There was a time, starting back in the 1860s, when the artists we know as “Impressionists” were ridiculed by the traditional art world for their work which was considered childish, brutish, and unartistic. In fact, the Impressionists deliberately violated traditional norms to develop their own artistic visions. In time, these new styles became accepted and popular, influencing many artists for decades to follow. So what?
As much as Rivera’s art has been criticized, her approach is almost certainly a deliberate turning away from the traditional old-school illustrator-style of vintage Mark Trail, just as the stories have moved on (more or less). I think this is obvious. I’ve tried (now and then) to rationalize some of Rivera’s more seemingly erratic work as a possible victim of deadlines. I have no proof either way. Anyway, it is not an issue of whether Rivera can draw in a traditionally acceptable style. Clearly, as I’ve pointed out, she can. The issue for many of us is why does Rivera choose to draw this way?
We find ourselves now in a position similar to those Parisian upholders of the Official (Academic) Style of Art in the 1860s, viewing the new l’art terrible. We are perplexed, angry, and uncertain. I just read a recent article quoting Tea Fougner, an editorial director at KFS, talking about the Mark Trail makeover:
“We realized that to really continue [Ed Dodd’s] mission of bringing natural science to everyone, it was important to make Mark, Cherry and Rusty broadly relatable to today’s audience, and for them to deal not only with current events but with the kinds of issues facing millennial parents and their kids today.”
This may be a bridge too difficult for some of us to cross. KFS and Jules Rivera are targeting a younger segment of society through different storylines and subject matter, using a different aesthetic that seems to align itself more with contemporary alternative comics and Cable TV cartoons than with the traditional style favored by Dodd, Elrod, and Allen. I don’t think there is anything wrong with anybody preferring the traditional Mark Trail; it is what we grew up with. I also think it is worth trying to stick it out for a while longer, to try and understand this different approach Rivera is taking. It would be really helpful if Rivera would explain the motivations and artistic approach she chose for this strip, and possibly even why the style dramatically changed shortly after she started.