Speaking of palm trees, why not just grease Violet’s palm?

I imagine that the shocked expression on Cherry’s face in the first panel is because she thought she was being cordial and polite. There wasn’t even an apostrophe at the end of her complaint! I’m sure that Cherry’s idea of an aggressive tone would be more like the Trailer Court How-Dee-Do with her sisters. Then again, in Monday’s strip, Cherry’s background in panel 4 was a slightly more intense violet, while the color in today’s fourth panel has changed to some kind of pale orange. Is this merely a color design choice, or does it suggest a mood swing? Of course, this will not be seen in the black & white printing, so my theory may not be valid.

The authoritative Wikipedia tells us that the Sabal Palmetto tree (aka Cabbage Tree) is native to the Southern United States:  South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, etc., all the way to southern California. I don’t believe we have seen these trees in Lost Forest. So it might bring up the question of where this neighborhood is located, if anybody cares? Florida would be a guess, but probably not accurate, since Florida has twelve varieties of palm trees, which would undermine Violet’s ruling.

While Florida also has its own share of kooks, I don’t think we need to leave Georgia (the presumed location of Lost Forest) to find Stuffy Southern Snobs. And do we really think Cherry’s small landscaping service is big enough to do business in multiple states? Consider the licensing costs, taxes, logistics, and staffing required.

As for our story, the last panel today makes clear that Cherry is not going to take this autocratic behavior lying—or sitting—down, though she has more or less agreed on the exotic palm tree. Will that be concession enough for Sunny Soleil, or will Andy make a mess of Violet’s flower beds outside and ruin the negotiations?

A Diplomatic Overture

This post wound up looking more like a bunch of disconnected thoughts thrown together in no order…and it was!

Well, “snooty” might apply (to the house and the woman’s name), as Doc surmised, but “oddball” also seems appropriate. Take that plate of stepped-on biscuits, I mean, scones. Who piles them on a plate like that, anyway? That’s hardly the posh thing to do. And not very hygienic, if you are inviting visitors to simply grab one out of the pile! Still, if you are going to serve them, where is the clotted cream and marmalade? I mean, really! Well, let’s not get too much into the pronunciation of “scones”, as both versions are acceptable.

But I’d bet Violet pronounces it “scahns”, as it sounds upper class. This is where one can appreciate Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip, where Kelly sometimes used typography to suggest the speaker’s intonation and accent. You see that, Jules!?

Today’s strip also nicely illustrates a contextual use of color: If I was looking at this strip in my local paper which publishes the comics in black & white, I would not see the violet hues used in Cheshire’s office, thus missing the visual pun.

Wonder which one initiated the left-handed handshake? Usually only done for somebody with a bum right arm. But maybe this was purely a design choice. The nicely flowing line from Cherry to Violet would look awkward if they shook right-handed.

Back to the story: While an Eastern Chipmunk contentedly munches away, Cherry mostly keeps her cool and gets down to business with Violet. Story-wise, it’s a decently-paced sequence, with a polite overture thrown in for the sake of atmosphere.

As in her first Mark Trail outing, Jules juggles two concurrent, but different, story lines. Rather difficult to do in a daily comic strip. The trick, I believe, is in the timing and complexity: Not too many days for each story segment, and not too much action; else we get lost in details or forgot the other story. Keep your scorecards at the ready!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

So we take a well-earned break from Mark’s chaotic and absurd contretemps and finally get a second dose of Dad…er…Doc Davis, clearly worried that Cherry may go off half-cocked and make things worse.

One thing you can say about the Davis daughters is that they are not wilting flowers or demur debutantes. Will Cherry go in loaded for bear, like some kind of Michelle Yeoh protégé and try to kick the Association members into submission? Or will she adopt more of a Dread Pirate Roberts (The Princess Bride) approach and beat them in a test of wits and logic?

Cherry’s short-fuse personality is an interesting contrast with Mark’s slow-to-boil attitude. Not that the previous incarnation of Cherry was a pushover; but she operated within the constraints of the moral universe that guided the strip then. Nevertheless, living more or less independently in Lost Forest (as Mark was often on assignment), I have to believe the old Cherry would have developed a good degree of self-resilience and toughness and acted a bit more like this Cherry, given the freedom. (Rats! I just broke my rule against looking back.)

As for the alliterative and redundantly-named neighborhood association, Doc has it nailed in one:  It does look a bit snooty, with its flagstone walkway, ethical front garden, and framed timber cottage architecture. And instead of a normal (that is, déclassé) business sign, there is only an obscure graphic placard hanging over the door, like you would find outside an old European business. Snooty, indeed! It kind of looks like a strange blue wave with the sun to the right. But with that strangely-lined “sky”, the “sun” disc looks more like the center of a camera’s aperture. The kind you see in the beginning of James Bond films. Uh-oh!

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Talk

As we look back over the past six days, the story has shifted from the makeshift eco-video—that we didn’t get to see—to an unexpected close encounter with one of Mark’s childhood frenemies: Rob “Cricket Bro” Bettencourt. Born with a silver spoon in his posterior, he turns out to be the investor for the unseen eco-video and invites Mark and Reptilionnaire to a party at his villa to hob-nob with some BikBok science celebs. Based on his facial expressions, Cricket Bro must have ulterior intentions; else, where is this story going? In the meantime, he takes every opportunity to set Mark up for humiliation. And in good, old-fashioned dramatic form, we ended the week with a crisis of decision:  Cricket Bro entices an angry Mark Trail to take advantage of a vague, but menacing, recommendation. We are left wondering what that really is…and what Mark will do. He also has has no animal around to talk things out. Run, Mark! It’s a trap!

Within this broader view, a plot does begin to formulate around the daily humiliations. Mark is being manipulated beyond mere childhood jealousy. Can we all agree that Cricket Bro is the designated villain of our story? Are the Professor and Diane Daggers part of the gang or just one of Bettencourt’s diversions? And is Reptilionnaire also part of the plot or an innocent dupe? What is the master scheme, anyway? Every villain has one, you know! But will Mark Trail uncover it in time to defeat the bad guys? Is there even a time limit? Wow, this does feel like an old episode of Batman! Tune in next time… same Trail Time, same Trail Channel!

And now for something completely different:  The Sunday nature strip.

The last skunk we saw was on Day 3 of Mark’s Very Bad Week, back in March. So, unless we are figuring on Cricket Bro doubling as a metaphorical skunk, I think the theory that the Sunday animal appears during the current week’s dailies is incorrect. Or Rivera forgot. In fact, other than Reptilionnaire’s lizard, I’m not sure we saw any actual animals. Cute pun in the last panel, by the way, Jules! And as usual, Rivera creates another nice visual pun in the title panel. Say, Mark! You should turn these Sunday discussions into YouTube videos! You don’t need help from Brotein Boy! Rusty will be your director!

“That’s the story of my life…no respect!”

From one point of view, Mark Trail is the Rodney Dangerfield of the comic strips.  I know, I know. On one hand, I’ve recommended that we forget the past and just look ahead; but sometimes the past catches up and drags you back. We’ve been watching Mark get pushed around, insulted, assaulted, and humiliated, especially by females who clearly won’t need or want rescuing. So, has Mark become a punching bag for male misogyny? Is Rivera throwing brickbats at complaining Trailheads who miss the old Big Guy, the meandering stories, and the old-school art? I think the answer to these questions is “You bet!” But I don’t think Jules is malicious. She has a wicked sense of humor that is likely different from many long-time Trailheads. Maybe they are just upset that the old strip isn’t around any longer for them to poke fun at, rather than the cartoonist?

Well, the hits keep coming and Mark gets no sympathy. Interesting that Mark (who looks like he aged 20 years in the first panel) chooses to have a hissy fit in the company of the one person guaranteed to use it against him. And just what is on the card that Cricket Bro holds up in panel three for Mark to take? In spite of being insulted by him once again, Mark humbles himself enough to reach out and take it, while scowling in silent petulance. Rivera seems to indicate that, while Mark might want to bring out his Fists of Justice, he also realizes this is not the place and he is out of his element. “No poachers, no forest fire starters, no ocean polluters, and no animal maltreaters:  What the heck am I doing here?” But I’m sure Mark will swallow his pride and ride out the storm of indignities until a proper plot device appears that Mark can work with.

Still, I keep wondering where Reptilionnaire is (and why I keep misspelling his name)!

Intriguing, if a little confusing!

Hoo-boy, is that “bats and trafficking” topic the only article for which Mark is known? Props to the professor for actually knowing about Trail and having read the article. With that backhanded compliment from the professor in panel two, Mark silently intones Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect!”

Otherwise, we have more over-the-top characters acting up, such as the very proactive “bodyguard” in the last panel. And there is more to wonder at:

– Does our current Mark Trail have the old-fashioned ethics of the original Mark Trail when it comes to hitting females?
– How does Mark know Hollywood women might be tough? Does he watch reruns of “Charlie’s Angels” or “The Real Wives of Orange County”?
– And isn’t this bodyguard the same woman we saw in the background from Wednesday’s strip, holding both a camera and smart phone?

Instead of worrying about his phone disappearing, maybe Mark should be more concerned about the disappearance of the plot in this story!

And where the heck is Reptilianairre?

“Cherry, I don’t think I’m in Lost Forest any more.”

Answer to yesterday’s quiz: The clever trick (as I see it) is manipulating the strip’s convention of depicting animals in almost every daily strip. In this case, the insect-people are the animals! So Rivera has given us a new take on this popular Mark Trail convention. Well, just a theory, anyway.

Rivera’s focus on “cricket brotein” is timely. The BBC just featured a story on insects as a great protein food source throughout the world, except where people of European origin tend to live. I reckon we “Euros” have too many negative preconceptions about creepy crawlies and would prefer to have proteïni insecta disguised in whatever form and not told about it. Maybe my parents should not have been too hasty to bypass those insect tins in the grocery store. Wouldn’t you think Mark Trail and family would already be supporters of insect protein?

In today’s installment, Mark is reluctantly dragged farther into the world of Internet Influencers and scientist standup comedy routines. I’m not sure what those “Waaaa!” and “Waaagh!” yells are all about. Are they some kind of agreed-upon acknowledgement code for Prof. Bee Sharp or just the current fashion for showing awareness of a celebrity?

In spite of the fact (observation, if you like) that this story has degenerated into a series of silly actions one would associate with a Reality TV show that has no plot (am I being redundant?), I continue to appreciate Rivera’s art and her irreverent writing. Prof. Bee struts around like huckster Professor Hill in The Music Man, then leans back into the scene with a pointing finger and insincere response (“Sure, friend!”) to suggest he might be something other than an actual scientist. That seems to be Mark’s take. Okay, maybe I’m just getting carried away by obtuse, self-delusional musings, but at least I’m no Marxist Deconstructionist critic!

Final note for today: Some of Rivera’s art reminds me of Japanese Manga (as in the Dragonball illustration to the right). Rusty’s explosive reaction in the last panel is so forceful, it virtually fills the entire space, shutting out everything else around Mark. What do you think?

Like a fish out of water, so are the days of Mark Trail!

Today is April 21, the traditional day of the founding of ancient Rome by Romulus and Remus. One way the Romans tracked time was to count from the founding year of the city (“ab urbe condita”). Thus, this year makes Rome 2774 years old! To a Roman, that would be MMDCCLXXIV auc. Now, cut me some slack. How many opportunities do I get to trot out my otherwise wasted graduate school education?

And it’s not as if Mark or Reptiliannaire (remember him?) bother to celebrate Rome’s birthday! Heck no. As we see, Mark is too busy worrying about why he is at a party with so many screwballs, such as the guest of honor who is running to the foreground in his sandals to perform for…people behind him?

Okay, Jules got me. I guess I didn’t exactly see where this strip was going. But now we know what—or who—the Killer Bee is. Speaking of which, does everybody here have a name (and costume) that sounds like a Batman villain? Are you intrigued how Cricket Bro’s public announcements are reaching the ears of people more than 15 feet away?  Are we not also intrigued by the woman in the background holding a camera in her left hand and a smart phone (i.e., a camera) in her right? And the one person here who should be taking photos for an article is not!

Rivera is building a social climate that is as kookie as episodes of the British TV series “The Avengers”, when Diana Rigg played Emma Peel. Well, Rivera lives in California, so I reckon she is entitled to exploit the state’s reputation for weirdness.

When looking back from the time Jules Rivera took over this strip, we have watched Mark confront his cluelessness and discomfort with modern social mores and environments, as if he just awoke from a coma that began back in the 1970s. But as Cricket Bro has demonstrated, Mark is no longer the star of every situation; sometimes he is just a bit player. Still, I’m befuddled like Mark, wondering where and when the Big Problem for him to resolve will appear.

Quiz-Time, faithful readers: What is the clever trick Rivera is playing on us Trailheads regarding a popular Mark Trail comic strip motif?

I see purple people…

Just who is Cricket Bro talking to in the first panel? Perhaps all those purple people in the background. Rivera’s choice of a uniform color is a nice artistic decision to make Mark and “Rep” stand out in their entrance. Hmm, I bet Bettencourt is drinking a cricket cocktail.

Most readers here likely know that fried and roasted crickets are a popular snack in parts of Asia.  Growing up, I used to see cans of fried crickets and chocolate-covered ants for sale in a local grocery store. Those were strange items to find in then-conservative Virginia during the early 1960s. Never got around to trying them, however.

So now, I learn there is actually protein-rich cricket flour that can be used as an additive in various (human) food products. Even the United Nations extols the protein value of this food source. In short, Cricket Bro is really onto something! But will Mark be too distracted by his disdain for Bettencourt to pick up on this subject for an article?

And how many juvenile insults will we have to endure before Rivera moves this story along? While we try to figure out what the “Killer Bee” insult refers to, I wonder if Reptiliannaire enjoys being overlooked and treated like Mark’s sidekick. That might be a setup, as I think we can all see where things are going in the last panel.

“So, crickets really built all this, huh?”

So, our blue-tailed skink shows up after its Sunday premier. Yet another Rivera shakeup!  I reckon that my joke of a short shrift of the video shoot in order to jump to the after-party panned out. But isn’t that a cop-out? I mean, the whole point of coming out here was doing the video, right? We were all hoping to see Mark look goofy, out-of-step, and unintentionally funny. Instead, all we got was a few partial views of equipment and crew in the desert. Like the windmills, we are left twisting in the wind. Well, perhaps the actual video will show up in a flashback later this story. But consider: James Allen sometimes employed story arcs that suddenly disappeared and never returned (e.g. Dirty Dyer in the Caribbean).

Speaking of rivalries and regarding my passing reference to “Pearls Before Swine” cartoonist Stephen Pastis, today’s panels remind me of a video posted on YouTube several years ago of him visiting the home of “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams and challenging Adams to a drawing contest. On entering Adam’s somewhat lavish house, Pastis quips “So, ‘Dilbert’ really built all this, huh?” It’s worth watching!

Overall, I’m liking the art, not trying to make direct comparisons to the prior artistic conventions. Don’t think we have any “clip art” going on here, anyway. One minor quibble for me is the typography. Is it me, or does it seem a bit harsh or heavy? Perhaps that is meant to overcome the size reduction that takes place for newspaper printing. So, here is a section of the black & white Saturday strip, courtesy of my newspaper and my camera phone:

Apologies for the poor photography. Frankly, I think it may read easier in the actual newspaper. On the other hand, I think this example also highlights how much color does to liven up and define the artwork. Compare this to last Saturday’s post and you can see a world of difference. I would have liked to make that comparison last Saturday, but I don’t get the paper until later in the morning. But I may make a similar comparison later this week, on the same day, if I can work out the timing. I may have to post a bit later in the morning.