The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This week continued the initial investigation of Trail & Daggers as they hunted for the elusive snipe…er snark; or was it a snail darter? Oh right, it was the insidious zebra mussel. So, Mark musseled his way to the front so that he could do the dangerous work of swimming underwater, alongside a moving cargo ship to take evidentiary photos. Daggers believes this ship is linked to one of the dangerous companies supposedly bringing in zebra mussels. For most of the time, nobody on the cargo ship seems to have noticed Mark and Diana’s fishing boat floating alongside them. That would soon change.

As Mark somehow made his way along the hull of the moving cargo ship while underwater with only a snorkel and no swimming fins, he still managed to take photographs of what he must have thought were zebra mussels, but looked more like barnacles. Meanwhile back in the boat, Diana Daggers only belatedly noticed that they had been shadowed by another boat, fast approaching.

As Mark surfaced, Diana was having words with one of the crew of this mysterious boat, and it looked as if there might be trouble. There was, but from another source. Some crew of the cargo ship finally noticed the two small boats along their starboard side, and started threatening them with “pirate deterrents” if they didn’t immediately depart. This is where things got even stranger.

Keep in mind that they were all in open waters, on a river. Mark’s boat and the other fishing boat could have just agreed with the demands of the cargo ship and turned their boats around to leave. Instead, the crew of the heretofore shadowy fishing boat suddenly acted friendly and told Mark and Diana to escape while they distracted the cargo ship’s crew, acting as a defensive screen. Thus, as Mark and Diana raced away, the cargo ship deployed fire hoses shooting water every which way, but mostly into the screening fishing boat.  

Was there any reason for this boat to stay behind and take this punishment? I don’t think so; it’s not as if the cargo ship’s crew were going to open fire on them. Of course, the cargo ship was well within its rights to at least wave off the two fishing boats. The boats were violating the cargo ship’s legal right of way and putting themselves into harm’s way. I’m not sure of the legality or even practicality of deploying pirate deterrents, but hey, this is an adventure story! There’s no drama if the two fishing boats just apologized and moved out of the way after a polite request. So, we have drama. But does the drama make sense? Will Mark turn back to help the crew of the other boat?

We’ll have to wait a week to find out, as Monday should see us return to the exciting conclusion to the debate between Cherry and the Sunny Soleil Society regarding the future of the local bee population.  But for now, it’s time for Sunday’s nature chat!

At last! As readers know, I’ve been hoping to see Rivera turn her Sunday focus to another aspect of Nature, rather than the usual “Our friend, The Grubworm” subjects. So climate change gets the nod this week.  That’s fine, too.

For once, I think Rivera was stymied on how to depict the title panel when the subject is an effect and not an animal. I suppose she could have tried using clouds, smoke, or water currents. Maybe she did and it just didn’t work very well.

Other than showing a bunch of birds, how about a panel showing a before-and-after image of a bird habitat damaged by climate change? That could help make Mark’s case; and I’m not sure the penultimate panel makes that point clearly enough. Also, call me picky (I’ve been called a lot worse), but it seems to me if you are going to talk about actions birds take to help the environment, how about showing a few birds engaged in these actions, rather than just a bunch of “clip art” style examples where the birds are not doing anything?

In any event, Mark certainly looks fatigued, doesn’t he? I’m sure that’s the point.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

For those coming in late, Cherry has a working relationship with the Sunny Soleil Society to help upgrade their gardens. While Cherry seems to be putting in more than the usual effort to do well and stay on good terms with Violet Cheshire, I’m afraid that her efforts seem to be in vain. The bee episode still looms over the situation. This week Violet introduced Cherry to Caroline, another board member, while Cherry was busy on a pond garden exhibit. For some reason, Cherry was embarrassed by the presence of tiny toads scampering out of the pond and around the two Society ladies. But worse was to come.

Turns out that Caroline’s husband has a new pest control business (which seems a bit below the social standards of the Society) and the Board has decided to award the contract to the fledgling company to eradicate the bees. Naturally, Cherry is very upset, for obvious reasons, but Violet takes pleasure in seeing Cherry in a powerless position to do much about it. Now, it does seem odd that a group that has invested time and money in gardens would be so ignorant of the value of bees, but that’s the story. I’m thinking that Violet’s decision to kill the bees is based on her erroneous identification of the bees as the invasive killer bees. If this is true, it needs to be clarified in the strip. But, we may have to wait a few weeks to learn more. Rivera normally only gives Cherry’s storyline one week at a time to Mark’s two. But after all, the comic strip is called Mark Trail, not The Trails.

Today’s strip reads like one of those old government-sponsored nature films they used to show in grade school. Well, I think we used to see such films, though maybe they were films on hygiene. Okay, so it was a long time ago!

Anyway, getting into the content, while I appreciate Rivera’s ongoing aim to help us learn the scale or height of these animals, I find the canine comparison of this particular breed perplexing, since how many people even know what a Shiba inu is, much less be familiar with its height!? I sure didn’t, so I looked it up. They sound like a real pain in the ass to raise, and are expensive to purchase. Probably expensive to maintain, as well. I think a spaniel or a retriever would have made the size comparison more familiar to readers. Or maybe a roadrunner?

So, exactly what can we do to help keep wild animals and ourselves safe from each other’s less-than-noble desires to kill each other? I think focusing more on Mark’s closing comment would have made a better, more informative Sunday strip. So, who is really surprised if a minimum-wage animal control employee shoots somebody’s collie because he thought it was a wolf? We’d rather learn how to protect our pets from those people! It’s not our job to train them, anyway. And what do we do when we are installing a walkway in the backyard and a black bear or fox suddenly shows up? Do we heave pavers at them?

The title panel—though interesting conceptually—fails me in the sense that the coyote and dog are not really posed as the letter A. We realize they are meant to be that, but only within the context of knowing the strip’s name. Then again, the canines don’t seem to fit any of the other letters, either. It must have been a tough problem. Still, Rivera gets good marks, overall, for her concept of thematic Sunday titles.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

From the story point of view, we saw the actual start of Mark and Diana’s assignment, begun in typical Mark Trail style:  Skip preliminary events (such as meeting up, renting the boat, going over the assignment, etc.) and just jump into “action.” Mark and Diana began their undercover assignment by pretending to be on a fishing outing, while Diana queried Mark about local zebra mussel sightings. They come upon a cargo ship, under power, in a river in the vicinity of Lost Forest, much to the ballyhoo of old-time Mark Trail fans. Diana ascertains that this particular vessel belongs to a company suspected of being involved in the so-called importation and spread of zebra mussels, also revealing she’s likely been on the assignment before Mark came on board. Diana declared that she was going to do underwater research around the moving ship, a statement supported by her progressive disrobing to reveal what looks like a bathing suit. However, Mark, who up until now, had been acting like clueless land lubber, decided it was time to “man up” and insist he would take the dive; never mind that the entire idea of swimming around a moving cargo ship was inherently a stupid idea.

Curiously, this pair came with no underwater gear, save for a snorkel. Mark didn’t even have a pair of swimming fins to at least give him a fighting chance to avoid getting trapped in the cargo ship’s undertow. Meanwhile, there have been no lookouts on the ship to watch for dangers, such as this.

Technical faults aside, the story moved along at a fairly brisk pace, considering they are supposed to be searching for target vessels while acting like a couple out for a day of fishing. Other than a few possibly sincere cautionary remarks from Diana, readers got to read more snide remarks between the two investigators. Some might call this a kind of combative flirting, as if this was a 1930’s rom-com; however, if this was combative flirting it was certainly only coming from Diana.

Speaking of old times, Jules Rivera could do a lot worse than consult adventure comic strips of the 1930s and 1940s (when they were in their prime) and study how they put together dramatic storylines. Terry and the Pirates, Capt. Easy, Little Orphan Annie, and even Dick Tracy still have a lot to offer. But I get Rivera’s conundrum: How to update a male-dominated adventure strip to be more in line with modern concerns about equality, sexism, and stereotypes.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this week’s dailies to see how Mark’s underwater research goes, and whether he drops Diana’s supposedly expensive camera. Let’s hope so.

It’s Frog Sunday, with one of Rivera’s more inventive title panels. I like how the toad sits up to represent a capital ‘A’, while the frog sits lower, imitating the lower case ‘a’. I think it’s a clever panel. And her drawings of these amphibians is also very good.

Several scribblers on Comics Kingdom have pointed out that Rivera’s terminology (or understanding) is incorrect. At first blush, this appears to be correct. If you looked online at various scientific sites, it appears that frogs and toads are different Families of the same higher-level Order, Anura. Then again, it depends. Note the following description, variants of which can be found on several scientifically-oriented sites:

Let’s dive into their similarities and differences, starting with this fun but confusing fact: All toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads, according to Penn State University. Basically, toad is a classification of frog. And here’s another fun fact: There’s no scientific distinction between a toad and a frog, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

“Frog” and “Toad” are not scientific names or labels, but informal and inexact ways we describe these creatures, based on their looks. It gets complicated, as even the differences in skin are not always a clear distinction. So, Rivera’s Venn diagram is as accurate a statement as any for our inexact labels. As for another non-scientific approach, I recommend the charming Frog and Toad stories of Arthur Lobel.

Rivera’s last point about the frog and toad’s greatest commonality is argumentative. Is their sensitivity to pollution really that important? If so, how is it observed and how can we benefit from that knowledge? I think that would have been more interesting for Rivera to illustrate. Personally, I think their consumption of pesky insects rates pretty high on the human benefits scale.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

This past week saw the official kickoff for Mark’s new adventure, “There Will Be Zebra Mussels.” Mark drove his bespoke station wagon to the airport to pick up Diana Daggers, Mark’s unexpected and unwanted video producer for his new assignment. Starting right in, Mark expressed his fears and doubts to Diana, while she kept her icy cool cynicism and simply told Mark that California was old news and to get over it.

After dropping her off at the Log Cabin Hotel (or whatever it’s called), Mark spent the rest of the week helping Cherry’s with her landscape business and fretting about a possible reappearance of Professor Bee Sharp. In spite of Cherry’s feel-good reassurances of Sharp’s noninvolvement, it appears that Mark does have good reason to be concerned about Professor Bee Sharp’s return. Perhaps Mark is anxious because he does not normally deal with psychos, a group for which Sharp is clearly a charter member.  Daggers, on the other hand, appears to be more task-oriented and indifferent, as any professional for hire would be. If the job calls on her to harass and threaten Trail, she does it. If the job calls for her to work with Trail, she’ll do it. It’s all just business for her. But Bee Sharp seems to be a different animal. Still, in spite of Sharp’s behavior, he does not seem any more dangerous than, say, some ignorant hillbilly with a shotgun pointed at Mark’s head while he is tied to a chair. Mark is just psyched out, which is something he is not comfortable with. And that is a dangerous position for him to be in.

Today’s Sunday strip is about small insects, specifically those that look dangerous, but wind up actually being helpful. Another nicely done title panel, by the way. Regarding spiders, there are at least 3,000 species of spiders in the US. The four spiders Rivera refers to are black widows, brown recluses, hobo spiders (which seem to be focused in the Pacific Northwest), and Sac spiders. The brown recluse and black widow are the biggest threats to humans of all ages. In fact, there are least ten spiders that are venomous in varying degrees to humans, but still capable of causing pain. As Rivera points out, most spiders are found wherever their food is found, so they can be good insect managers, even in the home. But keep the kids and pets away from them.

Rivera provides a very nicely drawn bee in the last panel! And you always have to finish your instruction with a small joke, don’t you Mark? And I’m fine with that, by the way; it’s not pervasive.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but one thing I noticed in Rivera’s Sunday strip is that she crowds less text into the panels than her predecessors often did. That might be because Rivera is aware of the fact that people are more used to short, digestible chunks of data, as we usually see on social media. It could also be because she is aware that space for comic strips, even on Sunday, is severely limited and liable to more shrink; thus, making reading more difficult. I swear, the way our newspaper shrinks the Sunday Zits and Blondie strips is a crime. It’s like trying to read the condensed Oxford English Dictionary without its included magnifying lens.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Chat

Perhaps my Sunday blogs should be entitled “For Those Who Came in Late, along with the Sunday Nature Chat”, since my intention is to give a summary of the past six daily strips. Then again, I’m not sure if this recap serves any useful purpose to anybody. Are there readers who just read this summary and skip over the daily posts? Well, sometimes writhing this provides me with a way to think over the week and refine or revise my observations. And sometimes, I have nothing new and this becomes just a weekly summary. What do you think?

But getting on to the recap, we had a week of Cherry playing nice with Violet Cheshire of the Sunny Soleil Society, the HOA that ruined Cherry’s original landscape installations. These two women are now working together to restore the Society’s garden, which includes unveiling a statue memorializing a local pioneer (as in Daniel Boone-era pioneers). Who it is or why it is important has yet to be unveiled; but when Violet unveiled the statue, they discovered a beehive around the head of the statue. Panic ensued when the bees started swarming around Cherry and Violet. Violet thought they were killer bees, so she beat a hasty retreat to her headquarters, eventually followed by a less concerned Cherry. Violet confirmed her inability to handle stress and displayed a rush to judgement by demanding that the bees should be destroyed, even though Cherry just wanted to relocate them. Rivera warned us that this might reopen the rift between Chery and Violet, teasing us with troubles ahead. I reckon that Cherry’s attitude was based on pragmatism, rather than revenge, as she could see the HOA as a source for additional work. We’ll see how that pans out. So, that’s the week in review. And now, on to Sunday’s nature chat!

Well, I learned that the formal non-Latin name is “Canada Goose”, though we all use the more common adjectival “Canadian Goose”. Today’s Sunday strip is informative, even within the confines of its limited space. That discussion about headwinds and sharing headwind duty was news to me. But the fact that Canadian geese are disruptive and a nuisance is not news to most of us, I bet. Aside from the “Miracle on the Hudson” crash, a US Air Force radar plane crashed in 1995 after geese killed its engines on takeoff, killing all crew members.

So I want to know whose hand that is in front of Mark in panel 2. From its position in front of Mark’s body, it certainly cannot be his hand. Hey, maybe it’s a “V for Victory Hand-on-a-Stick” prop?

In spite of Mark’s remark about the V formation, I don’t think the geese were thinking of “victory”, any more than Beethoven thought of the Morse code when he composed his famous Fifth Symphony (the code hadn’t been invented yet). For that matter, there is no evidence Samuel Morse considered Beethoven’s symphony when he co-created his famous “Morse Code” (with help from the otherwise unknown Afred Vail) and assigned the pattern ***— to the letter V. And don’t forget, readers, that V is also the Latin character for the number 5! For all that, it appears that links to “victory”, Beethoven, and Morse Code first came together in WWII. Of course, somebody may have seen a relationship between the Morse V and Beethoven’s fifth symphony long before WWII; however, I’ve not found any documentation to show that. But what a great set of associations, eh? Uh, getting back to the strip, I see that Canadian Goose eggs make up the title panel, with a parent goose coming out to warn us away. Some snarkers might consider this a warning about the new Mark Trail, in general!

Here it is, folks, the weekly review and Sunday nature chat you’ve been waiting for!

Nothing like a whole week of lovey-dovey hiking and flirting, while Cherry and Mark wait for “the phone call” that puts Mark back on the plane for another paying assignment. Well, we also got to see Cherry’s roundabout restored (by Cherry); and Mark’s close encounter with the weird kind (handled by Amy Lee, who told Protein Boy to take a long hike off a short pier). But were there any legal complications for either party? Of course not!  So, I’m not sure we have real closure on the California trip as of today. I have a feeling we have not seen the last of Diana Daggers. At least, I hope not.

Still, it might be funny to see some Sunday pages devoted to Mark giving nature talks to prison inmates as part of a community service agreement. It could even feature questions from a few inmates, just to keep Mark on his toes! How about it, Jules!?

So, algae as a pet!? That’s a new one on me, Bubba. In any event, we finally seem to be moving closer to habitat as subject matter in Mark’s Sunday nature chats, rather than just animals. But is the topic about “Marimo” or “Zebra Mussels”? Or maybe, both!? Marimo, by themselves, seem harmless, but the Zebra Mussels indeed are destructive, as any lake enthusiast can tell you.

Using everybody’s favorite source for facts (Wikipedia), I discovered that the word “Marimo” is a portmanteau, not a breed of Spanish sheep. It was coined by a Japanese botanist combining the Japanese words mari (a bouncing ball) and mo (referring to water plants). In a sense, they are like miniature versions of StarTrek Tribbles, but without the purring. Mark should have also mentioned the Marimo/Zebra Mussel webpage of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which goes into more details about this problem and what to do about it.

As many people have noted (here and other places), the Sunday Mark Trail strip often presents a more traditional and acceptable version of Mark, in terms of appearance, form, and content. The larger format size of the Sunday strip has something to do with that, of course. It is also possible that Rivera draws a batch of Sunday strips at one time, so she can get into that groove. Then again, the Sunday panels are usually simpler to draw, with rather basic compositions; fewer people to draw; and a need to be more didactic than merely entertaining.


The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

Well, that was the week that was; or was it?! A six-strip installment of Mark and the Herp Hacienda Crowd slapping each other on the back with congratulations at getting away with their arguably illegal and unethical escapade. Mark was invited into the building, as Amy Lee reminded Cricket Bro, ignoring the clearly dishonest actions of his accomplices. Well, Cricket Bro seemed stymied by this technicality, but should we? I’ve already argued my position more than once on this topic, a dodgy and slippery slope that Mark has been willing to slide down more than once. Not that Cherry’s actions have been without questionable tactics, either. Given the deliberately quirky characters and setting, we could see this story line more as a “fantasy/comedy” than a traditional drama. But there is little evidence that Rivera had this in mind, as far as I can see. Parody? Yeah, sure. Satire, almost certainly.

It may be that we are also seeing (overall) a less-filtered, more “realistic” view of Mark Trail, compared with the “Aw shucks” romanticized version we’ve been spoon-fed these many decades. It’s like the difference between William Boyd’s white-bread, polite “Hopalong Cassidy” character of the movies and early TV, compared to the original Hopalong Cassidy character in the books written by Clarence Mulford. That “Hoppy” was often an impulsive, cigarette-smoking, devil-may-care cowhand, quick to judge, quick to shoot, but loyal to his friends, and honest; and free with his cussing. Yet, that Hoppy was also one of the “good guys”, not a trigger-happy sociopath. So the latter character is infinitely more interesting than the sanitized “shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand” version William Boyd created. So, Rivera clearly has done the same thing in reverse: Her Mark Trail is not the invulnerable, self-confident, fists-of-justice nature warrior of yore. Mark now displays a more complex, textured personality (to adapt a term of literary criticism), beset by doubt, demons, and reckless behavior; but also backed up with a strong personal code of honor and justice. Sort of. Mark is the kind of “hero-not-a-hero” common in contemporary literature and movies.

Moving on to today’s nature topic, the title panel is a subtle one where Mark’s last name is camouflaged. Do you see it? Rivera’s Sunday panels (as here) are usually well-drawn, in part, because of the larger size Rivera gets to work with, and friendly in their delivery. And Rivera’s title panels are almost always inventive. Now, what’s with that crazy vest Mark is wearing!? He looks like a model for LL Bean! I like the humor of using a mirror in the prior panel as a visual pun for Mark’s age comment. But the reflection doesn’t look anything like Mark; more like Daddy Warbucks, in fact!

As any faithful reader will know, Rivera selects her Sunday subjects based on the main location where Mark happens to be working; in this case, California. And last week was butterflies, which links to Cherry’s storyline. I think that is a clever approach. Unfortunately, I do not have a backlog of Sunday strips from previous years to draw on, so I do not recall if this was something that Elrod, Dodd, or Allen also did. Does anybody know?

Anyway, there is one thing I wish Rivera would expand: Subject matter. For the most part, it seems that the Sunday strip always focuses on animals. All well and good, but Mark’s universe is supposedly all of nature, so how about devoting some ink and color to the flora and geology? Maybe even branch out to themes, such as what can happen when people build/encroach on beach fronts, hills, or dense forests. That could even make the basis for some interesting story lines for Mark. How about it, Jules?