“Slimy, Backstabbing City Slicker!” Okay, Cherry, you’re upset.

It is a stereotype of tv and movie villains that they often speak in a cultured, polite tone, in order to make their patronizing dismissal of the protagonist all the more humiliating. I don’t suppose Cherry is going to call her lawyer at this point. Do you? But will she also risk arrest, like her husband, and jump that fence? There’s no turning back from that, Cherry, in spite of your threatening fists o’ justice.

But really, Violet sits contritely and alone under a backyard tree, having a cup of tea!? It’s as if she expected Cherry’s visit! I would not be surprised if her husband/partner were upstairs filming this entire episode as part of an anticipated criminal complaint against Cherry. Still, what’s their motivation here, other than some kind of perverse pleasure in using obscure rules to harass and oppress other people?

What? You mean, that often is enough of a motivation for some people? Wise up, Cherry! You’ll need more than your fists to overturn these two slimeballs!

By the way, I got the pun in panel 4. Did you? And do you have a different opinion to share? Feel free to leave it in the comments!

Threads Coming Together!

Hah! So, these two incidents are, indeed, linked! Cherry’s good deed rose garden has been sabotaged by the evil machinations of Violet Cheshire, the public half of the suspicious Sunny Soleil Society. And let’s give credit to Rivera for having Cherry throw out a really good descriptive insult of Violet, to boot. Wish I had thought of it! Good ol’ Cherry is also keeping it clean for the family readers, too. Impressive!

But how did Violet learn of Cherry’s volunteer project, much less what it was composed of? Is this “roundabout” (referring to the garden’s location) garden next door to Palm Tree house? Did Jeannette, the “Laura Dern” waitress, somehow leak info to Violet? The more we learn about this Cheshire person, the more I’m going to cut Cherry slack in how she resolves her issues.

Cherry’s story continues to move along but has just two more days to arrive at a meaningful break point, unless Rivera allows for a second week of Cherry’s Revenge Salad: Retribution Never Tasted So Good. Well, I’m fine sticking with Cherry a second week.

Of course, with conspiracies in the air these days, I wonder if the Sunny Soleil Society is somehow linked up with our good friend and villain, Cricket Bro? A bit too much to expect, I fear, even for a comic strip.

Okay, so Rivera like puns.

Captions aid and abet today’s harvest of puns, the kind you normally find in local newspaper headlines. I’ll reiterate my earlier observation:  Cherry seems to have two major setbacks going on simultaneously, unless this “roundabout” project blossomed under the dark clouds of Sunny Soleil.

I hate to admit it, but it looks like Cherry is being taken for a sap as her business is about to get planted six feet under. It just might be too mulch for her! So why is Rivera dragging this sequence out? Will we discover the villainous source by tomorrow?

By the way, there really is such a plant as butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). I know, as I looked it up online, the way we all learn these days. Let’s hope that we also soon learn what’s going on here.

One hand for the coffee, one hand for the Lunar Pie, and one hand for the steering wheel?

Moon pies are an old southern snack that are sold in nostalgia bins, where you can find old-fashioned pop made with cane sugar. I have to confess that I did eat them now and then while growing up in Virginia, and I have consumed a few since discovering them by the drill bits in a neighborhood hardware store. But they can be kind of dry. Let’s hope that the Lunar Pie Jeanette sells at the “Planet Pancake” has solved that problem. Now, do we need to talk about the “My Favorite Martian” antennae that Jeanette is forced to wear? Is this an everyday thing or just a sales gimmick?

Meanwhile, Rivera continues to indulge in this sidebar scene, while we are left wondering (the suspense builds) what is going on. This is problematic, as it is the second instance where Cherry is totally out of the loop involving a major intrusion in one of her projects, assuming the Roundabout Plant Project is not part of her Sunny Soleil installation.

And I can understand reader concerns about the drawing here and there, as we see Cherry’s image, especially her head, take on weird shapes in panels 2 and 3.  However, I do like Rivera’s depiction of rolled and stacked napkin-and-utensils in panel 1!

Perhaps Jules is still figuring out what can and cannot easily be done within the size limitations of a daily comic strip. Or maybe changes in Cherry’s depictions are meant to be partially expressive, rather than strictly representational. For example, in panel 3, Cherry’s head looks like it has some kind of ratchet-jaw, as she jaws on about her project. When interrupted with bad news, her face in panel 4 takes on the shocked expression of an innocent teenager. No? Okay, maybe I’m stretching a bit (like Cherry’s marching up to the diner in yesterday’s strip). But I don’t think it is recklessness or lack of skill.

In any event (getting back to the story), what did they do and who are they, anyway?

And now, back to Cherry and . . . what!?

Not many comic strips have multiple story lines running at the same time. No matter how much one might dislike Rivera’s approach to Mark Trail, you have to give her credit for attempting this complex balancing act in the restrictive format of a daily comic strip. And I think she is correct in not spending more than a few weeks in one story before jumping back to the other. However…

I’m surprised to find that Cherry seems to have put her Sunny Soleil palm tree problem behind here as she now has “free time” for her Roundabout Project, whatever that is. She is certainly in a pretty good mood and doesn’t mind stopping for a quick snack at a local diner as she jauntily steps out of the cab of her truck with the really big tires. I might be wrong, but Cherry doesn’t look like somebody who needs any kind of caffeine pick-me-up!

  • Critics (including this writer) have remarked on Rivera’s sometimes harsh drawing style. And I was puzzled for some time at what was going on in panel 1. What…oh, okay. Her arms are behind the potted shrubs. Got it. But what is “below” or in front of her? Are they some kind of motion lines? No…oh, I finally get it. Those are garden tools seen front to back, in a foreshortened view. Okay, but it might have been better to show only one or two long-handled tools to make it easier to understand. For me, anyway! Otherwise, it’s a fair attempt at a take on the “lord overseeing his domain” composition.
  • Also: Is that a snake on a rock or stump in panel 3? Can’t tell for sure.

Okay, count me curiously yellow to see what the Roundabout Project is and how Jules will link it into the Sunny Soleil storyline.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

I’ll be on my Family Visit for several weeks, so apologies for any sporadic or late postings, such as this one! This week has been another “Mark Trail Confession and Recovery Show”, as our comic strip protagonist once again goes through a painful reflection of his childhood on the way to gathering his wits about him to resolve this current crisis. And it is a twofer, as Mark is also going to help Reptilionnaire and his band of naïve nerds recover their animal oxygen detector (I think that was it).

Dennis and I wrote about Rivera’s creative and supporting role of caption boxes throughout her strip, which is one of her positive contributions. Captions are often a necessary feature of adventure strips so it is great to see Jules finding ways to use them. Then there is the use of annoying slang and verbalizing nouns employed by the Reptile Gang and Cricket Bro. Perhaps a parody of certain elements of California society? Or maybe just a stereotype Rivera believes the rest of the country thinks exists in California?  In any event, a chance remark has given Mark inspiration for a plan to employ against Cricket Bro, which he then sets into motion over a phone conference with his nemesis. Where Mark was clearly out of his element and little more than a target of jokes for most of this story, humiliation and shared confessions have helped Mark find a way to turn this disastrous trip into another causus belli for the righting of wrongs. And that is the week.

Clearly, Jules is still working on her naturalistic animal rendering skills. And an interesting scale comparison of the coyote to Andy, who was able to fight off a herd of wild dogs a while ago. So, those of you in coyote country, do be careful. And somebody (sorry, I forget) has remarked on Rivera’s use of the metric scale to denote size. Anybody know why?

Now, it has also been noted that Jules sometimes previews the animal of the week in the prior dailies. This did not happen for the skunk last week or the coyote this week. Or did it?

Since Rivera likes to use jargon and slang, perhaps these two animals are visual puns. “Skunk” and “Coyote” are old terms for low-down, cheating, conniving, disreputable villains. Anybody who has watched old Westerns knows this. So, maybe those animals were selected because they reflect on Cricket Bro, clearly a skunk and mangy coyote of the first order!

And in THIS corner…!

Channeling James Allen (?), It appears that Mark did, indeed, retrieve his smart phone from Professor Bee Sharp in one of those “assumed” actions left unseen, before leaving Rob’s party. I don’t know why Mark needs to “try” to get into Rob’s place, as it seems clear Cricket Bro expected Mark’s call in the first place. Of course, as the villain, Cricket Bro is made to indulge in deliberately annoying jargon that only riles Mark even more.

But who is playing whom? The presence of Professor Bee in Cricket Bro’s office suggests that “Robbie Boy” (a put-down that Mark apparently didn’t think of when he was a kid) is already formulating his own plan of action, based on too many nights watching Wrestlemania.

The Setup

What a treat, having Dennis pick up my slack while I was on the road, losing various personal belongings in motels along the way. I enjoyed reading them. Thanks a bunch! Now that I’m down here in VA visiting family, I hope I can keep this going on a reasonable schedule, though I’ll not likely get posts up until late morning. Well, we’ll see….

Say what you will about Rivera, she has a sense of humor. For example, when Mark was waxing prophetic in Wednesday’s strip about working off his debt to Dad, he dramatically threw up his “tea arm”, unknowingly forcing “Rept Man” (standing behind Mark) to jump out of the way of the sloshed tea.

And Mark’s humorous interaction with “the narrator”, as mentioned by Dennis, is a great observation that illustrates how Jules uses narrative blocks quite a lot to help move the story along; certainly more than her predecessors. Still, I didn’t quite get why Mark felt he could not retaliate against Rob for his later insults when growing up. In any event, it appears that Mark has, indeed, finally found his center and is preparing for a battle of wits against his nemesis.

An interesting sequence of bubbles in the first and second panels today, as Mark responds to Cricket Bro’s patronizing response. At first, I missed it: I thought that the third bubble was also Rob speaking, which made no sense. Then I saw that the bubble linked up behind Rob’s bubble to Mark’s greeting. Like it!  Not sure what the purpose of the “smarty” phone in Rob’s hand is for, since it seems he has a Bluetooth headset on. Maybe he was looking for a visual chat? Or maybe Jules did that so that “old fart” readers would understand he is actually using a phone?

Another interesting feature of the rebooted Mark Trail was picked up by contributor Daniel Pellissier, who noted Rivera’s focus on motivations and back-stories for the characters, giving them actual personalities. Certainly, the prior incarnations of Mark, Cherry, et al., were more superficial, simply going through their prescribed actions. One could compare, for example, TV cop shows of the 1950s (e.g. “Naked City”, “M Squad”, “Dragnet”), where the cops simply did their jobs, without much reference to their personalities and issues. Since the 1970s, it has been almost impossible to find a cop show where the police are not conflicted with emotional baggage, to the point where this can become too much of a distraction (so I think). So I hope that this welcome feature doesn’t get too distracting from what is supposed to be an “adventure” comic strip.

Anyway, I can’t wait to see how this scene winds up on Saturday.  And Monday would be a good time to pivot back to Lost Forest to see how Cherry is getting on with her contretemps.

Wait a Cotton-Pickin’ Minute…

Oops, can I say that??

We return to the scene where Mark has suddenly, and in a positive way, sucked all the air out of the room…

“Mark Trail’d him?”” Could it be that Cricket Bro is Jealous of Mark? Of course, it all makes sense now, at least to the insecure mind, the one that only sees the world through a “Win-Lose” / “Zero-sum-game” lens… Why all these “lens” references, Dennis? Who knows…

I do think that Mark is in denial, though. His feelings do run deep. Although this is in keeping with the “old” Mark- The Mark where feelings ran as deed as a wading pool…

Good thing that Mark rebelled against his early (broad frickin’ daylight) imposed bed time…

Mark not only talks to animals…

… but to narrators as well…

Took me a minute to get my bearings, campers. We all have voices that we hear, voices that tell us things and suggest right from wrong, voices that are planted in us at an early age. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s not. Mark’s head is a roiling cacophony of memories and characters that have created tremendous self-doubt and loathing! Interesting to watch him break loose of such shackles.

Robby B. is nothing but a bully. We’ve all seen his kind. Insecure to the point of needing therapy himself, he finds joy in bringing others down. Crazy how stress caused Mark’s hair to turn prematurely, uh, blue? And is he in fact wearing a scout uniform in panel 3? Or just the latest version of the pink chamois-cloth shirt he’ll sport for years… until he meets Jules and switches to plaid?