Not in Their Back Yard!

SOAP BOX: I know there are nay-sayers over the new direction of Mark Trail. That’s expected. I think the syndicate decided to try for a new, likely younger, and hopefully larger readership. Some critics have suggested we’d be better off with the syndicate rerunning old Mark Trail strips. Ironically, it seems there were times when the Mark Trail comic strip did rerun or revise old stories. This is documented in an excellent history and analysis of Mark Trail (stories, characters, artists, etc.): Check out Mark Carlson-Ghost’s excellent Mark Trail Confidential web page (Mark Trail Confidential – Mark Carlson-Ghost Mark Carlson-Ghost). There you can also read about former Mark Trail artists whose decisions sometimes also sparked controversy. Look, there are people who prefer the original Mission Impossible TV episodes and there are those who prefer Tom Cruise’s more modern and completely different take; and some like both (however, I am pretty much not a fan of Tom’s take on Jack Reacher!). I reckon that’s all there is to it. Hey! At least King Features did not have the gall to try and foist a Young Mark Trail strip on us! But now, on to today’s installment!

I’m sure there are people who like HOAs or they would not exist. As HOAs are normally run by the home owners, themselves, I was not aware some of them have the wisdom to hire professional management companies. Generally a good idea, since most people do not have the professional experience to deal with real estate, city regulations, planning, negotiations, and the law. I’m guessing (or hoping) that sooner or later, the Sunny Soleil Society will be exposed as some kind of criminal racket. Why should Mark be the only one to beat up the criminals?

In spite of her condescendingly smug manner, I’m not sure Violet Cheshire knows just what kind of trouble she is getting into, grabbing Cherry’s arm in order to give her the Bum’s Rush. But Violet is really asking for it! Cherry, before you send Violet to a dental surgeon for emergency treatment, demand to see the HOA’s official covenants first! Cherry’s clients should have their own copies and should have given them to Cherry from the start. But then, there’d be no story!

Is that a hat, or what!? It’s like she is ready to go to the Derby or star in a gender-neutral version of The Three Musketeers.

What’s Jove got to do, got to do with it?

It seems that Lady Cheshire believes she is holding all the cards. Indeed, it is difficult to argue against the rules of a private organization. Shouldn’t Cherry have known about the existence of this homeowner’s association? Why didn’t Cherry’s clients know about these rules? Sounds like total fubar all around.

Still, Cherry’s “Happy Face” in panel 2 clearly has no positive effect on the Sunny Soleil Committee, whose membership may consist only of Violet and her husband. A quick flashback in Panel 3 confirms Cherry’s faith in Mark’s ability to send a powerful email (as he pledged) that is the equivalent of his “two fists o’ justice.” And Mark delivered the goods. But was that good? The Cheshires apparently did not think so. However, the flashback panel is a good plot device to help add the proper menacing tone to the statement begun in panel two and finished in panel four.

But look! It appears Violet (who is either shocked or brushing her teeth) is dressed in yellow in the flashback panel. Is this significant? Is the whole “violet” ambiance just a PR scam?

And By Jove! If we combine this traditional British exclamation with Violet’s last name (Cheshire), along with the plate of scones, we see a distinctively English influence. But to what end? Is the couple getting their revenge for 1776?

Anyway, where does this leave Cherry, now? She was originally concerned what affect the Committee’s decision could have on her entire business, which must be on a shoestring budget. But is confrontation the best strategy to use against a pair of judgmental snobs who hold the power of the approval pen? Cherry’s negotiations seem to be going downhill faster than the Afghani Peace Talks.

Speaking of palm trees, why not just grease Violet’s palm?

I imagine that the shocked expression on Cherry’s face in the first panel is because she thought she was being cordial and polite. There wasn’t even an apostrophe at the end of her complaint! I’m sure that Cherry’s idea of an aggressive tone would be more like the Trailer Court How-Dee-Do with her sisters. Then again, in Monday’s strip, Cherry’s background in panel 4 was a slightly more intense violet, while the color in today’s fourth panel has changed to some kind of pale orange. Is this merely a color design choice, or does it suggest a mood swing? Of course, this will not be seen in the black & white printing, so my theory may not be valid.

The authoritative Wikipedia tells us that the Sabal Palmetto tree (aka Cabbage Tree) is native to the Southern United States:  South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, etc., all the way to southern California. I don’t believe we have seen these trees in Lost Forest. So it might bring up the question of where this neighborhood is located, if anybody cares? Florida would be a guess, but probably not accurate, since Florida has twelve varieties of palm trees, which would undermine Violet’s ruling.

While Florida also has its own share of kooks, I don’t think we need to leave Georgia (the presumed location of Lost Forest) to find Stuffy Southern Snobs. And do we really think Cherry’s small landscaping service is big enough to do business in multiple states? Consider the licensing costs, taxes, logistics, and staffing required.

As for our story, the last panel today makes clear that Cherry is not going to take this autocratic behavior lying—or sitting—down, though she has more or less agreed on the exotic palm tree. Will that be concession enough for Sunny Soleil, or will Andy make a mess of Violet’s flower beds outside and ruin the negotiations?

A Diplomatic Overture

This post wound up looking more like a bunch of disconnected thoughts thrown together in no order…and it was!

Well, “snooty” might apply (to the house and the woman’s name), as Doc surmised, but “oddball” also seems appropriate. Take that plate of stepped-on biscuits, I mean, scones. Who piles them on a plate like that, anyway? That’s hardly the posh thing to do. And not very hygienic, if you are inviting visitors to simply grab one out of the pile! Still, if you are going to serve them, where is the clotted cream and marmalade? I mean, really! Well, let’s not get too much into the pronunciation of “scones”, as both versions are acceptable.

But I’d bet Violet pronounces it “scahns”, as it sounds upper class. This is where one can appreciate Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, where Kelly sometimes used typography to suggest the speaker’s intonation and accent. You see that, Jules!?

Today’s strip also nicely illustrates a contextual use of color: If I was looking at this strip in my local paper which publishes the comics in black & white, I would not see the violet hues used in Cheshire’s office, thus missing the visual pun.

Wonder which one initiated the left-handed handshake? Usually only done for somebody with a bum right arm. But maybe this was purely a design choice. The nicely flowing line from Cherry to Violet would look awkward if they shook right-handed.

Back to the story: While an Eastern Chipmunk contentedly munches away, Cherry mostly keeps her cool and gets down to business with Violet. Story-wise, it’s a decently-paced sequence, with a polite overture thrown in for the sake of atmosphere.

As in her first Mark Trail outing, Jules juggles two concurrent, but different, story lines. Rather difficult to do in a daily comic strip. The trick, I believe, is in the timing and complexity: Not too many days for each story segment, and not too much action; else we get lost in details or forgot the other story. Keep your scorecards at the ready!

Monday Extras!!

Thanks again, George K. Atkins, Contributor in Chief… With a bit of time on my hands, I visited Jules’ site and found some extras!

Mark, You one bad-ass dude…
Not to Mention Cherry Davis Trail…

.

Here’s the main cast…
With a growing list of supporting actors!
Yikes! What’s this one rated?!

Next I found a Sunday feature that I don’t think was/ has been published? How did I miss this one? Was it ever published?

But wait, there’s more!! including this lovely reaction to all the hate being heaped upon Jules for “Ruining Mark Trail…”

Or, not to neglect the fact the Jules is checking in on The Daily Trail… Hats off to (CIC) George K. Atkins for pulling a reference out of his, ahem… impressive trove of experiences… only to make a very solid impression with Mark’s new “Daddy…”

OMG I got compared to Carl Hiaasen I can die now everyone

Carl Hiaasen was the only author I read in high school I actually liked. I appreciated that he understood how totally slanted and sideways the world really is.

Originally tweeted by Jules Rivera (@julesrivera) on April 15, 2021.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

So we take a well-earned break from Mark’s chaotic and absurd contretemps and finally get a second dose of Dad…er…Doc Davis, clearly worried that Cherry may go off half-cocked and make things worse.

One thing you can say about the Davis daughters is that they are not wilting flowers or demur debutantes. Will Cherry go in loaded for bear, like some kind of Michelle Yeoh protégé and try to kick the Association members into submission? Or will she adopt more of a Dread Pirate Roberts (The Princess Bride) approach and beat them in a test of wits and logic?

Cherry’s short-fuse personality is an interesting contrast with Mark’s slow-to-boil attitude. Not that the previous incarnation of Cherry was a pushover; but she operated within the constraints of the moral universe that guided the strip then. Nevertheless, living more or less independently in Lost Forest (as Mark was often on assignment), I have to believe the old Cherry would have developed a good degree of self-resilience and toughness and acted a bit more like this Cherry, given the freedom. (Rats! I just broke my rule against looking back.)

As for the alliterative and redundantly-named neighborhood association, Doc has it nailed in one:  It does look a bit snooty, with its flagstone walkway, ethical front garden, and framed timber cottage architecture. And instead of a normal (that is, déclassé) business sign, there is only an obscure graphic placard hanging over the door, like you would find outside an old European business. Snooty, indeed! It kind of looks like a strange blue wave with the sun to the right. But with that strangely-lined “sky”, the “sun” disc looks more like the center of a camera’s aperture. The kind you see in the beginning of James Bond films. Uh-oh!

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Talk

As we look back over the past six days, the story has shifted from the makeshift eco-video—that we didn’t get to see—to an unexpected close encounter with one of Mark’s childhood frenemies: Rob “Cricket Bro” Bettencourt. Born with a silver spoon in his posterior, he turns out to be the investor for the unseen eco-video and invites Mark and Reptilionnaire to a party at his villa to hob-nob with some BikBok science celebs. Based on his facial expressions, Cricket Bro must have ulterior intentions; else, where is this story going? In the meantime, he takes every opportunity to set Mark up for humiliation. And in good, old-fashioned dramatic form, we ended the week with a crisis of decision:  Cricket Bro entices an angry Mark Trail to take advantage of a vague, but menacing, recommendation. We are left wondering what that really is…and what Mark will do. He also has has no animal around to talk things out. Run, Mark! It’s a trap!

Within this broader view, a plot does begin to formulate around the daily humiliations. Mark is being manipulated beyond mere childhood jealousy. Can we all agree that Cricket Bro is the designated villain of our story? Are the Professor and Diane Daggers part of the gang or just one of Bettencourt’s diversions? And is Reptilionnaire also part of the plot or an innocent dupe? What is the master scheme, anyway? Every villain has one, you know! But will Mark Trail uncover it in time to defeat the bad guys? Is there even a time limit? Wow, this does feel like an old episode of Batman! Tune in next time… same Trail Time, same Trail Channel!

And now for something completely different:  The Sunday nature strip.

The last skunk we saw was on Day 3 of Mark’s Very Bad Week, back in March. So, unless we are figuring on Cricket Bro doubling as a metaphorical skunk, I think the theory that the Sunday animal appears during the current week’s dailies is incorrect. Or Rivera forgot. In fact, other than Reptilionnaire’s lizard, I’m not sure we saw any actual animals. Cute pun in the last panel, by the way, Jules! And as usual, Rivera creates another nice visual pun in the title panel. Say, Mark! You should turn these Sunday discussions into YouTube videos! You don’t need help from Brotein Boy! Rusty will be your director!

“That’s the story of my life…no respect!”

From one point of view, Mark Trail is the Rodney Dangerfield of the comic strips.  I know, I know. On one hand, I’ve recommended that we forget the past and just look ahead; but sometimes the past catches up and drags you back. We’ve been watching Mark get pushed around, insulted, assaulted, and humiliated, especially by females who clearly won’t need or want rescuing. So, has Mark become a punching bag for male misogyny? Is Rivera throwing brickbats at complaining Trailheads who miss the old Big Guy, the meandering stories, and the old-school art? I think the answer to these questions is “You bet!” But I don’t think Jules is malicious. She has a wicked sense of humor that is likely different from many long-time Trailheads. Maybe they are just upset that the old strip isn’t around any longer for them to poke fun at, rather than the cartoonist?

Well, the hits keep coming and Mark gets no sympathy. Interesting that Mark (who looks like he aged 20 years in the first panel) chooses to have a hissy fit in the company of the one person guaranteed to use it against him. And just what is on the card that Cricket Bro holds up in panel three for Mark to take? In spite of being insulted by him once again, Mark humbles himself enough to reach out and take it, while scowling in silent petulance. Rivera seems to indicate that, while Mark might want to bring out his Fists of Justice, he also realizes this is not the place and he is out of his element. “No poachers, no forest fire starters, no ocean polluters, and no animal maltreaters:  What the heck am I doing here?” But I’m sure Mark will swallow his pride and ride out the storm of indignities until a proper plot device appears that Mark can work with.

Still, I keep wondering where Reptilionnaire is (and why I keep misspelling his name)!

Intriguing, if a little confusing!

Hoo-boy, is that “bats and trafficking” topic the only article for which Mark is known? Props to the professor for actually knowing about Trail and having read the article. With that backhanded compliment from the professor in panel two, Mark silently intones Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect!”

Otherwise, we have more over-the-top characters acting up, such as the very proactive “bodyguard” in the last panel. And there is more to wonder at:

– Does our current Mark Trail have the old-fashioned ethics of the original Mark Trail when it comes to hitting females?
– How does Mark know Hollywood women might be tough? Does he watch reruns of “Charlie’s Angels” or “The Real Wives of Orange County”?
– And isn’t this bodyguard the same woman we saw in the background from Wednesday’s strip, holding both a camera and smart phone?

Instead of worrying about his phone disappearing, maybe Mark should be more concerned about the disappearance of the plot in this story!

And where the heck is Reptilianairre?

“Cherry, I don’t think I’m in Lost Forest any more.”

Answer to yesterday’s quiz: The clever trick (as I see it) is manipulating the strip’s convention of depicting animals in almost every daily strip. In this case, the insect-people are the animals! So Rivera has given us a new take on this popular Mark Trail convention. Well, just a theory, anyway.

Rivera’s focus on “cricket brotein” is timely. The BBC just featured a story on insects as a great protein food source throughout the world, except where people of European origin tend to live. I reckon we “Euros” have too many negative preconceptions about creepy crawlies and would prefer to have proteïni insecta disguised in whatever form and not told about it. Maybe my parents should not have been too hasty to bypass those insect tins in the grocery store. Wouldn’t you think Mark Trail and family would already be supporters of insect protein?

In today’s installment, Mark is reluctantly dragged farther into the world of Internet Influencers and scientist standup comedy routines. I’m not sure what those “Waaaa!” and “Waaagh!” yells are all about. Are they some kind of agreed-upon acknowledgement code for Prof. Bee Sharp or just the current fashion for showing awareness of a celebrity?

In spite of the fact (observation, if you like) that this story has degenerated into a series of silly actions one would associate with a Reality TV show that has no plot (am I being redundant?), I continue to appreciate Rivera’s art and her irreverent writing. Prof. Bee struts around like huckster Professor Hill in The Music Man, then leans back into the scene with a pointing finger and insincere response (“Sure, friend!”) to suggest he might be something other than an actual scientist. That seems to be Mark’s take. Okay, maybe I’m just getting carried away by obtuse, self-delusional musings, but at least I’m no Marxist Deconstructionist critic!

Final note for today: Some of Rivera’s art reminds me of Japanese Manga (as in the Dragonball illustration to the right). Rusty’s explosive reaction in the last panel is so forceful, it virtually fills the entire space, shutting out everything else around Mark. What do you think?