For those tuning in late…

Okay, it’s been a week, so I reckon it’s okay to shove in a quick “recap” of the preceding events. But the fact Rivera changed the topography in panel 1 from the prior layout is not mere carelessness, but it was clearly done for the sake of design:  a classic diagonal sweep that provides a more pleasing sense of compositional movement than a dead-on, orthogonal left-to-right layout would do. Is the care creeping along or is Mark just sitting in it while he rhapsodizes over his fortunes? It’s virtually impossible to illustrate a car creeping along, as opposed to moving at highway speed.


The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

We turned our attention to Cherry this past week, where we found her once again working in the gardens of the Sunny Soleil Society, as if nothing bad has happened! I would have expected to see her fired by Violet Cheshire after that dustup with Honest Ernest’s lawn treatment gig and the revelation of their secret tryst.

Instead, Honest Ernest showed up to gloat over Cherry’s growing dismay at his newest business of laying concrete over some (or all) of the surrounding grounds and gardens. He boasted that this job will also help him get even with Cherry for her role in ruining his marriage and lawn care business. Cherry responded in her usual dramatic and hyperbolic manner, hoping to convince Ernest of a likely environmental catastrophe. Of course, he laughed in Cherry’s face, leaving her unsure how to proceed.

My criticism here is similar to what I leveled at Mark:  the constant recycling of the same opponents in almost every story; in this case, in virtually every one of Cherry’s stories! Can’t Rivera put Cherry in a new situation once in a while, with different problems and different adversaries? This is kind of like watching somebody continually return to the same abusive relationship. Phew! Time to move on to the Sunday sermon.

Have to admit that, once again, I like her Sunday title panels. Unlike most strips that use a standard logo-style panel or none at all, Rivera always creates a customized panel that tries to fit the strip’s theme. Having said that, I’ll also award some points for a topic I doubt was covered by prior Trail artists. But I would have thought she would focus on forest fires, for example. Anyway, I think today’s strip looks hurriedly designed. And it is probably a bit too wordy for a strip issuing cautionary advice.

Cherry considers some options.

What to do, what to do!? Heck if I know! This isn’t even her property! Does Honest Ernest plan to cover the entire grounds in concrete or just a small area? Cherry fears the worst. But will it be as bad as she thinks? Certainly, the surface temperature and immediate area above the slab would feel warmer in the summer. But I don’t think there would be enough concrete to create what experts call an urban heat island. Anybody know otherwise? But heat isn’t the only concern: Storm water surface runoff affecting soil and water resources is another concern.

There are some possible mitigations, so I’ve read. For example, proper drainage and collection points can be created, something like gutters around a roof, to direct runoff into safe areas or containers for proper disposal. Most popular is pervious concrete that allows water to pass through it directly into the ground. Another possibility is to ensure plenty of shrubs and trees immediately around the concrete area to help absorb any runoff. Thus, Cherry could work directly with Honest Ernest and Violet to take some safety measures.

Or Cherry could go to a federal court and try to get an order forcing the Sunny Soleil Society to go through an EPA assessment and approval process. That should only take about 10 years or so.

A rose is a rose is a concrete driveway

Well, on one hand, Cherry-the-optimist is keeping her cool; but on the other hand, she’s leaning far into environmental hyperbole (panel 2). At least we learn a bit more about the aftermath of Ernest’s liaison with Violet, such as Caroline leaving her not-so-Honest Ernest. Still, this soap opera reality show will likely have used its entire first week of the story to establish a few simple facts: 1) Ernest wants revenge on Cherry and places financial stability over environmental safety. 2) Cherry sees his intentions more as a threat against Nature than her. 3) Violet appears to be siding with Ernest. No surprise, there.

On a technical note, there are some curious out-of-place outlines today. In panel 1, a white highlight of sorts separates Ernest’s head from the rose bushes. I see no reason for this, since Cherry’s image has no such corresponding whitespace. It could be a printing error, as it looks sloppy. However, the owl in panel 2 is odd for a few reasons, one being the unnecessary green highlight on the right side and head of the owl. Second, is the style of the drawing, appearing in a style different from the rest of the strip. Well, I could also be influenced by the oddly-shaped and colored bush behind the owl.

Cherry and Ernest square off.

Frankly, this is hard to follow. There is supposed to be a dirt driveway here, along with the garden. Where? The earlier scene showed a regular lawn with a flagstone walkway. No cars or patch of dirt in sight!

So I don’t understand the logistics here. Certainly, the SSS staff drive to work on a normal road and probably have a parking lot of some kind, dirt or whatever. Or do they drive to work on ATVs?

Well, perhaps this conundrum isn’t really the point, after all. The point is a potential case of environmental damage versus a concrete driveway. Well, Ernest does support a certain kind of logic: The logic of an eye for an eye.

Misery repeats itself

See, Cherry!? I told you that your best course of action was to find another client. Instead, you once again get embroiled in this tawdry affair of petty power politics and corruption. You waste time with unhelpful sarcasm. Do you think Violet is going to come out and take your side? When has she ever done that!? Cut these losers loose while you have the edge, before you lose your job and self-respect. Don’t waste any more time!

Loose Ends

Still married, is he? Well, I didn’t think Cherry had anything to apologize for, in spite of her insincere response in panel 2. But where is this situation heading? Is it just some kind of slice-of-life vignette thrown in before the real plot begins? Or will Violet Cheshire show up tomorrow and join in this verbal abuse party?

By the way, it always seems to be summer in Lost Forest, or at least, good weather. That’s not uncommon for comic strips, of course. But over the past two years, has there even been any Winter? One might think Lost Forest is in southern California. And maybe that would be a valid thought, though right now, southern California makes Minnesota look downright balmy.

Okay, we’re back on the regular story rotation!

Wait, did the comics syndicate put this strip on “repeat” mode? Cherry is once again working at Sunny Soleil Society and once again running into Honest Ernest, who—like Mark—has never changed his clothes. Wouldn’t Violet Cheshire have physically kicked Cherry out (again) this time for revealing her affair with Ernie to Ernest’s wife, much less for Cherry’s interference in Ernest’s lawn treatment? And how is it Ernie is still walking around, apparently injury-free? Furthermore, why doesn’t Cherry have the cajones to quit and find another, more amenable client? Must be good money.

On the other hand, the expanded panel 1 is a well-composed and well-drawn scene, thanks to using a 3-panel layout. Even the depiction of Cherry in panel 2 gets high marks for the strength of its drawing and the communication emanating from Cherry’s expression. The textbox makes the obvious pun but could have been left out. In fact, I think Rivera could have left Ernest out of panel 2 completely, leaving only his greeting balloon to ensure his appearance in panel 3 is the surprise it was meant to be.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

Mark is on the job! Driving across hill-and-dale to reach the nature retreat, Mark met tech impresario and Retreat founder, Simon Stump, sporting a Tintin haircut. I wonder if Simon’s name is supposed to be a pun of some sort? Frankly, I’m stumped.

Not only is Simon worried about bears, he worries that bears might have kidnapped (his word) the other journalist (paraphrasing reader Downpuppy, “where is the ransom note?”). If that isn’t enough, Jules Rivera included almost all of Mark Trail’s prior opponents for the past two years as current guests at the Retreat! Isn’t hunting down bears and a missing journalist enough of an adventure (as it would have been in the old days)? Rivera seems to think that continuing to recycle these same sociopaths and con artists provides some kind of secret sauce to her plot recipes.

Yet, they are not even proper bad guys or villains; just twisted jerks.  Sure, Mark does not need to face down super-villains like “Dr. Doom”, “Professor Moriarty”, or “Darth Vader.” But he could face a few actual bad guys willing to hurt, frame, or dispose of Mark for getting in the way of their plans. In most stories by Rivera, Mark’s life or reputation have never been under serious threat. Well, there was one, minor incident.

You might recall the recent zebra mussels adventure, where a shipping tycoon (also now at the Retreat) sent some knee-breakers to scare Mark off his assignment. However, the two goons quickly went down like sacks of rocks off a cliff. And that was that. A ripping good adventure could have taken place where the two pursued a fleeing Mark Trail down the river and through the woods in a serious life-or-death struggle. Whacky has its place, but I’d like to see Rivera integrate more actual suspense and danger into some of Mark’s stories. He needs to exercise his survival skills from time to time. Aside from aping Tintin’s haircut, Rivera could learn a thing or two from studying that Belgian teen’s adventures.

For those who think Rivera spends too much time on climate change, she frequently spotlights traditional Sunday topics, such as this one. I’m never quite sure if Rivera deliberately exaggerates Mark’s pointer finger (panel 5). It frequently looks like he’s holding another object in his hand. Hands and feet can be notoriously difficult to draw well. Go ahead, try it!

Where to begin?

Taming wild bears, is it?  Poor Mark, surrounded by posers and grifters. So why do Mark’s “enemies” just stand around in a straight line, as if they’re posing for a group photo? Maybe to maximize the effect of their being there. Now, what’s Mark’s next move? Maybe he’ll questions these guests to learn whether they have anything to do with the ursine incursions.

Moving on, now that we’ve spent the past few weeks getting Mark’s adventure off and running, it should be time to spend a week with Cherry. No, not like that! Will it be make-up time with Violet Cheshire, pancakes with Jeanine, or maybe another secret mission with the underground garden club?