“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Mischief, indeed. The “Underground Black Rose Garden Club”, is it? What makes it underground, one wonders. Do they invade other people’s gardens by night and fix them? Do they deal in the illicit trade of undocumented roses? Whatever their function, Cherry has vengeance on her mind. So this could explain the clandestine meeting along the trail.

But who wants a box of just plain, cold pancakes, regardless of intentions? Doesn’t even look like the box is insulated to keep the stack warm, either. Georgia strikes me as somebody with the wherewithal to make her own stack, anyway. And it’s not much of a bribe to begin with. Now, wasn’t Georgia walking towards Planet Pancake, anyway? She could just walk on and into the restaurant and get her own stack of hot pancakes with all the butter, honey, and syrup she wanted.

What could make sense of this, coming from the Home Office of Silly Plots, is that the pancakes are a diversion for the the secret mission papers under the stack, as in the old Mission Impossible tv show. Then the pancakes and documents self-destruct after Georgia reads the information. This could provide a better rationale than the idea that Georgia and her group can be had for a simple box of cold flapjacks.

So, is this as far as we go with Cherry’s story for now? Typically, she gets one week to Mark’s two weeks. I’d have liked to see a bit more story development before jumping off. Yet, we can’t expect Diana Daggers to remain in Planet Pancake forever. She’s still an important character in Mark’s storyline. So, we’ll see how things shape up, come Monday. I expect, unlike Dirty Dyer, we’ll be seeing the return of Professor Bee Sharp at some point.

Who! Who! Who is that?

Evening in the neighborhood of Lost Forest as Cherry carefully walks down a path, moving past a tree trunk carved into the shape of a barn owl. Okay, maybe that is the real thing. It is the evening, so it’s a proper time for owls to be out and about, looking for fast food.

The real question here is “What the Hey is going on?” Cherry delivers a stack of flapjacks to a woman walking towards her. Sensitive readers might start asking questions at this point, pointing to the woman’s color (which may not be so apparent in the black & white version of the strip). Those are the wrong questions, I believe. Still, why must they meet outside? Is this woman contagious? Is she extremely claustrophobic? Was she thrown out of Planet Pancake in the past for a major indiscretion, such as asking for pancakes with a topping of popcorn? Presumably, this box of hotcakes (which are not likely very hot by now) also contains necessary cutlery and little plastic tubs of butter and syrup. Let’s hope the butter is real, at least. Bon appetite, mademoiselle!

As for who this woman is, I have no idea. A Pokémon cosplay friend, perhaps? Maybe it is Cherry’s beekeeper friend, mentioned a few weeks ago. Well, one thing we can say about the crazy world of Lost Forest Nuovo is that it has its quotient of eccentric characters. You’d almost think we were back in California at the Herp Hacienda. But that’s okay; although sometimes annoying, they are more interesting than the usual stock extras that filled the secondary roles before Rivera came on board.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and we wrap up this exciting week with Cherry’s World and how her storyline has intermingled with Mark’s. Once again, I’m going out on a limb to predict that this comingling will become even more deliberate and fundamental over time. The signs are all there for us to see. See?

I was just leaving, anyway

Cakes to go?! Do people really order hotcakes to go? Just doesn’t sound like the kind of food I want to have sitting in a bag on the drive home. But what’s this…Diana mooning (or pining for) that narcissist Professor Bee Sharp? If that’ so, why isn’t she back in California? Did they have a disagreement? A lovers’ spat?

I know what you’re thinking: Who is Cherry’s friend? It certainly can’t be the two gals from the SSS, so it must be another new character we’re going to meet. Maybe it isn’t somebody Cherry is too familiar with, since she refers to the person merely as “my friend”, rather than “Charlotte”, “Bill”, “George”, or “Sue.”

Well, it does look like “Pancake Lady” at least wears sensible shoes for her job. They look like trainers or walking shoes. No drama today, but not jokes, either. Just a normal day of commiseration here at good ol’ Planet Pancake.

Wait? Wait? Don’t tell me!

Yeah, we get it. Diana Daggers is not friendly; not one of the gals, after all. And Cherry is once again rebuffed as she tries to put on a happy face when dealing with potential opposition. I reckon that’s at least a desirable strategy to employ, even if it doesn’t work most of the time. After all, Daggers cannot complain that it was Cherry’s poor attitude that pissed her off. Clearly, though, Diana just downgraded Cherry to Chump of the Year. And Cherry is nonplussed by her remark.

What did Cherry expect? She couldn’t have forgotten Mark’s remarks about Diana Daggers, unless Cherry was automatically discounting his anxiety because of some gender-based undercurrents. Yet, that never came out in the strip, so let’s just forget it and move on, because this looks like another relationship going nowhere.

Rivera likes to employ normal words as sound effects, rather than the usual onomatopoeic expressions we usually see in comics. I think most of remember those archetypal sound effects seen on the TV version of Batman: “WHAM!”, “BAM!”, and “POW!”  However, today we see Diana engaged in an aggressive “Slice, Slice, Slice” pancake action. This type of sound effect is popular with Rivera, who has previously described actions using common verbs and nouns, such as “Stop”, “Skiid!”, “Grip!”, “Sock!”, and “Reverse”. It is kind of cute, in a way, and blatant parody. And it’s something that underscores Rivera’s aim (I believe) to not let the strip take itself too seriously; something the former version of the strip usually did. “Sense of humor” would not be something we would normally use to describe Mark or the strip of old. But I’ll give Allen props for adding some humor here and there and lightening up the mood (e.g. destroying boats), even if it didn’t always make sense. And wasn’t Mark’s “bat cave adventure” little more than a parody of Indiana Jones movies?

“You wanna be where everybody knows your name…”

Reckon I was right; this is the place to come and commiserate. Just how did Diana find it, though? Perhaps the eatery has a reputation bigger than we think. In any event, I reckon this is the watering hole (so to speak) for the Lost Forest At Large community. So how come there is rarely anybody in here?

And what’s this action: Everybody Dump on Mark Week!? Can that poor slob get any respect from anybody? Rodney Dangerfield has nothing on ol’ Markey Boy. But give Cherry some credit. In spite of what Mark must have told her about his California experiences, Cherry retained her optimistic nature and tried to extend a welcome handshake to Diana. But, sisterhood über alles! Cherry still managed to identify with Diana’s frustration over Mark. It remains for Cherry to go over and have a nice chat about Mark, bees, and the value of good hotcakes.  Maybe Cherry will convince Diana to go over to the Sunny Soleil Society with her and scare the bees wax out of those other women.

I like how Rivera uses the diagonal lines and central axis in panel 1 to reinforce Diana’s dramatic entrance, drawing the attention of Cherry and Jeanette who flank either side of the central axis. They’re like two wings of a medieval triptych. If it was good enough for Van Eyck and Van der Weyden, it should be good enough for Rivera. Okay, I’m showing off again.

But all in all, the artwork is good and effective in supporting the energetic (and sometimes frenetic) nature of the strip, once you get used to Rivera’s style and stop comparing it to Elrod or Allen. That sense of frenzy and energy is not a feeling one gets from the older version of Mark Trail that we all know and still appreciate, which was more akin to a comfy recliner that you had to get out of once in a while to hit somebody that bothered you too much.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…!

Jeanette asks Cherry why she showed up at this “odd” hour. I want to know why a pancake house—normally open for breakfast—is still open during dinner hours. Of course, many people just gotta have their dinner flapjacks, as Cherry apparently does. And to be serious for a moment, Jeannette is only concerned about the late hour of Cherry’s appearance; not her appetite. Pancake restaurants are certainly open as long as any restaurant. I’ve made my share of night appearances at IHop and the Waffle House in my day. But what about poor Rusty? Is he to fend for himself? Must he depend on the skills and attentions of a mostly unseen Doc Davis? Or maybe Rusty’s just hanging out at the corner wood pile with his friends, happy to munch down a Slim Jim.

Unfortunately, as we return to Cherry’s week, instead of story development, we got a filler strip filled with classic misunderstandings and sitcom jokes. Cherry has clearly left the field of combat with the Sunny Soleil Society over the fate of the bees. I reckon we’ll learn more about that this week. This eatery must be the place to go if you need to commiserate. It was good enough for Violet, so it’s good enough for Cherry.

My remaining question is whether we will get to see Dale, since Jules Rivera has seen fit to show Chip in panel 1. I realize this might be an arcane cartoon reference for several of you who did not grow up watching the occasional Disney cartoon on a Sunday night.  If you are in that category, a quick Wikipedia (or YouTube) search for Chip ‘n’ Dale should be illuminating. YouTube Tip: Avoid watching modern and computerized versions and go for the old-school Disney animations (when they were still drawn by hand). They are usually directed by Jack Hannah.

Who rewrapped the statue?

As I look at today’s strip, I believe that Rivera’s wretched depiction of Caroline and Violet today (compared with yesterday’s more flattering view) is meant to reinforce the inner ugliness and selfish ignorance of the women and the Association they represent. Rude caricatures have a long well-known history though we don’t need to go a-wandering down that path to find justification. It is common practice, especially in comics, to exaggerate for emotional or physical purpose. This is in contrast to the former version of Mark Trail, where the most extreme distortions were usually just images of Mark showing surprise or were incidents when the art was just badly drawn (as back in the Elrod days of 2006).

At the same time, Violet’s face in panel 3 looks bigger than the head it inhabits, which makes me think Rivera may have liked an earlier version of the face she drew and pasted that version over this figure. This is not an unheard of practice, even in comics. Maybe Rivera did this deliberately, for its jarring effect.

Yet, I cannot account for the weird position of Cherry’s head in panel 4 with regard to her neck. It looks really off-kilter. I cannot account for it in any kind of metaphorical way. That is, if it is symbolic of something, I am lost. It’s as if the back of her head is missing.
It’s a weird head-neck arrangement that I recall seeing in some of James Allen’s work, such as the head of Rusty’s futile feminine interest and crime-solving partner, Mara, during their Yucatan adventure. “Creepy” is right, Mara! Cherry’s head reminds me of a marionette for some reason, the one with the separated head so it can be independently moved.

But back to the story, we finish the week with a major setback for Cherry, as Violet stands by her Association’s nepotistic corruption and disregard for nature. Thus, we’ll likely have to wait two weeks to discover the outcome: Will Cherry go on to convince the Association of its erroneous position or will Violet (one letter short of “violent”) once again physically throw Cherry off the property and fire her?

Final note: Anybody who has scanned today’s post more than once might notice some changes over time, as I made some revisions to grammar and content during the day. Sometimes it is hard to resist, especially as I have a big Italian quiz coming up on Tuesday. Not sure why I should be concerned, as I’m just auditing the class; however, I am taking the class to learn Italian, so I take all of the quizzes and tests to see if I’m making progress.

Cherry works her defense, but faces a tricky objection from the Other Side

The story moves on. Cherry abandons her original suggestion to move the bees and finally starts making the proper case for their continued existence here. But the two Association honeys have made the a priori decision for extermination. Can Cherry overcome their wall of social privilege? Caroline attempts to put Cherry in an ethical dilemma by comparing Cherry’s struggling landscape business with her husband’s alleged new business struggles. Of course, Caroline sidesteps the corrupt transaction, itself. For all we know, Caroline and her husband are already part of the economic upper crust, and this business is just a side concern. But we don’t know that, so judgment reserved. Still, as a pest controller, he should know that honey bees are not proper subjects for extermination. So, we might assume that Violet reported these are destructive killer bees, instead. We’ll have to wait to learn more, but it doesn’t put Caroline’s husband in a good light. The more we learn about Caroline, the more it is clear she is cut from the same cloth as Violet. With one day to go (I presume), will Cherry be able to make her case?

Visually, today’s strip is well-designed and nicely illustrated, showing little of the “I-have-a-deadline!” sketchiness we have seen other times. By well-designed, I mean that the composition in each panel nicely highlights and supports each panel’s dialog: Panel 1 focuses on Cherry as she states her position, with nothing extraneous to distract us. Panel 2 brings in the statue and bees, along with the three women, as Cherry’s argument moves from a global view of bees to their importance to their local garden. And panel 3 provides a dramatic “oh, by the way” objection by the Sunny Soleil Society to Cherry’s argument. Thus, the two Association women take prominence, as Cherry (and her position) is “pushed” towards the background. I like panel 3, as Rivera’s drawing of the Sunny So-Ladies, as they give us a visual window into their souls (or attitudes). 

Another Forlorn Hope?

“…until she heard of the bee statue.” I thought Cherry was the co-discoverer of the bee statue! Well, it’s clear my powers of prediction leave much to be desired, because the story has a new wrinkle. And sure looks like Caroline is not going to be Cherry’s BFF. She also turns out to be married to an exterminator, which explains her appearance in the strip. We see more reinforcement that it helps to be connected when trying to land jobs. I’m sure that the SSS did not bother to follow standard practices by putting out the job for bids, and doing a blind analysis of the bids before they just happened to pick the firm that was run by the husband of a board member. “Nothing dramatic to see here, folks. Just normal, everyday corruption. Move along, move along.And close your mouth before flies (or bees) get in your mouth, Cherry!

I can’t be too tough on those two purile paragons of privilege (Hey! How is that for a Spiro Agnew-style insult?!). For one thing, it is clear that Rivera means to mock their status. Furthermore, they may want to destroy the bees, but Cherry’s first reaction was to move them some place else, rather than integrate them into the garden. I mean, I can’t believe that was really a hive of so-called killer bees. Not even Cherry confirmed Violet’s rush to judgment. Now, is Cherry going to hurry up and make the pollinator case for the bees? She has two days left to do it before Sunday and then the return of two weeks of Mark and Diana.

Well, I appreciate the fact that Jules is juggling two concurrent story lines in the strip, something we did not see in the former Mark Trail (as I recall).  We might quibble with specifics (as we like to do), but Rivera is still in her first year of the strip. Unlike when Allen took over, Rivera’s job is not to simply keep driving the same car down the same country road, stopping at the same diners for the same meals. There’s a lot of things to work out in any reboot. I think (or hope) several of the clichés Rivera relies upon, such as the ongoing jabs at the former version of the strip (especially to Mark’s earlier role as the Idealized Man of Action and Nobility) will eventually disappear.

It’s just good bees-ness!

I was just having a chat with my wife about my bad habit of second-guessing myself. Never mind what the specific incident was; but this is another example. I took yesterday’s drawings too literally and discounted the idea that Caroline was another SSS member. She seemed from her pose and expression that she was much younger. Well, with the closer images today, that would have been more obvious. She’s just childlike, I reckon. Boy, that Sunny Soleil Society must be one big collection of self-indulgent pretenders.

Anyway, Violet’s no-nonsense pose in panel 1 suggests to me that she knows how Cherry’s conversation with Caroline is already going to go, and that Cherry will not find an ally. Perhaps Cherry, in her desire to be open and friendly towards Caroline, missed Violet’s body language. Cherry is an optimist, however; maybe she read the signals fine, but still thinks she can bring Caroline over to her side. Based on Caroline’s reaction and expression, Cherry may have do an end-run around Violet’s influence and appeal to Caroline’s better instincts. If they exist.

Of course, Cherry is just the hired help; she can suggest, but she cannot insist, unless she wants to return to unemployed status and lose out on the business. But Cherry has principles, too. If she walks away, the bees still get terminated. Is feeling righteous about your high moral standards an acceptable substitute for saving the bees? Okay, Cherry. The pressure is on you to convince these precious debutantes that bees actually help gardens thrive and should not be killed. Cherry could suggest the SSS hire a beekeeper to maintain the bees and help the garden thrive. The beehives could even become an educational attraction for the garden and the Sunny Soleil Society. A good PR Coup for the SSS and Cherry becomes a hero and respected hired hand.

But let’s see how things really pan out this week.