Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pheaturing Mark Mekkes

Let's see how this works...

Hello, welcome to another entry of the Phile. I didn't think I was gonna be able to make an entry this week as my iMac committed suicide. I didn't think iMac's could die, but I guess it thought dying was better then having the Phile written on it every week. If you're wondering what computer I am on now, Logan has a computer of his own so I managed to get him off Club Penguin long enough for me to post this entry. Thanks, Logan. ComicCon was this past week. It’s a four-day celebration of science fiction and comics. Every year, an army of geeks descends on San Diego. If you live anywhere other than San Diego and you needed a computer fixed, you were screwed. By the way, Jen is taking my our computer into the Apple Store tomorrow. Violence struck at Comic-Con when an argument between two men resulted in one being arrested for stabbing the other with a pen. Which proved that the pen is mightier than the light saber. There were 80,000 guys dressed as superheroes and no one stepped in to save him. Facebook now has 500 million users. The previous record holder was heroin. Tony Hayward is stepping down as CEO of BP. They weren’t supposed to make the announcement yet, but of course, the news leaked. Speaking of leaked, leaked documents show that Pakistan has been taking American money and using it to fund the Taliban. The Pakistanis are denying it, and they’re like, “The Taliban bought those iPods with their own money.” WikiLeaks has 91,000 secret documents, but who has the time to read that? I can barely get through the instructions on a shampoo bottle. It turns out that our biggest ally in the region is Russia. With all due respect to Russia, it’s not the best place to get advice on how to win in Afghanistan. Justin Bieber will be appearing on “CSI.” Producers said they are going with Bieber because they’re trying to make murder look more adorable. The season finale of “Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman” is on the Science Channel this week. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman. What a surprise. The show is about the cosmos and philosophical questions like “How did we get here,” “Are we alone in the universe,” and “What the hell is wrong with Mel Gibson.” Aliens are probably watching the show right now. Let me tell you, aliens, if you land in Arizona, you better have your papers. Paris Hilton is in hot water for a picture in which she looks like she’s doing a Nazi salute. Let’s be honest, Paris Hilton has no idea what a Nazi salute is. She probably thinks Nazi is a game you play with dice. Microsoft is getting ready to debut a brand new slogan, a three-word motto: “Control, Alt, Delete.” Okay, as I said, I am using a my son's computer who is ten years old, right? So, I thought I would see if there's any kid like inspirational posters out there, and this is what I found...

Hey, I think I found a replacement computer in case mine can't get fixed. It's an Apple still and pretty cheap. Here's what it looks like...

A crew of dream interlopers want to plant an idea in the brain of a dead tycoon's son... the idea to divest himself of a lot of his super-rich dad's money... so they enter his dreams to get the job done. But they don't stop at one dream; they dive deep down into a dream inside a dream inside a dream, throwing a lot of dream-hijacking rules at the audience along the way (well, actually, to your friendly stand-in, Ellen Page, who plays the team's newcomer). Not that those rules and their accompanying sci-fi jargon names and their underpinned philosophical justifications always help what you see on screen make immediate sense. It's a stern, seriouspants funhouse maze and you get to wander around in it for two-and-a-half hours, marveling at how cool it all is. So, take The Matrix's commitment to techy visual achievements, those trailer moments that make you go "Whoa" all Keanu-style, filter it through Christopher Nolan's Memento-based puzzle aesthetic and you more or less wind up with this film. In spite of the subplot (here comes a mini-spoiler) that involves DiCaprio and his mournful dreams about his dead wife, it's a movie that invests more in the game itself than in the people playing it, but that doesn't make diving into it any less exhilarating. There's two ways to enjoy Inception... There will be some audiences who connect to all the "deep" and trippy ideas about dreams versus reality and they'll watch it over and over trying to figure out all the heavy meaning. (Those people will start to annoy you soon enough, the way all those Fight Club superfans did a while back.) And you can indulge in that practice because the movie bobbleheadedly nods to that stuff every chance it gets. Or you can simply coast along on the spectacle and treat it like a colorfully spinning object to enjoy looking at. That's not only an equally valid approach but it's in keeping with the movie's attention deficit-like dream-hopping, where there'll be several different dream states happening at once, involving all the characters simultaneously, just daring you to keep up. It's not haphazard but it's intentionally, thrillingly, disorienting. What I learned about myself from watching it: My own dreams, which tend to involve being chased by the bagheaded people from The Strangers or falling from an airplane or eating all the cheese cakes in the world at once are sadly mundane, typical and lacking in amazing production design and zero gravity wrestling matches in upside down hotels with rotating hallways. And I think it's unfair. From 1 to 10, it gets a 10 and yes, I will buy it on Blu-ray.

Today's guest is the creator of the long running webcomic "Zortic" and "ETI-PI" as well as the writer of "Abby's Agency". Mark is also the founder of the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards. His book "Zortic: An Alien Just Like You" is the 10th book to be put in the Peverett Phile Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile... Mark Mekkes.

Me: Hello, Mark, welcome to the Phile. So, did you have a good time at MegaCon? Was that your first time there?

Mark: Thank you. Yes, I did have a great time. This was a really good year with a great crowd.
I’ve been presenting at Megacon for about 8 years now. I live right near Orlando, so this is my home town convention and it’s always exciting to be a part of it. It was fantastic to get back together with my old Megacon friends and meet lots of great new people, like yourself.

Me: I was only there for one day this year, but had a good time. Anyway, I wanted to interview you for Artist Month when I saw your Zortic artwork, but ran out of days, so your book "Zortic: An Alien Just Like You" is the 10th book in the P.P.B.C. How long ago did you come up with Zortic?

I’ve been sketching and playing around with most of the main characters for a long time. About 20 years ago I really started putting the characters together and building stories with them. Then, a little over 10 years ago, I came up with the idea of presenting it on the internet and finalized the details and began producing it on a regular basis.

Me: Explain to the readers of the Phile what Zortic is about. It's a very original idea and I love the artwork.

Mark: I’ve noticed that most science fiction seems to be very military focused. Where fantasy can follow an ordinary stable boy, blacksmith’s apprentice or hobbit into an epic story; science fiction almost always needs to focus on some highly trained military type. So I wanted to do something with science fiction that focused on a less heroic hero. So Zortic is an ordinary alien who has a fascination with TV shows from Earth. He uses that knowledge to go on a TV trivia game show and wins a space ship. As part of the game show, he meets up with one of his cinematic idols and they end up getting sucked into a variety of action and excitement.

Me: I can almost imagine it as an animated CGI movie. Do you ever think of writing a movie script and shopping the idea?

Mark: I have thought about it. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a frustrated animator. I would love the opportunity to bring these guys to life one way or the other. I haven’t really shopped it out, but I did do an original story as a movie script. I’ve presented it in the format of a movie storyboard and produced it in the book “Zortic: Almost a Motion Picture”.

Me: How long have you been drawing and writing Zortic?

Mark: Just over 10 years. I originally have a theatrical background and was working in professional theater when I decided I really wanted to be an artist and went back to art school to get a degree in illustration. Unfortunately, after art school I ended up getting a job back in theater. So I took on Zortic in an attempt to combine my theatrical and artistic sides and use my illustration degree.

Me: Actually, how long have you been drawing period? You def have your own style.

Mark: Aw, thanks. I’ve been drawing as long as I was able to hold a pencil. I remember my parents had a hard time keeping a blank piece of paper anywhere in the house when I was little. I really had every intention of following an art career; however I was very disappointed with the art program at the college I went to. So instead I ended up with a theater degree, but I never really gave up drawing and eventually went on to get an art degree anyway.

Me: Is there an artist you admired growing up?

Mark: I was really more of an animation fan than anything. I can certainly see a bit of a Flintstones influence on my character design and some Chuck Jones in my directing. But I really had a variety of animated work that I admired; the old Fleischer cartoons, Hanna Barbara, Warner Brothers and Disney.

Me: You also write a series called "Abby's Agency", Mark, am I right? How do you like it working with another artist?

Coming from a theater background, I’m used to collaboration. Of course it can be frustrating when you want to jump in and “fix” something that the other person is doing, but more often you find exciting surprises when the other person finds and expands on something you’ve done that you didn’t realize. Overall there can be something magic in collaborations and I’m really excited to be working with Tiffany, she’s really fantastic for this kind of thing.

Me: Did the artist Tiffany Ross come to you with the idea or did you approach her? How did you two meet?

Mark: Tiffany and I knew each other through the comic collective Keenspot. Keenspot was starting a project and needed some newpaper style strips. Both Tiffany and I were interested, but we didn’t think we had the time to create another entire strip individually. She approached me with the suggestion of doing something together. So we sat down and started brainstorming together and “Abby’s Agency” was the result.

Me: You also have two other projects... "ETI-PI" which I can imagine as a live-action how and "Agent LF". "ET-PI" kinda reminds me of "The X-Files". Were you a fan of that show when it was on?

Mark: Actually, right after Megacon I changed the name of the strip from “ETI-PI” to “Saucer Seekers”. It seems to be a bit catchier. But no, I can’t say that I was a fan of “X Files”. As part of my research I did go back and watch the entire series of “X Files”. What actually inspired the strip was the show “Ghost Hunters”. But I didn’t want to do another ghost hunting comedy because it might be too derivative of Ghostbusters or the old Abbott and Costello comedies. But to my knowledge, no one has really done anything comedic with UFO hunting, so I decided to establish my characters as Ufologists and started building the strip on that.

Me: Your artwork is mostly published online as a webcomic which seems to be coming as popular as blogging. Is it easier for you to post comics up on the internet instead of publishing them as books?

Mark: Oh absolutely. Not only is it cheaper, easier and better for the environment, the internet appeals to my theatrical roots in the way it can deliver relatively instantaneous feedback. I love hearing from fans and getting a sense of community. However there’s still a demand for print books and I’m really enjoying reaching people through those as well. I’m looking forward to getting more of those out.

Me: I am glad to see you did publish some "Zortic" books. Is it the same as what you read online or stories just made to be put in a book?

Mark: It’s the same story, but I do try to put some extras in the book; whether it’s sketches, or notes or side stories.

Me: How often do you put up new stories or chapters?

Mark: “Zortic” updates every Saturday and “Saucer Seekers” updates Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Abby’s Agency updates on Tuesday and Thursday, but it’s currently on a hiatus. And "Agent LF" is complete, although it might return some day.

Me: Are you planning any other books? Is it available to purchase in stores or just on-line?

Mark: I am working on the next book in the Zortic series. I’m hoping it will be ready later this summer. But right now all of the books are only available online and conventions; however, if you’re interested, have your local comic store contact Comic Monkey ( and ask for it.

Me: Mark, are there any new projects you are planning?

Mark: I’m always coming up with new thoughts and ideas so I’m sure something will pop up. But at this point there’s nothing definite set.

Me: Mark, is drawing a hobby of yours or a full time job? You seem pretty busy, sir.

Mark: Somewhere in the middle, actually; I haven’t been able to get up the nerve to give up the security of my day job to devote everything to drawing, but I do try to keep a professional attitude and treat it like a part time job.

Me: Okay, for the Phile readers that want to check out your artwork and everything, where should they go to?

Mark: They can find links to all of the comics over at or

Me: I wish you a lot of luck, and I hope to see Zortic and his friends on the big screen one day.

Mark: Thank you, it’s been fun.

There, I think it worked out okay. Sorry this entry has no "...In History" but there's only so much I can do. Anyway, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mark Mekkes for a great interview and being so patient. Like I said, he was supposed to be on the Phile back in April. The Phile will be back next Thursday as we kick off the second annual Alumni Month with Graham Parker. Graham Parker, people! I am so excited. Hopefully I'll be back on my computer next week as well. Until then, spread the word, not the turd, don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye love you, bye.

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