Right back atcha, buddy!

Talk about a small world…! And quite the wind farm in the background. Unlike Dennis, I have not had the experience of being adjacent to, or working on, a wind farm, so I cannot testify to the overall sound level. The issue is fairly politicized, though with proper maintenance, it does not appear to be the significant problem detractors often claim. However, their proximity here indicates the sound will be a contributing factor to the video.

As we now see the production crew setting up, Mark one-ups his grade school friend with a clever comeback. So Mark had to suffer the indignity of an actual nickname? Perish Forbid! Unfortunately, with my own name—George—I never attained the high status of having a nickname <Sniff!>. Not even my own detractors found “Georgie” worth pursuing. Nevertheless, Rob Bettancourt must have been an annoying kid back then.

Rivera’s different drawing style certainly deviates from the original Dodd/Elrod/Allen tradition; but it suits the new narration, I think. Imagine how the dialog would work in the traditional “Mark Trail” style:

Anyway, will Cricket Bro accept Mark’s bitch slap or attempt to brush it off with feigned laughter? – gka

“Oh, my aching past…!”

I am filled with questions: Mark gets picked up at LAX, then driven out by East Malibu to spend the night; then driven all the way back across LA to Palm Springs to film a video. Couldn’t they have just checked into a nearby hotel? Well, if they did that, I reckon we’d have missed the novelty of the reptile house and its weird inhabitants. Oh, and the reptiles, too.

We were already forewarned on this blog, and it seems Mark really is doomed to keep getting dragged back into his colorful past. In this case, it is some dude (possibly the investor known as “Cricket Bro”), whose right leg seems attached to his body in a way that is not typical (unless you are a cricket, perhaps). How long ago can this guy have known Mark, as he seems to be a good ten to fifteen years younger. Maybe Mark was his babysitter back in Florida. I’m sure we’ll eventually find out, though this story is getting more and more jagged as it jumps along. Mark does not look happy.

What do you all think? Is that dude just well preserved? How could he have known “Marky” as a young kid? Is he going to prove to be a real pain in the . . . neck? – gka

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!

Frequent commenter Mark (presumably not Mr. Trail) tipped us to the 75th anniversary of the Mark Trail comic strip, whose history is summarized in this Sunday’s installment. I wonder if anybody has been following it for the entire run?

Another regular comment poster, Daniel Pellissier, recently compared Jules Rivera (seen in the last panel, above) to a new cook stirring up new recipes at your familiar corner diner. Good point. And while her drawing is often exaggerated and bold, I noticed a certain relationship between her new Mark and the original Mark Trail 1.0. Tell me what you think:

Okay, maybe this is a bit lame and not an extremely precise comparison. However, I’m picking up on the leaner, more rectangular structure of the Dodd and Rivera heads along with the longer chin. Whereas James Allen’s version retains some features, such as the arched eyebrows and falling hair lock, the face is more square, with a softer nose. Okay. Big deal. Perhaps I’m making too much out of too little. But I do think they share a similar gusto for adventure that the Mark Trail of intervening years had lost. As for the pipe, Trail kicked that habit back in 1986. -gka

May the reptiles be with you!

Special note: I have a tendency to blather on. Even though I’m having fun, I’m trying to write less and write better. I’ll start appending my initials to entries, but readers should easily identify my stuff from the posts of this blog’s founder. And as always, reader comments are always welcome.

Mark is once again being a good sport, realizing he’s walked into an environment where the reptiles are more familiar and comfortable. We still don’t know what these people actually do. Does Mark? Even though you are the Guest of Honor, Mark, there is no spare bedroom for you! Not even a suite at a local Holiday Inn. Star treatment, indeed! Well, we did note the hacienda is small. Blame those high California real-estate values.

Not to infer anything, but had I not known better, I’d say that panel four looks like an examination room in an episode of CSI: Miami.

Like Mark choosing which room is the more comfortable sleeping environment, Jules Rivera’s art and her Carl Hiaasen-like sense of the absurd may take a little time for readers to absorb and come to feel comfortable with. Still, it’s kind of refreshing to see Mark Trail sometimes having to roll with the punches and not be the dominant (or dominating) figure in every scene, even if he wants to be. On the other hand, we already know that our noveau Mark Trail is not a weepy, wimpy pretender. He is ready to bring out his “fists of justice” whenever or wherever the need arises. Just stay away from palm trees, Mark! – gka

Masks? We don’t need no stinkin’ masks!

Been noticing that our real world pandemic has not yet made it into the Trailverse. It was an unfortunate time to reboot this long-running comic strip and re-introduce everybody masked up, looking like they are ready to join The Wild Bunch and rob stagecoaches. I think we have to go with a parallel universe theory for the time being. This is a comic strip with its own laws of physics.

Herp Hacienda is quaint, if not plain. I’m not sure that wrought-iron fence does much to keep the reptiles on the property. Nobody there seems to care, anyway. Now, how many of you readers were stumped by the second panel? Just me!? Looks like everybody has a nickname. “Aparna”, I discovered, is a Sanskrit name meaning “leafless”, a name sometimes applied to the Indian goddess Pavarti.  That must impress somebody. Perhaps the caption box in panel two is a clue . . . .

But he didn’t prepare a cool RPG nickname for those friends.” I presume RPG means Role Playing Game, as opposed to rocket propelled grenade launcher. Still, it’s confusing:  Which “he” does the caption refer to? And what’s the point of preparing RPG nicknames, anyway? Are these people in the middle of a D&D scenario? I see that “Forage” sports a mask, but it looks more like a costume mask. And I’m totally not sure what to make of Ambrosia, sitting on that armchair.

If you’ve been following the rebooted Mark Trail strip, have you noticed something else different from its prior incarnation, other than the drawing, the new personalities, and Rivera’s take-no-prisoners attitude? Every declarative sentence no longer ends in an exclamation point!  That has to be a plus! . . . ooops! . . . I mean . . . Grrrrrr.

If you can tuna fish, you can tune a guitar!

As we turn to today’s installment, Mark is being chauffeured to a location out in La Tuna Canyon (near Eastern Malibu) by eco-rapper Reptilionairre and his pet iguana, Sherman, to help shoot a new eco-rap video. Let’s watch the action…

Okay, not a lot of real action, so far. We are now into Rivera’s second story. The first story was quite the ordeal for many long-time fans of Mark Trail. For those who were scandalized by the significant differences in the art, writing, and personalities in this updated Trailverse, our second story has definitely toned down the “in your face!” attitude. So far.

Looks like Mark is discovering that “going to LA” doesn’t necessarily mean “going into” LA. Mark’s ability to deliver an off-the-cuff sitcom-style tuna pun—while hosting an iguana on his head—assures us that Mark can still be master of the moment, even while his preconceptions are being challenged. And it’s a good thing Mark already has a relationship with snakes, as well. I’m anxious to see if Herp Hacienda compares favorably with the rich and luxurious landscape of the area.

But I don’t recognize the specific type of hawk we see in the strip. Do you? There are over 270 species! Dammit, Jim, I’m a blogger, not an ornithologist!

The things we do for fame…

Mark doesn’t know about Eco-Rap, in spite of his eco-warrior background? Well, neither did I. Apparently, it goes back to the late 1980s and may have started in the Bay Area of California. But there’s no Wikipedia page for it!  Eco-rap isn’t so much a music style as it is a message. Much of it, as far as I can tell, is youth-based, which is logical and a natural tie-in with Teen Sparkle Magazine, Mark’s current employer.

There is an actual performer named “Mr. Eco”, dressed in yellow and green, who takes his ecology-inspired raps to public schools and posts YouTube videos. So Eco-Rap is not simply a fictional comic strip plot device Rivera created just to shake up Mark’s reality.

There have been some comments here and there about the sometimes hectic and mannerist drawing style of Rivera, where characters sometimes elongate as if they belonged to a Futurist fantasy. And in the traditional black & white format of most newspapers, the inking sometimes looks heavy, scratchy, and difficult to view. I think there are some good explanations and I’ll go into that at another time. That’s not the case for the past several strips. But faithful readers know that, overall, I like Rivera’s drawing, layouts, and willingness to take chances.

I’ll leave any punch lines about Sherman to you, should you care to contribute!

LA Unconfidential?

Hi, my name is George Atkins. Because of his time commitments, Dennis asked if I would pinch hit for him now and then and provide commentaries. So you might notice a slightly different style. But first, an apology: I should have published these initial commentaries earlier, but I misunderstood some instructions, much to my dismay. Second, please feel free to continue or start offering your own comments about the strip or even my contributions.
So, moving on…

The Sunday nature panels continue to align most closely with the traditional Mark Trail canon, a welcome continuity for long-time followers. The topic du jour is the beaver. According to its Wikipedia entry, the ultimate origin of the name “beaver” derives from an Indo-European word root meaning “brown.” So, aptly named! Beavers were almost hunted to extinction, mostly for their fur. Obviously, Rivera can only hit the high points in a comic strip. We must skip over a few details, such as the beaver’s capacity to take down a lot of trees when building habitats. However, forestry experts say the beaver’s positives outweigh the negatives. Good news! I think Rivera plays things pretty straight on Sunday and injects some pleasing, casual humor. I suggest the comic syndicate (North America Syndicate) start pushing the Sunday panels in the newspapers that dropped them because they were often boring. Not any longer!

As is typical in the Trailverse, when Mark has to travel, we immediately move from Lost Forest to a scene of a plane landing at some airport. Curiously, it looks like the plane is actually taking off. I think we must also forgive Rivera for concatenating the time element by having the pilot alert the passengers they are making their final descent when they are already just a few hundred feet above the airport! There is only so much space to get the story moving. Note also the totemic owl in the first panel. Here is our first candidate for next Sunday. I’m no ornithologist, but it looks like a Burrowing Owl. More educated readers may wish to correct me here.

Is Mark actually taken with those exotic scents for sale? Is he just being sarcastic? For old Mark Trail: No way. For new Mark Trail: Very likely. Maybe that’s why he apparently walked right by Reptiliannaire, who we see in the background holding a “Mark Trail” attention sign. Maybe Lizard-man was late getting there. Still, he had no trouble recognizing the large, flannel-shirted dude from the back!

Is this really “star treatment” as Rivera keeps bringing up? Where are the reporters and photographers? TMZ? Mark’s fans? Sure, the star rapper himself came to pick up Mark. And that is certainly some kind of recognition. But shouldn’t Reptiliannaire be accompanied by a coterie of vloggers and other media hacks? Perhaps Rivera is making a critique on the hollowness of “the star life.” Okay, I’m no deconstructionist.

Perhaps the last panel holds a clue: The eco-rapper asks Mark to provide comfort and aid to his pet iguana. Now Mark! Why are you perturbed by lizard-sitting duty? Or is it having to sit in the back? The back is where the star sits, Mark! Being chauffeured is part of the star treatment, so get with the program and put on your shades! Maybe you and Sherman will have a nice chat about the LA Scene.