Sometimes the artwork just doesn’t make sense. Last week, Rivera seemed more on the ball, more in control. Today, especially, this really does look like somebody else—clearly less talented—took over for the day. Either that, or Jules is having a bad week. I mean, this really does not look like it was drawn by the same person at all. Even that window in panel 3 looks more like a painting that fell off the wall. Space, proportion, line, and details are all wrong. It’s like comparing the average artwork in the Charlton comics of the 1960s to the artwork in Marvel comics of the same time.
As readers know, I try to not be exclusively or even mostly snarky, especially with regard to the art. But I admit I’ve been having trouble trying to resolve the apparent inconsistent quality and styles in the panels, from one week to the next. A cynic might say Rivera is doing this deliberately, but I can’t see that. Rivera was a professional artist before she took on this strip. It goes against common sense for an artist to deliberately sabotage her own art or reputation. Again, it’s not like she doesn’t know how to draw. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, even in the banner illustration of this blog site (though the illustration is a bit stretched to fit across the screen, I’m afraid). But this is about as bad as I’ve seen. Is somebody else ghosting the panels? That has to be the case!
Regarding the story, itself, I didn’t see Dad complaining about Mark working on vacation when he had to depend on Mark to save him and the lumber mill workers! Anyway, shouldn’t Dad already be aware of Mark’s research, since it was back at Dad’s house that Mark first expressed his displeasure and suspicions about Dad’s business relationship with the Crypto Brothers. Instead, Happy should be asking “Okay, son. Am I in the clear or do I need to get an attorney?”
Did Mark bring all of Dad’s business records with him? Or maybe this is Dad’s laptop. Whatever, Mark is a bit naïve if he thinks a manual scan of records is enough to clear his Dad. When did Mark become an expert on legal business contracts? I think a forensic dive carried out by a professional would be a better idea. But time is short, so Mark takes it on himself to perform the analysis. Will a granola bar endorsement be limited enough to keep Dad in in the clear? Why don’t we ask the talking beaver!?
Readers of the new Mark Trail will remember how Mark used to have conversations with a snake and, on occasion, other animals. These two-way chats have not been seen in the strip for a long time. Now it is different: Having animals talk on their own without a human interactor is a new twist; and I think it is a mistake.
Conversations with animals gave Mark a kind of psychological outlet to think things through. Did he actually have conversations, or was it just a psychosis? The ambiguity was a nice hook. But this is wrong-headed, as it presents—as factual—talking animals. But this is not Get Fuzzy or Pearls Before Swine.
This part week saw Mark reacting negatively to preparations underway for the impending NFT/Crypto Influencer event. As a scowling Mark walked along a forest trail (a part of the forest not still on fire, that is), a hooded presence made itself known. And that turned out to be Professor Bee Sharp! Sharp went on to explain that he was not here to praise the Crypto Brothers, he was here to bury them.
Sharp’s zeal to publicly bring down the Brothers and their phony crypto scam conflicts with Mark’s need to save his father before the poop hits the new half-pipe ramp. Unfortunately, Sharp is not concerned, and Mark is left with deciding what to do: Save the potential investors and see his dad possibly implicated, or save his Dad and see other people financially bilked by the Brothers. It’s the old Wisdom of Solomon thing. Mark cannot have it both ways, and Sharp is focused on only one solution. Still, there might be a way to accomplish both of their goals. If only they can see it. Until then, let’s see this…
Beaver engineering from space, huh? That has to be a big priority, right? In truth, we are talking about waterways impacted by beavers. Not like you can see the actual beavers happily deforesting patches of woods along the river and creating their own little dam/huts.
Rivera continues her tradition of title panels customized to each Sunday’s theme, though this week’s title has my head scratching. But then again, maybe beaver tales as a design motif did not work out.
I hope Rivera can afford more time on these Sunday strips. They are good, but there seems to be an over-reliance on the same imaging and compositional techniques each week, with space for more information replaced by a standard personal comment from Mark in the last panel.
Finally, some actual meat on this bone of a story! The moral dilemma we brought up earlier has come to light after all. And it’s a doozy! Mark had an opportunity to do something earlier, instead of taking field trips and rescuing lumber mill workers. In fact, he could have also let Dad and his partner back in Florida work this out, while he went on his family vacation. But no. Mark couldn’t let it go.
Not only has Mark derailed the family vacation, but he is now in the unenviable position of watching his Dad possibly go down with the Crypto Brothers. Can Mark even stop Professor Bee Sharp at this point? Should he? One wrinkle is that Dad seemed okay with the business arrangement, in spite of Mark’s earlier warnings and protests.
Still, Mark’s only play is to somehow derail the business relationship and kill the event before it takes place. And there is so little time left. This looks like a case for the Impossible Missions Force.
A cartoonist might summarize a Friday (or Saturday) strip on Monday to catch people up. It is unusual to see a recap of what was published just the day before! Still, the revenge angle was not hard to predict.
So, why is Professor Sharp wearing that dark blue (or is it black with blue highlights?) hobbit robe instead of his usual white lab coat with yellow interior lining? It can’t be to blend into a green forest. Anyway, Mark might take a hint and change his own attire once in a while. Phew!
Well, the ball is back in Mark’s court. What will he do with it?
Once again, we see Mark placed in a storyline where he is plainly out of his depth, as well as his area of expertise. As we know, Mark is here is because his father got involved. As in his original confrontation with Cricket Bro and Professor Sharp, Trail is again an unwilling participant. Yet we haven’t seen much intervention on Mark’s part to get Dad away from this train wreck.
We saw earlier (during the Zebra Mussels story) how Cricket Bro tried to enlist Professor Sharp into his NFT enterprise, but it wound up biting him in the ass. This time, Sharp and Trail seem to have a similar goal, even if they are not on the same side. It could just be Sharp looking for revenge against Cricket Bro for getting scammed. But will Professor Sharp’s thirst for revenge also take down Happy Trail?
For Mark, his chief goal now should be extricating his dad, legally, before lawsuits start flying and the Feds show up. I don’t think Mark’s Flying Fists O’ Justice are going to be of much use here, so I hope he knows some good lawyers.
“Gah!” is right (to acknowledge Dilbert), we didn’t wind up with a new nemesis or protagonist. I was hoping at least for Cherry. But no, it’s just another recycled opponent to push Mark’s buttons (which are probably getting pretty worn down by now). This is like the old Batman TV series, where he seemed to just fight the same five or six master villains. Over and over again. Now, Professor Sharp mentioned this “event” thing, too. (Doesn’t he have a class to teach some place?)
Oh, I remember now: They are talking about the “big crypto influencer event” that the Crypto Bros are putting on (see the April 4 strip). That explains the half-pipe, as well. I reckon guests can roast marshmallows over the coals of the surrounding forest fire.
On the other hand, Mark certainly needs to have a talk with Cherry about those bicep pix, which might explain why he was sleeping by himself.
The quality of absurdity in writing is difficult to grasp, especially when you do not expect or look for it. Vintage Mark Trail stories sometimes had a sense of the absurd about them, though it was usually an unintended byproduct of odd storylines and hokey dialog. Rivera seems to deliberately make absurdity a central part of her stories; not just specific scenarios, such as the one today, but entire plotlines.
There are authors, from Cervantes through Kafka, Hunter Thompson, A. Lee Martinez, and Carl Hiaasen, who write absurdity as a professional chef creates tasty dishes. By comparison, Rivera is a working apprentice. But she is in good company and early in her profession. And those writers did not work within the confines of a daily comic strip. Dashiell Hammet did, for a short time.
Rivera’s use of absurdity is not based on literary satire, arcane existential philosophies, or quasi-religious experiences, as we sometimes see in the authors mentioned above, but in the more mundane madness of daily life, where unexpected weirdness interacts with everyday expectations. Thus, a skateboard ramp gets constructed in a forest area with no explanation, at the crack of dawn. Still, there has to be more than just odd characters and contrived situations. Rivera could cut back some on the weirdness and work on stronger storylines. Nevertheless, we could hardly admit that the storylines offered by Allen, Elrod, or Dodd were much better.
Speaking of which, I suspect James Allen had a taste for the absurd, which he injected from time to time. The clown train story (Feb-Mar 2018), the unnecessary bat-cave pursuit, and the over-the-top Pacific Island catastrophe come to mind.
Arraigned in yellow bedtime regalia like Nero Wolfe, Rusty read his cryptid book and came across a cryptid called SurfSquatch. Formerly a surfer, the dude paddled into a wave the wrong way and come out as some kind of night-surfing wookie who met and fell in love with another such creature. But like Cinderella, she upped and disappeared, leaving him alone and horny.
Where did she go? Though surfsquatches live along the shore and eat seafood, Rusty’s Surfsquatch decided to search in the forest, whereupon he fell victim to hunger and fatigue. Being lost, he next fell into a cave, where an orchestra of crickets was hopping by. So, he ate them, as they reminded him of shrimp. “Shrimp?!” thought, Rusty, “Why, Dad calls crickets land shrimp!” With that light bulb moment, Rusty got an idea for attracting the Seaside Specter. Rusty sought out cans of cricket protein that Cricket Bro had stored in the house, to use as bait. Not yet explained is what Rusty intends to do if he meets the Seaside Specter. Oh, wait. We saw that, already: He ran. Well, before you run off, check this out:
Hey, at least Mark is doing something with his time in Oregon, other than playing slap-hands with the Bunco Brothers. I bet Rivera had fun drawing these bugs, too.
But speaking of lady beetles, there is an amateur South Australian band called “The LadyBeatles”, something of a local thing, with a Facebook presence and a YouTube video. They don’t seem to be interested in invading America like their male namesakes did nearly 60 years ago (ye gads!).