July 9, 2010 at 2:38 am
(Warning: This was typed by a very sleep deprived man)

Last month, the court case that removed my ability to get a passport came to an end. I assumed that at that point, I was allowed to do all the things that had been legally kept from me. Drive a car, use my bank account, get a passport, etc.

In June, Danielle and I took a ferry (I live far away from everything and must take a ferry into the city for many things) to the passport office to order passports at $90 each so we could go to ConnectiCon. Just to be sure, we paid the extra $30 each to get the "express" treatment so we'd be sure to have them in time for the convention. We were assured that if there were any problems, they'd call us. If we received no phone calls, we could pick up the passports on the very day that we were scheduled to catch a plane into the USA. Talk about cutting it close!

For two weeks, I jumped every time the phone rang, hoping that it wasn't the passport office. After all, our plane tickets came to $1,500 and were non-refundable. The day before we were meant to leave for the convention, we received a letter from the passport office, telling me that my passport application had been denied because there was a "flag" on my name. The letter was sent the date after we applied for the passports.

I quickly called up the FMEP (who were my old "friends" from the court case who were supposed to remove the flag on my name) and asked what was up. The man I spoke to told me that it was all cleared up weeks ago and perhaps the files at the passport office were just slow to update.

Danielle and I woke up at 4:15am the next day in order to catch the first ferry into the city and be at the passport office as soon as they opened. We brought with us, all our ConnectiCon luggage just in case there was something that could be done and we could dart off to the airport with passports in hand. Once at the office, we waited in line to get a number, then waited for that number to be called at which point we spoke with Gordon, a passport office employee.

After hearing about our situation, he looked me up and discovered that the evil flag was still on my name! He said that as long as that flag was there, he cannot issue me a passport. And even if he could, it's not likely that it could be ready the same day, but if we wanted to contact the FMEP and "light a fire under their butts" as Gordon put it, we could then pay the $150 '24 hour urgent passport application fee' and try our luck.

"But I've already paid. I paid $120." I said.

"That was your initial application fee and that application was shut down as soon as we saw the flag on your name. That fee is unfortunately non-refundable." Danielle and I looked at each other, knowing that although we had about $160 on us, we needed that money for luggage fees, food, taxis, etc.

I decided to call FMEP from a payphone in the hallway and see if I could light that fire under their butts. I was put on hold, so I waited. I waited at that payphone for half an hour before an FMEP rep named Laura answered. After explaining my situation Laura assured me that the flag should be gone by now. I asked if someone representing the FMEP could call the passport office and tell them that. She said "we don't have the power to do that, only the Department of Justice can do that". I got the D of J's number and called them. I was put on hold and so I waited. I waited at that payphone for half an hour. Then I waited for another half an hour. I hung up and decided to pester Gordon again.

I went back into the passport office (where Danielle had made herself at home, crocheting next to a pile of our luggage), waited in line to get a number, then waited for that number to be called, at which point I was talking to my old friend Gordon who was telling me once more that he didn't have the power to bypass that flag on my name.

I returned to the now familiar payphone and decided to call the mysterious Department of Justice again. This time, I was determined to stay on hold for as long as it took. It took about an hour.

My heart leaped as a man answered. "Department of Justice, before we begin, may I have your social insurance number please?" (For you Americans, a social insurance number is similar to a social security number).

"495..." I began.

"875 234?" Said the man on the phone. That's right, he finished my SIN number for me (No, I didn't just type my real SIN Number online, but the real one was said over the phone).

"Um... yeah, how did you..?"

"Hello Mr. Hunt" I was completely confused at this point. I couldn't understand how he knew who I was.

"I literally just got off the phone with Laura from the FMEP who called me to explain your situation. I can help you. I contacted the security department and as soon as they fax me the information of your file, I can manually remove the flag on your name."

"Wow, that's great!" I said.

"Yes, you're very lucky that I was in the office. I can have this cleared up by tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Oh, well I need to be on a plane tonight. Is there any way that was can fix this now?"

"Unfortunately Mr. Hunt, I can't correct the issue until I get that fax and they won't be able to contact me until tomorrow."

"Oh." I replied "Well is there any way that you could..."

"Hang on Mr. Hunt, the fax is here."

"What?"

"It's here. It just arrived." And five minutes after that comment, this amazing God of a man had removed the flag from my name. He even said "On behave of the Department of Justice, I declare that you are free to obtain a passport without any hindrance."

I rushed back into the office, waited in line to get a number, then waited... well, you know the drill. We gave Gordon our $150 and a few hours later, Danielle and I both had our passports. An awkward phone call to Danielle's amazing parents landed us a $200 loan from them, which would cover the other expenses of our trip.

We bused to the airport, checked in our luggage for $50 and waited until just after midnight to catch the first plane of our trip.

We landed in Minneapolis and were all guided to US customs. Something that we were told we'd have to do before we could catch our next flight into NYC. Danielle and I were ready to pay some kind of duty tax on our items, but we'd done some research and discovered that there was no tariff on books.

An officer pulled us aside and asked us all sorts of questions. I explained about the convention and how Danielle and I were to be guests of honour.

"Where are your work visas?" He asked us.

"What? Wait, we need work visas to attend a convention?" I felt that 'passport office' stress from the day before returning to me.

The officer explained to us that by trying to enter the USA to sell even one book without a work visa, we were stealing work from Americans and breaking the law.

I told him that I'd be willing to ditch all my merchandise and just go to enjoy the convention and he said "no". He said that since I already told him that I was planning to sell some books, I could not enter the USA at this point no matter what I said or did.

He asked us if we'd ever sold any books at American conventions before. Not wanting to make things worse by lying, I told him that we'd attended GenCon in 2007. He told us outright that we were not going to be allowed into the United States and mentioned possible jail time.

"Have a seat and wait right there." He said.

After my court battle, I was now getting used to being told that I might be going to prison. For a guy who doesn't even know how to roll a joint, I sure hear the phrase "possible jail time" a whole lot. This time was different than the court situation though. Having Danielle lumped into that possibility with me was a special kind of fear. As I sat in my plastic chair looking up at the staggering number of American flags that surrounded me (which now looked angry somehow), I began rehearsing certain conversations in my mind...

"But officer, she didn't even fill out the customs card, I did."
"Officer, she's not the author of the books, I am."
"Honestly officer, I don't even trust her to touch my merchandise. She has nothing to do with sales."


After awhile, Danielle and I were separated and I was brought into an interrogation room. It was explained to me that Danielle was also being interrogated somewhere else so if we lie about anything, they'll know about it and her and I could be facing five years in prison. I silently hoped that neither Danielle or I accidentally got any facts wrong and end up with unmatching answers.

I was questioned for maybe an hour by Officer C. (you think I'm crazy enough to post his name here?) who asked me about everything. Seriously, everything. When my Father met my Mother, how much money did I make at GenCon in 2007, even this one...

"So why are you a guest of honour at this, ConnectiCon?"

"Uh, well... I'm an author. I guess... I suppose I have a large amount of fans? I mean... I suppose I'm an author of some notability in certain circles." I'm a pretty modest guy, but we're talking about jail, people. I'd have told him that I was the best singer in Canada, if that's what he wanted to hear.

The interrogation was actually a lot like the ones you see in movies. A bunch of times he'd exit the room, leaving me sitting alone in my chair before returning five minutes later. I could vividly picture some cheesy Law & Order group of cops studying me from behind some two way mirror asking things like "what do ya think? Ya think he's lying?". There was no such mirror, but I could still imagine it.

After the interrogation, I was finger printed, photographed, then brought into another room where two officers thoroughly searched me. It was all very professional and I wasn't "violated" or anything but seriously, that was as close to a homosexual experience as I've ever come, and I've had a prostate exam before.

Eventually, Danielle and I were brought into the same room and escorted by Officer C. to a plane that would take us back to Canada. We were not allowed to have our passports returned to us until after the plane landed in Canada.

Despite all of these events, I want to make it clear that the officers Danielle and I dealt with were very professional. No one tazed us or was unnecessarily rude. They were all just very professional and unwavering in their duties. In fact, Danielle and I were both told separately that we were much more co-operative and truthful than what the officers were used to.

So now we're back home safely. I'm so very sorry to those of you who travelled a long distance and paid money that you otherwise might not have to get to ConnectiCon to see us. I also want to apologise to ConnectiCon who paid for a hotel room for Danielle and I that will now not be used.

Given that this whole nightmare has cost us over $2000 and made us no profits, I'll be launching a Tempts Fate this week in hopes of putting a dent in this brand new debt of ours. The riddle door in the last Tempts Fate was very popular, so I'll be expanding on that idea. Hopefully it'll be fun for everyone. My stance on Tempts Fate donations is usually "just reading the comic is support enough", but this time it'll be a little bit more of the "please help us" variety.

Also, the last three days, being a roller coaster of stress and intense negative emotions has shown me something pretty cool. Despite the tears, the fear and the worrying, Danielle and I never once snapped at each other or turned on each other in any way. The entire time, we were nothing but supportive, loving and close. In fact, the worst part of the whole ordeal for both of us was when we were separated and not allowed to know where the other was. I now know that no matter what happens, there's no situation that can cause us to turn on each other.

During the interrogation, I answered as many questions as I could with a simple "yes" or "no". I didn't want to make matters worse by adding any extra details and tripping myself up. I kept this minimalistic answering for as many questions as I could except one. In an environment where an untrue answer would get me thrown in jail, when asked "Is Danielle Stephens your wife?".

I answered "She will be."

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt
July 7, 2010 at 6:43 am
I'm happy to announce the new, interactive Goblins desktop theme. Over time, new features, content and artwork will be automatically added to it. It's free to download, and having it on your desktop actually makes us money by including Bing as the default search engine. So feel free to try it out.

Also, I want to strongly thank everyone who has emailed me with words of encouragement concerning my recent court case situation. The amount of emails that I received (and am still receiving) is more than I have ever gotten about any one subject. I'm now about halfway through reading them all. I especially love the stories you've been sending about your own experiences. Those emails are very kind, supportive and mean more to me than you may realise. Thank you so very much.

Finally, next week's update will be up on Wednesday instead of the usual Tuesday, since Danielle and I won't be getting back from ConnectiCon until Tuesday afternoon. If you're going to be at the Con, stop by table #31 in the Artist's Colony and say hello!

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt
June 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm
(The following blog entry gets pretty deep and talks about my personal life, it has nothing to do with the comic. Some of you may prefer to skip this one.)

For years now, I've been dealing with a very stressful situation that started off as a private matter, but over time began to leak outward into the public and cause Goblins readers to raise an eyebrow and say "what the heck is going on with Thunt?". Well, since the whole ordeal has now come to an end, I can finally explain what's been causing me so much trouble.

I have two sons from a previous relationship. Up until July of 2006, both boys lived with my ex, who was having some difficulties. To give you an idea of the sorts of difficulties I mean, let me tell you about... the eggs.

Many years ago, I showed up at the ex's apartment one Friday afternoon for my much anticipated Father-time weekend pick-up. While there, I'd noticed that a carton of eggs had been dropped onto the kitchen floor and made a splattered mess. When I arrived at the apartment a couple days later for the Sunday evening child drop-off, I was amazed to see that the eggs were still splattered all over the floor, untouched. Now as much as it embarrasses me to say this, I was afraid of my ex. I was like a whipped dog who shrank downward every time I was snapped at or yelled at by her, which was pretty often. So when I asked her if she was aware of the egg mess, she growled "yes". I inwardly cowered and didn't press the matter. The following Friday when I arrived for that weekend's Daddy time, I was amazed to find that the eggs were still all over the kitchen floor. When I asked about it, I was angrily told "you have to wait for the eggs to harden before you can clean them up, Tarol". A better man and maybe even a better Father would have argued about the health concerns or maybe even gone in and cleaned it up. But like I said, I was terrified of this girl to a humiliating degree and so I did nothing.

There are many more stories like the egg tale, but I'll fast forward to the time that I tried to pick up my boys only to be told by my ex that she'd dropped them off at a home for abandoned children four days earlier.

"What?! Why did you do that?! If you're having problems, why didn't you call me?!" I asked in a panic.

"Because I'm fucked up, okay?!" This is the statement that I've come to remember her by. Every time I have to see her or deal with her in any way, I can almost literally hear her shrieking these words at me. You'd think that after so many years, this phenomenon would start to get funny, but so far it's just disturbing.

I quickly asked her where this foster care place was, but she refused to tell me. I pounced onto my phone and started frantically calling dozens of places asking all sorts of questions. It's hard to do detective work when you're sobbing.

I eventually found my kids and gained visitation rights from the foster care home. It was at this time that I sued for custody. For months, I made court appearances and did paper work on the matter. This was and hopefully will remain the scariest, most stressful time of my life. If you've never been involved in a custody battle, it's like playing blackjack, except instead of placing a bunch of chips on the table, you place your kids up there and tell them that everything is going to be okay. By the way, this custody battle is not the court case that I just won. That comes later.

I remember standing beside my ex in front of a judge and watching her casually explain to him how she had been telling the kids all about what an ass their Father was. I remember feeling a mixture of emotions ranging from "Yes! This will surely help my case!" and "My kids get told that I'm an ass?"

I remember the judge saying "You really shouldn't be putting down the Father to the children like that".

She shrugged her shoulders and replied "If he's acting like an ass, I'm going to tell my kids that he's an ass. I'm not going to lie to them". I would have payed large amounts of money to know what the judge was writing down after she'd said that.

The custody battle went on for a long while and it was beginning to take its toll on my eldest son. Although I made every effort to keep the whole court battle secret to him, my ex was admittedly giving him all the terrifying details along with some tales about what a monster his Father was. My eldest has aspergers syndrome and although he's growing out of it at a very healthy rate, it dominated much of his behaviour at that time of his life. The lengthy stress of the court battle was causing him to go through more stress than he'd ever gone through when he lived with my ex (out of respect for my son, I won't go into the details of how he handled that stress). Once I realised that I was hurting my kids with the custody battle, I called it off.

Years later, my eldest son at eleven years old decided that he really wanted to come and live with Danielle and me and my ex agreed. My youngest son was also talking about wanting to move in with us but at age eight, my ex wouldn't allow it, claiming that he wasn't old enough to make those sorts of decisions yet.

Now up until the day my eldest son moved in with us, I'd been paying child support for both boys. When my son moved in with us, my ex agreed that I wouldn't need to worry about child support since we each had one child to take care of. She explained that she'd contact the FMEP (Family Maintenance Enforcement Program) and tell them that I'm no longer required to pay child support.

A few months later, I received a letter from the FMEP that told me how late I was with a bunch of payments. It carefully listed the interest I'd built up and the punishments that were coming if I didn't make immediate payments. I emailed my ex and told her about the letter. She seemed surprised and said not to worry about it as she'd contact them and clear it up.

Fast forward a bunch of months later to me standing in front of my mailbox holding yet another scary letter from my pals at the FMEP. My missed payments and interest was quickly building and there may have actually been an exclamation mark somewhere on that letter, which is a pretty big deal when it's from a branch of the government.

I wrote another email to my ex. She told me how angry she was with the FMEP and how she'd spoken with them twice about this and been assured that the file had been closed. She promised to order them (this time in writing) to back off.

Some time later, I received another letter. This one made a growling noise when I opened it. I swear to the gods, it growled at me. Inside, it listed an overdue amount ranging in the thousands of dollars with rapidly growing interest and penalties. It also explained how my bank account was now frozen, I was not allowed to drive a car, leave the country or have a credit card. And if I didn't pay soon, I would go to jail. It was around this time that I began to develop an OCD style phobia toward opening my mailbox.

I emailed my ex again. This time, her response was quite different. Allow me to directly quote part of that email...

"...you can try to make some kind of payment plan arrangement with them, perhaps they will go easy on you, but as there haven't been any payments to date, I don't see how they could."

This was the only time in my life that I'd ever hyperventilated. I remember laying on the floor with Danielle trying to calm me down. It's a good thing that I was never drafted into a war because apparently I am a big, squishy wuss.

This began the court battle. The one that as of yesterday, Danielle and I won. My job was to prove that my eldest son had been living with me since July 2006. My ex's job was to prove that I was a lying, deadbeat dad who was just trying to get out of paying child support for both boys.

Now, you might be thinking "how hard can it be to prove that your own kid lives with you?". Well, it's actually harder than you'd think. You see, my son was too young to testify in court. Understandably, Canadian laws don't allow for kids to get pulled into these messes. School records don't prove much since he could technically be going to the school closer to my house and still be living with my ex. Add to that the fact that she was still claiming on her taxes that both children live with her and you've got yourself a full-blown court battle.

Some of the readers may remember my sudden removal of the Goblins Cafepress store a couple years ago. This raised some questions, especially since I cryptically explained that I'd taken it down due to a "legal issue". Well, my ex had taken it upon herself report the store to the FMEP who quickly went after it. Not understanding the nature of my career, she also reported Danielle as my "employer". The FMEP then pestered Danielle about her deadbeat employee, but obviously that had comical results. Although, I'm not sure if the FMEP found it as funny as we did.

Some of you may remember the time that Wil Wheaton mentioned me on his Twitter account, talking about how he thought my comic about him was really funny. Well it turns out that my ex was also a Wheaton fan. I can only assume that she saw his tweet about Goblins and wasn't very happy about it. This is what she publicly tweeted to Wil...

"Thunt=deadbeat dad: owes child support, used your image to get more hits to his site, Predator for money grub copyright means 0 to him"

I was nauseous when I found that comment. My ex had progressed from attacking me for her own personal gain to attacking me for no reason other than to hurt me. Posting that comment didn't make her any money or offer her material gains of any kind. It was purely to try and hurt me. I quoted her tweet in an email to her and posted one sentence...

"You really are the worst human being I've ever met".

She never responded to that email, but a few hours later, she tweeted this...

"oh noes, my ex doesn't like me. w/e shall I do? Hit a nerve or 3, mebbe? where did I put my puppy-kicking shoes?".

The court appearances continued on, all the while with FMEP sending me letters that talked about prison time and giant, unpayable debts. Marrying Danielle has been out of the question, for fear of the FMEP going after her as well. If her bank account, drivers license and credit card were seized like mine was, there'd be no way for us to make any kind of a living.

As a white male, I've been fortunate enough to never have to deal with the ugliness of prejudice, but over the last few years, I've gotten a hint of what it must feel like. Many times I've walked up to a court registry or duty council to ask a few questions or get a file on my case. I repeatedly experienced watching the person that I was talking to go from smiling and friendly to noticeably cold after checking my file and learning why I was standing infront of them. No one likes a deadbeat dad.

However, yesterday at 1:45pm a judge, a lawyer representing the FMEP and a lawyer representing the Canadian government all agreed that I owed my ex no money. In one amazing moment, the massive debt was suddenly gone. Danielle and I hugged for a very long time. She cried, I didn't. Okay, I cried later on. I'm still big, squishy wuss after all.

Now I know that some of you may feel that I shouldn't be posting all of this info publicly. You may be right about that, but I have two definitive reasons for this blog post. Firstly, a lot of readers have known that I've been dealing with some kind of stressful court situation for a long time and I feel that they should know what's going on. Secondly, I've been bullied and pushed around for years over this and that stress has changed me. I wasn't kidding about that fear of checking my mailbox. It's like I have a negative, emotional beach ball in my gut that has been deflated, but it's still there. I feel a lot better than I did two days ago, but it's not really gone, it's just smaller and feels a lot less icky. I'm hoping that posting this will fix that. Sort of get it all out.

Now if you'll excuse me, this "deadbeat dad" has to pack. I'm going camping with my kids tomorrow.

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt
June 11, 2010 at 11:22 am
There are two new wallpapers in the Extras section. There are two ways to get one. You can...

1. Donate $2.00 using the donation button in the Extras section or...

2. Not donate and just help yourself to the wallpapers anyways.

I like money because I can use it to buy food and stuff, but at the same time I have a hard time saying "only people who give me money can enjoy X". I realise that this is the basic concept behind sales and that there's nothing wrong with this idea but seriously, isn't free stuff better? So if you don't have the means to donate a couple bucks, that's totally cool. Help yourself to a desktop if you like and just keep supporting me by reading the comic. However, if tossing a couple bucks my way is no big deal for you, you'd be making my life a whole lot easier.

EDIT: I just got an email explaining that Mac users have the icons on the right side of the monitor rather than the left. I had no idea! I'll get to work on Mac friendly versions of the wallpapers soon.

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt
June 9, 2010 at 4:16 am
There's a two panel sneak peek under the vote button.

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt
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