Monday, November 28, 2016

Pheaturing Merk

Hello, kids, welcome to the Phile for Cyber Monday. Deals deals deals! Get those deals before the Earth is turned into a wasteland destroyed by climate change and humanity's greed for savings. This is not an ad, I'm sorry. You just know there's at least one idiot out there camping out for it. When I first heard about Cyber Monday a few years ago I thought, wow, they dedicated a whole day to sexting.
Wow, how existential: Everyone's favorite crass party game, Cards Against Humanity, has raised more than $90,000 to dig a hole to nowhere.They're calling it "Holiday Hole," according to the "Miami Herald," and it is just the latest of the company's anti holiday spending stunts. You can watch the mesmerizing live stream, which is like performance art commentary on Black Friday, as an alternative to staring into the abyss, or watching a yule log burn. On the site launched for the stunt, they tout the amount of cash raised as "Money Thrown In Hole." Some individuals have donated more than $1,000 to this effort! Maybe that's their way of acknowledging that they have a lot of money, and that it doesn't bring them happiness? Maybe the point is that none of us can really control how anyone else spends their money, and all of us are pawns in a battle between corporations. Or maybe the point is that we are all collectively digging ourselves into a hole by wrecking the planet with our use of fossil fuels, electing political leaders who only have preservation of the 1% in mind, and continuing to exploit the most defenseless people to make our own lives more comfortable. Or MAYBE the point of the hole is that we are all stuck in a Sisyphean nightmare, toiling away at pointless tasks as our only defense against the fact that life is meaningless and we're all gonna die. The game creators won't claim the hole has any meaning at all, which is perhaps the greatest artistic statement one could make. But they'll keep digging as long as you keep donating. Really, the hole only exists as long as you're sad enough to throw money into it. Head to the card game's site, and you too can help fill a hole with your hard-earned dollars and maybe feel something. If you do, you'll get a great email with some hard truths.
A proposed bill in Texas dictates that teachers are required to "out" their gay, queer and transgendered students at the request of the parent. The bill, filed by Texas State Senator Konni Burton, says that parents are entitled to "full and total information on their child’s academic performance, physical, mental and emotional health, and more." Senator Burton recently wrote an Op-Ed for "The Texas Tribune" entitled "In Fort Worth's transgender battle, parents lose." The piece argues that a parent's input is imperative whether the child wants it or not. The bill, which can be read here ( goes so far to say that if a teacher or faculty member withholds information from parents, they can be punished. Equality Texas chairman Steve M. Rudner released a statement countering the bill arguing that if your child doesn't trust you enough to come out to them, there is probably a good reason. Senator Burton's proposed legislation will probably be more damaging to the child/parent relationship in the long run, and if you want your kid to open up to you, hunting down trusted teachers and demanding answers in the name of the law is one weird way to do it. Just sayin'.
In what will surely go down as the most British party foul in history, singer Ed Sheeran had to be rushed to the hospital for stitches after Princess Beatrice of York slashed his face open with a ceremonial sword at a party. Why was she swinging an antique blade around? Because she was trying to "knight" singer James Blunt as a gag. Obviously. Sources said Blunt had joked about wanting to become "Sir James," and that the Princess obliged, doing a great impression of her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II... right up until she failed to realize that Sheeran was standing behind her when she raised the sword off Blunt's shoulder, and almost put the poor guy's eye out. Apparently she was distraught, but Sheeran, because you're well-advised not to criticize someone who's seventh in line to be your country's monarch, insisted it was no big deal. And truthfully, he didn't seem bothered as he showed off his little gash the following day. Sure, this was supposedly just an accident, but isn't it more likely the Princess was sending Sheeran a serious warning after he made fun of her hat collection? The truth is out there, people.
Some prankster, presumably not thrilled with the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, has been toying with the names of the president-elect's New York properties on Google Maps. First up, they changed Trump Tower to the less alliterative but more evocative "Dump Tower." Google didn't get around to fixing that for a few hours, and in the meantime, people noticed that Trump International Hotel had also been renamed as... you guessed it... Dump International Hotel. Finally, "Trump Tower" was tweaked to appear in Russian translation, a nod to the nation's apparent interest in elevating Trump to power. It's unclear whether this was all the work of one individual, a concerted effort by several, or just a free-for-all amid bored hackers. And while it's almost certainly not the work of Google itself, that didn't stop a few Trump voters from lashing out at the tech giant for apparent bias. Others simply condemned the media outlets reporting the story. With the next four years shaping up to be the worst of our lives, you really gotta appreciate the little things, right? Hillary Clinton has another heartwarming encounter, this time at a Rhode Island bookstore. A Rhode Island bookstore employee who ran into Hillary Clinton has posted a photo with an encouraging message for the would-be first female president. "She was gracious and she was warm and she said the bookstore was beautiful. Bill Clinton shook my hand and complimented my sweater." So as Donald Trump wreaks havoc on Google Calendar notifications for everyone at the "New York Times," Hillary Clinton's spending her post-election months strolling around a bookstore, inspiring open letters from her heartbroken supporters. She may not be president, but she's still the King Midas of Facebook: everything she touches goes viral. Jessica Wick's post has been liked by thousands of people, shared hundreds of times and commented on by hundreds of supporters. Of course, the trolls showed up, too, because in case you didn't know... Hillary Clinton is sort of polarizing. This follows Clinton's chance encounter with a supporter while taking a walk in the woods around Chappaqua, New York. In both instances, Bill Clinton was there. In both instances, Bill Clinton was apparently not asked for a photo. Sorry, Bill. Better keep practicing with that iPhone camera.
Hey, so, I just mentioned Princess Beatrice and her hats. She does like to wear hats, and very strange ones at that. Check it out...

Meanwhile in the basement of Trump Tower...

Hahahaha. That cracks me up! Are you looking forward to the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie next year? I am... but when I saw this pic from the movie I might change my mind.

What the fuck? Do they go to Earth? I was flicking through the channels the other day and I came across a Scooby-Doo cartoon which I think "The Walking Dead" copied.

Jinkies. Christmas is right around the corner... so are you looking for the perfect ornament to adorn your beautiful tree? You need the incredibly classy Rubber Chicken Ornament...

It's true; nothing says Christmas like a rubber chicken wearing a Santa suit! Looking at the Christmas ads I was surprised to see this one...

Hmmm. Throat scratch? Okay, now from the home office in Port Jefferson, New York, here is another of the...

Top Phive Bands That Will Perform At Donald Trump's Inauguration
5. Earth, Wind, and You're Fired.
4. Notorious B.I.G.O.T.
3. Huey Lewis & I'm Gonna Sue The News.
2. They Might Be Giant Racists.
And the number one band that is gonna be performing at Trump's inauguration is...
1. The Barenaked Vessels for Male Sexual Gratification.

Hahahahaha. If you spot the Mindphuck please let me know. This is a good one. I think one of my favorites. Okay, so, telling a good joke is not so hard... it's making people laugh that's the hard part. Anyway, there's this guy that says he is having problems telling funny jokes and wanted to come on the Phile and try a few out. So, I said, what the hell, why not? So, kids, please welcome to the Phile for the first time ever...

Me: Okay, Ollie, welcome to the Phile. So, you don't know how to tell a joke?

Ollie: Not really... no one laughs at them when I do.

Me: Alright, well, why don't you try and tell a joke here and we'll see what happens.

Ollie: Okay... what's worse than finding a worm in your apple?

Me: Hmmm. well, considering I'm allergic to apples I don't know. What?

Ollie: The Holocaust.

Me: Uhhh... Ollie, that was really, really bad. I have relatives that are Jewish not to mention a lot of my readers are Jewish. That was not funny. Try another one.

Ollie: An Irishman walks out of the bar.

Me: And?

Ollie: That's it.

Me: Ollie, that wasn't funny, either. You may tell one more joke. Make it a good one.

Ollie: Okay... why did the boy drop his ice cream cone?

Me: I don't know... why?

Olliie: Because he was hit by a bus.

Me: Ha... I almost laughed. Good try, Ollie. Keep working on them. Maybe I will have you back soon. Ollie Tabooger, the Guy Who Doesn't Know How to Tell a Joke, kids.

Ollie: Bye, everybody. I'll do better next time.

Taking some time off from appointing more Nazis to his cabinet, refusing to resolve his business-related conflicts of interest, and generally ruining every morning for people who wake up in the timeline where he won the election, President-elect Donald Trump today claimed he had also won the popular vote. Which he didn't. Even for Trump, the lie that Hillary Clinton doesn't have a 2-million-plus edge in the popular vote count is a heck of a whopper, especially given that he's blaming "millions of people who voted illegally"... a sweeping, dangerous accusation backed up by exactly zero evidence. Unless you count tweets from some rando who claims to be a voting data analyst to push his dumb conspiracy theories. Snopes has debunked this claim, which has been circulating the right-wing Internet, pointing out that Phillips has never produced his methodology or indeed explained how he could "verify" votes in any meaningful way, and that he was previously quoted by fringe publications as arguing that Obamacare was a cover for voter fraud. The 3 million figure, they write, "may just as well have been plucked out of thin air." It's also been around for at least two weeks, so not only is Trump trolling us, he's peddling fairly out-of-date nonsense. And why continue making the utterly spurious case that the election was rigged against him, given that he's headed to the White House? That's simple: The GOP's voter suppression game helped him win, and conservatives want any excuse to redouble their efforts on that front in the years ahead. It hardly matters if "illegal" ballots aren't a thing, as long as it's a prextext on which they can pass bogus laws that keep actual citizens from letting their voices be heard. Sad!

The 53rd book to be pheatuered in the Phile's Book Club is...

Phile Alum and author Jim Korkis will be a guest on the Phile next Sunday. Okay, so, do you like farting stories? Have you heard any tooting stories? No? Well, you're in luck, boys and girls. Here's a new pheature called...

It's the sort of fire starting stinker that may have the power to make even Stephen King cringe in horror. A female patient in her 30s suffered severe burns during a surgical procedure performed at Tokyo Medical University Hospital in April 2016. Reportedly, doctors had been using a laser near the woman's cervix when she let out a fart. The laser then ignited the gas she released which caused a fire, engulfing the woman's body, particularly her waist and legs. In a report published in October 2016 by the hospital, a committee of outside experts ruled out any other potential causes, such as other flammable materials in the operating room. See? A story about tooting.

Alright, today's pheatured guest is the 32nd artist to be pheatured in the Phile's art gallery. I love his artwork, and his creativity. Please welcome to the Phile... Merk.

Me: Hey, Merk, welcome to the Phile. So, I called you Merk... is that good, or should I call you another name? What do you go by?

Merk: Merk is good. When I was in art school I started signing everything Merk (an abbreviated form of my name) and it became a nickname. Then I adopted it as my 'professional' name, so whenever I'm doing/talking art, it's as Merk. Not a separate personality or anything. Just a name. LOL.  

Me: Where are you from?

Merk: I am from Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's a sizable city, but isolated, situated at the northern shore of Lake Superior. I've lived all over Canada though, but moved back about 6 years ago.

Me: I have to say I love your artwork and I have to tell you I purchased the Ponda Baba t-shirt from you website. I have to show the artwork here for it...

Me: You don't see too many Ponda shirts around, and I am a huge Star Wars fan and I love the obscure characters. Is he a favorite of yours? How did you come up with the idea for that shirt?

Merk: Ha! Awesome. Thank you. I am a big Star Wars fan. I'm old enough to have enjoyed the first films when they were first released. My older brother and I devoured them over and over growing up. That shirt idea with his face on it & the words "He doesn't like you. I don't like you either"... I don't know. Things like that come by me and they stick in my head. That one had been in my skullcap for a while, trying to figure the best way to feature it. T-shirt seemed the way to go.

Me: I also love the Captain Britain Metal Corps piece you did... Captain Britain is my favorite superhero so anything tied into him is cool... and I am British and I love those artists like Ozzy and Lemmy you put in the drawing. If this was a t-shirt I would purchase this as well. How did you come up with this idea, Merk?

Merk: That's awesome! I'm a huge Cap Brit fan too. I had a collection as a kid of the old black and white Brit collection, and later on, the "Knights of Pendragon" series blew my mind wide open. That particular Metal Corps piece came about through a group I work with called The Line it is Drawn. Brian Cronin is a writer, who does a lot of work for Comics Should be Good & Comic Book Resources to name a few. He has a pool of artists that each week, he posts some sort of comic book theme and anyone following it on Twitter can suggest ideas. For example, that one was the theme of some sort of homage to Lemmy, as he had just passed away. We get hundreds of suggestions based on that, and he forwards them to the artists. We choose which we want. My choice was "Lemmy joins the Captain Britain Corps," but you can go anywhere from there. I often mix other things in, like I did here (adding Ozzy, Bruce Dickinson, & Rob Halford). Sorry, that one won't be becoming a shirt. It costs me a lot to do the shirts so I can only have so many on the go at a time.

Me: I had those black and white comics as well... I still have them somewhere actually. Your artwork is so, so fucking detailed. Did drawing and doing art come naturally to you?

Merk: It came naturally but it's a practice, practice, practice kind of thing. I'm always learning to get better.

Me: How long have you been drawing professionally?

Merk: I guess upwards of 8 years or so. It was around then that I said, "I am going to make a go of this and see what I can do." It's not easy. And I have a very loving & supportive wife.

Me: What's your favorite thing to draw?

Merk: Faces & hands. They are the most expressive parts of the body.

Me: I have to tell you the first piece I saw of yours was on Comic Book Resources with the villains right after Trump won the presidency.

Merk: Oh you saw that one? LOL. Don't read the comments!!! LOL. Any politics gets in there and people go crazy. I get the suggestions sent to me weekly and if I have time I try to get a piece done. 

Me: Now I do wanna read the comments... How did you get involved doing that? Is that fun for you?

Merk: I had seen a few posts from earlier Line it is Drawn work, and just loved the idea. They had a tryout a few years back. I tried out and got in. It's a blast. Like I said, I can't always get one done every week, depending on what's happening that week, but it's been a great experience. And it's also more practice. I've become faster and (hopefully) better.

Me: Being from Canada, what do you think of Trump being the new President?

Merk: Oh no! Politics! LOL. Honestly he frightens me. If anyone I knew spoke to/about people the way he does... I would be appalled. I would tell them how utterly hurtful, divisive, and ignorant that seems to me, and if they didn't change, we would never speak again. And this is the person now running a nation. However I don't think he can legally do many of the changes he's proclaimed he will do, but I think the damage is done. I hope your country can come together and heal it's divides, rather than widen the gap. Not that Canada doesn't have lots of things to work through, I just think the U.S., especially through this election, has made those divides sharper and the pain more acute.

Me: I assume you are a music fan, and being from Canada I have to ask you if you are a fan of one of my favorite bands from Canada... Barenaked Ladies. Are you a fan?

Merk: I am a HUGE music fan! I actually worked for and ran music stores for years before diving into art professionally. I enjoy BNL. I can't say I'm a HUGE fan but they are good, especially live.

Me: I agree. Back to that "Trump" piece... I thought it was cool that you used DC and Marvel villains. I thought at first though why Professor X was there then realized it was Luther. How did you choose those particular villains, Merk?

Merk: LOL. Yea, Luthor has that kind of nondescript look in the suit. I had thought of putting him in the purple/green, but wanted the 'presidential' Lex. The choices were all from Twitter suggestions, but, like I sometimes do, I combined several of them. Originally I had picked Thanos, Loki, Doom, Red Skull, Mephisto, Darkseid and the Watcher. As I started planning it, I realized it was a little Marvel heavy. I could either take Darkseid out completely to have it all Marvel or I had to add some more DC to balance it out. So I added Lex & Joker. Yay! More work!

Me: So, I have to ask... DC or Marvel? I am mostly a Marvel fan.

Merk: So am I. I grew up mostly Marvel. It's what I gravitated towards. Not that I didn't have a lot of DC, Charlton and whatever else I could get my hands on. Eighties was all X-Men for me.

Me: Looking at your artwork, I see you are into old school horror like Frankenstein and Dracula... am I right? What genre do you like the best overall?

Merk: I really enjoyed the Marvel 70s horror stuff when I was kid. I strayed from it, but in the past 10 years or so and wandered back with fresh eyes and a new love for it. Bernie Wrightson's illustrated Frankenstein is a pinnacle work for me. It's etched into my brain. I've always leaned towards the superhero genre, but really, I love anything I can get my hands on.

Me: I gather you go to a lot of conventions, Merk. Is there a favorite one you did or one that you would love to go to?

Merk: I really like the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. I've been going to that for a number of years now and it's fantastic. To see it grow, and see familiar faces and great stuff every year. It's a blast.

Me: Ever go to MegaCon here in Orlando?

Merk: I have not. It's harder for me to do stuff in the states. I have a lot of gear so I can't just take a plane & go to a con. Crossing the border with the intent to sell... it can be tricky, and pricey.

Me: When you are not drawing and doing art you're part of a podcast called Zero Issues Comic... that's a great name. How long have you been doing this podcast?

Merk: Ha! Thanks. It's been almost three years now I guess? Oh my god. Has it been that long? Yea, it's myself and two other local comic artists Kyle Lees (  and Bry Kotyk who does an online comic called "Welcome to Hereafter" ( We all do very different kind of stuff, and the two of them are about 10 years younger than me, so makes for some interesting comic talk. Plus we drink beer while we're doing it... so there's that. Oh, and we're all bald too.

Me: Is it fun to do? What do you guys talk about?

Merk: It's a blast. We talk about anything comic related. We'll have a quick news segment, a little warm up topic (which could be anything from I'm reading this right now to a hilarious comic quiz (which I never win) to some bizarre choose your own adventure story out of Kyle's brain), then a main topic (that varies wildly. We've done standard stuff like talking about the new "Luke Cage" series, or discussing Steve Ditko's work, to watching the horrible "Generation X" movie from the nineties and wondering what the hell just happened? Or talking about Gambit and how he's so terrible, and how to redo him to make him an interesting character in book & film. Basically we came up with you have to trick people into liking Gambit. And then we close with the Moment of Zero (an homage to the "Daily Show's" Moment of Zen), where anything goes. We've done dramatic readings from the worst written comics we can find (complete with dramatic music, and voice alterations) or Bry's recurring League of Baldos segment where we talk about bald characters. It gets pretty strange.

Me: That's so cool. You also have worked on a few graphic novels... I am a big fan of "The Walking Dead" so was curious about the book "Nowadays." Tell the readers what the concept is.

Merk: "Nowadays" was a 300 page graphic novel I did with writer Kurt Martell. The basic concept is this: A zombie apocalypse occurs and we see it through two groups of people that live in remote north-west Ontario (where we live). It takes place along lonely stretches of remote highway, passing through small towns until we eventually make our way to the 'big city' of Thunder Bay. But these aren't your normal zombies. Instead of being mindless creatures that stumble along and try to bite you, when you turn into the undead, you retain all your faculties. You can think, feel and reason. But you need to feed. So now, instead of the traditional zombie, which really isn't a 'character' but more of a plot device to motivate & spur action in other characters, the zombie becomes a viable character. And you see things through their eyes. Now they have the choice, do I eat my friends and family? Or do I try to take another path? This sets up the stage for some zombies to protect their living friends and family, fighting other zombies, while some just chow down on everyone. Theres' a whole new dynamic. And like Kurt and I like to say "if you were an asshole when you were alive, you're probably going to be an asshole when you're dead."

Me: How do you like working with a writer like Kurt? Does he give you a lot of freedom or is he strict like Alan Moore is when he writes?

Merk: Kurt and I are old friends. He has a film background and originally wrote "Nowadays" as a film. Both of us moved around the country a lot but eventually both made our way back here to Thunder Bay. When I arrived I discovered him living one street over from me. We started discussing the book and the story idea and we were off. Kurt was very open to work with. He had it written like a movie script and so he rewrote it into comic format, and gave it to me. I was able to cut & reshape as I thought was necessary to tell the story. We would talk about changes and decide what was best. In the end, the story comes first.

Me: Speaking of graphic novels, you are working on one right now, right?

Merk: I am!!

Me: What is it gonna be called and what is it about?

Merk: It's called "Season of the Dead Hours." It takes place in rural Ireland & involves magic & Celtic myth. Long banished sorcerers are returned to our world by a mysterious group, for what reason even the sorcerers do not know. But they do know that they only have several days before they are forced to return to the realm of their exile where they will resume battling each other as they've done for ages. We follow Sitchenn, one of the returned sorcerers, as he emerges in a farm field, confused and bewildered. He realizes he has returned to the 'mother realm' and that his banishment will recommence shortly, so he begins to try to gather magic power so that, when forced to return to the battle in the exiled realm, he may have the advantage & be able to free his people from the his enemy, The Janus Magus. To do so he enlists the help of a young Irish boy, Fionn, to help him retrieve a special object, the Crane Bag. Fionn eventually agrees and their journey begins. From there Fionn's eyes are opened to a world of magic that had long been hidden from man, making visible the creatures and dangers that lurk in the shadows, just out of sight of man. This eventually leads to a final showdown between Sitchenn and the Janus Magus, but in the world of magic... not all is what it seems.

Me: You're running an Indigogo campaign to raise money to out it out, am I right?

Merk: I am! It's running now until Dec 12th. I'm looking to raise $8500 to pay for the printing. It ain't cheap to self publish.

Me: When someone donates or pledges, what kinda incentives do they get?

Merk: There's lots of perks to be had, like personalized sketches, shirts, the book (of course), I will turn you into a sorcerer/sorceress in a limited ed art print battling it out with the other contributors, an ad in the back of the book (perfect for other artists advertising their books, website or project), one of the original inked pages of the book or just random things from my house. Seriously. Random. It could be a broken pencil or it could be DVD collection of a TV show season, or original art or paperclips I found in a drawer. Random.

Me: So, when "Seasons of the Dead Hours"comes out will you come back on the Phile? I'll feature it as part of the Phile's Book Club.

Merk: Absolutely! I would love that.

Me: So, what kinda tools do you use on your work, Merk?

Merk: I draw traditionally with a pencil. I don't do the tablet. That's not a judgement, it's just not for me. At least right now. Penciled work, then I ink overtop that. I do colour digitally though. I also do work on canvas, doing multimedia sort of stuff.

Me: Is there a favorite piece that you've done?

Merk: The favourite is always the next one. I am REALLY happy how "Season of the Dead Hours" is coming out though. It's some of my best work to date, definitely.

Me: What's the easiest thing for you to draw?

Merk: I don't know if there is anything I find easy to draw. If it's easy, then I'm not challenging myself and I'm just reproducing what I've done before... which gets boring.

Me: I like to ask my artist guests what they think of the Phile's logo... so, whatcha think?

Merk: I like it! Looks like my studio. LOL.

Me: I see you also draw and write a weekly comic strip called "Zygote Bop." That looks so interesting. What is it about? It takes place in a record shop, right?

Merk: Yea. Zygote was an ongoing strip about Felix & Carl. They worked in a record store (like I said, I worked in one for a long time. Retail gives you lots of stories and situations to do crazy strips about). Both were a little bit older and kind of stuck in life. Oh, and Carl wears a helmet. He thinks he's a superhero, Carl the Iron Lung of Justice! They make their way through life, meeting crazy people in the store and having lots of bizarre retail adventures, with a cast of crazies.

Me: I have a piece of the comic strip I have to show...

Me: How long have you been doing this strip and where can a reader follow it?

Merk: It ran for about four years or so. Originally it was in a local arts & culture paper called "The Walleye." The strip has, unfortunately, ended now, but they can all be read on my website.

Me: Merk, I am such a big fan and I know you're so busy, so I appreciate you taking time out being here on the Phile. I hope it was fun. Go ahead and mention your websites and where on Indiegogo a Phile reader can pledge.

Merk: It was! Thanks so much for having me! Thank you! My website is... You can preorder "Season of the Dead Hours" (along with all the awesome perks) here... You can find me on Facebook here..., you can find Zero Issues Comic Podcast on Facebook here...., you can find the Zero Issues Comic Podcast website here... Annnnd. I think that's all I got.

Me: Great. Please come back when the graphic novel comes out. All the best, Merk. Take care. 

Merk: Thanks so much, man!! I will definitely be back. Cheers!

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Merk for a great interview. The Phile will be back next Sunday with author and Phile Alum Jim Korkis. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

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