The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

If you were busy this past week, let me catch you up. Mark’s water bear resort adventure (category “bear necessities”) ended in the typical Mark Trail style:  Suddenly. On the previous Saturday Mark and Jeb the Journalist celebrated their rescue from “Millie” the bear, due to Andy’s just-in-time appearance. But by Monday, we found him relaxing at home, chatting online with Bill Ellis. Long-time blog follower, Daniel P. commented yesterday that Rivera did not end the story with the traditional Trail flapjack dinner at home. Indeed, Rivera has not done that for most of her stories. There seems to be two new post-adventure memes: One is Mark and Cherry returning from a nice intimate walk through Lost Forest. Perhaps their cabin isn’t soundproofed.

The second ending Rivera uses is what we had this week:  Mark doling out “the rest of the story”, as he summarized the post-adventure status of various dramatis personae involved in his assignment. Perhaps Rivera could merge the old pancake tradition and the newer tell-all tradition:  The Trails can have dinner at Planet Pancake as Mark delivers post-adventure anecdotes to his family. Afterwards, Mark and Cherry can take their walk as Doc Davis and Rusty sit around the cabin, waiting for their next opportunity.

Another good title panel, and the other panels are pretty well-drawn, as well. Were you surprised by Mark’s new sporty attire? It would be great to see him wear something like this or just different clothes from time to time in his daily adventures.

Do lobstermen read the comics? I have never heard of “ghost fishing”, so I did the usual online “high-school paper” research. While all of what Rivers wrote here plays out, it’s too bad she didn’t have room to note some initiatives to clean up this mess:  There is the NOAA Marine Debris Program to provide locations and means for professional fishermen to safely dispose of old, obsolete gear. There are also several NGOs involved in providing technologies for safe retrieval of ghost gear in our seas and oceans. All of that deals with the larger issue of ghost gear involved in general, large-scale fishing, such as the loss or abandonment of fishing nets. And the global quantity is unknown.


The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

This past week the fight between nut-job Sid Stump and Mark “Don’t call me Markey” Trail continued. An invisible cliff suddenly materialized around Stump and Trail as they duked it out. In addition, a very large boulder just happened to show up on the edge of the cliff. Jared and Cricket Bro rushed up to push it over onto Mark. But things didn’t work out that way.

The fight suddenly came to a halt when Millie, the so-named and so-presumed friendly bear, turned out to not be as jovial and hail-well-met as journalist Jebediah Jeter thought. Everybody found a reason to quickly be someplace else. As if there wasn’t enough “suddenness”, when the bear came bearing down on Mark and Jeb, Andy the St. Bernard suddenly teleported into the chase to to put a stop to it!  I have to say (along with many others) that this was not a high point in Rivera’s animal drawing career. The bear, specifically, looks comical, even inept.

Are we now at the end of another adventure? In the pre-Rivera era of Mark Trail, I would say Yes! Mark’s adventures often ended abruptly with little attempt to tie up loose ends before his sudden reappearance back home in Lost Forest. So while we wait for Monday’s strip, let’s check in with the Sunday submission.

Okay, we have a pretty nice “classic” Sunday nature presentation with Mark, and another good title panel. Clearly, the animals shown here are very well depicted, especially compared to the cartoonish depictions of the bear in the daily strips. Why is that?

I’m not sure. Maybe Rivera puts more time in on the Sunday pages and just hacks out the dailies. Doing an adventure strip take a lot of time and research. As regular Trailheads know, the prior Mark Trail artists all used assistants for such tasks as lettering, backgrounds, Sunday strips, and writing (in Allen’s case). As far as I am aware, Rivera does not employ assistants. I think that is a mistake, but I don’t know if it is because of finances, personal preference, or something else. Still, there is a problem in consistency of quality in the dailies, even taking Rivera’s style into consideration. And I still don’t like the Ernest T. Bass beard.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

Some commenters over on the ComicsKingdom web site noticed that Mark was not sporting any type of beard in Saturday’s strip. They were right! Whether this was a publishing accident or a deliberate decision, it seemed an odd time to shave! Frankly, I never liked Mark’s “new” beard style and much preferred the old stubble. So, Rivera:  Go stubble or go clean-shaven.

This past week was—I hope—the final and true revelation of what the Water Bear Country Retreat was really created for:  A fantasy arena for rich boys (think E. Musk) to see who is “king of the forest”, able to overcome animals and nature. The fact that the camp was mostly filled with 90-lb weaklings, one old fart, and two women who were clearly not in training suggested that Sid Stump wanted to ensure he had a better-than-average opportunity to win. Engineering the accident that took out the capable “Professor” Bee Sharp also helped ensure that probability. But Mark Trail would not leave.

Sid and the two Bozo Brothers (Jadsen and Rob) found Mark and Journalist Jeb Jeder in the forest, thanks to Mark shining  his flashlight up into the air so it could be seen. Stump made various threats against Jeb and Mark. Meanwhile, Jeb’s bear protector was nowhere to be seen.

Stump admitted the true purpose of his work (see above) and suddenly moved against his most dangerous “competitor”—Mark—to take him out. Fortunately for Mark, Stump was also a wuss. But Mark remembered how to hit back and a right cross sent Stump stumbling in the opposite direction he intended to go. And that’s where we end the week.

When I was young, my mother sometimes took care of abandoned or injured baby birds. She nursed them until they were old enough to fly and live on their own. The baby birds would even stand on her hand as she fed them or helped them get used to flying. In one particular case, a now-healthy robin (which was also my mother’s name) flew off and that was that. But next Spring, my mother was surprised to find the same robin had returned and flew down to her when she called it. It even landed on her held out hand. I was amazed. It never happened again, however.

Moving on:  Regarding Mark’s beard, keep in mind that Sunday strips are often composed weeks before they are posted, most likely before Saturday’s strip.  Otherwise, good content, but rather quickly knocked out. Even Mark looks like he just woke up in time for his talk. Yeah, I’m surprised. Rivera usually takes more time on the Sunday strips. Today’s panels look like they are entries for a “Fill in for Jules Rivera Who is On Vacation” contest. No winners here.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

The story took a few more turns the past week. Journalist Jebediah Jeter continued to explain to Mark his presence in the forest, due to threats from malevolent tech guru Sid Stump.  Jeb said that “he knew too much,” so Jeb exiled him to the forest to be killed by a bear. But what did Jeb know too much of? Either that Sid Stump is using A.I. to flood the world with misinformation to create worldwide havoc, or that the A.I. scheme is really a scam and Stump’s real secret plan is to con rich people into investing money into the project. We learned that Stump was aware all along of the dangerous geology in the area and was selling the camp as an experience with the thrill of danger. At this point, I’m not sure where the STEM concept fits in, except as some kind of public “cover.” Maybe a phony public cover story makes a good proof of concept for his A.I. misinformation plan!

I presume the incentive for investors to support Stump’s A.I. scam—or scheme—would be finding ways to capitalize on the instability generated by the misinformation:  Taking advantage of the stock market or seeking political gain, perhaps?

But Jeb is now stuck in the forest, unable to leave, but protected by the bear that was supposed to kill him. Apparently, Jeb never thought about simply walking through the woods to get away or walking out with his Bear bodyguard by his side.

Mark did offer to give Jeb a ride down the hill. Unfortunately, Mark’s ignorance of how light functions at night created a new crisis. Sid Stump and the two NFT Bros were able to track them down because Mark kept his flashlight on while pointing it upward, like a spotlight. Stump was kind enough to give credit to Mark for helping make their discovery possible. And that’s how we ended the week with a classic “cliff hanger.”

Another really good title panel! Box turtles were plentiful where I grew up. As little kids, we sometimes fed them wet dog food. They looked cool, and we sometimes kept them as pets for a while, but I remember they were too much of a nuisance to take care of, especially when you are around 8. They weren’t dangerous and they usually closed up when we approached. We also had snapping turtles in the area, sometimes big ones. Now, those dudes really were dangerous! We fed them sticks that they would bite down on, then we tried to raise them up by lifting the stick.  They’d ultimately let go, dropping down into the swampy area where they live, with a big splash. We’d haul our little butts out of there real fast. Yeah, we were a bunch of very young, stupid kids, laughing at the excitement and our fear.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

What’s been going on this past week? Mark conducted a nighttime hunt for the lost reporter in the woods alongside the STEM retreat. In a short time, Mark stumbled onto the reporter, one Jebediah Jeter, who popped out of the bushes. Seems Jeter was thrown into the woods by Sid Stump to be killed by a bear (!!) for discovering his secret plan to use AI (Artificial Intelligence, in case you came in late) to take over the world, or something like that. But Jeb and the bear somehow befriended each other. Jeb can’t leave the woods without Sid coming after him. What to do? We’re waiting on Mark’s response, which could appear as early as Monday.

I was a little disappointed in the story development, as I had thought there would be a chance for a more dramatic plot development. Well, maybe it is, a bit. Jeb is yet another weirdo; a bewhiskered reporter dressed more flamboyantly than necessary, running around the woods like Grizzly Adams. Jeb wants Mark (and us) to believe that Sid Stump is willing to kill him to prevent exposing the fact that AI can be used to create destructive amounts of fake information. The notion that other people are not already aware of this fact about AI seems farfetched, even within the Trailverse. Still, it’s a topical item in the news these days, and that’s something. At least Mark isn’t once again trying to expose fraudulent fishing at a bass tournament, so let’s see how this story develops.

I still don’t like Mark’s new beard. It just does not look right. Jules, return the stubble, please!

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

I won’t have much to say this week because I have a head cold and I’ve messed up one of my oral discussion projects in my Italian class. Mama mia! Che schifo!

This week should have featured Cherry and her concrete adventure. We got to it, but not until Thursday. The strips for Monday-Wednesday were devoted to Mark and Cherry trying to share an intimate moment sitting out a nighttime storm. Normally, such lovey-dovey events appear after completed adventures. In fact, it originally seemed that Cherry’s concrete driveway story was done and buried under the concrete when Violet Cheshire went ahead with plans to lay a concrete driveway, using the services of Honest Ernest. Of course.

After the nighttime storm, Cherry showed up at the Sunny Soleil Society the next morning with Violet, only to discover pools of water on the floor inside the house. Somehow, water also got onto Violet’s work desk! Is there a leaky roof, too? Well, Violet acted as if she had no idea that there could be bad consequences to a concrete driveway, in spite of Cherry’s earlier warnings. Cherry volunteered to help clean up, issuing an odd warning about the (very remote) possibility of spadefoot tadpoles showing up, presumably to lay eggs in the pools of water. Somehow, this flooding disaster was supposed to have made Violet more sensitive to Nature, the Earth (e.g., Earth Day), and Conservation.

Okay, the Saturday strip was not a lead-in to today’s discussion, as I guessed. Fool me once, shame on me… fool me uh …  won’t get fooled again!

So, we have another topical subject, still in the news. Rivera provided another great custom title panel. From what little I read in a Scientific American discussion, rather than one giant blob (or “mat”) of Sargassum, it is more like a lot of separate chunks floating together. That distinction may not matter much when we are dealing with some 5,000 miles of moving seaweed. This might not be the best time to take a vacation to the Southeast, Caribbean, or Gulf coasts.  The NY Times reported the seaweed contains arsenic, so it should not be used as fertilizer or in animal feed, as some entrepreneurs are wondering.

Finally, why is Mark’s figure outlined in white in the central panel? Is this some kind of “flashback”? I don’t think so; rather, it was probably done to ensure Mark’s image did not get obscured by the Sargassum background. I don’t think it was necessary, given she didn’t do it with the other images. Perhaps we are looking at an example of digital copy-and-paste.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

It is one thing for Rivera to juggle two separate storylines in one strip (Mark’s and Cherry’s), and kudos for doing that. It’s another thing when one storyline starts branching out in a different direction, as has been going on for a while. While supposedly tracking down the source of intermittent bear attacks at the Water Bear Country STEM retreat, and possibly finding one likely source (unsecured garbage dumpsters), Mark got sidetracked into rescuing several guests from a hiking accident. Mark was hardly reluctant to step in and exercise his first aid survival skills, performing certain tasks that still seem inexplicable to urban plebes like me. The apparent telekinetic skills of Mark’s canine sidekick, Andy, came in handy when Mark had to put the injured Professor Bee Sharp into the back of his station wagon to transport to the hospital.

How does this subplot (I’ll be generously optimistic here) tie into Mark’s original mission, assuming he can even remember it? Maybe we’ll learn more on Monday when this story continues for another week. Just a note:  We’ve now had four publishing weeks dedicated to Mark’s first day on assignment. He’s had a very busy day!

Want to bet that this week’s strips will focus on Mark going over his first day with Cherry? Oh, she might get a word in, edgewise, with her latest Honest Ernest tale of woe.

Well, Andy was pretty much the only “wildlife” we saw this past week, so why not devote a Sunday to Saint Bernards?

By the way, I really don’t like the new old-school beard Mark is sporting. Rivera should go back to the hand-drawn stubble and ditch this “hobo beard” meme. Does anybody like the new beard style over the old one? Just compare the banner illustration at the top of this page.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

This week Cherry continued her attempt to convince Violet Cheshire to cancel Honest Ernest’s contract to pave over a portion of the grounds and garden of the Sunny Soleil Society because of environmental issues. Unfortunately, currently married Violet declaimed her love for currently married Ernest and flatly refused to cancel his contract. Cherry was shocked as much by the apparent insult to traditional family values as she was by Violet’s decision. Stymied by this defeat, she stomped away to dig up rose bushes before the concrete arrived.

But now, a bit of history and contrition:  When this strip began in 1946, Cherry led a feisty lifestyle but eventually married Mark and landed a new role as stay-at-home wife and mother to adopted son, Rusty.  With few exceptions, Cherry’s appearance was limited to welcoming Mark home and despairing over his departures. One of Jules Rivera’s important innovations was to give Cherry more options, including her own adventures.

I opined earlier this week about a supposed over-emphasis on emotion and reaction as might be heard in a soap opera. However, my wife reminded me that women, in general, are more likely to discuss feelings and relationships than men. Fair point. Even a blockhead like me recognizes that Cherry’s adventures add an additional—female—spotlight on this male-oriented adventure strip. So, I was wrong to get overly snarky about the dialog. Anyway, I’d still like to see a story costarring Mark and Kelly Welly, since Rivera made a big deal about Kelly when she started out.

My usual quick-and-dirty research confirms most of what Mark reports. But he fails to report that some major concrete companies are working on solutions to reduce CO2 emissions, while there is a lot of research into developing safer alternatives to concrete. I’d be happy for that, because concrete is not only a health hazard, it also usually leads to ugly, prefabbed architecture, inflexible sidewalks and driveways, and sore arms from mixing it for home projects.

The Week in Review and the Sunday Nature Chat

Mark showed up for work, only to get distracted by squabbling between Professor Bee Sharp and Cricket Bro, who just happen be some of the participants at this tech/nature retreat. As I indicated before, the rest of the participants are most of Mark’s other recurring opponents. Cricket Bro’s remarks about Bee Sharp’s new main squeeze, Holly Folly, was the reason for the fracas. Mark wisely walked away from this fight, but the group eventually continued on with their nature hike.

Mark went to work on his assignment, quickly discovering a major reason why bears were coming onto the grounds of the retreat. Mission Accomplished? Not so fast! Not so fast! Holly Folly suddenly came running back from the hike to plead for Mark’s help. Seems that the boys got caught in some kind of geological mishap on their hike. But why did Holly run to Mark, a nature reporter? I suppose the apparent lack of any professional staff on the site is deliberate and a part of Rivera’s ongoing goal of poking a stick into Silicon Valley’s impresarios, geeks, and its elitist male culture. But as far as adventure is concerned, it’s early on; so I hope things start picking up. Until then, see below!

Today’s topic is not a big surprise, considering the week just completed. We’ve all read reports of people feeding wild animals outside of their homes or at national parks. Or they try to snuggle up to them for selfies, sometimes with unfortunate results for the person. And making wild animals dependent on eating human food is not a good thing for the animal, either. So, it’s not surprising that people in certain areas of the country will fail to recognizes that wild animals often eat whatever they can find and that looking for (or avoiding to become) food is one of their main activities.

But this PSA might also ironically dilute some of the satirical intent of Rivera’s daily strip, since it implies that even “normal” people who live in areas frequented by bears can be careless or ignorant of proper safety measures.

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.