Why does Mark Trail look funny? Did something happen to James Allen?


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.

One kid: 'Rusty, want to be in our group?' Rusty Trail: 'Nah ... I'm going to stick with my dad and help him with his article! Kevin, do you want to tag along with me and my dad?' The non-Rusty kids are drawn slightly bug-eyed and with mouths hanging open not really attractively.
Another point supporting George K Atkins’s hypothesis, mentioned below: the strip has put in a LOT of characters all at once this week. A Mark Trail story always has guest characters, of course, and isn’t always as good about giving them names up front. Someone writing their first story may not understand how to keep the story’s cast to a number, and spread, of people that the audience can follow. Or might understand the principle but not know how to act on that.

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.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

7 thoughts on “Why does Mark Trail look funny? Did something happen to James Allen?”

  1. The current Mark Trail characters are unrecognizable. The drawing is so bad that even though it has been one of my favorite reads, it is as if someone else is drawing the characters and they don’t know what Mark Trail is supposed to look like. Hard to follow a strip when everyone has had bad plastic surgery..

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    1. I haven’t had trouble with the regular characters. The guest characters have been harder, though. I’m bad with names to start with, and rely on identifying hooks. Usually comic strips are great for that, since every character will have a different build or at least a different accessory and I can count on that.

      Again, if I can find any definitive word from Allen, or a representative, I’ll pass it on. All I have really seen are the rumors that get passed around Comics Curmudgeon’s commenters or the like, and I’m not happy with that as my only source. This isn’t to say they’re wrong, just that I don’t have confirmation.

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