Christopher “Merk” Merkley makes stuff from nothing. Comics, paintings, photography, illustration, tshirts, multimedia, sculptures….whatever he can get his hands on. He has 2 graphic novels under his belt (another one on the way), an ongoing comic strip, a regular weekly piece for Comic Book Resources’ ‘The Line it is Drawn‘ , and fits in as much art and craziness in between those as he can. He is also one third of Zero Issues Comic Podcast with two fellow comic artists, Bry & Kyle. You can find him online at merkasylum.ca.
Shauna Kosoris: You did the artwork for Nowadays, a zombie comic that takes place in Northern Ontario. How did you get involved with that, and how do you know the writer, Kurt Martell?
Merk: Kurt and I used to work together at HMV. He was studying film at that point. Then we disappeared and did our own things, but I kept running into him at events, usually during Halloween. He’d have a mask on and I’d have no idea who he was until he said “Hey. Want to make a comic?”
Kurt had a love of zombie movies and wanted to make one. Long before the current explosion of zombie stories, he wanted to reinvigorate the genre. He ended up approaching me to make a comic instead. From a business standpoint, I get lots of pitches of ideas, but nothing is written. Kurt was different; he had everything written and he understood it’s a business. “I don’t want you to work for free,” he said. So we applied for grants and got one. We also did fairly well with the Indiegogo campaign. We were approached by Indiegogo to do talks about it but had to decline because of the distance.
Wow, too bad you weren’t able to go! Going back to Nowadays, you used a lot of browns and other somber colours in the art. Why did you choose that colour scheme?
I’m not big on bright primary colours. And they don’t suit the tone of the book. Each panel is made up of different photos with locations between Beardmore and Thunder Bay. We found places on the highway that looked interesting. The cars are from the junkyard. There were stores in Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Houses out on the highway. I had to take thousands of photos to find the ones that work. Then I drew the people in before adding textured layers, filling in colour then tonal layers to match.
Originally we weren’t going to do the book using photos. It was just a test at something different but it looked great. I thought it would be easier not having to do the backgrounds but it took way longer.
I wasn’t sure about asking people if we could take pictures of their businesses to use in our comic with no compensation. But Kurt had no problem asking the first time. After that it was a lot easier, and everyone was great about it.
You also did the art for Victor’s Legacy, which was by Andrew Sookram and Matthew Jowett. How did you get involved with that?
They were both based out of Winnipeg. I was living in Vancouver at the time. I don’t know why I looked at it, but they had a Facebook group or page called Starving Writers. I’d never seen anyone looking for collaboration that way. Usually you run into people and talk. Those things don’t usually amount to anything. But we clicked, and did the comic as short chapters available online, and then we eventually collected the first story arc. We’ve discussed a second volume.
I hope you guys work on it; Victor’s Legacy was a fantastic read! Thinking of collaborations, how did you get involved in Comic Book Resources’ ‘The Line is Drawn’?
I’d seen it online and thought it was a good idea. I sent messages asking how to get involved and they ignored me. Then last December they were looking to expand their pool of artists. They had tryouts that were like how it’s done now: here’s an idea and draw it in a week. Then again. If you couldn’t do that, you weren’t cut out for it. I made it through.
It sounds like a lot of fun. Who is your favourite character to draw?
I don’t know if I have a favourite character. I get bored quickly and like to draw different things and different styles.
That’s fair. Where did you get the idea for your comic strip, Zygote Bop?
It was part of a bigger idea I came up with years ago. Part of it was two guys who work in a music store, like how Kurt and I worked in a music store. The absurdity of working in retail. But the original idea had Felix as the son of a superhero. Carl wants to be a superhero and idolizes the dad. It was going to be a quirky look at superheroes in retirement. But that didn’t suit the format when it got picked up by the Walleye.
I’m going to keep on it now that it’s not in the Walleye. But I’m really bad with deadlines. And I’ve got the new strip, Freak Nuts, too. Both are available at Merkstrips.
Along with comics, you work with paintings, photography, illustrations, t-shirts, multimedia, sculpture, and whatever else you can get your hands on. What’s your favourite medium to work with and why?
Comics easily. It’s such an underrated genre and a way of expressing a story as art. It’s coming into its own now more so. Thirty years ago adults didn’t read them. They got to a certain age and stopped. That’s not the case anymore.
I look at comics as modern mythology. We pass things on through stories, like religion. We don’t pass things on through lists very much. It’s just a universal thing to pass along ideas, morals, lessons and information through a story.
What are you working on now?
Another book that I’ve written. Season of the Dead Hours. Wrote it awhile ago. It’s going to be smaller than Nowadays. Closer to Victors Legacy in size. 100 pages or so. Black and White. Dealing more with mythology, magic, etc, among other things.
Good luck with that! Was there a particular artist who inspired you to draw?
All of them. There’s a couple that stand out but there’s always that continuing awe of seeing both old and new.
I grew up reading comics and copied the pictures. Then I went to Lakehead and took Fine Art there. It opened a whole new world of fine art, the gallery experience, art history. I did gallery art and comics fell to the side. Then ten years ago I got back to comics. It was like returning to what I wanted to do. And it’s super inspiring now that Independent comics are exploding.
That’s so true. Is there a particular comic you think everyone should read?
There’s some I would’ve said 5-10 years ago life Jeff Smith’s Bone before it got picked up by Scholastic. The simplicity of his line. How he’s able to capture the nuance. Other than that there’s so many independent comics.
And what are you currently reading?
My comic list. I’ve never had so many. I try to weed it out for budget reasons. But there are so many to read. There’s a slew of Marvel stuff. I kind of gave up on DC. Image comics (Saga being the number one). Black Science, Paper Girls, Fade Out, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Afterlife with Archie, We Stand On Guard, Conan the Adventurer.
And I love finding books on the history of comics, or biographies of creators. I just finished From Shadow to Light: The Life & Art of Mort Meskin by Steven Brower. I’m a comic geek. Head to toe.