As usual, I’m late to the party. As regular viewers on Comics Kingdom know, and as recently highlighted by Joseph Nebus on his blog (https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/2021/07/13/comics-kingdom-has-vintage-mark-trail-now-and-prince-valiant-for-the-past-18-months-already/), King Features has started republishing old Mark Trail comic strips on a daily basis, starting with the July 13, 1971, where we find ourselves in the middle of a story involving sheep poaching. Mark is working with (or advising) a teenager named Scat (https://www.comicskingdom.com/Mark-Trail-Vintage/2021-07-09). The strip is from the classic team of Dodd (mostly writing); Hill (most of the drawing), and Elrod (backgrounds and lettering). Although old Prince Valiant strips are also being reprinted, I’m thinking King Features may be posting these Trail strips at this time as a kind of damage control to help placate Trailheads who are pretty worked up about the new direction the strip has taken. The reprints are in black & white, as they were originally published, so you will see that the artwork exhibits standard b&w drawing techniques (hatching, cross-hatching, and solid blacks) to define volume and shading.
A good example is the 7/16 strip, with Mark and Scat working in a Darkroom. Now, don’t be confused by the republication dates at the top of each strip. As far as I’m concerned, while we might view these as “more realistic” or even naturalistic, to me, the characters look stiff, like marionettes…especially Mark. On the plus side, this panel in particular has a nice “woodcut” feel to it.
And frankly, looking at some of the later strips drawn by Jack Elrod, I wonder if Trailheads think this is better art, or prefer it because it is more familiar to them. Some of this stuff looks like bad manga.
Next: When did Mark Trail start getting clumsy and losing fights?
Critics of the current Mark Trail may cry foul (or something worse), but Rivera did not start the trend of Mark getting clobbered and tripping over himself. I believe it was James Allen, at least as far back as 2014. Thanks to this blog (started by Dennis Williams), we can view strips starting from January 2013. So, with our WayBack Machine running, check out December 31, 2014; the epic “Mark stumbles over a cliff to avoid a bear” adventure in April 2014; and the infamous cave adventure of 2016. No, the real question is how far will Jules Rivera try to push Mark’s machismo before he turns into Inspector Clouseau?
But now, on to TODAY’S INSTALLMENT!
Urban jungle!? Well, they must have managed to find a city of some size, it seems. Downtown Palm Springs, perhaps? We finally get a bird’s-eye view of the chase, where the Prius is presumably making lots of quick turns to increase their chances. But the caption is wrong: Diana Daggers is driving the chase car. That’s been a problem all along. In spite of their inability to catch Mark, suddenly Dianna figures out how to shift and is able race in front of the Prius to cut them off. Swell. Now, how is getting them out of the car going to incriminate them?
Okay, I’ll contradict myself. I have come closer to agreeing with several commentators regarding the haphazardly drawing. Compared with her earlier work, even as recently as March, these more recent drawing are flatter, less tonal, and more exaggerated and roughly drawn; except for the cars. Rivera is likely using reference images from an online resource. That, itself, is nothing new. Cartoonists have been using picture references for many decades.
Diana Daggers looks particularly on edge and getting older by the panel. In panel 3 she looks like Dian’s mom! So, is Rivera under deadline stress to get these strips done? Is she just freewheeling the drawing for some reason? Even her sound effect in panel 4 looks anemic: “STOP!!” in barely visible text. Really? I mean, if this is a power stop, as it seems, it should be a much more dramatic font: Super-Extra Bold. And wouldn’t the sound be more like SCREEEEEECHHH!!
Frankly, this scene looks pretty much like the alley ambush from Monday, seen from a different perspective. So how is this cut-off going to work any better? Or will Reptilionnaire get confused with all of the extra getaway space around him and freeze? From a storyline point of view, I really don’t see where this extended chase offers anything new, but let’s see what Thursday’s installment will show. River has three more days after today to get this story to a meaningful break before we return to Cherry.
Okay, I’ve worn down your patience enough for one day, or maybe two. If you made it all the down here, thanks. if you didn’t, thanks for trying!