We’re finally getting to the point

Well, part of my wish comes true:  Mark gets to work for another editor of another magazine. Glad to see Rivera taking advantage of the publishing empire she has envisioned. So, Rafael Suave? Clearly, a poser, but the jury is out on his other bona fides. I’m not sure if the magazine is called “Fish Magazine” or “Fish Magazine Hot Catch”; otherwise, what the hell does “Hot Catch” mean? Shouldn’t it be more like Catch Hot Fish Magazine? I don’t get it. Anybody? Anybody?

Well, I don’t think I need to go too far out on a limb and suggest that, based on Mark’s over-reactive response in panel 4, Mark might be getting set up once again for some oddball assignment. But, hey…this time it is a fishing magazine…I think. And maybe Rafael is an actual angler. No reason to presume not, even if he’s not wearing a hat covered in trout lures and sitting in a boat.  As with Amy Lee, I’m thinking “editor” means “Editor in Chief”, so Mark is getting his assignment straight from the top, not some feature editor.

Back in October 2021, Mark’s appearance when he got his first assignment from Amy Lee of Teen Girl Sparkle was fresh and positive. The drawing was more refined in its treatment of line, contours and color. Compare it with panel 4 today, and Mark looks like he is forcing himself to be positive. The face looks frazzled; the expression looks happy and positive, but the eyes appear worn out, as if he’s just rolling with the conversation. Okay, maybe I’m reading too much into a single panel here. And maybe it’s just because the more refined drawing of Mark from last year makes the current version of Mark look sketchier and flatter.

And check out the image of Mark in panel 1. It has that simplistic, heavy black line and shape that reminds me of discount animated cartoons; maybe even something like Clutch Cargo, minus the super-imposed human lips. Ah, it would be great to see Rivera return to the earlier version of drawing Mark we see here.

In any event, looks like we’re heading into story number three. I’m hoping this will be an assignment truly in Mark’s wheelhouse, where he can make use of his well-honed skills. Mark deserves a break, don’t you think? And yeah, maybe Mark will get some time to actually use his two fists of justice, in addition to whatever other skills he needs to employ. Maybe even take some pictures, once in awhile?

A Mark Trail Teaching Moment: How to handle an important phone call.

If Mark was so damned eager to take that phone call, why is he wasting time with this nonsense?

As I wrote before (or should have), a little irreverence, humor, and satire go a long way. I don’t think we need to return to the “always business formality” of the old Mark Trail. So, Ms Rivera, do inject humor and satirical insights when they make sense in the story line. But the last thing I want to see here is Mark Trail turned into a silly or gag-a-day comic strip. It has been—and should remain—an adventure strip focused on nature and conservation issues. That is what makes it unique and enjoyable to many people. Nothing against gag strips, but they already make up the majority of the comics pages.

Unfortunately, in response to Bill Ellis’s trying to get down to business, Mark takes a non-sequitur approach and starts riffing on his “replacement” conservation award. HahHahHah. Guess Mark thinks he’s ready for standup. Is this how Rivera is going to pad out these times in between adventures? I hoped we’d have more family situations, working out the trivial events of daily life, rather than the “contrived” setups of today and yesterday. I’d much prefer to see a real conversation between Rusty and Cherry on the way to the scout meeting. Or maybe seeing Doc’s reaction to Mark waving off his breakfast invitation so he can get back to Bill. For example, Doc could have coughed out a haughty “Harumph!“, pretending to be offended as he scrambled eggs. The humor in that scenario is low key, but natural and believable, because it fits into a believable situation.

As for the art today…well, Bill’s image in panel 3 is markedly jagged and unevenly constructed, as if the head was glued down in the wrong position. Frankly, he reminds me of old-fashioned wooden marionettes, like you can see on the English “Thunderbirds” TV series. As for Mark, I think we have to accept the fact that Mark’s unkempt hair is always going to be that way; a thumb in the eye to the prior Mark and what I describe as a pomaded side-slicked haircut and spit curl.  And I’m okay with that! As for the drawing of the award, it looks like it was designed to be in Pearls Before Swine. I reckon that it is supposed to be some kind of glass ball on a brass stand, but looks more like a balloon glued to the top of an old-fashioned inkwell.

Do as I say, not as I don’t do!

Could Cherry really forget something she has been reminding Rusty of all week? Are Mark’s tough-guy charms really that disarming? Well, if there is a Scout meeting to go to this early, why isn’t Rusty suited up in his Scout uniform? Oh, I see…the days of formal Scout uniforms are long gone. No more official matching shirt and pants; no more military-style cap; no more kerchief; no more unit patches and sash. Instead, we see a non-identifiable green shirt, jeans, and a…rucksack? I don’t recall bringing packs to my scout meetings.  In any event, Rusty now has the parent-child advantage and it remains to see how this steely-eyed kid is going to exact his pound of flesh. Clearly, Rusty is definitely a child of the current age, not like his namesake in the former version of Mark Trail, where it was always 1958 for him.

Unfortunately, some lame sitcom humor unfolds in the punch-line panel. I was okay with how today’s strip was unfolding until that point. Puns can be fine if they are based on an actual situation or remark just made; but not based on a contrived dux ex machina frog stuck in the middle of the last panel, however well it is drawn. “Jules, it ain’t as if I hadn’t toad you before…!

Nevertheless, there is positivity here. In a way, we are getting something fresh and interesting that was rarely seen before:  That Mark and Cherry have an actual home life together and have to deal with regular family issues, though forgetting your son’s scout meeting is not exactly cutting-edge drama. It’s just normal life, and that’s the point. Sure, in the old days we used to see the Trails around the dinner table between adventures, eating pancakes and talking about fishing trips or more recently, social media.  But we’ve gotten more insight into family affairs over these past eight months or so. I know this is supposed to be a nature/adventure comic strip, but it’s nice to round off the edges a bit and add some depth to the characters. As many have noted, the danger lies in going too far with this rounding.

Finally, I think the artwork today is pretty good, overall; especially Rusty in the second panel. His image is nice and sharp, focused, and effectively highlights his mood by his expression and the isolated figure. The foreshortened view of Cherry seen from below in panel 3 is also drawn quite well. However, Rusty’s flat profile clashes with Cherry’s image and nearly ruinsthe panel. Wonder where Rusty’s big chin suddenly came from? I’m also not going to go into detail about Mark’s absurd face in panel 4, except to say that a person trying to crack wise should not be laughing outrageously. It’s unbecoming.

Let’s hope they have a lock on their bedroom door. And a loud radio!

I think Rusty must already has an idea in his head what “nature walk” means. But that’s fine. He seems more clued in than his earlier incarnation, at least.

Still, the opening panel looks more like a satire on love, with its over-done expressions. Still, every statement here can’t be some sexual innuendo, can it? On the other hand, what about “…plans for breakfast”? Well, that seems, uh, a bit ambiguous, but innocuous enough for a family comic strip and Steven Pastis’s comic strip censor.

Otherwise, what’s Rusty’s beef? He should know by now that Mark and Cherry spend a lot of time away from him and the cabin. Of course, they probably tell him in advance when they are going to be gone, most of the time. Apparently, unlike other teenagers, Rusty must have gotten up way before 9:00 AM. Anyway, what’s with that background in panel 4? Looks like somebody started to paint and stopped mid-way through. I bet it’s not even visible in the black & white printing, but I’ll have to wait until the morning to find out.

I was going to write something about the seemingly ever-changing cabin they live in. Each time it is shown, it looks different to me. This might be a deliberate decision on Rivera’s part; an additional bit of absurdity in a strip that does not shy away from spectacle and craziness. But I need to think more on the subject.

Now, I wonder what the next assignment will be?  We’ve only had two stories so far, since Rivera has taken control of the strip. Neither one falls under the mantle of a standard Mark Trail adventure. So, will this new assignment send him on a trip to locate poachers? Forest arsonists? Litterbugs? Or will he go to work undercover in a petrochemical plant to get the goods on the evil factory manager who is dumping some God-awful mess in a river?

Hello? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

You know, I was trying to not skim ahead (as I am wont to do) and take each panel in turn, so I thought for a moment that when Mark’s phone connection broke in panel 3, Mark did that on purpose to keep The Big Clinch Moment alive. Then again, Mark already broke the BCM in yesterday’s strip by answering the phone. I should have known better. Mark always answers The Call of Nature.

So then, why this pointless talk about getting back to the cabin, which seems to have mysteriously appeared just around a tree and down the hill? But is that their cabin? It does look different than it normally appears. Anyway, is Cherry being sarcastic or pragmatic in her response in panel 4 (i.e. “Go back early? Of course! It’s a paying gig, you idiot!”)? This situation reminds me of the old “Sorry, Rusty! We’ll get to that fishing trip when I get back.” kind of thing.

Well, I could see the old Mark Trail being not too concerned with hitting the road shortly after coming back from the last job: There was clueless Rusty, dottering Doc, and Clingy Cherry. And that blasted dog was always getting into trouble! But in this new life, Rusty seems fine on his own, Doc is mostly MIA, but Cherry is a firecracker looking for a match. Mark already has a “red hot” opportunity right here! If I was Mark, I might be inclined to get back to Bill tomorrow and close my cover before striking today. But it seems that Pragmatic Cherry has already put the BCM behind her. Good ol’ role reversal!

Meanwhile, Rivera (or more likely some syndicate hack) continues the lazy technique of applying a simple green wash across all of the trees and calling it good. Now, ending on a technical note, if Mark lost a phone connection standing on top of a hill, how does he expect service to return after moving to the bottom of the hill? Or am I misreading things here? Well, maybe he has a signal booster in the cabin.

Cuteous Interruptus!

Looks like good ol’ Bill Ellis is still getting some comic strip time, after all. And he talks with the exclamatory tones favored in the original Mark Trail strips! Some traditions just don’t fade easily!

Not surprisingly, the romantic Big Clinch Moment (BCM) comes for Mark and Cherry while out on their nature walk, while standing behind a wooden statue of a squirrel. According to the rules laid down in Chapter 3 of the Standards and Practices for Comic Strips(23rd edition), the BCM must be interrupted just before the moment of physical excitation. In a family comic strip, that means just before they share a kiss.

The BCM Interruption is a commonly-accepted cliché in the entertainment industry, though not always appreciated. One of the great scandals of comic strip history was when The Phantom and his fiancé Diana Palmer were found to have progressed past the traditional BCM while in the Skull Cave, without so much as a loud chimpanzee yell to interrupt them. The International Committee of Comic Strip Ethics (supposedly founded by Johnny Hart), was prepared to excommunicate artist Lee Falk and demote The Phantom to a servant in the Mandrake the Magician comic strip.  At the last moment, Falk agreed to have The Phantom and Diana marry, saving his career and providing his strip with more story options.

The only prior scandal of this magnitude was caused by a misplaced grammatical period in Elsie Segar’s Thimble Theater comic strip, soon after Popeye made his initial appearance in 1929. Olive Oyl was talking with Popeye when he apparently said “Well blow me. Down!” Fortunately, investigators discovered that the period between “me” and “Down” was actually just a dead gnat that Segar swatted off his forehead while inking the strip, and he never noticed that it had fallen into the text balloon. The potential Problem Period was caught in time by the comic strip syndicate, just before the strip was shipped out to the newspapers. However, Segar had his salary docked to pay for preparing the corrected strip for publication.

Not much else to note here, except to wonder:  Which magazine will it be this time? I truly hope we meet a new editor and magazine. There are supposedly at least 17 magazines that make up the “F.E. and Cook” publishing empire (see the 10/19/20 strip), so I hope it will be something closer to Mark’s world, such as “Flyfisher King” or “Trapped in a Cave Digest”.

Addendum to the August 5 post

I had brought up before the issue of coloring and how it can affect (pro or con) the appreciation and interpretation of a comic strip ; and I wrote a bit on that in today’s blog. I remarked specifically on the tree line in panel 1 being the same color as the background, which is not that common in Rivera’s panels, and how it tended to hide details and minimize the depth of field. However, I looked at the strip as it was published in black & white in my town newspaper and found what I think is confirmation:

Well, newsprint certainly lacks the luster and brilliance of a direct-from-screen image, doesn’t it? In spite of that (and my less-than stellar photography), I think it is interesting that the trees become more obvious and “closer” in the black & white version, with the forested mountains clearly in the background. Details of the eagle’s wings are clearer, as well. So here is one case where (the choice of) color may not have improved the artwork.

But, what do you think?

Mark and Cherry go out on a limb, er, walk

As the Trails hike along a path that looks more like a tree limb, they continue their cutesy double-entendres in order to fill out the week. Hmmm, I don’t think we need to take Mark’s final comment seriously, as it is clearly the expected punchline to Cherry’s provocative come-on. And heaven help me, folks, I’m doing my best to avoid indulging in similar innuendos. It’s hard enough to get some basic commentary put together. And I’m not sure if what I write always measures up.

Not much else here. Artwork is fine, though a bit heavy on the lines, I think. It is always difficult to comment on color, since I don’t know if Jules does her own or it’s left to the syndicate. Since hardcopy newspaper sales keep falling, they turn to online editions. Their comics section is essentially links to the comic syndicates web sites, so online comics are in color. So, I’m thinking the work is Rivera’s. I think it is an important point: No cartoonist would want to leave such decisions in the hands of somebody outside of the cartoonist’s studio. And one thing I notice is that the trees along the road behind Mark and Cherry blend right in with the dark green background. Normally, she would make that front row of trees lighter.

There hasn’t been much room for landscape in this last story, and even Cherry’s adventure was limited in background details. But, if you look at the panels of Mark and Rusty back in March, just before he went to LA, I think could see how Rivera’s approach seemed different today. I might be overdrawing a distinction here, and this is just a singular occurrence.

Otherwise, we can check off the box for “Do the Trails really love each other?” and move on to something else. Like maybe that Doc has a drinking problem because he has nothing to do (so far) and gets tired of sitting around waiting for his token appearance and gloomy utterance.

Look! It’s a bird! It’s a popsicle! No, it’s Red Valerian!

Okay, what’s going on here? If Cherry restocked the roundabout, why would she put in any kind of invasive plant when she could have replanted what she originally used? My superficial research lists this plant as invasive and banned only in South Africa, though it is not recommended in our western states, where it can grow aggressively. It seems that its benefits outweigh its detriments in the US.

Anyhow, more light-hearted banter today, serving either as time fodder to pad out the week or as a means to help establish more of Cherry and Mark’s relationship. But I think we already have a good handle on that, don’t you? I’d prefer to see Rivera spend more time fleshing out Doc Davis’s character a bit more, even Andy’s. Maybe Mark’s snake avatar could make another appearance and warn him of an impending crisis, such as teenage girls already moving past Mark Trail and his videos. The newest sensation turns out to be…Professor Bee Sharp!

There has been some snarky chat over at Comics Kingdom about possible sexual undertones in the first and third panels. Anything is possible, of course, but I think the hand positions are wrong to support this hypothesis, however suggestively the flowers are drawn.

You know, I just had an odd thought:  Had Rivera taken over the strip some 15 years ago (assuming she was old enough, so just play along, okay?), and somebody thought her take on Mark would make a good TV show, they could have gotten Bruce Campbell to play Mark. Campbell has the kind of personality and acting chops necessary for our new Mark Trail. But Bruce no longer looks like a perennial 32 year old. What a lost opportunity, unless some studio is willing to put out a senior-citizen version of Mark Trail on TV or the cinema. Kind of a “Mark Trail Returns!” type of movie. Well, it worked for Bruce Wayne!

America’s Favorite Nature Couple Continues Their Walkabout

Okay, more cute wordplay and flirting. Well, this helps answer a question some Trailheads had with whether Cherry’s story ever had a proper ending. I think it did, within the conventions of how Mark Trail adventures often end. But here we see, fully grown, a recreation of what must have been Cherry’s original design. And is “Roundabout Royale” the location’s actual name or just Mark’s self-coined appellation? So, it looks nice enough for a roundabout that doesn’t seem to be part of any road system. We also get to see another side of the roundabout, with two houses in the distance. I’m guessing that Planet Pancake must be behind Mark and Cherry? I may just be a slow kid from Virginia, but I also wonder how Mark found out about the hogs? Did Dirk call Mark? That seems odd, given Dirk’s anti-social habits. And why blab to Mark, anyway?  Did Dirk want to ensure Mark knew that Cherry could not succeed on her own?

Geography aside, I reckon we’ll have a few days more of Mark & Cherry cavorting around before a new story begins. Perhaps ol’ Doc will make a brief appearance, pretty much as he used to. As for Rusty, since he clearly is no longer a clueless dweeb, perhaps we will find him looking to hook up with the daughter of a local land baron who wants to create an exclusive hunt club providing exotic animals for wealthy members. And thus, we would segue into a real Mark Trail crusade. But I reckon we’ll have to wait for the inevitable Zoom chat later this week. I’m still hoping it will be somebody other than Amy Lee. She’s sent Mark on two assignments; now it’s another editor’s turn.

You know, I’m surprised that Jules Rivera did not turn Bill Ellis into a lowly Messenger Boy (i.e. toady) for this mega-magazine empire, where Bill must personally contact Mark to hand over material for his next assignment. The actual editor-in-charge would still contact Mark to provide additional insights. Say, doesn’t this sound like the usual first act of almost every episode of “Charlie’s Angels”?