The shout not heard around the world!

Clearly the freighter must have stopped in time.  Stop me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t Mark and Company have notified State and/or Federal authorities to handle this problem, now that it has been identified and documented?  Or maybe they could have phoned the Duck Duck Goose Shipping Company first?

And I may wind up eating my words. I’ve been pushing a theory of deliberate over-the-top storylines and characters; but while I don’t think I’m wrong, I don’t see the point here. Today’s strip reminds me of the kind of stuff you’d see on an episode of Seinfeld.  But why does Rivera have Mark and Company act like a bunch of naïve street protesters? There has to be some kind of plot twist coming up that makes sense of this nonsense.

Finally, what happened to the rest of the De-Bait Team? Did they escape back to the fishing lodge to look for bail money under the sofa cushions?  Maybe they should just let Cliff, Mark, and Diana stay in jail, like the characters in the last episode of Seinfeld.

Why don’t I have the ability to talk to the ship’s captain, dagnabbit?

You just have to love those little puffs of steam coming out of Chedderson’s ears, like in the old animated cartoons, the ones that were actually fun to watch and not educational. On the other hand, those steam puffs form a clever visual pun of Miss Stockton’s hair in panel 3. Right?

So, okay. Rivera confuses boats and ships, as others have noted. Bad on her! But I’d bet most people do.  Easy to criticize, but maybe it never occurred to her that there was a difference to worry about?

I suppose we could fault Chedderson for not knowing about the famous nature photographer/ journalist, Mark Trail; but I doubt he is much of an outdoors person.  Somehow, Kelly Welly has wormed her way into Mark’s river dance and is now piggybacking her own profile. Will Kelly take on a more active role in this story? We haven’t seen her since Mark’s first story under Rivera’s pen.

Anyway, I wonder if we have time-shifted a bit, as Chedderson reads a social media announcement that “Mark Trail is on a boat” (not a ship, mind you). “Instant news” is an Internet meme, but we don’t yet see the outcome. Reckon that’s for Saturday.

David and Goliath?

Jules Rivera’s approach bothers many followers, used to the strait-laced, straight-up approach favored by the previous Mark Trail artists. It’s understandable. Many of us grew up reading this strip and got used to its folksy manner, mundane art, stilted dialog, and corny plots.

In this instance, readers have criticized both the absurdness of a big ship in a local waterway as well as its improbability of being stopped by fishing boats. I agree! But let’s face it:  Rivera has been criticized for just about everything! Yet, as I’ve indicated here before, I think Rivera uses goofy plots, oddball characters, and satire in her stories on purpose, as literary authors sometimes do (I go back to Carl Hiassen, but there are many more).  Why? Well, humor and satire are long-established formats for delivering serious messages, as I think most of you know.

Rivera is no Jonathan Swift and this is no Gulliver’s Travels; but Rivera also works in a more restrictive format. I’m sure she believes her approach can make it easier for people to learn a bit more about nature and the environment while having a laugh or drawing a big sigh. So today, Rivera begins to answer her critics, showing that she is in on the gag, since she set it up!

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’?

Our finest veterans”? Does that mean they know how to get the heck out of the way, since cargo ships can’t stop on a dime? I’m not sure the approaching ship has any intention of dropping anchor, unless it is on Mark’s boat.

(Artist note: That’s a nice idyllic drawing in panel 1: People enjoying a nice boating day. Too bad, this ain’t no Sunday cruise.)

Does the Duck Duck Goose Shipping firm have a monopoly on this waterway and whatever harbor is up-river? There seem to be no ships from other companies, as far as we’ve seen. Maybe Mr. Chedderson, the apparent boss of the company we originally saw last October, will happen to be on that approaching vessel! That would be a signal this story is at its climax.

Anyway, I hope Mark brought Cherry’s shovel along. He can scrape zebra mussels off the cargo ship’s hull as it plows through Cliff’s fishing boat.

Is the End in sight?

Looks like Mark decided to go with the second option I listed:  a human blockade across the river. Hmm… does Cliff mean veteran boat captains or boat captains who were military vets? I’m pretty sure they are not necessarily the same.  And Mark seems confused between land masses and bodies of water (panel 4).

Don’t get me wrong here, but isn’t Mark exceeding his mandate? He was tasked merely with establishing the source of the zebra mussel infestation. But as usual, Mark goes in head first to right another wrong of human interaction with nature. Not that this is a bad thing:  It would be splendid if more of us took a more active role, for example. So, I’m thinking that Mark has already submitted his report to the magazine and now feels free to stage this protest on his own, without implicating the magazine if things go wrong. Just a theory, of course!

One more thing: A big difference from the old incarnation of M.T. is that now, Mark happily works with other people, rather than pretending he can do it all on his own. That’s a good thing, but too bad he did not try to work with Duck Duck Goose Shipping to solve the problem in the first place.

A Moment of Introspection and a Phony Boast

While Mark meekly whines about his popularity, Diana made one of those drama-based confessions of regret; and Mark quickly stepped on it with a guileless and fabricated statement about himself. Of course, Mark did not come to the fishing lodge to bring people together; he came to escape getting his butt kicked by thugs from the Duck Duck Goose shipping company, theoretically involved with zebra mussel smuggling in Lost Forest waters.

So what’s the plan, Mark? Are you going to raid the next cargo ship you find? Form a human chain across the river to block more cargo ships? Or maybe open up a series of hull-scraping stations to clean mussels off of incoming water craft?

And did Mark actually transmit their report to the magazine so it can be published sometime in the next four to six months? Or is he waiting to see how things pan out? Well, I’m also intrigued how this story will pan out. It certainly looks like we’re headed towards the end. And I wonder if the two thugs went back to their boss and reported they have nothing to worry about, as Mark and Diana are only looking at mussels on the outside of the ships.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This past low action-filled week focused on the consequences of Cherry discovering a marimo ball (or maybe two) in a “decorative aquarium”, newly-purchased by Violet Cheshire. Faced with the prospect of revealing to Violet the potential dangers involved (and explaining why zebra mussels are dangerous) with the possible chance Cherry might upset Violet and lose her job, Cherry first consulted with Mark over the phone. In contrast to Mark’s rather excited expressions, he offered sober, calming advice that the situation was no big deal until Violet wanted to get rid of the marimo ball(s). He provided detailed instructions on safe disposal. Reading the room correctly, Cherry simply told Violet that her business would professionally clean the aquarium for free when it came time. This is fine for the short-term, but Cherry did Violet no favors by not educating her. And therein lies the rub, because Violet is not one for taking advice from a hired hand. As Mark apparently found time to talk with Cherry, he appears to have also found time to write about bobcats, as we see below:

A subject having nothing to do with either story line is getting to be an unusual occurrence in the Sunday strips. And I almost missed the “Mark Trail” logo in the title panel, it was so well constructed. One of Rivera’s better designs. I also liked Rivera’s use of “night cam” panels, both for their design contrast and for their visual reinforcement of information about the bobcat’s hunting time.  These two panels in grays show that Rivera could apply a similar look to her dailies, though she clearly prefers to depend on color. However, since newspapers print the dailies in b/w, going with the grays could add more aesthetic options for Mark Trail and give it a depth and solidity it does not normally show in newspapers.

Is this short storyline finished?

[transcript of a conversation]

G: Anna, you’ve been looking over my shoulder at this strip for a while. What’s your take on how things stand?

A: Frankly, George, I just don’t get why Jules is slacking off and padding the story with this repetition and irrelevant actions. Is it supposed to be a soap opera? After the bees, Rivera again links Cherry into Mark’s zebra mussel storyline. But it depends upon a very minor issue with no immediate danger. And it seems to be wrapping up today. Yesterday you wrote that Mark was over-acting like a soldier in battle calling for air support, or whatever. Panel two certainly looks like that. Why is he so animated?

G: Hmm, I get that. Maybe the connection is bad and he has to yell?

A: I think Cherry is clearly smart enough to keep her knuckle-dragging husband at phone length so she can communicate directly with Violet in a way only women can comprehend. Mark would probably show up with a shovel.

G: Hey, no fair! And Mark’s arms don’t go that far down. He’s just passionate and highly engaged in his work, as you know.

A: Sure. If it was the other way around, you’d write that Cherry was being excitable and hyperbolic.

G: Okay, okay. So what about the art? Why does Violet’s face keep changing? Why is the hat yellow in panel 1 and purple again in panel 4?

A: Why ask me? I’m not Jules Rivera and I’m not someone vain enough to post personal reactions on a comic strip, as if you were composing essays for Harper’s. Do other people really read this stuff?

G: Oh, look at the time! The NewsHour is almost on, so I’ll let you go. Thanks for your input, Anna.

You’d think Violet would be concerned about goose poop!

Why would Violet have to get rid of the ball, Mark? Does it come with an expiration date? Anyway, at least Mark showed a modicum of common sense by calming the situation with the fact that this is not an immediate problem. Sigh! Crisis averted as Mark again saves the day.

Still, you are entitled to think there is a bit of disconnect between the relatively calm advice Mark is giving Cherry (note the absence of !!!) and his expression in panel 4, where he looks more like a sergeant in a WWII movie desperately calling in artillery to blow up approaching German Panzers topping the ridge. Remember, dear readers: Mark just got done talking to Cricket Bro, and he’s short on sleep, too. Yet Mark was able to master his emotions and frayed nerves.

Now Cherry can finish up the week this Saturday in a stronger position with Violet, right?

Just call Orkin!

If I had a poll tool readily available on this site (or if I was not too lazy to look for one and learn to use it), I would see how many readers think Mark is overreacting, Cherry is overreacting, or both are.

What should you do, Cherry? First, slap Violet in the face and reach in the aquarium and take the marimo ball. Then run home, put it in a microwave and nuke it until it burns up. Then go back to Violet and tell her it was a good thing you were there to save her once again. I’m sure she’ll thank you properly. Or you can convince Violet to hire Honest Ernest to torch it. Just a thought.

Say, do you think there is a hidden clue to the reference balloon in panel 3 pointing to Mark’s phone, and showing twin mountain peaks? Why not show them directly on the phone’s screen?

Look, I appreciate what Rivera is trying to do, linking storylines and adding more complexity. But if she wanted to make the masimo balls more of an actual threat, couldn’t Rivera have created a larger-scale problem? For example, the Sunny Soleil Society decided to distribute decorative aquariums with masimo balls to all public buildings throughout the county in celebration of the historical statue’s restoration.