Two of the local gang spearheading the burgeoning scene of the comic arts in Thunder Bay are Christopher Merkly and Kyle Lees. They both have new books out and they often work together to promote their separate projects at book launches, comic conventions, markets, festivals and book stores. Their work is quite different from one another’s, but fall into that low-brow category of popular arts that is an ever growing shelving problem for bookstores and libraries: continual expansion. The comic world is experiencing boon times with the support of the movie industry and huge comic conventions. No longer an underrated genre, the typically spotty teenage fans have been joined (if not superseded) by millions of adult fans who live for qualities in their comics and graphic novels that are typically found in more respected forms of literature and the visual arts.
Christopher, otherwise known as Merk, spent three years working on his graphic novel, Season of the Dead Hours, his third graphic novel. With his Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign he raised nearly eight thousand dollars for printing costs, an extraordinary success.
Once printed he took the book on the road. Merk states, “I go to comic conventions all over Canada every year and I have been for probably about five or six years. I've been to the big fan expo in Toronto, C4 in Winnipeg. I go to Calgary every year in the spring. This year I went to Regina as well. And I just got back from Orillia's first ever convention, which was super fun and a big success.”
Merk, Kyle and another local comic artist, Bry Kotyk, “go full on nerd” as Merk says, with a weekly podcast called Zero Issues Comicd where they discuss all aspects of popular culture. They also share a vendor’s booth at the Country Market with other comic artists Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.
In his book Merk sends his two protagonist companions on a dark journey of past reflections with the promise of a dramatic conflict for the climax. Based on Merk’s interest in swamp bogs in Europe that continue to turn up mummified bodies, the swamp in the book is not only an ancient burial site but a purgatory and portal for lost, once sacrificed and murdered souls who can be resurrected under the right conditions.
And so an ancient Druid named Sitchenn rises from the swamp and befriends a boy named Fionn who helps him search for an ancient talisman that can be used as a weapon. Crossing a bleak Irish night-scape the characters speak a wonderful otherworldly Gaelic. These foreign features heighten the mystery, increase the sense of magic, and deepen the history creating a wonderful moody read.
Kyle Lees’ compilation of cartoons called Ski Ninjas spans his most productive year, 2013, and Ski Ninjas ran for a good eight years in a dozen student newspapers and elsewhere across the country giving him some national acclaim. Kyle is working to illustrate a children’s book and will soon put out another instalment of Ski Ninjas.
Kyle’s bulbous cartoon characters and abstract incongruous segues are insightful and often hilarious. He uses a good deal of wit and sarcasm, taking on contemporary issues and making occasional popular culture commentary. The strips are sometimes a rambling guide of a young person’s doubts and insecurities in a world made more complicated by social media and changing relationship expectations. So, it’s a lot of fun and gets you reflecting on your own situations in life, an art in itself. Is there wisdom here?
Kyle states, “Wisdom's a strong word! A lot of the book's content is made up of me, my life and experiences. That's the sort of thing that you have to heavily lean on with no recurring characters or plot.”
Merk’s website is www.merkasylum.ca and Kyle’s is www.thekylelees.com. Their books are available at Chapters and soon at the Waterfront Art sale in the Baggage Building June 24th and 25th.
Merk saliently adds, “Comics aren't for kids anymore. And they haven't been for a long time. But it's only just in the past decade or so that seems to have come into the mainstream. With the success of all the comic book films, I think a whole new audience has been introduced to comics. They are an artform unto themselves and are taken seriously. Whether it's the superhero aspect, which I view as modern mythological tales, or a host of other genres & approaches for comics… there's something for everybody.”