Somebody’s coming—Quick! Everybody stand on boxes and pose like statues!

As far as the plot is concerned, the premise is sound enough:  Save the bees from extermination by relocating them. The method is still ambiguous.  Georgia, at least, seems to have the basic equipment:  White bee handler’s suit with netted hat and a smoker with an attachment, presumably to reach up to the statue. Are the boxes portable hives? Or perhaps just boxes to put the actual hive and bees into?

Anyway, their lack of planning for lookouts has imperiled their plans. They should have watched The Great Escape for tips.

Could it be that Violet was not as naïve as they thought, and so she simply waited for the women to get started so she could catch them in the act? Or is Mark once again butting into Cherry’s affairs?

The Garden Club Commandoes take the beachhead!

Unlike Mark and Diana, it appears that the people on this side of Lost Forest recognize the season for what it is and dress for it. So, Dolores is able to easily chase away the always-effete Violet, who must have been fantasizing about dead bees. And shouldn’t Violet have been suspicious of some person who just happened to be passing by at this time of day?

But with a skill that matches former Mark Trail artists, Jules Rivera neatly telescopes the action and omits just how and why Violet disappeared back into the Society’s house. Equally amazing is that The Black Rose Garden Club members simply parked their car in a culvert in front of the house, whereupon the ladies gleefully and baldly got out! They are not even trying to hide themselves. I’m thinking that Mandrake the Magician must have been invoked from his KFS-sponsored comic strip to gesture hypnotically and cause Violet to take a nap. Either that, or she’s dumber than we thought.

What a drag it is getting told

Really? THIS is the terrible truth, that Duck Duck Goose is responsible for zebra mussel infestation!? And what river pipes is Cliff referring to:  Runoff pipes from companies and large farms pumping waste into the river? Clogging them might be a good thing, I think.

This story would have more plausibility if Mark and Diana admitted up front that the zebra mussel problem was a national (or international) issue. And their focus on a single source of contamination is obviously not to solve zebra mussel infestation, but to show an example of how zebra mussels can spread through inattention or indifference.

But the plot twist here—which I think is good—is that Duck Duck Goose is actually concerned about an entirely different issue, and that is something they do not want Mark to discover. We await the Duck Duck Goose enforcers to get this story moving along.

The situation at Zebra Mussel Task Force HQ

Some nice layouts in the panels today. Panel 2 is remarkable for the amount of detail and space injected into such a small panel, without looking cramped.  But I’m a bit put off by the extreme expressions in panel 4. Compared to the prior panels, they look too exaggerated. And should Mark be surprised by the photos? He took them!

Given that those actually are zebra mussels in panel 4, what are they attached to? That odd shape on the laptop monitor sure doesn’t look like the hull of any ship. In any event, what’s the issue here? They have their photos, so why waste time “studying” them? Time to move on to the next phase of the investigation.

But, can Cliff really be trusted? It’s easy to be suspicious of characters who suddenly show up in Mark Trail strips, of course. But Cliff ticks several boxes: 1) His less-than happy exit after losing Cherry to Mark; 2) His covert shadowing of Mark and Diana in the boat; 3) His convenient “rescue” of Mark after he abandoned Diana; and 4) His silence about items 2 and 3. I could write more, but you get the drift; and I’m supposed to be writing more concisely. If only . . . .

The action builds….

Funny, but I didn’t get the idea that the Trails’ relationship was in any real trouble. Quite the opposite, in fact. But here we have a clear cross-over in story lines, insofar as Mark is now donating time away from his investigation to assist Cherry.

Monday is supposed to bring us back to Mark’s, uh, storyline, as Cherry’s plans now get placed in “publication suspended animation” for two weeks. So, what—or who—will we find on Monday?

 “Mutual scheming aside, Mark, where are your priorities? Are you letting Cliff and Diana take over the zebra mussel assignment while you get involved—once again—in yet another possibly illegal activity? The last time you tried to help somebody skirt the law, you barely escaped! If Cherry has any brains, she’ll tell you to go soak your head (in the river) and get back to your real assignment.

Breaking News on Fox 9: Rusty Trail, son of famed nature writer Mark Trail, was arrested earlier today for tagging the home of the chief of police. Rusty reportedly said “I’m just looking for some attention, any attention at all! My parents are always away with their crackpot activities. Grampa just sits around drooling and talking about his years putting his hand up cows’ asses. And the writers of this comic strip never let me make time with girls. It’s all a real drag, man. I want out.”

The continuing adventures of Old Yeller

Including today, Rivera has only two days left to push this story along, rather than spend so much time milking this faux huckleberry exterminator routine. After Saturday, we have to put Cherry back in the box for two weeks and get back to Mark’s other story. Or will he still be stuck here, moving garden supplies? I dunno, because Mark certainly doesn’t seem too worried about his zebra mussels assignment. Makes you wonder what’s going on with Diana and Cliff while Mark is away.

Now, where the heck are Cherry’s clandestine gardeners? The way Cherry talks in the last panel, one would think that the group changed its mind and went to hang out at Planet Pancake so they can enjoy pancakes when they are still warm and tasty.

As Cherry’s story slowly unfolds…

We are zoomed out in panel 1, where we see a nest of bees conveniently placed to reflect the current subject. The nest and its supporting branch are arranged along an angle that acts as a means for establishing a foreground to symbolically define the location in the panel where the viewer is standing. Well, at least that was often the intention of painters from the Renaissance onward who employed this popular compositional device, often as a means to help “bring the viewer into the picture” as viewer and participant. Phew! Sorry, my former art history days are slipping out again. But seriously, didn’t the nearness of the bee nest make you involuntarily back up a bit, just for a moment?

It didn’t take long for local yokel Ernest to start dropping his “Good ol’ Boy” persona, revealing a more fundamentally chilling personality. The coldness in his expression and his statement in panel 4 should leave little doubt for Cherry and Mark.

Speaking of Cherry, I can’t say I’m impressed with her lukewarm justification for keeping the bees alive. “They help more than harm”? That’s the best you can do, Cherry? You might as well ask Ernest if you can help hold his gear while he exterminates the bees. I hope her underground Garden Club gets the job done.

Know what I mean, Vern?

The cornpone humor continues, as even the rabbit is gob smacked to see this retread from a 1960s sitcom showing up in Lost Forest. It seems that the veil of propriety has been lifted from this area and we’re discovering that it is filled with a growing variety of oddballs.
The apparent proximity of Lost Forest (near the coast of Georgia, it seems) to Florida must have something to do with the influx of creeps, kooks, and connivers. As another link to the influence of Florida weirdness, the moment I saw Ernest’s work van, a slice of tv trivia dropped into my bread pan. How about you? Think back to cop shows in Florida, around 1984. Okay, so there was only one. Miami Vice featured an undercover surveillance van disguised as a pest control truck, with a “flying ant” on top.

This is just one version of the van; there were several, including a white one. Any influence on Rivera? Other than a general “Florida Weirdness” vibe that Rivera favors, it’s hard to say. Still, you don’t usually see such things any longer, as workers tend to use their van tops for holding ladders.

Well, Honest Ernest may be a cloddish jerk and kind of simple, but I have to admit to liking the pun-name Bee-heading; the name, not the technique. Anyway, is Mark just going to keep on holding that bag of plant soil?

And the mystery guest is…?

Well, shucks, drop my trousers and call me Cheeky. Doesn’t Honest Ernest present a nice contrast to the affected sophistication of his wife and the Sunny Soleil Society? Still, I’m surprised that Mark and Cherry are “surprised”, unless it has to do with the quantity of hokum in this yokum.  

Long-time follower of this blog, Mark, periodically expresses his ongoing frustration with the stories and the artwork. Certainly, it looks less accomplished comparing it to the former version using the same set of aesthetic values. Sometimes it just looks less accomplished, even based on Rivera’s standards. Take Ernie, here. He certainly looks like a literal blockhead, especially in panel 3. One wonders if Rivera is trying to make a visual pun based on Ernest’s personality. In support of this theory, I offer a definition by that 18th century British man of letters, words, and odd gestures, Samuel Johnson:

hátchet-face n.s. An ugly face; such, I suppose, as might be hewn out of a block by a hatchet

If you wanted to visually portray somebody’s personality, how would you do it? Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo had a knack for that. The jury is out on this one.

They thought it was just a routine recon mission. Then came the bats.

Did Cherry just drop a big hint about the Sunday nature feature? In any event, I believe this group is what qualifies as your typical motley crew; and they seem to have unending endurance to march from their secret headquarters in the middle of nowhere, all the way over (however far that really is) to the SSS gardens to make plans. But is it a good idea to put the gal who can’t see at night at the back of the line?

So, Cherry, you think bats and your group are misunderstood? Perhaps if your group held public meetings or advertised its existence, more people might come to appreciate you and even hire you from time to time. Hard to be loved and appreciated when you work in the dark, Cherry, unless you are in a dark room with somebody, such as Mark, where it would suddenly become a lot easier and fun to be loved and appreciated. But, I digress.

As I feared, we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see what happens next. I do believe Rivera should have moved the story along faster, given the limited space Cherry’s stories get. However, if it wasn’t for me reminding you what took place, where would you be at the end of two weeks, when we return to Cherry’s storyline? I bet you’re not even clipping the strips from the paper, are you? And if you don’t have a subscription to Comics Kingdom, you’d have to have a great memory. Just sayin’. Hey, I think the artwork is getting increasingly better. Do you agree?