[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news! Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]
Edited 5 June 2020 to add: James Allen is going to leave Mark Trail sometime soon. It’s not yet announced when, but it is to be before the recently-begun story, about a movie adaptation of an earlier adventure, is finished. It’s not known whether that story will be finished. Allen says the decision to leave was mutual, between him and King Features Syndicate.
I addressed this in a strip caption on Sunday, but I’m aware people are poking around looking for explanations. Particularly since this week and in the new story the art style has gotten cartoony and loose in a way that’s quite an adjustment for Mark Trail. Say what you will for emotional authenticity, but a big part of the comic strip has been that its characters are drawn photo-realistically, which is part of what makes the animal and plant and landscape art count. And then this week, well, here you go.
So. I do not know with the confidence that I would like just what’s happened. Many commenters on Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen has been taking care of a family member in need. And this has forced him away from the usual studio, so that he’s trying to draw without the usual setup. And, one may imagine, with less time and less ability to focus on the art. Also perhaps the writing, if you thought the conclusion of the Yeti story was an abrupt halt rather than a planned resolution.
This is a plausible and understandable story. What it is not is confirmed, at least to my eyes. I have not seen a comment from James Allen, who would post on the Comics Curmudgeon under the screen name “The Real Mark Trail”, about this. Nor any comment from him in months. Nor have I seen a comment from King Features Syndicate about this. Nor an article on Daily Cartoonist, nor on rec.arts.comics.strips.
On Mark Trail snark-reading blog The Daily Trail, commenter George K Atkins had an interesting hypothesis about this week’s strips particularly. This proposition is that this week has been a strip drawn in-universe by Rusty Trail, who’s been established as very intersted in comics and sharing them online. This would not explain rough patches in the art in the Yeti storyline. But it would be an interesting reason for this week’s art to look so weird, particularly with characters being inconsistent between strips. It would also explain a weird bit Monday where some kids could identify another as “a homeless kid” on sight. We can understand a kid writing a story not knowing how to set up backstory with grace. Or not quite being able to keep a character from sometimes looking like Li’l Funky Winkerbean.
It would be new for Mark Trail to slip into “fiction” without warning the reader ahead of time. But Allen has been trying to add some narrative complexity and nonlinearity to the comic. Pulling back to show Mark Trail reading the comic strip his son created would fit that nicely. And if that is the intention, then it’s well done.
But this is again all guesses. It is not confirmed. All I can say with certainty is, yes, there’s something weird in the art of Mark Trail lately.