Want some tabasco on that potato salad?

<Sigh!> A second week devoted to this cookout!? Can there be any importance in this extended interval before we get to any hoped-for action and intrigue? Well, I don’t see any storm clouds approaching or alligators crossing the lawn, so ho-hum. In fact, today’s panels look “mailed in”, as the saying goes, without much thought or design. A shame, as Rivera can clearly do a lot better. Sometimes I wonder if she is already getting tired of this gig. Well, I hope not.

And I hope Rivera remembers that this is an adventure comic strip that focuses on nature and the environment, and not simply a comic strip that focuses on nature and the environment. Mark Trail is one of the few surviving adventure comic strips still produced, so it’s time for adventure!

Here is the Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

For those readers who missed the daily episodes, our story continues to focus on the travails of young Rusty Trail, stoically enduring a family cookout while his musical hero, Reptilionnaire, performs down the road. We daily readers shared his anguish, suffering through family reunion moments and the usual banal dialog one hears at family get-togethers. But the week ended up with Rusty (and his parents) very much surprised when Reptilionnaire showed up with his pet ‘gator and musical assistant. Good thing Rusty was not holding any of Happy’s potato salad, as his jumping would surely have sent it flying in all directions.

Meanwhile, Happy Trail has clearly tried to make amends for his prior bad decisions and crappy attitude and is once again friends with Jolly Roger. And it turns out that Happy arranged for Reptilionnaire to drop by. So this could be a good place to end Rusty’s mini-adventure, but I believe there will be more. But not, I hope, a week of Reptilionnaire ingratiating himself into the Trail family.

Don’t forget this story is supposed to be about a vacation in Portland, Oregon and Rusty’s chance to search for The Seaside Specter. Recall that under Allen’s authorship, Rusty got involved in a smuggling adventure in Mexico with potentially disastrous consequences. While I appreciate very much that Rivera makes Rusty a more believable adolescent, let’s get him into some drama and action. Being a kid didn’t stop Little Orphan Annie from tangling with all manner of dangers. Mark Trail is supposed to be an adventure strip, not a clone of For Better or Worse.

Before we see how the week unfolds, take a sip of coffee and peruse the Sunday nature chat.

Gee, so vultures circle around carrion, huh? Does that explain today’s title panel? Okay, there’s more to make fun of, but I’ll leave it to others. If vultures don’t circle around dying animals, why do they bother circling at all? Didn’t get that answer. Interestingly, in most Sunday strips the animals take center stage, but today, Mark seems to get the main face time, with vultures playing backup. I’d rather see more vulture close-ups, Mark.

Here are a few other interesting points I discovered: 1) Because of the strong acids in vulture stomachs, they are immune to lethal diseases such as anthrax and botulism, a great reason for humans to let vultures do their job. 2) The sense of smell in Turkey vultures is more important than their sight in detecting carrion and determining its food-worthiness, even up to a mile in the air! Now that is nothing to sniff at! Play, you Goth Kids!

Finally, some excitement at the cookout!

And exactly how did Happy get RepRap’s contact info? Anything public would surely be a drop box at an agency or just a virtual trashcan. I suppose Happy knows people. Anyway, I’m wondering if Rivera has the moxie to show Reptilionnaire actually performing. This could make up for not showing the video he and Mark made.

In Panel 2 Mark assumes Reptilionnaire would not have shown up just out of friendship. Is Mark being cynical or just revealing his opinion about their friendship? All I can say about panel 3 is that it is a good capture of what an old fart might actually think is a funny rap on rap.

Oh, has anybody noticed that Happy Trail wears the old double-pocket pink work shirt that Allen’s Mark Trail wore? Well, that’s pretty much what he wore in his first appearance, too, although it was more of a dark mauve. Well, too bad you cannot see that in the b/w newspapers. This leads to me ponder “if I was the clothing supplier to comic strip characters, I’d go out of business really quickly, as they usually wear the same clothes. Comic Strip Land must be really stinky.”

The Cavalry Arrives

Rhyming and rapping Reptiliannaire makes his surprise (to Rusty) visit, thanks, no doubt, to Grampy Happy, Mark, and Cherry. And he came with his ‘70s-era boom box backup band, too. Will we see a performance?

Moral of the story: Kids, have some faith in your parents once in a while.

So now, it’s “Russ”, is it?

Rusty is going through hard times? He’s not the only one, I think. Okay, this is something of a minor squeak to most adults. But if this is truly a “Rusty” story, then we have to accept that this could be a big deal to the kid. I remember one of my major disappointments as a kid. I was 12 and wanted to see The Beatles perform in Washington DC back in 1964. I was too young, my parents said, and it was a 4 hour drive one way. And I could not go on the bus, either. I was devastated for several days.

I never got over it. I became neurotic, a loner, and eventually turned to crime and eating Hostess Cupcakes. I started stalking Lois of Hi and Lois fame. She was a dish.

Well, only the cupcakes part of that confession was true. I did get over it. Still, it was traumatic for a teenager-in-training. In short, those negative vibes we see in panel 4 could very well express the anxiety and conflicting feelings “Russ” is experiencing.

One size fits all?

I thought I’d try and show today’s strip as close to a newspaper format as possible (they are not all exactly the same, of course). I think it is good to keep that in mind when we’re looking and critiquing the panels. That is, when the strips are published online, they tend to be so much larger than they are when printed, and cartoonists, by and large, draw with the understanding that they will be significantly smaller than the original drawings. So here is the same strip, as seen on the Comics Kingdom web site:

The proper “focal point” for viewing a drawing is important. The famous 19th French artist Georges Seurat painted small dabs of complementary and contrasting colors laid side-by-side and overlapped so that, when seen at a proper distance, they visually blended into other colors and shapes. This was a deliberate technique on his part.

My thought is whether we should continue to post and view these panels in their online size or the newspaper size. I think in the latter case, a lot of complaints about artistic style or quality are minimized, so to speak. That is, images do not look so stark or odd. And that is likely deliberate, as Rivera is well aware of newspaper size reductions. Anyway, is this a valid observation or am I just talking myself into a rhetorical corner?

Hey, I almost missed it:  Mark is wearing a short-sleeved version of his standard red-and-black checked shirt. Maybe he really does have a closet full of them for all seasons.

All in the family

Okay, so “Happy-Jolly Cookout” it is! Happy and Jolly, huh? That sounds like a bad comic team. Still, the positive vibes are flowing all around. But for how long? We spent last week on the road, so will we spend all of this week at the cookout? If so, I’m expecting something to heat up besides the shrimp, or this story is going to start looking like a proposal for a Hallmark movie. Hey, at least Cherry is working the crowd. Rusty has grabbed Grampy Happy, so I wonder what Mark is doing? Chewing the fat with Jolly Roger, perhaps.

We’ve seen or expressed concerns about long storylines, not only with Rivera, but even during Allen’s tenure. Whence cometh this impatience? Methinks it is partly the influence of various events, such as the quick-cut music videos of MTV back in the early 1980s, which spawned a revolution in video and TV editing. The Internet had a bit of influence, too. We are now conditioned to expect fast storylines, quick action, heightened drama, and headaches from trying to keep up.

Stories do take time to develop. Adventures during the golden age of comic strips commonly took 4-6 months, or even longer. Then again, there was no TV or Internet back in the 1930s and 1940s.

BUT THIS AIN’T THE 1930s! I expect a lot of readers are going to start getting impatient if this story doesn’t pick up real soon! As for me, if Rivera can develop a good storyline with some depth, complexity, and adventure, I’m okay if she needs more time to tell the story. It’s okay to snark on Cricket Bro or Zebra Mussels, but let’s not overlook “the bat cave”, “the black ferret story”, “the circus comes to Lost Forest”, and “the great yeti hunt”.

Let’s not be too cynical just yet

For a guy who tends to have a cynical mindset much of the time, I have to admit that it’s nice to see that Rivera gave Rusty enough maturity when it mattered, hissy fits notwithstanding. Does this event move the story along? Well, I’m not sure what the story is just yet. But it so far follows the conventional narrative of pleasant times before the storm. Like virtually every story ever created. After all, who could like a story where everybody got along and nothing challenging happened? 

Poor Mark continues to be haunted by the ghosts of California past. We have to prepare for the return of Mark’s Palm Springs flaky friend, Reptilionnaire. Maybe we’ll get a double whammy and find out that his new manager is Dirty Dyer, finally returned from his Caribbean training sessions.

Here is the Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

At last, the sleepover is done with! The family—senza Doc and Andy—have packed up the station wagon and are now on their way…to where? Originally, they were going to Portland, Oregon (with visions of seaside specters dancing in Rusty’s head). But they have to get Mark’s dad first, the “reformedHappy Trail. However, this detour to pick up Grampy Happy (as Rusty calls him) got more complicated.

It belatedly turned out that Mark’s comrade in crime, Reptilionnaire (who is also Rusty’s favorite reptile rapper), is performing nearby on the same day as the Big Family Cookout Grampy is throwing. Oh no! The Family Trail has yet to resolve this conflict, which has Rusty throwing a hissy fit. What to do? Unless they are all set to fly into Portland from Ft. Lauderdale, this two-week vacation may well get spent in Florida. Anyway, while Mark and the family try to not run over alligators along the highway, we’ll turn our attention to today’s nature chat, recorded before the vacation:

This is, indeed, a good project, and Wallis Annenberg is right to be proud of this project, which apparently won’t be completed until late 2023. And it received significant private donations. I’ve read that plans are to allow people to cross, as well. Sounds like a bad idea to me. I’m not sure how that is supposed to work in terms of not scaring off wildlife or endangering the public.

Anyway, Rivera once again integrates the main subject of the day (the planned crossing) into the title panel, showing her inventiveness. And it’s a bold thing to do, as some newspaper editors remove title panels to make more space for more comics.

The other amazing point here is Mark’s changing wardrobe! Contrary to the usual shirt he wears, day in and day out, while we still see a red first-layer, there is now some variety in the outer layer. And where there’s variety, there’s hope. One hope is that Rivera will completely break the long-standing comic strip convention for leading characters to always wear the same clothes. It’s not as if we won’t be able to recognize them. Heck, if Rivera can create unique title panels for each Sunday, it shouldn’t be too difficult for her to change Mark’s shirt color or even the pattern once in a while.

Once again, Reptilionnaire screws up Mark’s day

Ain’t easy being a dad. In situations like this, you can lose no matter what you do. While Rusty is having his melt-down and Mark is biting his tongue, Cherry could remind Rusty that, being such a big fan of Reptiliannaire, he should have already known about the show before they left so they could plan around it. Wait, that’s what a dad would say.

Okay, Grampy Happy could change the cookout to Sunday. Easy enough to do. Or, Mark could contact Reptile Dude and invite him to the cookout at his Dad’s place after the show and maybe do a rap or two for crybaby Rusty. After what Mark did for the Herp Hacienda group in California, how could Reptilionnaire refuse Mark’s request?

Well, I wish Rivera had made Rusty a bit more mature than this, so he could actually get involved in more sophisticated situations. I don’t think this version of Rusty could have handled the Mayan Artifact Crime Caper as well as Allen’s version.