours truly and illustrated by MARK McCRARY.  I met Mark through another Mark, MARK LARGENT, with whom I co-wrote and co-produced the fan parody film Prelude to Ax’d-We-Are.  Mark and Mark are buddies, and together they wrote and illustrated an awesome fan comic book about the final voyage of James T. Kirk entitled “Save What From Heaven Is with the Breezes Blown.”

You probably already know about me (and if you don’t, read some of my biography blogs here).  But my illustrator Mark McCrary is still a mystery to most fans.  Not anymore!  I felt that Mark deserved a decent interview to finally tell the fan film world a little bit about himself.

And so, without further ado, the man who made my Axanar fan fiction story look totally amazing…

JONATHAN – Tell us a little about Mark McCrary.  Where were you born?  Where did you grow up?  Are you married?  Family?  What do you do for a living?

Mark McCary (right) with Mark Largent at James Cawley’s Star Trek Set Tour in upstate New York

MARK – I was born in Mississippi and grew up in a town called Caledonia. We lived on a small farm, and my early years were filled with constant chores like chopping and carrying firewood, feeding livestock, cutting grass, tending a garden, hauling hay and the like.  It wasn’t always fun at the time, but I look back at those days with fond memories.

I’ve been married for 28 years to Teresa McCrary.  We have three daughters who are a delight. One is getting married soon and another will be going off to college in August.  So life is changing for us.

I am a preacher with the Douglass Hills church in Louisville, KY.  I’ve been there for 18 years.

JONATHAN – What got you interested in Star Trek?

MARK – That’s a great question.  I wish I could tell you the first time I turned on the TV and watched the show, but I can’t.  I do have strong memories of watching the show on Saturday evenings—6pm—at the small table on a 13” TV at my Aunt Mary’s house.

Although I love Star Wars, Star Trek has always had my heart.  I’ve always loved the original series in particular (Deep Space Nine is my second favorite).  I love the characters, the designs (ships, uniforms, tech, etc.), the commitment to purpose, the loyalty and friendship, the exploration… everything about the series.  One of my great delights as a father was sharing the original series with my daughters when they broadcast the remastered episodes several years ago.  Incidentally, it was broadcasted at the same time I watched it at my aunt’s house as a child—6pm Saturday night.  (Our TV was a little larger than 13”, though.)

JONATHAN – Where did you learn to draw?  Did you study art somewhere?  What are your favorite things to draw?  Least favorite?

MARK – I’ve always drawn, and I simply learned by doing.  Once, I almost burned the family house down because of it!  I was probably about 10 years old at the time.  Under my bed was stuffed sheet after sheet of drawings.  My mom told me to throw them away.  I gathered them all and asked my dad what to do with them.  He wasn’t paying much attention to the armful of papers I held and told me to throw them in the fireplace (it was winter).  I did, and in minutes the soot inside the chimney caught on fire! We ran outside and saw sparks flying out of the chimney and onto the roof.  Fortunately, the fire burned out and all was well—except mom and dad’s nerves.

I had no formal art training in high school.  In college, I took two years of art (design, figure drawing, etc) which helped my style and ability dramatically.  But, when I was going to have to take a pottery class, I dropped out of art and went to journalism and public relations instead.

As a kid, I always gravitated to drawing superheroes and space adventures.  To this day, I like heroes more than villains. Regarding my least favorite things to draw, those would be women and horses.  Capturing the delicacies of the female form has always been tough for me. Horses are beautiful, but getting proportions correct (long head and neck, thin legs, big torso) is always tricky.

JONATHAN – What did you think about getting an opportunity to draw characters and ships from a Star Trek fan film?

MARK – I loved it! You wrote a lovely, but small—that isn’t an insult—human drama about how war affects people “on the sidelines.”  People not seen in the Axanar fan film.  My initial concerns were two-fold: first, how could this story about four friends sitting in a bar visually look interesting and be more than talking heads, and second, whether I had the time to do it and do it well.

You see, with my work schedule, I have a very limited amount of time I can devote to projects like this.  My creative partner, Mark Largent, and I have done numerous stories over the years—but I do mean “years.” A 60-page story will likely take about 1-1/2 years to finish when I draw, ink and color it.  So, when you and I first talked about the possibility of me drawing your story, I just knew I could not do it as quickly as you would have liked.  I’m thankful we struck a compromise and settled on a fixed number of illustrations, because I love working on projects in the Star Trek universe. Love it.

JONATHAN – Actually, I thought you did a remarkably speedy job, Mark!  I nicknamed you “The Miracle Worker.”


JONATHAN –   Do you find drawing recognizable characters and starships to be fun or more of a challenge because you’re trying to match something that fans already know well?  Or is it both fun AND challenging?

MARK – As you know, Largent and I published online our own fan comic of the last voyage of Captain Kirk—“Save What From Heaven is With the Breezes Blow.”  That was a lot of fun because it was set between the period of the original series movies and The Next Generation, so I could design new uniforms, ships, tech, etc. Perhaps the most challenging thing about that project was drawing the heroes from the original series as old—and I mean really, really old.  But still, the likenesses had to be there under those wrinkles! So, I had to find a picture from an episode or one of the movies and then age them quite a bit.

One of the great challenges with your story is two of the characters were established officers from episodes in the original series—Matt Decker and Ron Tracy.  The problem with this project was the opposite of “Save What from Heaven”: I had to find a picture of them older and make them younger!  It was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun as well.  I recently watched “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Omega Glory” again and thought, “Hey, I drew those guys!”

JONATHAN – What process did you go through, as an artist, to get these amazing drawings for “Why We Fight” to come out so well?

MARK – With any project, the first thing I do is go through the script and see what images or scenes quickly come to mind.  The job of an artist is not unlike that of the director of a film.  With your script—knowing I would only be drawing 6 illustrations—I tried to pick out the parts of the script I thought would be the most visually interesting.  Turns out, when you and I spoke on the phone for the first time, we had identified almost the same illustration ideas!

Then, it was a matter of sketching them, making sure they work, and improving them as needed.  A lot of time was spent trying to find ship and character references.  In this project, it was hard to find good shots of the interior of the 602 Club, so I had to find the episode of Enterprise (“First Flight”) and pause it a lot.  Often I would use my phone to take a picture of the screen just to capture the scene.

Regarding the actual creative process, I sketch on paper, then transfer them into Manga Studio for heavy penciling and then inking.  Then, over to the Pixelmator (a cheap Photoshop program, but very effective) for coloring, then to Procreate on my iPad for some touchup coloring techniques I like.

JONATHAN – Are you still looking to get into drawing comic books professionally?  Do you think your previous Trek comic book with Mark Largent and this short story with me will help that dream?

MARK – In my early 20s, I wanted to draw comics professionally.  But, as time went by, those doors didn’t open.  At this point in my life, I have no real interest in starting a new career as a comic artist.

JONATHAN – So this next one is a bit of an awkward question to ask, Mark, but I’d really like to know your thoughts.  The only request you made of me when agreeing to work on this project was “no swearing”…not even “b*stard” or “d*nm.”  In this world where the president says “sh*thole” and the media then rushes to repeat it, where nearly everyone cusses like an angry sailor on social media, and where four-letter words are commonplace on the movie screen, TV screen, and even in the new Star Trek: Discovery, what is it that makes clean language so important to you personally?

MARK – Well, as you noted in an earlier article, I’m a devoted Christian and I make no apologies about that.  A passage I think about often is this one, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8).  I believe that means I need to try to lead a life that is commendable—whether I always hit that mark is another thing, but I want to try.  I don’t impose my views on others, but I must live by my views.  I appreciate very much your willingness to work with me on this.

JONATHAN – No problem, Mark.  “Blasted” is a fun word to use, too.  And “pulse you!” might just catch on now!

MARK – Maybe so.  I can only share my personal feelings about swearing, and I’m sure a lot of people won’t agree with me, but… you asked.  For starters, I don’t think swearing adds anything ultimately to a story. I’ve never heard anyone say after watching a movie or show, or reading a book, “You know, that was pretty good, but if they had only cussed more, it would have been better!” or, “I loved that movie because they used the f-word!” (Maybe someone would disagree with me on that; we are entitled to our own opinions.)

However, I’ve been highly turned off by the amount of swearing in movies, TV or books from time to time.  Case and point, Star Trek: Discovery.  If they hadn’t used a single swear word during the entire 15-episode run, I don’t think anyone would have noticed; there likely would have been no articles written about that fact there was no swearing. However, they did, so people talked about that—not the quality of the stories, but the fact they used the s-word and f-word.

Second, we live in a very rude society today.  We don’t care how our words or actions impact others.  People are rude in language, and the anonymity of the internet and social media makes it easy not just for us to disagree but to flame others.  So, if I believe our society would be kinder toward one another if we watched our language, I feel I need to do what I can to live by that and make it mean something in my life.

As a result, I want to be a part of project that I find commendable.  I want my wife to be proud of my work.  I want my kids to enjoy it.  I want my mom and dad to see it and be proud.  I want my church to see it and like it.

Finally, it is interesting that you cited the recent example of our president’s choice of words.  Doesn’t the outrage over it innately tell us there is something distasteful and inappropriate about swearing? That it isn’t a commendable feature? I believe you stated in one of your criticisms of Discovery that their use of the F-word made you decide it was inappropriate for your young son. I think that is incredibly sad, and a missed opportunity for modern TrekStar Trek gained popularity in the 70’s through adults and kids. Toys of the show were everywhere.  My friends and I played it during recess at school.  That is why, I believe, it has survived as it has.  A more mature Star Trek may appeal to adult fans, but it isn’t building a lasting fan base.

JONATHAN – Well said, Mark.  And I think you are to be commended.  So finally, what projects do you have looking into the future? Anything we Axanar fans might want to check out?

MARK – Nothing on the horizon.  Largent and I talk from time to time about another Star Trek story—or any story—but most of the things we have done don’t make us any real money, and they require a lot of time.  The only thing we get out of them is the joy of doing it, which means we must both be on the same page to find the project enjoyable.  Alas, that story just hasn’t presented itself as of yet.  I’ve got a number of ideas floating around in my head of original stories I think would be fun to do, but again, nothing that has so captured me that I’m ready to make that multiyear commitment to get it done.

But, these illustrations were a lot of fun, Jonathan.  I hope people enjoy them!

JONATHAN – I am sure they do, Mark.  I’ve heard nothing but praise for the artwork of “Why We Fight.”  Thanks so much for illustrating it so well, and for doing this great interview.

MARK – You are very welcome, Jonathan.

6 thoughts on “Drawing AXANAR – an interview with “WHY WE FIGHT” artist MARK McCRARY”

  1. “Why We Fight” was such an amazing story, told very well, and the illustrations were absolutely incredible!!!
    “Save What From Heaven is With the Breezes Blow” & “Prelude to Ax’d-We-Are” is some of the very best work that there is. (IMHO) Entertaining, well thought out, and overall passion at it’s best.
    I know I do not speak for only myself when I ask this question, “When will we see a part 2?”

        1. Mark McCrary suggested a story idea that kinda needs this to be a trilogy. So part two would be “Why We Explore” (taking place shortly after the Battle of Axanar). Mark’s story idea would be titled “How We Explore.” However, neither story is jumping out of me at the moment, and both require the two remaining Axanar fan films to be released first.

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