To bee or not to bee? That is the question.

(Edited) Sorry, I had to get that literary pun out of the way. Now, does Jules Rivera think Cherry and her club are in California? Helena states she has to teach a crystals class!? Maybe she’s about to present a lecture on Newton’s experiments with light. In any event, I hope all of this dithering around is just that, or it will make a travesty of my “cooperation” discussion from yesterday. And Rivera apparently uses a different clock than Cherry, though I think Cherry’s sense of time is more accurate. After all, it’s already night.

“Black Rose Garden Club” is a good name, but I think Rivera missed a golden opportunity for a better name, if I do say so, myself. This is an underground (i.e. secret” or literally, “under the ground”) garden club, right? Not to pass up a good pun, I would have modestly proposed The Sub Rosa Garden Club, if Jules had only asked me…!

Okay, who ate the pancakes?

Frankly, it is difficult to view today’s strip. Most of what I could write, I wrote yesterday. However, I do like the design of panel 3, with the two garden club gals symmetrically framing Cherry. It’s a neat way to show club members guessing what the serious problem might be.

However, I am surprised that Georgia seems to have so quickly forgotten that Cherry already told her about the bees on the way to the meeting! Of course, that was two weeks ago in Real Time. But I reckon it was long enough for her to forget.

Also interesting to see Cherry being efficient enough to answer the roll call for all of the members, herself. And she also has time to recite this secret society’s pledge! But moving at this rate, they’ll run out of newspaper space before they can get their act together. After all, the “Cherry” segment is normally only one week to Mark’s two weeks. As Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle liked to exclaim, “MOVE IT! MOVE IT! MOVE IT!

Somewhere in a garden shed, far, far away…

Cartoonists often use assistants to help with inking, lettering, and even drawing. Ed Dodd did, for example. I wonder if Rivera is using one, because the drawing today looks awkward, even out of proportion in some places. Take Cherry’s “Popeye” right arm, or the gals in panel 3, who seem to be a bit out of proportion here and there. We’ve seen a lot better from Rivera. At least Cherry’s hammer makes a whacking sound, rather than something like “Hit!” or “Pound!”, as we’ve seen before.

In any event, the members of the Black Rose Garden Club (yet another group!) apparently eat their pancakes cold and rolled like burritos, given the lack of plates, cutlery, butter, and syrup. Now, I will not make the expected joke of linking this group to the bat in panel 1… Ooops! I just did, anyway. But I was just making a point that I would not, you see…uh, er…oh, never mind. But Rivera drew the bat there, not me!

In any event, there are only 6 publishing days to make their plan and put it into action. Eat up, ladies!

Who rewrapped the statue?

As I look at today’s strip, I believe that Rivera’s wretched depiction of Caroline and Violet today (compared with yesterday’s more flattering view) is meant to reinforce the inner ugliness and selfish ignorance of the women and the Association they represent. Rude caricatures have a long well-known history though we don’t need to go a-wandering down that path to find justification. It is common practice, especially in comics, to exaggerate for emotional or physical purpose. This is in contrast to the former version of Mark Trail, where the most extreme distortions were usually just images of Mark showing surprise or were incidents when the art was just badly drawn (as back in the Elrod days of 2006).

At the same time, Violet’s face in panel 3 looks bigger than the head it inhabits, which makes me think Rivera may have liked an earlier version of the face she drew and pasted that version over this figure. This is not an unheard of practice, even in comics. Maybe Rivera did this deliberately, for its jarring effect.

Yet, I cannot account for the weird position of Cherry’s head in panel 4 with regard to her neck. It looks really off-kilter. I cannot account for it in any kind of metaphorical way. That is, if it is symbolic of something, I am lost. It’s as if the back of her head is missing.
It’s a weird head-neck arrangement that I recall seeing in some of James Allen’s work, such as the head of Rusty’s futile feminine interest and crime-solving partner, Mara, during their Yucatan adventure. “Creepy” is right, Mara! Cherry’s head reminds me of a marionette for some reason, the one with the separated head so it can be independently moved.

But back to the story, we finish the week with a major setback for Cherry, as Violet stands by her Association’s nepotistic corruption and disregard for nature. Thus, we’ll likely have to wait two weeks to discover the outcome: Will Cherry go on to convince the Association of its erroneous position or will Violet (one letter short of “violent”) once again physically throw Cherry off the property and fire her?

Final note: Anybody who has scanned today’s post more than once might notice some changes over time, as I made some revisions to grammar and content during the day. Sometimes it is hard to resist, especially as I have a big Italian quiz coming up on Tuesday. Not sure why I should be concerned, as I’m just auditing the class; however, I am taking the class to learn Italian, so I take all of the quizzes and tests to see if I’m making progress.

Cherry works her defense, but faces a tricky objection from the Other Side

The story moves on. Cherry abandons her original suggestion to move the bees and finally starts making the proper case for their continued existence here. But the two Association honeys have made the a priori decision for extermination. Can Cherry overcome their wall of social privilege? Caroline attempts to put Cherry in an ethical dilemma by comparing Cherry’s struggling landscape business with her husband’s alleged new business struggles. Of course, Caroline sidesteps the corrupt transaction, itself. For all we know, Caroline and her husband are already part of the economic upper crust, and this business is just a side concern. But we don’t know that, so judgment reserved. Still, as a pest controller, he should know that honey bees are not proper subjects for extermination. So, we might assume that Violet reported these are destructive killer bees, instead. We’ll have to wait to learn more, but it doesn’t put Caroline’s husband in a good light. The more we learn about Caroline, the more it is clear she is cut from the same cloth as Violet. With one day to go (I presume), will Cherry be able to make her case?

Visually, today’s strip is well-designed and nicely illustrated, showing little of the “I-have-a-deadline!” sketchiness we have seen other times. By well-designed, I mean that the composition in each panel nicely highlights and supports each panel’s dialog: Panel 1 focuses on Cherry as she states her position, with nothing extraneous to distract us. Panel 2 brings in the statue and bees, along with the three women, as Cherry’s argument moves from a global view of bees to their importance to their local garden. And panel 3 provides a dramatic “oh, by the way” objection by the Sunny Soleil Society to Cherry’s argument. Thus, the two Association women take prominence, as Cherry (and her position) is “pushed” towards the background. I like panel 3, as Rivera’s drawing of the Sunny So-Ladies, as they give us a visual window into their souls (or attitudes). 

Another Forlorn Hope?

“…until she heard of the bee statue.” I thought Cherry was the co-discoverer of the bee statue! Well, it’s clear my powers of prediction leave much to be desired, because the story has a new wrinkle. And sure looks like Caroline is not going to be Cherry’s BFF. She also turns out to be married to an exterminator, which explains her appearance in the strip. We see more reinforcement that it helps to be connected when trying to land jobs. I’m sure that the SSS did not bother to follow standard practices by putting out the job for bids, and doing a blind analysis of the bids before they just happened to pick the firm that was run by the husband of a board member. “Nothing dramatic to see here, folks. Just normal, everyday corruption. Move along, move along.And close your mouth before flies (or bees) get in your mouth, Cherry!

I can’t be too tough on those two purile paragons of privilege (Hey! How is that for a Spiro Agnew-style insult?!). For one thing, it is clear that Rivera means to mock their status. Furthermore, they may want to destroy the bees, but Cherry’s first reaction was to move them some place else, rather than integrate them into the garden. I mean, I can’t believe that was really a hive of so-called killer bees. Not even Cherry confirmed Violet’s rush to judgment. Now, is Cherry going to hurry up and make the pollinator case for the bees? She has two days left to do it before Sunday and then the return of two weeks of Mark and Diana.

Well, I appreciate the fact that Jules is juggling two concurrent story lines in the strip, something we did not see in the former Mark Trail (as I recall).  We might quibble with specifics (as we like to do), but Rivera is still in her first year of the strip. Unlike when Allen took over, Rivera’s job is not to simply keep driving the same car down the same country road, stopping at the same diners for the same meals. There’s a lot of things to work out in any reboot. I think (or hope) several of the clichés Rivera relies upon, such as the ongoing jabs at the former version of the strip (especially to Mark’s earlier role as the Idealized Man of Action and Nobility) will eventually disappear.

It’s just good bees-ness!

I was just having a chat with my wife about my bad habit of second-guessing myself. Never mind what the specific incident was; but this is another example. I took yesterday’s drawings too literally and discounted the idea that Caroline was another SSS member. She seemed from her pose and expression that she was much younger. Well, with the closer images today, that would have been more obvious. She’s just childlike, I reckon. Boy, that Sunny Soleil Society must be one big collection of self-indulgent pretenders.

Anyway, Violet’s no-nonsense pose in panel 1 suggests to me that she knows how Cherry’s conversation with Caroline is already going to go, and that Cherry will not find an ally. Perhaps Cherry, in her desire to be open and friendly towards Caroline, missed Violet’s body language. Cherry is an optimist, however; maybe she read the signals fine, but still thinks she can bring Caroline over to her side. Based on Caroline’s reaction and expression, Cherry may have do an end-run around Violet’s influence and appeal to Caroline’s better instincts. If they exist.

Of course, Cherry is just the hired help; she can suggest, but she cannot insist, unless she wants to return to unemployed status and lose out on the business. But Cherry has principles, too. If she walks away, the bees still get terminated. Is feeling righteous about your high moral standards an acceptable substitute for saving the bees? Okay, Cherry. The pressure is on you to convince these precious debutantes that bees actually help gardens thrive and should not be killed. Cherry could suggest the SSS hire a beekeeper to maintain the bees and help the garden thrive. The beehives could even become an educational attraction for the garden and the Sunny Soleil Society. A good PR Coup for the SSS and Cherry becomes a hero and respected hired hand.

But let’s see how things really pan out this week.

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.

 Float me some pot, Cherry!

I was off on my tracking, as the two week segment with Mark included the prior week when Mark picked up Diana and spent the rest of the week getting consoled by Cherry.

So, catching up, Cherry and Violet Cheshire have an uneasy alliance to restore and upgrade the Sunny Soleil Society’s gardens. That alliance was sorely tested when they were surprised by a swarm of bees hidden under a tarp covering a memorial statue in the garden area. Violet lost her cool. So we’ve caught up.

Yesterday, Jules was nice enough to go over the frog-toad issue, at least enough to ensure that we’ll never be 100% positive one way or the other; so whatever Cherry wants to call these amphibians, is okay by me.  Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that I was flummoxed by the ceramic pots that seemed to be floating on top of the pond beside Cherry. My gardening wife said that this was just a fashion in upscale gardens:  bricks or stones are placed underneath to give the illusion that the pots are floating. Flummox solved.

Moving on to the plot, Cherry seems unduly sensitive about her reaction to, or the appearance of, these toads/frogs in the presence of the two Sunny Soleil ladies. Well, I suppose the “EEK!” exclamation accounts for some of it? Perhaps Cherry’s anxiety is driven by trying to stay on their good side for business reasons. And once again, Rivera continues to do a good job of linking the Sunday animals to the daily strips in a more active way then used to be the case.

Well, if one pretentious person wasn’t enough, Violet shows up with a companion who is equally decked out in Kentucky Derby finery. Okay, that’s possibly a non-sequitur, as conventional wisdom says they are in Georgia. These ladies must live in some time-warped gated community where people dress like that; or it’s Easter. Or maybe the other woman is also an SSS employee and these are just their uniforms.

As for the dialog, I don’t fully understand Cherry’s concerns over the amphibians (aside from the “Eek”) running around (over what I wrote earlier); they are normally found around ponds and lakes, including garden ponds. Also, this is the humid, semi-tropical South. So, why is Cherry upset over what must be a common sight? Hmmm, I’d be more upset over Violet Cheshire’s lame pun in panel 3.

The art is fine, today, and the varying points of view add interest to an otherwise unremarkable sequence. And I can’t help but think of Gulliver when I see panel 2. Then there are the runway model poses of the two fashionistas in panel 3. I think Jules Rivera gets her stereotype ridiculing in again with these ladies’ poses. Miss Blue’s is portrayed in a “precious-refined lady-overreacts-to-actual-wildlife-outside-of-a-zoo” pose, while Violet’s pose has “I-anchor-myself-importance-with-sarcasm” written all over it.

Based on what I’ve seen and read elsewhere, I believe some people missed the actually clever pun Rivera slipped into panel 2. Cherry says “Not in front of the Sunny So-Ladies!!” The pun is the phrase Sunny So-Ladies, which is an elision of the words Sunny Soleil and Ladies. The So-Ladies phrase sounds similar to the French Soleil.

What’s that you say? You already figured it out earlier, and I’m just trying to show off!? Well, it’s easy for you to say that now, since this is already written and you didn’t tell me ahead of time! 🙂