A Comedy of Manners?

Okay, this story sure took a hard turn to the Land of Weird. Motivations here? Is Cherry really that concerned for her business that she has to act servile? Sure, Cherry is the hired help; it’s her business. The social separation of these people is also inescapable, as seen both by the clothing and the artwork, where we see Tara—er, Caroline—and Violet from a groveling servant’s viewpoint in panel 2.

But, is Cherry patronizing Caroline and Violet by apologizing about the little toads, or is she just genuinely embarrassed by them scampering about and making her look careless? It’s not as if you never see creatures crawling, hopping, and flitting about in gardens, even for two rarified ladies such as these.  Yes, we know that Violet is really a poseur, while Caroline comes across as…charmingly passive-aggressive. She hides her put-down (“wild streak”) within an oh-so-charming sense of familiarity and manners. She also looks and dresses younger than Violet, so maybe she is Violet’s niece. Or maybe she is just naïve.

I think Cherry is also putting on an act, as we can see by the contrast with her “inner self” emoting in panel 3. What is Cherry’s aim here, then? If Jules Rivera is not pulling our leg, I’m intrigued by what’s going to happen next.  At worst, we should hope that Cherry gets all of Caroline’s home landscape business for this performance.

Just when you thought it was safe to come in out of the bees….

How the Sunny Soleil Society ever put this woman in charge of anything is a mystery. Clearly, she cannot handle stress. From her first violent reaction to Cherry’s petition about native plantings; to Violet’s melt-down at Planet Pancake after Dirk’s feral hogs destroyed the roundabout flower bed Violet installed (after first destroying Cherry’s original plants); and to her current melt-down over the bee swarm, Violet has proven to be one foundation less than a stable house. Doesn’t look like she was even stung!

And are those even killer bees? We have not heard from Cherry, and I expect she is better qualified to identify them than Miss CrankyPants. Thus, Cherry’s sensible solution of hive relocation is met with abject disapproval from the rabid Violet Cheshire. Clearly, she is not a real fan of nature, which has been somewhat obvious for some time. The textbox in panel 3 further suggests that this crisis may culminate in a parting of the ways for these two strong-willed women. After all, Cherry, you still have a business to run, correct?

But if Rivera follows her usual formula, Monday will see a return to Mark’s new assignment. We won’t be hearing from Cherry for another two weeks, at least; unless she makes a guest appearance for Mark’s departure. Might be more interesting to see Mark make his “See ya later” comments to Rusty or Doc (remember him?). That would give Rivera the chance to indulge in some more Mark Trail satire, as she can have Rusty say “Can we go fishing up the creek for bass when you get back, Dad?” And it would give Trailheads another opportunity to chuckle and snark at that old Mark Trail trope.

Of course, I’m not sure this 21st century version of Rusty has fished since he was young enough to fill in for Opie Taylor. He’d more likely call out “Hey Dad, you were supposed to get me that %@*#$? autograph of Professor Bee Sharp the last time you left, REMEMBER %@*#?$!! This time I want a picture of you and Diana Daggers. Don’t come home without it!

Can Cherry beat Violet’s time for the Beehive 100 Yard Sprint?

I suppose we had to have one comic strip day where everybody got to chuckle at Violet’s reaction, because now, Cherry decides caution is the proper road to salvation from the bee attack. I don’t think that Violet would lock the door of the Sunny Soleil Society’s building before Cherry could get in, would she? In her panic-driven state, anything is possible, especially when you think killer bees are going to destroy you. But it looks like neither of them thought to hide under the tarp they pulled off of the statue and wait for the bees to settle down. Well, panic is not a proper mental state for logical thinking. So, why did Cherry not think about it, given that she seems to have a more grounded handle on the situation?

And did we really need a day’s worth of panels just to show that Cherry decided it was also a good idea to get away from a bunch of angry bees? I spoke of story padding and did not think we had seen any. Until now.

Uh-oh, images of the old Romper Room children’s TV show just invaded my potted plant of a brain. That’s what I get for staying up late. I’m not sure why, but it must be the bees, because one segment of that show consisted of a segment called: Mr. Do Bee, a person dress up in a “giant bee costume” who instructed children on what they should and should not do. Instruction was given in pairs of simple imperative statements, such as:

Do bee a story pusher!
Don’t bee a story padder!
Do be do be do.

Okay, the third line kind of slipped out.

Killer Bees or Kill Her, Please?

Panic is an unfortunate, imprecise, and desperate reaction we humans experience in the very places and times where it is least useful. It is the “survival instinct” run amok, as it were. And it is easy to chuckle and nod our heads at Violet’s predicament, as we view this flight of panic as if it was a comic strip version of The Birds. Of course, Violet Cheshire is imperious, shallow, self-absorbed, and a poser. But she’s not above getting her hands dirty, as we saw in her first meeting with Cherry.

With all that, there are more deserving villains in the Trailverse than Violet, so I suspect that she is simply overreacting (as is her nature) and we’ll find that these are not the infamous killer bees, but simply a horde of honey bees who didn’t much care to be disturbed. And we can understand the bees’ reaction to Violet and their aim to move her as far away from their home as they can. Nevertheless, we should not pass up an opportunity to laugh at any misfortune of pretentious snobs. We can’t see Cherry in these panels (as the proper focus today is on Violet and the bees), but I’m sure she is enjoying the situation. I suspect that in tomorrow’s strip Cherry will put an end to this farce by telling Violet that they are just common honey bees.

From a visual point of view, I think Rivera has done a pretty good job drawing the bees these past two days, though I think she could have blurred the wings of the close-up bees, like the way we see hummingbirds, for example. Drawing those smidgy bees takes a lot of time, even though Rivera is working digitally and can (and did) copy some of her bee images. But there’s enough variety to make the copying less obvious.

And I dig those horizontal bands in the middle column, though I think it is more for the sense of tension the colors provide. Yet that is a weakness for the obvious reason that the comic strip is black & white in newspapers. Furthermore, if these bands (or lines) were meant to suggest a sense of urgency or panic, wouldn’t diagonal lines be a more obvious way to go about it? As far as the newspaper version goes, the lines are fairly faint, but consistently drawn, suggesting more a general swarming and flight. What do you think?

Finally, in the prior incarnation of Mark Trail, Trailheads sometimes criticized occasional padding of storylines with pointless dialog and dragging out scenes far too long. Can we make the same claim here? I think the situation is more complicated:  The bee incident ties into last Sunday’s killer bees strip and makes an obvious visual/written reference to Mark’s villains (Profess Bee Sharp and Diana Daggers) in his own storyline. Cherry’s adventure has not so much ended, as taken a different turn. In a good piece of classical music there are usually variations in tempo, intensity, and theme. So I’ll make the musical analogy that this week’s strips are like a divertimento, a lighter piece of music that could be played as an interlude between more serious works. We’ll see how that analogy plays out.

More on the beehive-headed statue

Giving credit where credit is due, commenter cellardoor on ComicsKingdom.com made a great point by referencing what is certainly the inspiration for the “accidental” statue + beehive combination Violet and Cherry uncovered.

It is a statue by the Paris-born, New York artist Pierre Huyghe, entitled Exomind (Deep Water) that was part of a recent traveling exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. As Rivera lives in San Francisco, I think the connection is a lock.

By the way, the beehive is real and is part of the statue’s assemblage—not an accident of nature. Thus, it is allowed to evolve naturally. The hive is monitored by cameras, 24×7, even when the statue is in transit between museums! For the record, these are Buckfast honeybees, not South American killer bees.

Now we know who the statue is: It’s the Mystery Singer!

Okay, I’m sure everybody is wondering:  What the #@(!? Is that thing on top of the statue? To me, it looks like a set of Samsonite luggage that somebody opened, or maybe a collection of seat cushions. Who is this person, then? It appears to be somebody dressed in typical 18th century frontier clothing, holding a telescope in his left hand and something not quite defined in his right. Perhaps a folded map or AAA TripTik? Well, it must be my imagination running away with me, because the statue in panel 3 reminds me more of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Even that unidentified object in its right hand looks more like a small ax.

I searched online for natural bee hives and found a variety of really oddly-shaped structures, in a variety of locations, some of them similar to the one on the statue. Unlike the hysterical Violet (who is, after all, following Mark’s advice about avoiding bee attacks), Cherry seems unfazed by the swarm. I’m also thinking that these must not be the dreaded killer bees of Sunday’s fame. There goes another one of my outlandish theories.

Still, Cherry is right to question the hive on top of the statue. It certainly seems like a most unlikely location. I suppose it makes for some good press, er, storytelling, though it would have been more interesting to see the bee hive growing under the frontiersman’s crotch.

Two mysteries remain: Who is the subject of the statue? Who, if anybody, affected to have a bee hive placed on top of said statue? A beekeeping web site notes that bees are partial to some kind of odd color combo of yellow and ultraviolet. And they are partial to fast-moving objects! So, looks like Cherry’s decision to hold fast while Violet runs off with her yellow hat was a good idea.

Wait a minute…Violet + yellow hat! Is this a coincidence or is Rivera a lot more subtle than people give her credit for? The BIG OBJECTION to this otherwise absurd notion on my part is that we are not sure if Rivera is responsible for the colors used in the dailies. Does anybody know for sure? I have read that KFS has staff doing the colorization of the dailies, but not necessarily under the direction of the strip artists. I am trying to find out, but it does make any kind of analysis (or goofy theory-making) based on color something of a shaky foundation. I’ve often wondered about this colorizing, since it is not normally done for daily publications, as we all know. Like Ted Turner’s colorization of old movies, it seems to be more of a marketing tactic.

“OK, LADIES, DROP THE TARP AND MOVE AWAY FROM THE STATUE!“

Well, well, well:  Bees, bees, bees! Is that the same house in panel 1 they were walking away from yesterday? Reckon so, no matter. Clearly, the Sunny Soleil Society had already been around these parts for some time before Cherry got into trouble with them over one of her landscaping projects. Wait… how long ago was that? I reckon in comic strip time, it had to have been about 2 or 3 weeks ago, right?

And here they are, the two former combatants, ready to uncover what appears to be some kind of statue of some “forest pioneer”. But what garden is she talking about? The surrounding grounds are not well seen, but what we do see appears to be pavement.

Back to the unveiling, it seems that this statue must have also been restored or replaced, if this is a proper unveiling. And where is the rest of the staff for such an important moment? The only other person belonging to this association that I recall is a middle-aged man in a kitchen that we saw in one daily strip back just after Violet tossed Cherry out on her ear. But that was about it. Who he was or what his job was is a mystery, except maybe as a springboard to help move the plot along.

Say! This must be one of those old Mark Trail traditions that Rivera snuck in on us—the temporary character, who is there to fulfill a short-term role and then disappear, kind of like the red-shirted security dudes on those “Away Teams” in the original Star Trek episodes, whose role was to die early on in the episode.

Anyway, looks like the unveiling revealed a large swarm of bees. Could they be those “killer bees” that Mark told us about a few days ago? Exactly how or why they wound up under this tarp, much less how they survived, is likely going to be a major part of this ongoing Sunny Soleil Society story, I’m afraid.

From a drawing point of view, I think the perspective view in panel 2 is dramatic and very well executed. The third panel’s “statue view” is a popular framing technique seen in movies and TV, where the drama is not so much the view but what is viewed.

It looks like Rivera has decided to continue Cherry’s adventure with Miss Cheshire, er Miss Violet, rather than ending it along with Mark’s adventure. This could be an interesting approach to have continuity on one hand, balanced against Mark starting another adventure on the other hand. But even there, Rivera has maintained continuity through the appearance of Diana Daggers. I know that Professor Bee Sharp has been brought up elsewhere as a possible additional element in Mark’s new assignment; and the appearance of killer bees (i.e. Killer Bee Sharp) here is hard to overlook. Still, Cherry had nothing to do with that particular adventure; and how or why the Professor would get involved in the Sunny Soleil Society’s work is a big stretch.

So, who is this honored forest pioneer? And what does the Society have to do with forest pioneers, anyway?

And now for something completely indifferent

Okay, fellow Trailheads. I reckon Cherry got Rusty off to his scout meeting without problems or worthwhile conversation. We are back to the Rarified World of Violet Cheshire, whom Cherry deigns to call “Miss Violet”, as if they are on some ante-bellum plantation with magnolia trees and happy slaves singing in the fields. And I’m thinking that Cherry’s response in panel 1 is a not too subtle reference that the self-absorbed, upper class Violet, with her southern belle image, misses. Or not. Perhaps she did get it, as Violet puts out her own burn against Cherry in panel 4.

I’m especially taken with how well Violet “cleans up.” Not only does she look younger than when she was originally portrayed, but her features are softened. For a gross comparison, here is how she looked at Planet Pancake, after Dirk’s hogs feasted on her butterfly plants. That could have been Violet’s mother.

The first panel could have been a source of scenic enjoyment, but that enjoyment is marred by an almost medieval lack of proper depth and proportion. For example, the dark green trees are least as tall as the house, but they look pretty close to the women and one could imagine the trees are only about 7 feet tall. Both can’t be true.

Artists traditionally divide space into background; middle ground; and foreground. Clearly the forested moutains are in the background, leaving the field and trees to mark the middle ground. That leaves us wondering if the house, road, and women are in the foreground, or if the house is part of the middle ground. But if you look at the road and track the spaces of the women and the house, it would seem either the house is too small or the women too large. In short, more ambiguity.

I think a lot of this spatial ambiguity could probably have been fixed by moving the two women to the right foreground and showing only their shoulders and heads.  They would constitute the new foreground. I hope you can visualize that. Of course, I’m getting into the weeds and making this more academic that it deserves. This is just a comic strip, something that will be published in newspapers with a general height of less than two inches. Such subtle refinements that I’m referring to probably will not even be noticed.

Otherwise, I’m hoping today’s strip closes out Cherry’s involvement with the Sunny Soleil Society, as I don’t see where there is anything more to develop in the story, unless Rivera just wants to explore two people getting on each other’s nerves. Your thoughts on this?

Return of the Butterfly…

I swear, Mark would be lost without Rusty! And of course there’s an App for that…

Monarch v. Viceroy… hmmmm. Didn’t know about that one. Note the cross-hatch in the veins on the Viceroy!

Last year I planted some Milkweed (at least that’s what my neighbor is telling me, since I didn’t save the tag…) It didn’t do much last year, but this year grew tall and flowered profusely, much to the delight of Monarchs and other pollinators. It’s amazing how they find their favorite plants, despite being located so randomly…

With all the drought and fires this summer, I am sure that insects will enjoy any port in this “storm.”

No fair! I get to swoop in and wrap up the story line!!

Faithful (and I mean Über-faithful) contributor George has been following this story for weeks… and well, it looks like I arrive as it’s wrapping up before our very eyes… Violet is on a flapjack bender, soaking her sorrows and troubles in griddle-cakes and highly caffeinated beverages, while Cherry is about to come clean…

Nothing like a dose of conscience to ruin a take-down! And it’s super funny how quickly Cherry is associated, without even a moment’s thought or question, with feral hogs…

Can you just here the “ding” that goes along with Jeanette the waitress/proprietor’s wink? I love the reference to flapjacks and coffee, even as Violet, with her chapeau back on, is going to have the worst gluten hangover of her life!! And where are the rest of the customers? Does ‘Planet Pancake’ survive on only the drive-by patronage of the Trails and (with) whomever they happen to be quarreling (with)? Along with offering to help put the round-about back in order, is Cherry going to pick up the tab?