The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This week continued the initial investigation of Trail & Daggers as they hunted for the elusive snipe…er snark; or was it a snail darter? Oh right, it was the insidious zebra mussel. So, Mark musseled his way to the front so that he could do the dangerous work of swimming underwater, alongside a moving cargo ship to take evidentiary photos. Daggers believes this ship is linked to one of the dangerous companies supposedly bringing in zebra mussels. For most of the time, nobody on the cargo ship seems to have noticed Mark and Diana’s fishing boat floating alongside them. That would soon change.

As Mark somehow made his way along the hull of the moving cargo ship while underwater with only a snorkel and no swimming fins, he still managed to take photographs of what he must have thought were zebra mussels, but looked more like barnacles. Meanwhile back in the boat, Diana Daggers only belatedly noticed that they had been shadowed by another boat, fast approaching.

As Mark surfaced, Diana was having words with one of the crew of this mysterious boat, and it looked as if there might be trouble. There was, but from another source. Some crew of the cargo ship finally noticed the two small boats along their starboard side, and started threatening them with “pirate deterrents” if they didn’t immediately depart. This is where things got even stranger.

Keep in mind that they were all in open waters, on a river. Mark’s boat and the other fishing boat could have just agreed with the demands of the cargo ship and turned their boats around to leave. Instead, the crew of the heretofore shadowy fishing boat suddenly acted friendly and told Mark and Diana to escape while they distracted the cargo ship’s crew, acting as a defensive screen. Thus, as Mark and Diana raced away, the cargo ship deployed fire hoses shooting water every which way, but mostly into the screening fishing boat.  

Was there any reason for this boat to stay behind and take this punishment? I don’t think so; it’s not as if the cargo ship’s crew were going to open fire on them. Of course, the cargo ship was well within its rights to at least wave off the two fishing boats. The boats were violating the cargo ship’s legal right of way and putting themselves into harm’s way. I’m not sure of the legality or even practicality of deploying pirate deterrents, but hey, this is an adventure story! There’s no drama if the two fishing boats just apologized and moved out of the way after a polite request. So, we have drama. But does the drama make sense? Will Mark turn back to help the crew of the other boat?

We’ll have to wait a week to find out, as Monday should see us return to the exciting conclusion to the debate between Cherry and the Sunny Soleil Society regarding the future of the local bee population.  But for now, it’s time for Sunday’s nature chat!

At last! As readers know, I’ve been hoping to see Rivera turn her Sunday focus to another aspect of Nature, rather than the usual “Our friend, The Grubworm” subjects. So climate change gets the nod this week.  That’s fine, too.

For once, I think Rivera was stymied on how to depict the title panel when the subject is an effect and not an animal. I suppose she could have tried using clouds, smoke, or water currents. Maybe she did and it just didn’t work very well.

Other than showing a bunch of birds, how about a panel showing a before-and-after image of a bird habitat damaged by climate change? That could help make Mark’s case; and I’m not sure the penultimate panel makes that point clearly enough. Also, call me picky (I’ve been called a lot worse), but it seems to me if you are going to talk about actions birds take to help the environment, how about showing a few birds engaged in these actions, rather than just a bunch of “clip art” style examples where the birds are not doing anything?

In any event, Mark certainly looks fatigued, doesn’t he? I’m sure that’s the point.

“When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled.”

Okay, sometimes it’s really hard to not throw in with the snarkers. This is silly on so many fronts that it could take a page to get through. The fishing boats are just a nuisance. But maybe the ship’s crew were bored enough to make engaging their anti-pirate boarding system worth the time and effort for a good laugh. Still, this scene of “defense, sacrifice, and escape” just doesn’t live up to its moralistic aims.

  • Why did the other boat need to stay behind when they could have both just moved away? It’s not as if a cargo ship can turn on a dime and chase them.
  • Why are the two crew members of that other boat just standing around in panel 3 instead of trying to get away?
  • Exactly why are Mark and Diana worried? Nobody’s shooting at them.
  • When did Mark ever run away from danger? Oh, right. This is the less idealized Mark, who reacts to danger like many of us.
  • And what is Diana even doing in panel 4? Where did her bravado go?
  • So, was that boat’s “screening sacrifice” really an act of courage or just an act?

I mean, c’mon! Neither boat was in any real danger, except from the undertow of the cargo ship, itself. Those fire hose defense systems aren’t designed to pursue pirate ships moving away from the ship. However, perhaps Rivera thought it would make an exciting action scene to have fire hoses waving all around and spraying water everywhere. But the result reminds me more of the robot on the TV show, Lost in Space, which would ineffectually wave its arms whenever it sensed danger. On the other hand, I would feel very insulted if this entire sequence of “dangerous mission”, furtive pursuit, dangerous reprisals, and unknown sacrifice was all just some kind of parody. I’d be much happier if this were just Rivera’s attempts to construct a classic adventure story.

She has not had the opportunity to do so, until now. The first story was for introductions and more of a social commentary on the Mark Trail tradition of the idealized hero as much as it was a nod to environmentalism. The second adventure was less “adventure” and more mad-cap lunacy in a state (other than Florida) known for its quirky characters. So we are now into Mark’s third story, which is cast in a more traditional format of a Mark Trail adventure; only the premise is shaky (illicit zebra mussel importing). It’s still early in the story, though. But for all of you die-hard Trailheads who think this is not as good as the pre-Rivera Mark Trail stories, think back to the Bat Cave and the Hawaiian Island stories. Even the Himalayan Sasquatch adventure. These were all stories that mostly had no point to them, solved nothing, and suffered ridiculous escapades.

Another day of questions with few answers!

Crew of the cargo ship finally notice the action below and threaten to deploy “deterrents” if they don’t leave. Not sure what those deterrents are, but they probably do not include detergents.  And now, the crew of the pursuit boat appear to want to assist Mark and Diana’s departure, or escape. A minute ago, the crew of the pursuit boat were the problem. Now that’s the role of the cargo ship’s crew.

Why does the pursuit boat’s crew want to help Mark and Diana? Why do they even need to “distract” the crew of the cargo ship so Mark and Diana can escape when the ship’s crew can plainly see them from above and have already demanded that they leave?! It’s not as if Mark’s boat can go into stealth mode and slip away, sight unseen. What then—Is the pursuit boat going to start deploying smoke? Are they going to attempt to board the cargo ship? Or is this whole thing just an elaborate trap? There is certainly no end to mystery and suspense going on here.

Back to the artwork, how come the pursuit boat keeps gaining height (panel 2—that’s right, boys and girls. panel 2 is not one of the crew on the cargo ship!.) and losing it again (panel 3)? What’s the point to that? Finally, where did all of those black splotches in the water come from? They were not there before…maybe that cargo ship is leaking fuel?! Forget the stupid zebra mussels, call the EPA!

Why do I have the feeling that the goose (?) is laughing at us? Cheeky bird!

Maybe Mark can blame Diana for this crash!

Okay, everybody! Just settle down and let’s try to make some sense of this. Wait…none of this makes sense. First, I appreciate the topical pun in the initial message box. And an emerging Mark shouts “STOP!”, but it isn’t clear if he refers to the argument or the boats drifting around him. Marks looks to be swimming towards the other boat, which is named “Debait.” Of course, it’s a boating pun, not a pun for a collegiate discussion forum, one presumes.

Diana, far from being the in-your-face menace she has always been, now sounds more like the old Cherry, at least in panel 2. But she does get a little more testy by panel 3. And what’s with the argument over boat ownership? Diana says it’s Mark’s; the guy in the hat says they know it isn’t. But on Tuesday, these guys said it was Mark’s boat! Make up your minds! That man in the purple hat might be a marine police officer or an HVAC installer. I didn’t notice any police stickers or sirens on his boat. If it is really his boat, that is! As the two groups of people square off, they fail to notice that they are drifting into the wake of the passing cargo ship. Then again, the water looks as placid as a fishing lake at 5 AM. But the collision definitely puts a wrinkle into the story and may provide an excuse for moving Diana and Mark onto the cargo ship, if their boat falls apart and sinks. We know Mark’s history with boats, so it’s an odds-on favorite it will happen.

Now, to address some of the art; specifically, the issue of scale. It’s tough trying to make the case for small boats and big ships all in the same location, at the same time, when drawn in a set of small squared panels. You should try it. It isn’t easy. Nevertheless, in panel 1, Mark and Diana’s boat seems to be close in size and height to the pursuit boat. Yet in panel 2, it looks like the pursuit boat suddenly grew ten feet higher, as the man in the purple hat looks down at a smaller Diana. And in panel 3, they are both on the same plane once again. I’m getting dizzy!

Panel 4 is an interesting angle, showing us the passing cargo ship and the two smaller boats. We finally see two people on the upper deck of the vessel, looking down at the smaller boats. The observers seem pretty small compared with the people in the two boats. Since we are looking down, they should be larger to our eyes. Don’t you agree? In fact, the cargo ship (on its own) looks like it should be about twice the size it is drawn in. But I’m sure there are small cargo ships like this. Still, the variations in scale are jarring. It shows how difficult it is to consolidate objects of diverse size in one scene and make them look realistic. I don’t know if Jules Rivera uses an assistant or not. Many cartoonists do, as I’ve come to find out. Perhaps her assistant got to take up the pencil today, as compared to the strips from the prior three days.

Finally, Mark’s attempt to bluff their way out of this situation in panel 3 came to a crashing halt in panel 4. So we move into darker waters of suspense, ladies and gentlemen. What will happen? Who are the men in hats Are they professionally related to the ship or ship’s owners? Will Mark try to continue his bluff?

Clever zebra mussel smugglers: Hiding them in plain sight!

Amazing underwater acrobatics as Mark essentially leg-paddles along with the moving ship as he takes photos. The hull now seems to have sunk down several feet, based on the lower point of view in the first panel. But I’m unjustly quibbling and overlooking the bigger picture. Are t hose zebra mussels? Last I saw (when they were first brought up), they looked more like tiny clams, not barnacles.

Oh, I get it. Perhaps Mark is ignorant of what he is looking at; a potentially embarrassing moment for “Mr. Sunday Nature Encyclopedia” and another opportunity for Diana to insult Mark.

Panel 3 implies that Mark is vertically swimming to the surface. Well, water does tend to create distortions in angles and space, so perhaps the river really is deeper. So, is a snorkel the best thing to use here? It seems to depend too much on a person’s lung capacity and breath retention without blacking out from the exertion of underwater swimming and taking photos. Again, I’m quibbling. I apologize. Getting back to the plot…

The story unfolds simply and directly, as Mark finds his “evidence” and breaches the surface, only to discover that Diana has finally realized they are being followed by people with suspicious intent. According to the “Handbook of Heroic Actions” (as used in action movies), this should be where Diana throws a roped life ring to Mark as she speeds by to escape. Mark grabs the passing buoy, pull himself upright, and water skis to safety on his bare feet, leaving startled strangers behind in their slower craft.

I’m just not sure Jules has seen that reference book; or cares. More likely, she’ll just have Diana wave a fist at her pursuers and threaten to hurt them really bad. It’s a tactic that sure worked on Mark!

I’d like to comment on the color over the past few days, which is good, but again, we don’t know who is specifying it. I do know that the comics syndicate usually does it on their own, unless they have specific instructions from the cartoonists. The artwork, itself, continues to be fine, with interesting changes of view and without the scribbly, hurried look we sometime see.

CHECK HER OUT!

Now, if this was a story about the illicit trade of coral, for example, it might have more weight. Not to take away from the menace of zebra mussels at all, in spite of Mark’s discovering what must be the mussels-under-investigation, and conveniently stuck to the bottom of a cargo ship’s hull that has a draft of no more than two feet. This must be a really small, empty ship to be sitting so high on the water. It does justify the snorkel, I suppose.

And Mark doesn’t really have to swim very deep, especially in a river that seems to have a depth of about…what, 10-15 feet?! So, we have a tiny cargo ship running in shallow waters—apparently really, really slow!—without any lookouts to notice Diana tailgating the cargo ship (and without being affected by the ship’s wake). Mark, being a modern day Johnny Weissmuller, has no trouble keeping up with this ship using only one hand to swim while he takes photos. Atta boy, Mark! With that kind of strength and stamina, we have to believe that Diana is already thinking about how her night is going to pan out.

And she must really be preoccupied to not notice another boat just behind and closing. This reminds me of those cop shows where the good guys follow a suspect only one or two cars directly behind for 10-15 blocks, and never get made. Maybe there’s a case for that:  Many of us live our lives, oblivious to daily routine. If prompted, we probably could not describe any cars we drove alongside or passed on the road, unless it was something notable, such as a Ford Model-A or that cyclist we just missed, as it blew through a red light.

In spite of the rather “small potatoes” scope of this zebra mussel investigation, somehow the purpose of Mark and Diana’s boat excursion has been leaked to one or more of those dangerous companies that Rafael mentioned, in passing. Who are they and why are they dangerous? We don’t know yet. Will we ever? And does the crime of having zebra mussels on a ship’s hull require a boatload of thugs to follow, and deal with anybody who got too curious?

Or is this really not about zebra mussels? These unknown bad guys might be surprised, if not astounded, to realize that Mark and Diana are not looking for illegal drugs stored in the ship’s hold, nor abducted and imprisoned young girls destined for a slave market somewhere in Southeast Asia. Just zebra mussels.

Otherwise, we are left with a premise, something like this:

OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Okay, yous guys. Get inna da boat and follow behind our ship. Look out for anybody that getsa too close to it and startsa snooping!”
BAD GUY #1: “What do we do if we spot somebody, boss?”
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY: “Unless they actually sees-a the zeebra mussels we are smugglin’ in, just-a scare them off, Benny. Otherwise, give ’em cement goulashes. Got it?”
BAD GUY: #2 “Sure, boss, we get it! But what’sa the big deal with these mussels, anyways? Dey’re all over the country already, and nobody wants ’em!”
<SMACK!>
OWNER OF DANGEROUS COMPANY:Stupido! We don’ta get paid to aska the questions. This is just the story Rivera stuck us into, hokay? Now get outta here!”

Well, now that Comics Kingdom is back online, there is a good supply of jokes and snarks to read!

Sunday Follow-up and the Monday Post

(revised) On Sunday, I remarked on the unusual (to me, at least) choice of the Shiba inu (Japanese for “Brushwood dog”, I believe) for a size comparison with the coyote, while more people would have likely better understood a comparison with a more common dog, such as a retriever or poodle. But reader jalindrine (welcome!) made an interesting observation and noted that there was more involved than Rivera just making an esoteric comparison. Turns out the Shiba inu became a popular Internet meme almost ten years ago, when pictures of the dog appeared with mangled (mongrelized?) English phrases (e.g. “So scare”, “Much noble”, etc.). Jalindrine challenged me that I should be aware of this connection in order to understand the art. I may not be up to it, but…
I don’t see any broken English in the Sunday strip, so it is not an out-and-out meme, itself; but it is likely Rivera is at least trotting out the concept, in what I am calling a meme echo; that is, a reference to the actual meme. We already know that Rivera is a popular Internet artist and social media regular. From a more commercial point of view, this meme echo could be a way for Rivera to attract younger viewers to the comic strip. Otherwise, I cannot detect additional meme significance to that dog’s appearance. Please feel free to append or correct me!

Moving on to Monday and Mark’s storyline, Rivera has thoughtfully caught up the readers, as the plot now ventures into fantasy land (or Fantasy River), where it’s perfectly fine for somebody using only a snorkel to go swimming around the hull of a cargo ship under weigh. So how is a snorkel useful under water (aside from the face mask)?

I’m not going to rehash (you’re welcome) the recklessness of this decision, nor the suggestion that the zebra mussels are best found in ballast; nor the reason why they think that a specific shipping company is a more likely suspect than any other shipping company. I suppose the story will sink or swim, depending on how much we’re willing to ignore real world physics. That shouldn’t be too hard. We watch “Mission Impossible” without having conniptions, right?

One thing I am curious about is the slender gray object in the background of panel 3, between the ship’s hull and the comment box (“No big deal, right”). It appears to me that it’s an approaching ship. So, the danger will soon increase, as Mark must not only avoid getting turned into sausage from the propellers of this ship, but avoid getting sucked under the approaching vessel.  Especially if he does not notice it in time! And I don’t believe ship hulls have handgrips under the water line, either.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

For those coming in late, Cherry has a working relationship with the Sunny Soleil Society to help upgrade their gardens. While Cherry seems to be putting in more than the usual effort to do well and stay on good terms with Violet Cheshire, I’m afraid that her efforts seem to be in vain. The bee episode still looms over the situation. This week Violet introduced Cherry to Caroline, another board member, while Cherry was busy on a pond garden exhibit. For some reason, Cherry was embarrassed by the presence of tiny toads scampering out of the pond and around the two Society ladies. But worse was to come.

Turns out that Caroline’s husband has a new pest control business (which seems a bit below the social standards of the Society) and the Board has decided to award the contract to the fledgling company to eradicate the bees. Naturally, Cherry is very upset, for obvious reasons, but Violet takes pleasure in seeing Cherry in a powerless position to do much about it. Now, it does seem odd that a group that has invested time and money in gardens would be so ignorant of the value of bees, but that’s the story. I’m thinking that Violet’s decision to kill the bees is based on her erroneous identification of the bees as the invasive killer bees. If this is true, it needs to be clarified in the strip. But, we may have to wait a few weeks to learn more. Rivera normally only gives Cherry’s storyline one week at a time to Mark’s two. But after all, the comic strip is called Mark Trail, not The Trails.

Today’s strip reads like one of those old government-sponsored nature films they used to show in grade school. Well, I think we used to see such films, though maybe they were films on hygiene. Okay, so it was a long time ago!

Anyway, getting into the content, while I appreciate Rivera’s ongoing aim to help us learn the scale or height of these animals, I find the canine comparison of this particular breed perplexing, since how many people even know what a Shiba inu is, much less be familiar with its height!? I sure didn’t, so I looked it up. They sound like a real pain in the ass to raise, and are expensive to purchase. Probably expensive to maintain, as well. I think a spaniel or a retriever would have made the size comparison more familiar to readers. Or maybe a roadrunner?

So, exactly what can we do to help keep wild animals and ourselves safe from each other’s less-than-noble desires to kill each other? I think focusing more on Mark’s closing comment would have made a better, more informative Sunday strip. So, who is really surprised if a minimum-wage animal control employee shoots somebody’s collie because he thought it was a wolf? We’d rather learn how to protect our pets from those people! It’s not our job to train them, anyway. And what do we do when we are installing a walkway in the backyard and a black bear or fox suddenly shows up? Do we heave pavers at them?

The title panel—though interesting conceptually—fails me in the sense that the coyote and dog are not really posed as the letter A. We realize they are meant to be that, but only within the context of knowing the strip’s name. Then again, the canines don’t seem to fit any of the other letters, either. It must have been a tough problem. Still, Rivera gets good marks, overall, for her concept of thematic Sunday titles.

Who rewrapped the statue?

As I look at today’s strip, I believe that Rivera’s wretched depiction of Caroline and Violet today (compared with yesterday’s more flattering view) is meant to reinforce the inner ugliness and selfish ignorance of the women and the Association they represent. Rude caricatures have a long well-known history though we don’t need to go a-wandering down that path to find justification. It is common practice, especially in comics, to exaggerate for emotional or physical purpose. This is in contrast to the former version of Mark Trail, where the most extreme distortions were usually just images of Mark showing surprise or were incidents when the art was just badly drawn (as back in the Elrod days of 2006).

At the same time, Violet’s face in panel 3 looks bigger than the head it inhabits, which makes me think Rivera may have liked an earlier version of the face she drew and pasted that version over this figure. This is not an unheard of practice, even in comics. Maybe Rivera did this deliberately, for its jarring effect.

Yet, I cannot account for the weird position of Cherry’s head in panel 4 with regard to her neck. It looks really off-kilter. I cannot account for it in any kind of metaphorical way. That is, if it is symbolic of something, I am lost. It’s as if the back of her head is missing.
It’s a weird head-neck arrangement that I recall seeing in some of James Allen’s work, such as the head of Rusty’s futile feminine interest and crime-solving partner, Mara, during their Yucatan adventure. “Creepy” is right, Mara! Cherry’s head reminds me of a marionette for some reason, the one with the separated head so it can be independently moved.

But back to the story, we finish the week with a major setback for Cherry, as Violet stands by her Association’s nepotistic corruption and disregard for nature. Thus, we’ll likely have to wait two weeks to discover the outcome: Will Cherry go on to convince the Association of its erroneous position or will Violet (one letter short of “violent”) once again physically throw Cherry off the property and fire her?

Final note: Anybody who has scanned today’s post more than once might notice some changes over time, as I made some revisions to grammar and content during the day. Sometimes it is hard to resist, especially as I have a big Italian quiz coming up on Tuesday. Not sure why I should be concerned, as I’m just auditing the class; however, I am taking the class to learn Italian, so I take all of the quizzes and tests to see if I’m making progress.

Cherry works her defense, but faces a tricky objection from the Other Side

The story moves on. Cherry abandons her original suggestion to move the bees and finally starts making the proper case for their continued existence here. But the two Association honeys have made the a priori decision for extermination. Can Cherry overcome their wall of social privilege? Caroline attempts to put Cherry in an ethical dilemma by comparing Cherry’s struggling landscape business with her husband’s alleged new business struggles. Of course, Caroline sidesteps the corrupt transaction, itself. For all we know, Caroline and her husband are already part of the economic upper crust, and this business is just a side concern. But we don’t know that, so judgment reserved. Still, as a pest controller, he should know that honey bees are not proper subjects for extermination. So, we might assume that Violet reported these are destructive killer bees, instead. We’ll have to wait to learn more, but it doesn’t put Caroline’s husband in a good light. The more we learn about Caroline, the more it is clear she is cut from the same cloth as Violet. With one day to go (I presume), will Cherry be able to make her case?

Visually, today’s strip is well-designed and nicely illustrated, showing little of the “I-have-a-deadline!” sketchiness we have seen other times. By well-designed, I mean that the composition in each panel nicely highlights and supports each panel’s dialog: Panel 1 focuses on Cherry as she states her position, with nothing extraneous to distract us. Panel 2 brings in the statue and bees, along with the three women, as Cherry’s argument moves from a global view of bees to their importance to their local garden. And panel 3 provides a dramatic “oh, by the way” objection by the Sunny Soleil Society to Cherry’s argument. Thus, the two Association women take prominence, as Cherry (and her position) is “pushed” towards the background. I like panel 3, as Rivera’s drawing of the Sunny So-Ladies, as they give us a visual window into their souls (or attitudes).