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 . . . .

Maybe do the research before the field work…?

As we return to the main story, we find that Mark has left Cherry to her duties and gone back to his own work. Looks like they have set up shop in Diana’s B&B. Given this is Thanksgiving week, I wonder how many Turkeys Rivera will manage to stuff into the strips this week.

Diana’s assessment of Mark’s underwater photography brings up a fair point:  Have we, in fact, ever seen Mark engaged in underwater photography?  As far as I can recollect, we have rarely seen Mark take photos of anything, much less underwater subjects. Correct me if I am wrong, folks!

But is Diana upset about the quality of the photography or the fact that Mark shot photos of barnacles, not zebra mussels? Remember, Diana:  Mark was working under water, under duress, and with a good amount of stress; hardly the conditions for excellent photography. Anyway, we’ll probably find out what she means tomorrow.

The Weekly Recap and Sunday Nature Talk

If you are up-to-date on the strips this week, feel free to skip down to the Sunday strip. For those of you who missed some—or most—of this week, Cherry and a surprisingly available Mark were working on all things gardening. A work van pulled up, out of which stepped “Honest Ernest”, a Good Ol’ Boy in yellow coveralls, who turned out to be the exterminator hired to kill the bees in the Sunny Soleil Society’s garden.  In fact, this entire week of strips (about 5 minutes “in Trail Time”) was devoted to Honest Ernest first annoying, then shocking, the Trails (and us) with his phony “aw shucks” patter and sociopathic attitude. The Trails mostly just stood there, mouths agape; though Cherry once again put forth her weak bees defense, repeating her earlier failure to convince Violet and Caroline (Ernest’s wife). Once Ernest left, Cherry recovered enough to reiterate her intentions to raid the garden overnight with the help of her Garden Mafia to remove the bees to safety. Surprise of surprises, Mark offered to help, apparently indifferent to his current zebra mussel assignment.

All in all, there was little action, though the introduction of Honest Ernest is an important angle to the story. Maybe this week could have been compressed into just three or four days, allowing Rivera to use the other days to portray Cherry meeting with her Black Rose Society colleagues as they prepare to raid the garden. But, at least we can see better why Cherry’s defense of the bees went nowhere with the Sunny Soleil Society. It wasn’t just Cherry’s lack of persuasiveness, but the ignorance and delusional attitudes of the social-climbing members of the Sunny Soleil Society. Their pretense of sophistication was revealed by the cynical glibness and threatening attitude of Caroline’s rube of a husband. But, it’s time to move on to the Sunday nature strip. See you in three weeks, Cherry!

As Mark channels his inner “John Lennon” in the last panel (nice pun, Mark!), the Trails serve up a second helping of Sunday Bees; this time, the friendlier domestic version. Rivera’s tradition of making the Sunday title panel thematically link to the current subject continues, as does the tradition of linking the subject to the current storyline. This is not  her best title panel, but it’s still a good tradition. Cherry continues to serve as the Second Banana. Frankly, most of this information has already been discussed in the daily strips. But repetition is generally a good instructional method. So, do you agree that the Sunday strips are generally better drawn than the dailies? Not sure why. Well, we might have a different opinion on the hands.

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.

Maybe this guy is just trying to find a place to get some pancakes?

When we last saw Cherry (a few weeks ago), she was marching with her band of gardener commandoes to check out the bee statue at the Sunny Soleil Society gardens. And Mark was sitting at a picnic table with Cliff and Diana Daggers, hoping to work things out between themselves. Yet, here are our two lovebirds, working together, as if nothing else was going on. What’s with that? With luck, we’ll at least see what Cherry and her group will do by this coming Saturday.

But, what’s this? Some clown in a yellow jump suit has driven up, billowing snide commentary like the typical B-movie bully who thinks he is both funny and dangerous. Until he discovers he picked a fight with a woman who happens to be standing next to Jean-Claude Van Damme.

At first, I thought this might be one of the thugs sent by the Duck Duck Goose shipping company to persuade Mark to back off. But, that would be integrating the two storylines. As I wrote before, I think that would be a great idea; yet it doesn’t have that feel. My guess is that Mr. Yellow Jumpsuit is the extermination business husband of Caroline (a board member of the SSS), who has come around to “put the little woman in her place”, as it were. Clearly, his truck has that “business” look and it appears to have something on its top. Possibly a stereotypical “bug” figure. And that’s why Mr. Yellow Jumpsuit also hides the logo on the side of the work van. The Big Reveal is on Tuesday.