I Am What I Am

As I promised, here is a bit of back story about me, where I came from and what I have to offer.

I was born in a suburb of Grand Rapids MI in the early 60’s and I began drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. Art was always a main focus for me growing up and I took a special interest in animation. I was actually working on flip books as early as kindergarten. I began storyboarding ideas for short “movies” based on songs long before music videos were invented.

When college finally came around, I knew I could never make it into a school of animation, so I fought for a local trade school where I could learn commercial art. However, my parents had other ideas for me and wanted me to go to a liberal arts school. So I ended up at Hope College in Holland MI. I intended to major in art at Hope, but the program there was so focused on fine art that they made no attempt to teach anything, they just wanted you to throw your paint around so they could tell you if you were Jackson Pollock or not. So, instead I ended up with a Theater major emphasizing on writing and directing. My first writing job was as a Theater columnist for a local singles magazine (where the editor had the inclination to give me the pen name of Mikael Mekkes for some reason).

But eventually I left Michigan to pursue a Stage Management internship at the McCarter Theater in Princeton NJ. It was during this time that I began to play with developing some reoccurring characters and jotting down their adventures. This is really when Zortic was born. I did put together a few presentations of Zortic to comic syndicates with the traditional negative responses.

After a few years in New Jersey (enough for anyone) I moved to Florida and found work at the Showboat Dinner Theater in Clearwater FL. It was while I was at the Showboat that my artwork reemerged. While our producer was looking for a clip-art cartoon of a turkey for the cover of our Thanksgiving Children’s show, I whipped out a pencil and scribbled out a quick Pilgrim Turkey. The producer grabbed it and put it on the cover before I could even clean up the sketch. But before I knew it they had asked me to start designing sets for the children’s theater program. From there I eventually moved into designing sets for the main stage productions and was able to do shows like “Meet me in St. Louis” with Margaret O’Brien and “South Pacific” with Jamie Farr.

However, this just made me ache more for my artistic roots. So finally I saved up and returned to college. I enrolled in the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota FL. I studied Illustration and helped run their theater group. Leaving there I was ready to begin my career in the arts. So I packed up my portfolio and headed to Orlando to try to get my break in animation with Disney. Although they weren’t hiring, I happened to run into representatives from Disney Entertainment who were very interested in my theatrical background and the next thing I knew I was back working in theater.

Although the work was much steadier than most of my theatrical background, my artistic desires just weren’t being satisfied. Finally I dug up my old Zortic concepts and came up with the great idea of putting Zortic on the internet as a web comic. In February of 2000, Zortic appeared on a common webhost. Within a few weeks, Keenspace (now Comic Genesis) was born and I hopped on that bandwagon. Slowly but steadily I began to find my way with Zortic and readership began to slowly grow.

Later that same year, several people began to become aware that webcomic needed to be recognized and could use an award program of their own. Scott Maddix of PDI pdi-comic.com and I started the Web Cartoonist’s Choice awards. Both Zortic and the WCCA grew over the years and within a couple of years, Zortic was invited to join Keenspot. It was with Keenspot that I eventually coordinated with Tiffany Ross to create Abby’s Agency for Keenspot. Zortic’s first print volume appeared just last year with volume 2 due later this year.

So, that amounts to degrees in Theater and Illustration, 20 years of experience in professional theater, a printed author, 6 years of solid webcomic experience and the co-originator of the leading award for webcomics. Does any of this make me an expert at anything? Probably not. But if I can say something that helps inspire or encourage or help anyone in any way, that’s the best that any of us can hope for. Take it for what it’s worth.


Mark Mekkes