Smokey says: “When surrounded by fire, climb into a wooden tower!”

Why would Happy Trail take shelter in a wooden tower when he could have just run up a hill? Even the dialog doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense; as in, what the hell is there to work out, Mark!? And the artwork looks incompetent with awkward lines, out-of-scale anatomy, and sketchy figures.

Of course, we’ve seen clumsy drawing from the prior Mark Trail artists, Allen included. Rivera is not unique in this regard. What makes these gaffs stand out is her style, which transitioned over time into something more expressionistic than merely representational. Inconsistencies, such as what we see in panel 4, hit you immediately and painfully.

But the troubling issue for me—as I have pointed out several times—is that Rivera is an accomplished artist. Why transform Mark Trail from her original, refined stylistic approach into this slapdash version?

They said I could not write this in 100 words or less. They were right.

I think the alternating viewing angles provide some interest to today’s panels. Nevertheless…

Like many readers and complainers, I also wonder where this storyline is heading. It started out as a family vacation in Portland. Vacations are the basis for impromptu Mark Trail adventures (e.g., the Mexican artifact smugglers and the outlandish island volcano incident). This vacation got sidetracked right away by Mark’s concerns over his dad’s business relationship with Cricket Bro and his brother, who also happen to be in Portland. This story arc looked to be as exciting as warm milk, but there was hope that Rusty’s adolescent fascination with locating The Seaside Specter would turn out to be the real adventure this time around (Like father like son, right?).

Not so fast! One disastrous night and Rusty was ready to pack it in. We recently got a tease that Rusty’s adventure might get reignited but hopes like that often fizzle out in The Trailverse. Speaking of igniting, we now have another subplot: A sudden fire at the brothers’ “hidden” lumber mill.

One could charitably suggest that all of this chaos may just be a satire on the messiness of real life. But who cares for that!? Mark Trail is an adventure strip, not a documentary. Adventure stories (at least in comic strips) work best when they have a strong narrative focus.

Ultimately, I hope these rambling scenarios of Mark and the Crypto Bros move to the back and allow room for a more interesting adventure:  Rusty’s Specter search. There isn’t much else to hang your hat on.

The story heats up!

Hmmm, at last we see Mark trying to take charge of everything, just like he used to do. But take charge of what? Let’s see if we can make sense of this, shall we?

The last time we saw Happy Trail was in the back seat of Jadsen’s vehicle, on the way to that “Wings of Love” animal rescue center. It was there that everybody first heard about the fire at the mill. This all happened during Cherry and Rusty’s visit to downtown Portland. Apparently, Mark and the Bros drove to the mill fire. And they wasted time with pointless debates.

Now we have Mark dashing down into the valley, apparently to save dad. Dad!?
– Okay, how did Mark know Happy Trail would be down there?
– How did Happy even get there before Mark!?
– Why is Happy in the tower, which happens to have a loudspeaker system? What was this place, a former prison camp?
– Why would the workers still be in a burning mill, anyway? It had to have been burning for at least thirty minutes or more (in Mark Trail Time). Were they waiting for permission to leave? This is more confusing than film adaptations of Raymond Chandler stories.

For some reason, the artwork reminds me of Golden Age comic books from the 1940s and 1950s, especially panel 3. I like that. Maybe it’s the heavy-lined profile of Mark and the zoom-out circle of Happy Trail in the tower. I dunno. You tell me!

Che disastro!

What a mess, indeed! According to Smokeybear.com, almost 9 out of 10 forest fires are started by people (idiots and arsonists). Frankly, the entire exchange today is bizarre. We have a fire that either started in the mill or started in the surrounding forest and engulfed the mill. Either way, this does not seem like the best time to talk about the building habits of beavers, much less composing press releases.

And where are all of these lumber mill employees? Clearly, they should have already vacated the premises after they called the Bonehead Bros. And Mark should have figured that out right away!

Wouldn’t the sawmill employees have also already contacted a fire department or the local forestry department to report the fire? Did Cricket Bro? Or Jadsen!? Any legitimate, professional operation would have had protocols in place to prevent or mitigate a fire.

Regarding what Rivera wrote in panel 4, the point is not whether Cricket Bro is a biologist. That’s irrelevant. The point is that he is one half of a pair of stupid “brothers” who might have conspired to have the mill burned down, perhaps for insurance purposes. They need to get money from somewhere. And it could explain their curiously casual attitude about the fire.

Leave it to beavers

When I was a teenager, Ripple was a bottle of really cheap wine (or something called wine). Now, it is a very loud onomatopoeic sound from a nearby stream; a stream populated by dam-building beavers. That realization somehow caused Mark to shout as if he discovered radium. Yesterday, he was shouting to evacuate the mill (presumably), though today, nobody seems in a terrible hurry to do anything. One might get the idea that this trio is out animal spotting rather than dealing with an actual emergency, like a runaway forest fire!

Certainly, this seems like a continuity issue. And what do beavers and beaver dams have to do with starting a fire?

Today’s panels look like the result of another rush job, which is a shame. Curiously, extra care was certainly taken with the art in panel 3.  Long-time reader Mark complained last week that his 10-year old granddaughter could draw as well. Such hyperbolic statements often come from people who just don’t like (or understand) the art they are looking at. I’m not putting Mark in that group, just using his comment to make a point. I have to admit that, if one considers panel 4, especially, Mark’s comment would be on the plus side of the ledger. The composition is crowded and clumsy; the drawing looks inept.

Fire Down Below

Okay, even I have to admit this is kind of stupid, as if these three came across a raging fire during a hike. Instead they had to presumably drive out to this location. Is the sawmill, itself, on fire? Hard to tell; there is certainly fire behind it. The mill should have burned down by now. Where are the workers? Presumably, not still inside slicing logs. Did anybody on site call the fire department? Interestingly, neither brother seems very perturbed. Could they be behind this fire? If so, why? I do like the incredulous expression on Mark’s face in panel 3, as he provides on-the-spot, timely advice. What was that movie, Dumb and Dumber? That certainly applies to those two idiots.

Moving on:  There are a few comments at CK on whether the porcupine in Sunday’s strip is one of the several New World porcupine species or an Old Word porcupine, possibly from Africa. Well, Rivera’s example does not seem to match the Common Porcupine that is native to Oregon, though she may have seen an Old World porcupine in an Oregon zoo and mistook it for a local one. I don’t know. Porcupines can get up to 3 feet long, almost 4’ with the tail. Anyway, a basket of demerits to Mark for using the wrong porcupine to make his points.

Here is the Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Compared to prior weeks, this week was rather conventional, if unexciting. That will be taken as an insult by many (or most) readers, who keep hoping for more adventure. As a point of comparison, you might agree that the reprinted pet monkey story in the Mark Trail Vintage section on Comics Kingdom is little more than a maudlin collection of sappy clichés wrapped around improbable, if predictable, events. Hardly a ripping yarn from Dodd. Rivera likes to create her own clichés within storylines that favor outrageous characters, sometimes silly plots (like the current story), and satire that doesn’t always hit the mark. Some readers have contributed additional descriptions, such as lame, pointless, and infantile.

For the strips this week, we have Cherry taking Rusty on a day trip into downtown Portland for something fun to do. They did things Cherry thought were interesting, but Rusty was having none of it. In desperation, Cherry dragged Rusty into a comic store, though Rusty fretted over being made fun of for his weak super-hero knowledge. Wah! Wah! Anyway, two things occurred after they entered the store:  one predictable and one not so predictable. You decide which is which!

One:  Professor Bee Sharp suddenly popped into view from another room in the store, having overheard Rusty’s interest in the Seaside Specter. Not realizing who Cherry and Rusty are, Sharp offered Rusty some advice on trapping the Seaside Specter, then left.

Two:  Mark called Cherry to inform her of the fire emergency at the lumber mill. For some reason, Cherry believes they must return immediately. Why? While you ponder the possible reasons, direct your attention to today’s nature discussion.

Reader Charlie Oliver, who has reported on Pokémon references in Mark Trail might appreciate the pseudo-Pokémon reference in today’s otherwise straight-forward presentation on the porcupine. Instead of flooding our senses with lots of disparate porcupine data, Mark focuses only on the quills and their function. At first, I thought this was being lazy, but I get it:  Mark wants to inform pet owners of the potential danger and how to avoid a trip to the vet. Point made.

Try to keep up with my infinite knowledge, sport!

Professor Bee Sharp proves his own bona fides as a windbag. He didn’t even give Rusty much new to work with before he exited, stage left. Meanwhile, we learn there is a “Forest” emergency involving Mark. Clearly (to us) it must be the lumber mill fire.

But is this emergency really shocking? Emergencies involving nature are part of Mark’s bread and butter, right? So what is shocking?  Shocking would be something odd, such as “Mark is in the middle of a rubber band emergency!” or “Mark is in a cake baking emergency on The Great British Bakeoff!

So, just how are Cherry and Rusty going to hurry back when they took the light rail into town? By the time Cherry and Rusty return, I think the emergency will have burned itself out, unless it spreads to the surrounding forest and starts a huge conflagration that shows up on CNN. If that turns out to be the case, it would be a good time for Mark and Family to scram back to Lost Forest.

Finally, back to the Seaside Specter

How many “stars” can one kid, such as Opie here, meet in one lifetime, without living in Los Angeles? Anyway, it is Earth Day today. Why isn’t Sharp at his event? I reckon that it must have been earlier in the day, since Cherry and Rusty only arrived here after a day of playing tourist in town. It has to be nearing nighttime, which nicely sets up a situation for The Professor to assist Rusty in his Spector Search.

So, I wonder if things will get ugly when Sharp finds out who this woman and child are and who they are staying with.

On the drawing front, you might have complaints, but I think the artwork this week has been a big improvement compared to the slashy, crowded, and sketchy stuff from last week. But it is even starker when the color is removed, which is how newspaper readers see it. I think the artwork would look more polished if Rivera drew the strip with the b&w newspapers in mind. But that doesn’t appear to fit the aesthetic that Rivera has in mind.

We’re new in town. Do you select graphic novels differently than we do in Lost Forest?

For some reason, Cherry thinks that being new in town means finding a graphic novel here must be somehow different than finding one in a bookstore in another city, such as New York, Chicago, or London.

Rivera and the staff at Books With Pictures must know each other well enough, since the owner of the real bookstore is really named Katie. However, I’m pretty sure that Professor B. Sharp (seen here channeling Genie from Peewee’s Playhouse) is not part of the staff. Why he just happens to be here at this particular time is another mystery that looks like an old TV sitcom cliché.

When we last saw this joker (Is he even a real professor? I’m thinking not.), he was fleeing from Cricket Bro’s ridiculous attempt to create NFTs using him and a goat.

Alas, Rivera likes her little ensemble of weirdo-troublemakers and is content to keep recycling them, rather than creating new opponents. But really, how hard is that? There was that shipping magnate and his staff, for example. They had the potential for some really good back-and-forth, but nothing came about it, and they just steamed away.