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Johnee the man, the artist, the designer, the podcaster … the show

There are tremendous firms, organizations, groups and entrepreneurs responsible for some amazing innovations. There is also one Minnesota resident behind the look, feel and sound of some of those innovations.

That person or “show” is Woodbury’s John Benson, aka Johnee Bee. Johnee runs his own firm:The Johnee Bee Show, specializing in flash design and illustration. His work can be seen all over the web. In fact, Johnee donated the banner art we use on Minnov8. Not only can you see his work, you can hear it as well. I caught up with Johnnee for what was a high-energy, sound-effect- and character-voice-riddled, fast-paced discussion.

Johnee moved to Minnesota in 2004 — but why? “A woman…why else?” he says with a smile. His wife, Cynthia, was offered a position at 3M so, along with their Weimaraner dog, Sprocket, they came to the Midwest. To get a good idea of what this show is all about, let’s step back and get the full scoop on the colorful history of Johnee Bee. Not to conjure up images of that guy you knew (or were) in high school, but here’s how he became the ultimate AV guy.

Johnee’s been drawing all his life. “I guess I was a latch-key kid, though they hadn’t invented that name yet.” He says of his formative years in California. “I would come home from school, watch cartoons and draw.” At the same time, it’s clear that young John was building a solid reputation as a class clown. An avid radio listener, he started getting into audio and sound effects and doing his own “shows” on tape. “My sidekick, my Ed McMahon, was Doug Brown, and he would set up the jokes for our tapes.” Taking advantage of the “new” technology of the day, they began producing custom messages for answering machines. “I bought one and found out they had a cassette and thought, why not take it out, produce some stuff and put it back in. That’s where the name came from…’And now it’s the Johnee Bee Show.'”

This little audio venture plays a key role a bit further into this story.

Meanwhile, somewhere along the way Johnee also picked up the drums and started playing in bands. One day, a band mate saw his drawing and encouraged him to talk with a local graphic designer. “Dale Waters and I talked for a long time. He looked at my work and was very encouraging. Then he said that he had some work coming up that I could help with. I just wanted to find out if I was any good and he ended up giving me a job and becoming a great mentor.’ His time with Waters also became his education, his “school of hard knocks” in graphic design.

His Johnee Bee Show firm was born in 1983 and led him to a short full-time stint with a firm in ’85. As desktop publishing began proliferating, Johnee’s curiosity compelled him to download Adobe Illustrator 1.0. “I love airbrush. I would spend hours and hours painting layer after layer to create an illustration. I got the same feeling using Illustrator.” With the designing of a bowling pin striking pins, his online illustration career was born. My boss asked if I had seen the bowling ball online. When he showed it to me I was like, ‘Wow, that is so cool.’ It changed my life.”

Joining the ranks of what were then relatively few computer illustrators, Johnee enjoyed quite a few years of the California rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that the income afforded him. “In those days, you could make thousands on one project.” Because of the easy access to the tools, by 1996 the market for computer illustrators became oversaturated. “You started being able to only make hundreds, or less on projects.”

Though he kept working, he didn’t really get re-energized until 1998. “An art director for a web developer asked if I knew Flash? I guess it was known as Future Splash then. I downloaded a version and spent a solid week learning it inside and out.” He goes on to say, “Flash is taking a vector image and making it move, so I built some moving and spinning surfboards.” It elicited the same sort of “wow” from him and, as he says, “I was back.”

Johnee is also an early adopter of podcasting. If you have ever met Johnee, you know he always has his headphones on or very nearby. “In 2004, I was listening to Leo LaPorte and heard an interview with (former MTV VJ and podcast pioneer) Adam Curry. He was talking about this podcasting thing, and I knew I wanted to do one but didn’t have any idea what the content would be.” He continues, “Most podcasts then were like 25 to 30 minutes. With my short attention span, I knew I needed to do something shorter.”

Luckily, in May of 2005, Johnee stumbled upon and ultimately bought the two-minute “Mostly Trivial” podcast. I paid him 10 bucks and started doing Mostly Trivial each week. That’s when I became a podcaster.”

The podcast is not quite the same as when he first discovered it. Remember those days of making answering machine tapes with all the characters and sound effects? “I had all the sound-effects albums and CDs, so I married them with the content of Mostly Trivial.” Each show takes about four hours to produce, is now a bit longer, and is a thrill ride of audio production, characters, sound effects and, oh yeah, trivia. Anyone who listens can’t help but marvel at everything that is going on.

One trip to the Johnee Bee Show website and it’s easy to see all of his many lives and interests coming together. He is keeping plenty busy with local clients as well as national and worldwide accounts. You can also find Johnee active in the local tech and podcast community. And keep your eyes peeled for his look, feel and sound on more sites in the near future.

Johnee Bee is most content when he gets up from his laptop and heads out to walk the dog. Sadly, Sprocket has passed on, but Auggie happily occupies the other end of the leash as Johnee listens to something on his ever-present headphones, puffs away on a cigar and looks forward to a good glass of scotch. Not unlike any of your top-flight show hosts.

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