The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

In case you were too busy to see this past week’s strips, the focus on pet rash was temporarily put aside, as was Mark’s preparations for the Texas Tiger Spa assignment. Instead, Rivera began fleshing out Cherry’s own storyline, which began with returning to work at the Sunny Soleil Society’s garden.

Cherry was just finishing planting native plants when Violet Cheshire turned up with Honest Ernest, who has expanded his business to include lawn care, if by “lawn care”, you mean covering it with chemicals, such as his latest concoction, “Lawn Libation.”  Catchy name.  For millennia libations of oils, water, milk, and other liquids have been poured over sacred objects or grounds as part of various rites and activities.

Anyway, it seems Cherry’s just-completed planting will once again get demolished, this time to put in an “English garden”, meaning a lawn. Well, “garden” is a common English term for a back yard. It’s the wrong word, but it’s too late to do anything about it.

Finally, Cherry acquired a bottle of Ernest’s Lawn Libation and had the prescient suspicion that this liquid might have something (or everything) to do with the pet rash running rampant in town. However, this seems to be rather obvious, don’t you think? Maybe it’s a red herring. Will we get a second week of Cherry’s story, or do we move on to Mark’s Texas tiger assignment? While we wait to see, check out the discussion, below!

Well, a straight-up nature talk on waskily wabbits! Cool. I’m guessing that the title panel is composed of “speed smoke” from the racing hare, as in Warner Brothers, the source of the most famous carrot-eating member of the family Leporidae. We get a lot of rabbits in our backyard garden (an actual garden, not a mere backyard lawn). Thus, we also get various neighborhood cats passing through. Fortunately, no lynx has shown up. Feel free to quibble on details.

Nectar of the gawd awful?

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, libations have been part of religious and funeral rituals as well as celebrations. Libations composed of oils, water, milk, or even alcoholic liquids were poured onto objects or on to the ground. In spite of Ernest’s “aw shucks” redneck pose, he apparently had enough of an education to create this clever brand name for his otherwise odious concoction.

Thank goodness Cherry has enough common sense to see a possible link with the pet rash problem. Maybe we’ll learn something next week, if Rivera doesn’t drag us to Mark’s tiger spa assignment.

It is what it always is?

So why would the SSS hire Cherry as well as Honest Ernest for the presumably same job? Or did Cherry mix up her own assignment? Is there a reason for these continued conflicts? Well, a pointless question, perhaps, since this situation is used to move the story along.

Ernest is an interesting character. His very pose in yesterday’s strip is an archetype of his comical arrogance and almost affable, positive attitude.  Until pushed, that is. I hope we’ll learn more about his personality and motives. For one thing, Ernest was at least smart enough to diversity his business with another revenue source.  We’ll just have to see how the story develops.

Bollocks the garden. Just take the cash and run!

Honestly! Ernest and his chemicals to the rescue. Or fescue? Whatever.

Oh well, back to Cherry’s small world of Big Problems. I’m glad to see that Cherry has a business and something to do other than wait for Mark to come home from his latest adventure. And there’s checking in on Rusty (if he hasn’t run off with the Seaside Specter) and ol’ Doc and his rash crisis. But doesn’t Cherry’s business have any other customers around which an adventure can be built?  What about her secret garden commandos? Surely, there is a story to be found there. Instead, we have the Big Hat and the Big Mouth once again.

The family peels off to their respective duties

Okay, this reads like some pretty reasonable interactions between real people in real situations. Very good! And the artwork is consistently fine, as well. Panel 1 offers us a picturesque landscape, while panel 2 offers an interesting foreground/background composition that was last used when the Trails were visiting Happy Trail down in Florida.

But good grief! Just what is the focus of Cherry’s storyline? Is it the pet rash or another go-round with the ambiguous Sunny Soleil Society? Of course, Rivera could be expanding the story threads and we will have concurrent storylines with Mark, Cherry, and Doc. That will be a good challenge for us readers, too.

But hasn’t Mark seen the data on the damage that flip-flops can cause to feet? And are you planning to wear flip-flops around the lions, Mark? They do leave your feet terribly vulnerable and are just lousy to try and run in! You might want to keep using them as fly swatters and go with a pair of running shoes.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

If you want to skip over my diatribe, ignore the purple prose and jump down to the black text. You’ve been warned!

Jules Rivera’s aesthetic, coming out of non-mainstream art styles popular with online comics and graphic novels, has been a lightning rod for controversy, scorn, and even positive support. Her stories have also received their share of snark and appreciation. Not that that is new, of course. The legacy Mark Trail has long been a popular target for its cornball and illogical stories, its sometimes-uneven old-fashioned artwork, a reliance on cut-and-pasted poses, stilted dialog, and simplistic morals. Oddly, they have also been the strength of the original strip for many who cherished its sameness. It’s one reason why reruns of old TV shows are still very popular. Just ask my dad!

I think we should try to understand Rivera’s Mark Trail through her non-mainstream roots, but it is certainly a difficult task for many of us. I imagine it is similar to what the art world and general public of late 19th century France faced when they first came into contact with Impressionist painting and its many followers. It was “the shock of the new“, as art critic Robert Hughes wrote about the birth of modern art.

I am both apologist and critic of the Mark Trail reboot. I admire Rivera’s gutsy efforts to bring the strip into a contemporary setting, as off-kilter, reactive, and nutty as you would find in any Florida-based piece of fiction. I liked her original artistic vision of the strip during its early months, before the art became more simplified and sometimes erratic.  In part, I see that due to unforeseen pressures of deadlines, but I could be completely wrong!

I am very glad to see Rivera giving Cherry greater visibility and her own adventures. In that way, she is more like the way Cherry was originally depicted when the strip first began, before she transformed into a conventional wife and mere supporting cast member. On the other hand, I am not a keen admirer of soap opera/sitcom elements that sometimes show up, especially during interludes between adventures.

That brings us to this past week, where Mark has fretted like a boy having to recite poetry in English class. Mark is plainly afraid of the offered assignment to investigate a roadside zoo in Texas. While Amy Lee tried to play up Mark’s love of adventure, it was Cherry who laid down the law and sent Mark whimpering like a hurt puppy back to take the assignment. Yet, Cherry acted like a preteen gushing over her teen idol when she learned Mark would be working with a Hollywood celebrity animal wrangler.

Is Rivera making fun of Mark and Cherry, casting them as a henpecked husband and a shallow wife? Or is Jules trying to use old TV tropes to connect with long-time readers? It is a dangerous approach, as many long-time readers clearly don’t cotton to Mark being made to look and act like an overly sensitive metrosexual who would prefer to stay home and listen to light jazz.  Anyway, while Rivera gets this party going, let’s spend a bit of time looking at today’s nature talk!

I’m fine with this approach. Far too much decorative concrete pavement appears in large cities.

Hang down your head, Mark Trail, hang down your head and sigh . . . .

Story-wise, I don’t get it. So Cherry has the hots for Rex Scorpius. Why should Cherry want Mark to take the assignment in order to work with this dude? It’s not as if she is going along or that Rex is going to make a house call. Mark should have talked with Ralph the rat snake first.

As for the art, I also don’t get it. In early June, as the rash story was starting up, Cherry was depicted as quite the comely gal, as she is normally shown. But today, she looks like a member of the SNL Widette family. Is this deliberate (as in making a statement)? The result of rushed work? Somebody else helping out? Frankly, even her head looks odd (panels 1 and 4).

I am also embarrassed that Mark had to be shown looking like some whipped, whiny pansy (panel 4). I think we all get Rivera’s anti-macho position, and I’m okay with that.  She’s been doing this since she started. Rivera already established that this Mark is no longer the 1950’s stoic, highly moral, invincible man of action (as Allen was also starting to explore).

But I don’t think she needs to swing that cultural pendulum so far to the other side. Rivera has been showing Mark sometimes indecisive, out of his depth, lost, and even knocked down. That’s fine.  Yet, to literally show Mark limp-wristed and hang-dogged is over the line. Add to that, having Cherry react like a bimbo-brained, swooning girl and this all seems reminiscent of stereotyped roles in family TV sitcoms (e.g. Married with Children, I Love Lucy. Go ahead and fill in your own examples).

Mister Pinch-Face

You have to be careful writing this article, Mark.” to which Mark should respond, “Okay, what is the objective of the article? Why do I have to have an assistant? I used to work alone, you know.” But what’s with this cult business, Mark? Quite a leap of logic when all Amy Lee has told you is that the staff live on-site.

I reckon that it is not common for staff to live where they work, unless it is a summer camp or a secret laboratory devoted to creating super-soldiers for a rogue element of the military. Still, the Touch Center might be somewhere in western Texas that makes commuting very difficult. The Center might even have rooms for their patients. Doesn’t make it a cult, Mark, so don’t look like you just got wind of Cherry passing gas!

And we still haven’t heard from Ralph the rat snake, one of the few voices of sanity and sagacity.