Well, that was the week that was; or was it?! A six-strip installment of Mark and the Herp Hacienda Crowd slapping each other on the back with congratulations at getting away with their arguably illegal and unethical escapade. Mark was invited into the building, as Amy Lee reminded Cricket Bro, ignoring the clearly dishonest actions of his accomplices. Well, Cricket Bro seemed stymied by this technicality, but should we? I’ve already argued my position more than once on this topic, a dodgy and slippery slope that Mark has been willing to slide down more than once. Not that Cherry’s actions have been without questionable tactics, either. Given the deliberately quirky characters and setting, we could see this story line more as a “fantasy/comedy” than a traditional drama. But there is little evidence that Rivera had this in mind, as far as I can see. Parody? Yeah, sure. Satire, almost certainly.
It may be that we are also seeing (overall) a less-filtered, more “realistic” view of Mark Trail, compared with the “Aw shucks” romanticized version we’ve been spoon-fed these many decades. It’s like the difference between William Boyd’s white-bread, polite “Hopalong Cassidy” character of the movies and early TV, compared to the original Hopalong Cassidy character in the books written by Clarence Mulford. That “Hoppy” was often an impulsive, cigarette-smoking, devil-may-care cowhand, quick to judge, quick to shoot, but loyal to his friends, and honest; and free with his cussing. Yet, that Hoppy was also one of the “good guys”, not a trigger-happy sociopath. So the latter character is infinitely more interesting than the sanitized “shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand” version William Boyd created. So, Rivera clearly has done the same thing in reverse: Her Mark Trail is not the invulnerable, self-confident, fists-of-justice nature warrior of yore. Mark now displays a more complex, textured personality (to adapt a term of literary criticism), beset by doubt, demons, and reckless behavior; but also backed up with a strong personal code of honor and justice. Sort of. Mark is the kind of “hero-not-a-hero” common in contemporary literature and movies.
Moving on to today’s nature topic, the title panel is a subtle one where Mark’s last name is camouflaged. Do you see it? Rivera’s Sunday panels (as here) are usually well-drawn, in part, because of the larger size Rivera gets to work with, and friendly in their delivery. And Rivera’s title panels are almost always inventive. Now, what’s with that crazy vest Mark is wearing!? He looks like a model for LL Bean! I like the humor of using a mirror in the prior panel as a visual pun for Mark’s age comment. But the reflection doesn’t look anything like Mark; more like Daddy Warbucks, in fact!
As any faithful reader will know, Rivera selects her Sunday subjects based on the main location where Mark happens to be working; in this case, California. And last week was butterflies, which links to Cherry’s storyline. I think that is a clever approach. Unfortunately, I do not have a backlog of Sunday strips from previous years to draw on, so I do not recall if this was something that Elrod, Dodd, or Allen also did. Does anybody know?
Anyway, there is one thing I wish Rivera would expand: Subject matter. For the most part, it seems that the Sunday strip always focuses on animals. All well and good, but Mark’s universe is supposedly all of nature, so how about devoting some ink and color to the flora and geology? Maybe even branch out to themes, such as what can happen when people build/encroach on beach fronts, hills, or dense forests. That could even make the basis for some interesting story lines for Mark. How about it, Jules?