An interview with Zortic’s Mark Mekkes

Mark Mekkes is the writer/artist behind Zortic, the long-running webcomic about Zortic and his pop culture-parodying adventures through space. Mark is also involved with the organizing committee for the Web Cartoonists Choice Awards, which is now in its third year.

Comixpedia: How did you first get a start in comics?
Mark Mekkes: It was a case of frustration driving me to it. I had a fairly extensive theater background (I had a degree and several years professional experience in theater; stage management and technical direction mainly) but I wanted to do something a little bit more artistic, so I decided to go back to school to get an illustration degree. Unfortunately, once I got my art degree I ended up back in theater with a fairly nice technical job. Although my new job was nice, it still didn’t offer the kind of creative output I was hoping for. One night, I hit rock bottom with frustration. I needed to be producing something! I had been playing with the Zortic characters for years, and I had tried the traditional syndication approach several times, but I just wasn’t doing anything with them. Then I came up with what I thought at the time was an incredibly original and innovative idea of publishing my comics on the Internet. Obviously, I quickly found out how many other webcomics were out there. Although it wasn’t as original as I thought, I began to see and appreciate the potential of webcomics in general.

CP: Who are your big influences?
MM: My influences are probably a bit more animation-oriented than traditional comics. I’ve tried to blur the lines a bit between the two mediums. I’ve always been a big Popeye fan, both animated and print. I think the original B&W Fleisher cartoons are some of the best in existence. Also, of course, the animation of Disney and Warner Brothers. But being a true child of Television, I would probably say that my artistic tendencies lean mostly toward Hanna and Barbara. Chuck Jones and Glen Keane are animation gods!

CP: Why did you start Zortic?
MM: Actually, the "feel" of Zortic came from discussions about George Lucas. I remember hearing about how he had based the Star Wars series on ancient myths and legends, and intertwined them to create something familiar, yet exciting. There was nothing really new there, just a fresh energetic approach that gave new life to it. So I thought it would be interesting to see that same approach used with some slightly more recent myths and legends (including Star Wars). So I began to play with the premise and the stories that eventually evolved into Zortic’s early career.

CP: What do you think draws readers to your comic?
MM: Hopefully the familiarity and the likeability of the characters. I really worked hard to give them a look and feel of characters the readers may already be familiar with. I also tried to balance their archetypes from standard models of charter interaction. So hopefully the reader can be comfortable enough with the characters to want to spend time with them and see how they’d react to different situations. I also hope that the pacing and timing is accurately depicted and felt. I think that my theater background tends to give me a tendency to think in terms of cinematic acting, and I try to push that into my characters and the action.

CP: Favorite movies?
MM: Obviously, almost any Science Fiction movie. I especially like some of the classic "B" movies. In fact, there really aren’t many movies that I don’t like. But mostly I enjoy films that are heavy with humor and swashbuckling adventure (as opposed to blood-and-guts shoot-em-ups). A few that come to mind: Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Blues Brothers, Caddyshack

CP: What influence have movies had on your comic?
MM: That’s what it’s all about (movies and TV). I don’t know if anyone has ever actually noticed, but I did base the size of the Zortic comics on the dimensions of a movie screen just to emphasize its cinematic feel. Of course, I try to put as many references and parodies in each episode as possible. I think Zortic is most successful when it combines parodies and builds off of them. It’s one thing to parody the Klingon penal colony from Star Trek VI, but if you can do that and also make it Stalag 13 from Hogan’s Heroes, you can get a great layering of parody that, I hope, brings it to a new level.

CP: How would you describe the influence of movies on web comics as a whole?
MM: Since webcomics are able to do so much more than print comics, I think that a lot can be learned from cinematic techniques. Even if animation isn’t used in a comic, use of interesting "camera angles" and "shot composition" can help make webcomics stand out from more traditional "talking head"-type strips.

CP: What comics (web and print) do you read?
MM: I read a lot of webcomics. I don’t really don’t follow anything in print any more. Some of the webcomics that leap to the top of my head are; Boxjam’s Doodle, Chopping Block, General Protection Fault, Greystone Inn, Freefall, Mayberry Melonpool, Schlock Mercenary and Sinfest.

CP: If they made Zortic into a movie, who would play Zortic? What would the script be like? Who would you want to direct?
MM: Ironically, there is a Zortic movie script floating around. I’m hoping to produce it in story board form as a side project. The script really wouldn’t be that different from any of the other stories I’ve done. Perhaps a bit bigger or a bit more "classic" in content (as oppose to using more obscure refurrences). I always love playing with the idea of who would play live action versions of the characters, but I’ve never really been able to come up with anyone that’s perfect for Zortic. It would probably have to be some relatively unknown actor who would be able to make a name for himself with this career-building-role-of-a-life-time. 😉 For a director, my first thought is Robert Zemeckis (partly because his last name sounds like mine with a Z in front of it). But I also like the feel of Roger Rabbit and the way he was able to combine the feel of film noire and classic animation. And, of course, the steady stream of cameos. This is exactly the kind of feel I would want for a Zortic movie.

Leah Fitzgerald