What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How is Mark Trail not in jail? November 2020 – January 2021


I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.

So that catches you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the end of January 2021. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, there’ll likely be a more up-to-date plot recap at a post here. I’ll also post any news about the strip there.

Mark Trail.

15 November 2020 – 31 January 2021.

The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.

Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.

Frankie, boating Mark Trail up to a bunch of ripples in the swamp: 'We're here.' Mark Trail: 'Jolly Roger is here? Where?' Roger bursts up from under the water, holding a python. Mark: 'Oh, wow! Jolly Roger, it's Mark. It's been a while. How are you, Jolly?' Roger, putting the snake in a cage: 'Not too bad ... ever since your father stole my farm.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2020. So you’re either amused by the snake’s ! word balloon in the second panel there or you hate it, and I imagine that defines whether you like Rivera’s strip or not. Me, I wonder what the strip looks like in black-and-white, if any newspapers are running the dailies without color.

Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.

Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.

Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.

Roger, narrating flashbacks: 'I contacted the media. That's when things got ugly.' (Roger speaking with a news reporter.) 'The protest started outside the farm ... ' (Protest march outside Happy Trails Farm.) 'My family faced a backlash of hate ... ' (Roger's family looking at a smashed up and graffitied van with N-something and GO AWAY sprayed across it.) 'And for the last 13 years ... I've been trying to get my farm back.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of December, 2020. The van in the third panel hit me particularly. It’s a more direct and intense thing than goings-on with, like, Jolly Roger laughing at having caught a python.

All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.

Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.

Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.

Happy Trail: 'The speedboat was supposed to be a surprise! We were going to have fun!' Niecy Roger: 'Guys?' Mark: 'FUN? You messed with people's lives! You have to make things right!' (Niecy covers her ears and tries to dodge the fight.) Happy: 'I tried to give you a good life and this is how you repay me? You bum!' Niecy, unnoticed: 'I'm leaving.' Mark: 'At least I'm not a hypocrite! You know speedboats hurt MANATEES!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 1st of January, 2021. I propose the last panel as the proof that Jules Rivera does have an exact handle on what’s essential about Mark Trail. Even if he’s leaving his shirt unbuttoned. He is absolutely someone who yells at his father for endangering manatees.

And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.

He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.

But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.

Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.


So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?

No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.

Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.

I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.

Cherry Trail narrating flashbacks of her at a young age driving away with Doc: 'Rusty, try to understand that leaving was the most difficult thing your Poppy ever had to do. He wasn't proud of leaving a mentally ill wife behind in Florida, but it was the only way for us all to stay safe.' (Present day, Cherry hugging Rusty.) 'Later, I learned Mama had Peach and Olive and I had two sisters living in Christmas, Florida.' Peach: 'What a wild Christmas gift, huh?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of December, 2020. I’m interested in the artistic choice to depict a young Cherry but obscure Doc’s face. It may be just that Rivera figured this the easiest way to convey that it was a horrible day for Doc that Cherry barely understood at the time. Still, the story is about revealing hidden identity; to show identity still being hidden carries meaning.

Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.

And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.


Sunday Animals Watch!

I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.

  • Gardening, 15 November 2020. It’s a great way to discover plants that won’t thrive for you!
  • Burmese Pythons, 22 November 2020. Which are invasive in Florida, thanks to humans making dumb pet choices.
  • Cuban Treefrogs, 29 November 2020. Invasive again and this one keeps jumping into Mark Trail’s face.
  • Alligators, 6 December 2020. The strip says they eat fruits and berries but I’ve been reading a lot of Pogo and I think this is understating how much they eat pies and not Little Pup Dogs.
  • Peacocks, 13 December 2020. They’re loud, aggressive, pretty ridiculous, and oh yeah native to Southeast Asia but who doesn’t like them anyway?
  • Toxic algae blooms, 20 December 2020. Mentioned the week after Jolly Roger brought them up in the strip, so you see how well these are being integrated to the daily storyline.
  • Bobcats, 27 December 2020. More Florida animals, ones that the strip says will even hunt sharks, which seems like going a bit too far for this whole bobcatting thing.
  • Manatees, 3 January 2021. The only thing bigger than manatees is the list of manatee vulnerabilities.
  • Ibises, 10 January 2021. Which aren’t really invasive, but they’re being pushed out of their natural habitat because we’re destroying it.
  • Armadillos, 17 January 2021. Which have also moved into Florida. The strip says they’re the “only mammal with armor” and I was going to ask about pangolins but Jules Rivera noted that should have read “in North America”.
  • Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.

Next Week!

I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.

60s Popeye: Bullfighter Bully, a 60s Popeye cartoon with bullfighting


For today’s cartoon it’s one of the handful of Larry Harmon-produced cartoons. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. Here’s 1960’s Bullfighter Bully.

I opined once that (American-made) bullfighting cartoons are always on the side of the bull. This rule, like all, isn’t quite right. The staging of a plot can overwhelm how much the bull is set up to be the aggrieved party. The main bull for this cartoon, though, is a calf, a rather cute and innocent-looking animal. Popeye’s been cast as anti-bullfighting before. That earlier one and this cartoon gave me the impression Popeye was always strongly anti-bullfighting. This because I forgot things like 1953’s Toreadorable. Well, here’s a list of Popeye cartoons with a bull in them. You figure out his personality.

Popeye smiling and holding out his hand, pointing to the calf and Olive Oyl in the stands. Both of them are smiling, the calf with a particularly exaggerated grin that makes it look like it's concealing a deep secret or possibly a crush.
On the other hand, a calf with a grin like that is certainly not innocent. He may not deserve to be stabbed to death, but he probably has earned a censure, maybe disbarment proceedings.

The villain here is El Diablo, who looks uncannily like Brutus and has the same voice Brutus used when pretending to be Don Juan back when he turned young. I’m not going to fault Jackson Beck for not having two distinct “Brutus with a Spanish accent” voices. The bull this time is a cute calf, and Popeye and Olive Oyl come to defend them. This seems like it should be enough of a story, especially for a cartoon that’s under five minutes of screen time. But then Charles Shows went and had a grown-up and dangerous bull run into the story. I understand the impulse to add some peril, since Brutus El Diablo wasn’t cutting it. But it isn’t very frightening and Popeye goes and off-frame kills the bull. Yes, he punches a bull into a pile of meat in most every bullfighting cartoon he’s in. That usually doesn’t work for me then, either.

The animation’s done by the team that would create Filmation. So, it’s got the lushness and subtlety of expression you’d expect from that. A lot of interactions handled by an off-screen sound effect. Well, at least Popeye gets kissed by a calf at the end. That’s something.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020


My answer is long. Let me defer it until after the plot recap. This plot recap should get you up to speed for mid-November, 2020, and the start of Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s more Mark Trail news, you might find an essay at this link more useful.

Also! Remember that Comics Kingdom survey? It hasn’t come to anything yet. But D D Degg, at Daily Cartoonist, reports how Comics Kingdom is doing a Flash Gordon Anthology strip. Flash Forward started this past Sunday. It’s in honor of the 40th anniversary of the movie, and they seem to have forty artists lined up to do stuff. I don’t know whether it’ll have an ongoing story. If there is one, I’ll try and do plot recaps.

Last, my A-to-Z of mathematics terms resumes this week on my other blog. Would you like to see me say something about velocity? The answer may surprise you.

Mark Trail.

23 August – 14 November 2020.

When I last checked with Mark Trail, it was a Jack Elrod-era rerun. I did not know when it was from. I’ve since learned. The story ran from the 13th of March through to the 29th of May, 2001.

And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.

[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut.  Well, I tried.  Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020”

In Which I Encounter Some Bambi LARP


It was another banner night for seeing nature when I took my walk yesterday. Three or possibly four rabbits along the sidewalk, for example. (I passed the same spot twice and there was a rabbit there each time but I could not attest under oath that they were the same rabbit, as I did not get the rabbit’s name, and would not have remembered it anyway.)

But the high point was seeing a rabbit alongside a skunk. The rabbit, more, was charging at the skunk, and circling around it, the way they do when they are very excited by a thing and would like it to be a thing somewhere else. The skunk, meanwhile, was hustling along. Making good speed, for a skunk. Skunks have really good de-escalation skills. Like, there’s Brooklyn bartenders who study skunks to learn how to get everybody to chill. The rabbit, though, was chasing down the skunk, for all that the skunk was trying to get out of this and hurry off to campus. Running around it, running up to it, backing off and running back up to it again.

I couldn’t follow this into the night to see how it resolved. But, night rabbit, I hope that scenario played out the way you had imagined it would.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Is Gasoline Alley in repeats still? May – August 2020


I can’t tell whether the current storyline in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a repeat. From May through early July the strip repeated a story from 2010. We assume this was to give Jim Scancarelli some time to research and work ahead for the February 2021 centennial of Skeezix’s debut.

So a story began the 6th of July. It feels like a repeat to me, and to many of the GoComics commenters. But nobody has found it in the archives, to my knowledge. Those archives only go back to April 2001, true. But it would be odd to reprint a strip from more than twenty years ago; strip sizes have changed since then. But there’s no definite word either way.

If I get word that this is definitely a repeat, or definitely new, or any other Gasoline Alley news I’ll post it here. Also, I expect, a new plot summary around November 2020.

Gasoline Alley.

25 May – 15 August 2020.

The story as repeated: Gertie, Walt Wallet’s caretaker, worried about the side effects of his medications. Like, they can cause hallucinations. They seem to be working: Walt calls Gertie out to see a mass of exotic tropical birds. The birds vanish before Gertie gets outside. Then there’s monkeys swinging from the trees, except when Gertie steps outside. A hippopotamus on the lawn. Gertie worries about the hallucinations until she comes face-to-face with a lion.

Gertie: 'Mr Walt! You were right! There ARE critters everywhere!' Walt, surrounded by monkeys, exotic birds, a hippo, an elephant, and so on: 'I told you so!' Gertie, pointing to a friendly lion: 'Hoo-wee! This one didn't brush his teeth!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of June, 2020. This is what it’s like to have a furry convention set up in your town, by the way. You’re walking to that place where you build-your-own-tacos and whoop, hyenas!

It draws a crowd, including Polly Ballew, oddly young sister of Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew. (Hi, Dad!) And, finally, it draws an answer: “world’s greatest animal trainer” Clyde Bailey. These are circus animals, who escaped after “hungry vagrants” broke into their cages and stole food. Bailey’s able to round up the animals and get them back, and bring this repeat to a close.

Animal trainer Clyde Bailey, calling the animals: 'Tantor! Simba! Tarmangani! Oongowah!' The next panel the elephant and lion screeeeech to a sharp halt. The birds flying around them are probably also stopping too.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2020. I’m sorry not to share more pictures as Scancarelli draws a great cartoony animal. It looks like he had a blast with this action. I would pay for a cornball funny-animals comic book like they published in the old days drawn by him. Give me that elephant and that lion swapping vaudeville patter.

The current and possibly new story started the 6th of July, with Rover Wallet and son Boog driving home. This would fit from the end of the previous story, the Farm Collective one, by the way. They pick up a hitchhiking Joe Pye, and his three sons. On W-PLOT Radio, they hear of four “armed and dangerous” escapees from State Prison. The Pyes jump out of the truck.

On the truck radio: 'I repeat! The FOUR escaped convicts are armed and dangerous! This is not a fake report!' One of the Pye kids, riding in the truckbed: 'It IS too! We ain't armed!' Joe Pye: 'Joe Pye and his boys will sue em fo' desperation of character!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of July, 2020. Wh … why are the bunnies spying like that in the first panel? Are they hoping to nab the escapees and grab the reward?

It’s hard to believe in a Scancarelli character being “dangerous”. But the Pyes agree they’re fleeing the cops, and go tromping through the wilderness. They tromp through the water, figuring this will wreck their trail. And then come the dogs. They surrender to what they take are police dogs. But they’re not; the dogs, Flotsam and Jetsam, are a woman’s.

Shari Pye, cross, and arms crossed: 'The Joe Pye I'm talking about had three sons named Red Tommy, Milferd, and Roscoe Baby!' One of the Pye kids: 'Roscoe BABY? Ha ha ha! Oh! BABY mine!' Shari: 'What're YOUR names?' Pye kid: 'Gulp! Uh ... ... Manny!' Next kid: 'I'm Moe!' Last kid: 'An' I'm Jacques!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2020. I’d like to help by tagging which of the Pye kids is which but I just don’t know. They seem to reliably be shown together which makes it hard to say who’s who. Also, I know Scancarelli fought the impulse to have them declare they were Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered/Bemildred. (They were the trio of bats in Walt Kelly’s Pogo.)

The woman thinks Joe Pye looks familiar. His name is familiar too. She’s Shari Pye. Joe Pye knew someone by that name, years ago. Married her, in fact. She’d married a Joe Pye, it turns out. And had three sons who fled with Joe. Joe Pye comes clean: he’s her long-lost husband. Also, when he told his sons that their mother had died he had mixed up his phrasing. So the family’s reunited, then, that’s sure to be a good thing, right?

And that’s where the storyline stands as of the middle of August. Again, if I find evidence this is a repeat, or is definitely not, I’ll pass word on.

Next Week!

It’s a comic strip I know to be in repeats! I’ll look at the last weeks of James Allen’s Mark Trail and the start of Jack Elrod repeats. Unless something disrupts the plan. Thank you for bearing with me as we hope there is a plan.

60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

Everything there is to say about the creation and use of tools by rooks


Animal researchers were surprised in the last couple years to learn that rooks will make and use tools. Here I mean humans who research animals. The animals researching people were surprised that this was surprising. I don’t know what the people who research animals who research people were surprised by. I can’t take all that much surprise, not in a single sentence.

The thing to remember here is that the rooks are birds. These are variant models of the crow, with a moonroof and power aelerons, not the chess pieces. These are often confused, what with how surprising and confusing a time it’s been. Also with how many of them are members of the International Federation of Chess-Playing Animals, an organization that’s properly known in French by basically the same words in a different order. In the wild, rooks actually don’t depend much on rooks. They play much more on bishops, which leaves them vulnerable to badgers, who like the little horseys. “How are we losing to you?” cry out the rooks. “You call them `little horseys’!” Chess is, as the immortal plumber says, a game of deep strategy.

The thing I don’t know is how anybody can be the least surprised by animals making and using tools. Yes, we used to think humans were the only people who made and used tools. But that came to an end with the historic ruling in 1996 that animal researchers — again, the humans doing the researching of animals — were allowed to sometimes look at the animals they were researching. It made for exciting times in the animal-research (by humans) journals. Top-tier journals published breakthroughs like “Kangaroos not actually large mice”, “Mother opossum just, like, wearing a coat of babies”, “Mice not actually tiny kangaroos”, “Is that red squirrel yelling at me?”, “Medium-Size kangaroos or mice just nature being difficult”, and “Look how happy this mouse is eating raw pasta!”.

Today we should understand that basically any animal that can get one will use tools. The only unique part about humans is when we get a tool we’ll feel guilty for not filling out the warranty registration. In our defense, filling it out requires dealing with a web site, and those haven’t been any good since 2012. Also they want to be allowed to send you push notifications, so that anytime, day or night, you might be interrupted a fast-breaking update on the biscuit-joiner situation. It’s a great way to get out of a dull conversation, yes. “I’m sorry, I have to take this, it’s Milwaukee Sawzall telling me about a clamp meter” is a socially acceptable pass out of any interaction. “It’s of much greater precision!” will get you out of the next conversation, too.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place. Nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools sold in the 2010s were bought by tree-dwelling mammals of 18 inches or less in length. Nearly the whole world’s supply of rotary sanders have been obtained by squirrels. We don’t know what they’re doing with them, but we do notice the red squirrels spending less time yelling and more time rubbing their paws together while grinning. And this all does help us distinguish the smaller squirrels from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders. See a Miter saw in the wild? There’s a badger no more than 25 feet away. Nobody knows how raccoons got wood routers, but it is why they’re just everywhere on the Wood Internet.

And animals have done much to give us tools. The inclined plane, for example, was nothing more than an incline before sea turtles thought to match it to the plane. They didn’t even realize they were creating a useful tool. They just hoped to advance to being sea-saw turtles, and did. The monkey wrench, as you’d expect from the name, was not invented by a monkey. It was a team of four monkeys working long hours for a period of ten years, at the end of which they had produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks. Nobody knows how wrenches got into the matter.

Having said all that, now I’m wondering whether the animal researchers were confused between the chess rooks and the bird rooks. Wouldn’t it be just like life if they had meant to study the chess pieces and got onto birds by mistake?

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files


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    8. Open-ended Richter scale or bust.
  2. Which parts of routine maintenance have you performed on or against your product to date?

    1. I have meant to clean it after every use. And have done so exactly once. While doing so I lost the cloth rag to go along with it.
    2. I have dusted it once when company was coming over, and then another time when I thought I would get everything under control by putting in ten minutes every day to dusting, only to learn later on that “dusting” traditionally means “removing dust”.
    3. On four separate occasions I have hit it on the side, and only on the third was this followed by the sound of plastic shards slipping off and falling deep into the interior.
    4. The product was a vending machine ice cream cone.
    5. While the product was a vending machine ice cream cone I found it needed to be rebooted from a recovery flash drive, and then I had to spend twenty minutes downloading updates. The ice cream was a gelatinous goo. This is not to say it was bad.
  3. How do you indicate that you should not presently be taken seriously?

    1. I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.
    2. I have spoken of “sheeple”.
    3. I say things like “I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.”
    4. I have never been not taken seriously except by accident when I meant it, and good luck figuring that out.
    5. Have you taken a good look at me, ever?
    6. I bring every conversation around to how there is a Big Brown Bat, and it is one of of the microbats. I mean the American Big Brown Bat, not the Asian Big Brown Bat, which I don’t know whether is a microbat or not but is smaller than the Big Brown Bat that is a microbat. I can come in again.
  4. Which body parts has your use of our product lead you to conclude are funny to mention?

    1. Spleen.
    2. Inguinal ligament.
    3. Monoclonal antibodies.
    4. h3 tags.
    5. Tenocytes.
    6. Pelvic brim.
    7. Hipster’s metatarsals.
    8. Fingernails.
    9. Galloping protease.
  5. What logical fallacies have you developed while using this product?

    1. I’ve used “affirming the consequence” with a side of “continuum fallacy”.
    2. I remind people anytime any study anywhere finds a link between two things that “correlation does not imply causation”, and therefore do not connect this habit to how people don’t talk with me anymore.
    3. I never use fallacies, but I do stand off to the side waiting for people to say they are “begging the question” when they mean to invite a question, which has nothing to do with how people only talk in a resigned, exhausted voice around me anymore.
    4. I want to say “modus ponens”, which I’m not sure is a logical fallacy, but which is a lot of fun to say and has few applications, unless you are discussing logic or are poorly translating it into “The Mode Of Ponies” to get people talking to you about that.
    5. I am still working through a 24-pack of logical fallacies picked up in the past, and have not even opened up the box of quantificational fallacies in the pantry.

Thank you for your valued contributions to whatever it is we are really up to, which you do not really want to think about. Contest winners should they exist will be notified. Send help, the economist won’t leave.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave Harvey Camel for dead? December 2019 – March 2020


I don’t want to say Mark Trail left Harvey Camel for dead in a Nepalese avalanche. But he didn’t spend a lot of time looking, either. He had fair reasons not to look, in what we saw on-panel: it has to have been too dangerous to try right after the avalanche. But we don’t see this explained, and we don’t see, like, the day or two after the avalanche either. It’s some unsettling stuff.

Thanks for reading this to catch up on the story comics! I should have another look at James Allen’s Mark Trail at this link around June 2020. So if you’re looking for a story recap and you’re that far in my future, that link might be more helpful. Also, I look at comic strips with a mathematical theme over on my other blog, which you might like to see sometime.

Now to a little more detail about what Mark Trail has been doing.

Mark Trail.

16 December 2019 – 7 March 2020.

Renowned Twitter cryptozoologist Dr Harvey Camel had brought Mark Trail to the Himalayas. Mark Trail’s editor approved. Camel is following the real-world news of an Indian Army unit reporting a Yeti footprint. Mark Trail figures there can’t be a Yeti, but there’s interesting life in the Himalayas, and a crocodile’s already tried to eat them. And a dzo, a water-buffalo/yak hybrid, came around to mock them. Mark Trail’s tired of rooting around looking for a thing he doesn’t believe exists. And Harvey Camel is one of those exhausting online people. He can barely talk for how he’s putting this all on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Myspace and Livejournal and Cu-SeeMe. He’s got a freaking gateway to Bitnet, somehow.

And he keeps insisting stuff is evidence of Yetis. Whistling? Yeti. Destroyed hiking station? Yeti. Four rocks by the side of the hiking path? Yeti. Early-morning rain showers? Yeti. Goldbach’s Conjecture? Yeti. “You can’t just keep pointing at things and calling them Yetis,” cries Mark Trail. Camel posts this to TikTok, declaring, “You’re the meme now, dog.” So with this history in mind, you can understand why Mark Trail might leave him for dead.

Mark Trail: 'Harvey, let me ask. Let's say we actually find the Yeti. What do you intend to do? You going to approach it while you livestream the entire thing? Get a selfie with it?' Camel: 'Don't be ridiculous, Mark. I brought you along to photograph our journey and experiences. Besides, I don't think we'll be able to get that close!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of December, 2019. I understand the plot reasons we didn’t see a lot of Mark Trail photographing the expedition. It would undercut Mark Trail’s pique at Harvey Camel photographing everything if he was doing the same. And, strange as it seems to say for a story which went on for a half year, it’d make things drag out to stop the action for Mark Trail to photograph stuff.

Also a Himalayan red bear attacks. It’s the fourth Attack of Nature this story. Pemba, one of the Sherpas they’re hiring, has bear repellent, so it’s okay. And Camel opens up about his motivations. He doesn’t want the Yeti captured or brought to zoos or exploited by humans. He wants to show the world that such an astounding things exists. And, yeah, the fame and fortune would be a pleasant reward.

In a hiking station for the night, Mark Trail presses Camel. Why is he so sure there’s one to find? Camel has a heck of an answer: when he was a child, a Yeti ripped his leg off. He’d been hiking with his father, and a Yeti broke into their cabin, tossed his father around, and grabbed him by the leg. And now Camel reveals his prosthetic leg. This pays off the “why does he walk funny” question Mark Trail asked Genie back in November.

Camel, recounting a teenage encounter: 'That night, the Yeti burst into our cabin ... my father took a gun and fired at it. The savage brute sent him crashing to a corner!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2020. So another good question is why the art in Mark Trail seems weird lately. Commenters on the Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen’s had to go help a family member through illness, and has been working away from home and the usual studio. So he’s had to make experiments with different drawing setups. I have not seen a statement from James Allen directly, so I can’t confirm that. But it seems a reasonable explanation.

Later, Mark Trail asks Genie, like, seriously? Camel’s assistant says she believes in his trauma. But whether it was a Yeti? How is she to know? Unless she’s been his friend for decades and taking care of him and helping him with his trauma? Anyway, they turn in, and Mark Trail sees something inexplicable: Genie going in to Harvey Camel’s room. At night. It makes us wonder whether sex exists in the Mark Trail universe. Before you say that’s obvious since Mark has a son? Remember that Rusty Trail was adopted. Still, yeah, of course people in the Mark Trail universe have heard of sex, and may even enjoy it. It’s not like they’re in Luann.

Mark Trail: 'I suppose I'd better turn in, too!' (He sees Genie going into Camel's room.) 'What th' ... What's she doing going into Harvey's room?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2020. One occasionally suspects that Mr Allen might be setting up a panel now and then to delight his ironic readers.

They get back to hiking, Mark Trail still prodding Camel, “Yeah no but really?” At night they set up camp. And Camel hears something. A whistling. Genie insists it’s the wind. Camel says it’s the Yeti. He runs out of the tent, into the snowstorm.

And the avalanche.

Harvey Camel running out into a heavy snow; then, there's an enormous RUM-M-BLE!! and a mountain of snow flows down at him.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of February, 2020. “Wait! No one said let’s get ready to this!”

Mark Trail, Genie, and the Sherpas are all right. Mark Trail suggests maybe Camel made it out the other side of the valley? Genie hopes so. But … they don’t look.

In the circumstance, at that hour? That’s defensible. Yes, Camel is lost and likely wounded. But it’s also the middle of the night, immediately after an avalanche, and there’s only four people who could start searching. Waiting for daytime, contacting authorities, getting an organized rescue together is sensible. But this reasoning is never made on-screen. Mark Trail, or better the Sherpas, could explain that searching for Camel right now is likely to fail and get more people injured or killed.

Genie: 'Harvey began to relish his alter ego, broadcasting his adventures on the Internet! [ Picture of him taking a selfie from atop an elephant. ] He wanted each adventure to be bigger and more exciting than the one before it. His audience's hunger reached a fever pitch when he announced his next big adventure.'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of February, 2020. All right, so the adventures we know Harvey Camel got up to were catching a fish and now taking a selfie from on an elephant. Can see why he didn’t have anywhere to go but “Yeti”.

Instead what we see is Genie explaining Camel’s life story. Camel lost a leg to juvenile diabetes. They became friends shortly after he lost his leg. She caretook him. And Camel got onto social media, becoming an adventurer with a worldwide fanbase and niche fame. And, needing to make ever-bigger adventures for his audience, going finally to the search for the Yeti. Mark Trail nods, thinking of this as a lesson in the search for online fame. And we see how this quest ends. Unless, of course, Camel did make it out alive.

And … the heck? Because this is good enough exposition. It fills out character and explains motivations and actions. But it leaves new questions. Like: so was Harvey Camel a legitimate anthropologist who turned into a celebrity? Or was he always a showman, with enough science in him to get respectable magazines like Woods and Wildlife to finance him? And: so … did Harvey Camel, as a child, travel with his father to Nepal and have some encounter that he could remember as a Yeti attack? It’s all right if the characters don’t know answers. But a reader can, fairly, ask whether James Allen has answers in mind. A storyteller always has the right to change their mind about characters’ histories. If the revision makes for a better story, it’s a brilliant twist. If it confuses the audience, it’s a mess.

So this time spent in revelations threw a lot of people off the story. We go from that night, and Genie revealing what she knew about Camel’s history, right to Mark Trail readying to leave Nepal. Mark Trail talks about how they need to inform the authorities. And I suppose we can take as implicit that there was a search. But what counts to the audience is what the characters spend time on. Especially in comic strips, which get read and thought about for seconds per day.

[ Tumlingtar, Nepal ] Mark Trail: 'Genie, I'm sorry this trip didn't turn out as we had hoped!' Genie: 'I understand, Mark --- although I believed in Harvey, I knew it was a long shot! I just didn't think it would end like this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of February, 2020. Yeah, but let’s talk seriously here: no corpse? No death. Especially since James Allen is a reader of adventure strips where the impossible escape from certain death is mandatory. More Harvey Camel is just so incredibly well set up.

Subtlety is great for rewarding careful audience members. It can add nice plot symmetries or shadings of character. It sucks for establishing things like “would our hero prefer to rescue someone from certain death?” A reader can be forgiven for thinking Mark Trail saw the avalanche as a chance to get away from Harvey Camel. And this, right after a story in which Mark Trail didn’t spend much screen time searching for JJ Looper after a flash flood, makes a bad pattern.

(There are more interesting patterns, though. That earlier story also involved the search for something Mark Trail didn’t think existed, in this case a Vanishing Gold Mine. And had Mark Trail be as suspicious of JJ Looper as he would be of Harvey Camel. Looper would justify Mark Trail’s suspicion, but Mark Trail didn’t have anything but a hunch to go on there.)

Mark Trail heads home. He admits not knowing whether Harvey Camel died in the avalanche. But what are the chances of Camel surviving certain death, and then teaming up with “Dirty” Dyer to seek revenge on Mark Trail? Anyway, Mark Trail explains that his article for Woods and Wildlife won’t mention the Yeti. The crocodiles and bears and all are enough. Which … is … a decision I’d want to bounce off the editor. I would think a failed search for a Yeti alongside a preposterous minor celebrity would be a great story. Of course, I’ve written like two thousand words making fun of this story so far this essay, and I have two other essays about this story.

Mark Trail: 'The Internet can also bring out the worst in people!' Cherry: 'I worry about that too! Especially with Rusty reading the online comments about his favorite comics!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of February, 2020. You may see this as another case of the cartoonist forcing characters to care about their own pet peeve. But, you know? If you can use your creative forum to work out your complaints? And get paid for it? Great for you. And you’re part of a long artistic heritage. And we can all still laugh morbidly at the Mallard Fillmore guy spending what seemed like eighteen years straight whining about cops stopping people for nothing more than drunk driving.

Anyway then Mark Trail warns Cherry and Doc about how the Internet can bring out bad stuff in people. Cherry agrees, talking about Rusty Trail reading the comments of online comics-reading communities. All right. With that, the story ends. The avalanche brought the Attack of Nature count up to five.


The new story started the 29th of February. Cherry Trail got a call from Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. They do nature outings for kids, particularly ones considered “troubled children”. Mark Trail figures he’ll do an article on the Forest Explorers. He and Rusty can join them a trip. So we’re still meeting everybody right now. There hasn’t been a plot to start yet. We’ll see where things go over the next few months.

Sunday Animals Watch!

So you know your headcanon where the Sunday panels explaining animals are articles that Mark Trail writes? Turns out everybody thinks the same way. I don’t know that it’s what James Allen or his predecessors thought they were doing with it. But everyone agrees that’s what it should mean. Anyway here’s what Mark Trail’s been writing about while lost in the Himalayas:

  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re neat; give them a look.
  • Myrrh, 22 December 2019. It’s one of many resins that you might like to know about.
  • Bear attacks, 29 December 2019. Mark Trail recommends you not be attacked by a bear. But if you are attacked with a bear, try to have bear repellent.
  • Tasmanian tigers, 5 January 2020. Extinct for 85 years now. But there’ve been sightings, and now and then someone who thinks genetics is easy says they’re going to clone the animal back into existence.
  • Saffron crocuses, 12 January 2020. The amount of work it takes to make saffron causes me to feel like I’m putting a lot of people to bother if I get anything that uses any.
  • Leatherback turtles, 19 January 2020. With a mention of other marine turtles.
  • Silver-backed chevrotains, 26 January 2020. A species not spotted for thirty years. This as part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” campaign. This tries finding evidence for animals not spotted in a long while.
  • Dumbo Octopus, 2 February 2020. Which are amazing, and which live so deep in the ocean with so few predators around that they don’t even have ink sacs.
  • Bats, 9 February 2020. Leave hibernating bats alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Coyotes, 16 February 2020. Leave coyotes alone, they’ve got enough problems.
  • Tapetums, 23 February 2020. Those are the eye layers in nocturnal animals that cause their eyes to do crazy things at night or undre flash photography.
  • Saber-toothed animals, 1 March 2020. A surprising number of animals make this work, and if your day is dragging, do an image search on “musk deer”.
  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. It takes a lot of training to get a dog to bark at something, somewhere, when the cop bats the trunk of the car with the Abolish Prison Labor bumper sticker.

Next Week!

Did Estelle take Wilbur back? Why? Did Iris screw up her relationship with Zak? Why? Is Dawn screwing up her relationship with real French guy from France, Hugo Franceypants? Why? Did the auto care place at the end of the block finally update its sign with a new inspirational-yet-somehow-despairing thought? Yes! Will I belatedly work out the “Mark Trail joined Mastodon but left because he couldn’t find any” joke I’ve been trying to make fit into this all week? Could be! Join me for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in one week’s time, if things go like I plan. Thanks for reading. Like and subscribe me on Orkut, Ping, Yo, Ello, and Apple eWorld, please.

60s Popeye: Searching for the Foola-Foola Bird (it’s easy to find)


New Year, new old Popeye cartoons to watch. It’s another Larry Harmon-produced cartoon here, this one written by Charles Shows. I don’t have him on record yet, but these records are still quite young things. Going in, I don’t expect great animation — again, see the Hal Sutherland/Lou Scheimer credits — but I’d expect a couple of interesting figures at least. And a solid story makes up for a lot of animation flaws. So here from 1960, it’s Foola-Foola Bird.

We open on a picnic that certainly doesn’t look at all like it’s setting up stock footage that could frame any story. I like the way they’ve drawn grass, though. Popeye and all are tuned to KPLOT-AM radio, where Jackson Beck is doing his Jim Backus impersonation. It’s an adequate way to set up the premise, if you don’t just want to have Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing to Foola-Foola Island and explaining the plot to each other.

The National Birdwatchers Society is offering a million dollars for a Foola-Foola Bird. Nobody says what they want it for, but, given the era … I mean, this was made before Rachel Carson proposed that covering the earth eight feet deep in neurotoxins to save the cost of road crews cutting brush back from highway signage was bad, actually. I have concerns about the well-being of any animals in captivity. But that’s outside the scope of the cartoon. Popeye knows where to find a Foola-Foola Bird: they’ll be on Foola-Foola Island. You’d think more people would try looking there. But I like that Popeye knows where to go. It suggests he’s picked up sailor’s lore, and I like when he gets to be a sailor.

There’s a neat little dissolve, between Brutus and a sneaking Popeye, at about 1:40. And then we get “the last” of the Foola-Foola Birds, although I don’t know how Popeye’s so sure this is the last of them. The bird’s pretty good at taking care of himself, at least.

Popeye does this cheery little song about how “I will fool-a the Foola-Foola bird”. I don’t know why I liked this so. It seems playful, like the way Jack Mercer’s improvised mutterings in the 30s did. I’m curious whether the line was written or whether Jack Mercer just spruced up a dull moment in the recording studio. Or replaced a boring line announcing what Popeye was doing with this.

The Foola-Foola Bird passes out when Popeye “scientifically” sprinkles salt on its tail. Why? I know the legend is that you catch a bird by sprinkling salt on its tail. But, like, I’ve seen every Woody Woodpecker cartoon and he was never taken by that, except when he was going along with a gag. Is the Foola-Foola Bird going along with Popeye’s nonsense to see if this leads anywhere interesting?

So after Popeye walks through the slowest snare trap in the world and gets caught, Brutus takes the Foola-Foola Bird, then drops it to tie up Olive Oyl. The Foola-Foola Bird gives Popeye his spinach, because … why? I’d like to think the Foola-Foola Bird has figured out the moral landscape here, but I don’t see that the bird has reason to. Popeye said he was going to give the Foola-Foola Bird a nice new home, but the bird already has a home.

There’s a perfunctory fight between Popeye and Brutus. If it counts as a fight when only one person throws a punch. And then we get Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing home, deciding to leave the Foola-Foola Bird alone: why? It’s a plausible change of opinion, yes, but why did either of them make it? One line of Olive Oyl regretting the trouble they’re causing the bird would carry a lot of work here. And give Olive Oyl a use in the cartoon. We have the cute ending that the bird’s followed along, and even dragged Brutus with him. Nice enough, although I don’t know why Popeye talks about the Foola-Foola Bird being there as if it were a problem.

So a question for me: why did the cartoon make up the Foola-Foola Bird? The Popeye lore already has the legendary and rare Whiffle Hen. Your tiring friend who wants to Well Actually things will tell you how the Whiffle Hen’s lucky feathers were the original source of Popeye’s indestructibility. There are King Features cartoons that feature the Whiffle Hen, a creature from the original comic strip. So I’m curious whether Charles Shows didn’t know about the Whiffle Hen, or didn’t think he could use it, or whether there was some draft where the Whiffle Hen would have been definitely wrong and something new had to be brought in.

The story makes sense, whether you’re a Whiffle Hen partisan or not. And Brutus talking so much about “getting the bird” or “giving me the bird” sure sounds like somebody was supposed to say something to camera. The animation is all rote stuff, though. There’s some good backgrounds, such as the first look at Foola-Foola Island, but nothing that moves looks all that interesting. It’s altogether a cartoon that’s all right.

Wait, did Funky Winkerbean just have a talking monkey kill someone?


I apologize to everyone wanting a plot recap for Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. It’s just been ferociously hot lately. Incredibly hot, to the point that it’s impossible to do things besides exaggerate the heat. It’s been so hot our goldfish are sweating. It’s been so hot when I look at comic strips on my computer the characters burst into flames. It’s been so hot that our ice cubes melted while still inside the freezer. We think the compressor blew. We have a new fridge scheduled for delivery Tuesday.

The point is I’ve been busy drinking every chilled citrus-y beverage on the eastside of Lansing and taking a cold shower every twenty minutes. I haven’t had time to re-read, or think how to condense, three months’ worth of soap-opera comic plot. I don’t want to leave you with nothing, though, so I’ll just answer the question posed in my subject line. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is one of those comics that I doubt needs to be in the What’s Going On In series. It, like Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann, has ongoing storylines. But their storytelling pattern makes a What’s Going On In unnecessary. They have a bunch of ongoing storylines. They focus on each for a time, usually a couple of weeks. Thing is they resume each thread with enough of a reminder of what’s going on that readers aren’t lost. But there will sometimes be a strip so bizarre and wild that it draws attention from non-regular readers. They’ll be baffled. Funky Winkerbean, by the way, gets a fun daily roasting over at the Son of Stuck Funky blog. That’s a community with people who have, maybe enjoy, a staggering knowledge of the Winkerbean universe. I couldn’t have found many of the strips I reference here without their daily essays and tagging. I don’t know a snark blog that reads every Luann in similar detail, although, of course, the Comics Curmudgeon discusses both regularly.

News lady Cindy Summers was interviewing old-time serial-movie actor Cliff Anger for a documentary. The documentary is about his old friend Butter Brinkel, and Brinkel’s scandal. The comic introduced Brinkel as a silent movie comedy star. (Also as Butter Brickle, which I’m told is the name of an ice cream flavor. I don’t remember hearing of it before this.) His career and scandal got bumped to the 1940s. This seems to be because Tom Batiuk realized that if this happened in the 1920s then Cliff Anger would have to be eighteen years older than dirt. With the retcon, he’s now plausibly younger than two of the cast of Gasoline Alley.

The scandal was a fictionalized take on the rape and killing of Virginia Rappe. Young actress Virginia Pond was shot and killed by someone at a masquerade ball at Butter Brinkel’s fabulous Hollywood estate. Brinkel’s house had its own carousel, a chimpanzee Zanzibar that Brinkel had taught to smoke and drink alcohol, a bloated gun collection, and a guy nudging you and asking if you saw that because NO SPOILERS BUT it’s going to be important.

Anger remembers something his friend Dashiell Hammett had said. Hammett, while he was with the Pinkertons, was on the team looking for evidence to acquit Brinkel. This makes no sense if the story is set in the 1940s. But it would fit if Brinkel was a silent-movie star, an era when Hammett did work for the Pinkertons. Anyway, the team couldn’t find any exculpatory evidence. This is interesting. The strip established there were at least two people besides Brinkel wearing the same costume at the masquerade. One hesitates to suspect the Pinkertons of wrongdoing but they were missing an obvious lead. It could be they didn’t understand a job that was not about beating in the heads of coal miners who wanted pay. Hammett thought Brinkel was protecting somebody, though, but couldn’t imagine who.

While Brinkel was waiting for trial, Anger took Zanzibar to his home. And we got this strip, which revealed that the actual killer was, in a surprise, the other character in the story:

Cliff Anger, narrating as black-and-white illustrations show his recollection: 'Zanzibar had found one of my prop Starbuck Jones rayguns. I thought he was just playing with it when he suddenly pointed it at me and ... ' Panel of Zanzibar, pointing the ray gun at the reader, saying, 'Where's Father?'
Tom Batiuk and Chuck Ayers’s Funky Winkerbean for the 19th of July, 2019. Cindy concluded that Zanzibar was jealous of Valerie Pond’s relationship with Butter Brinkel and so that’s why he shot her. Also that I guess Pond had a relationship with Brinkel that Zanzibar would feel jealous of. And this solved an eighty- or hundred-year-old mystery. Starbuck Jones was this in-universe fictional comic book. It turned into a movie serial and a blockbuster modern sci-fi action movie. For a while it threatened for a while to take over the entirety of Funky Winkerbean. The Starbuck Jones saga had many repetitive and often confusing incidents. Tom Batiuk several times apparently changed his mind about the comic book’s place in pop culture and used his new ideas as if the old ones weren’t already published. But the saga did have the advantage that for most of it the comic strip didn’t have any reason to show Les Moore. So Funky Winkerbean snark fans were content with it.

The answer, then is that no, someone was not killed by a talking monkey. Zanzibar was a talking chimpanzee. Cliff Anger established that Zanzibar was a chimpanzee on the 28th of June. Well, all right, on the 16th of July Cliff Anger said he was a monkey. He’s a talking something, anyway, who killed someone in either the 1920s or 1940s. (Or 1950s, when Cliff Anger was making the Starbuck Jones serial.) Anyway, how many of us can say that about ourselves?

Anyway so here’s a little craft project for the one person out there with any free time: how did Cliff Anger answer Zanzibar?

Has the guy who draws Broom Hilda ever seen a kangaroo?


The guy is Russel Myers. He’s been drawing the strip since it started in 1970 and, so far as I know, he’s doing all right. At one point he was like a year ahead of deadline, which is amazing. There are times I’ve been as much as four hours ahead of deadline, myself.

As for whether he’s seen a kangaroo … uh .. .

Hm.

Broom Hilda rides in the pouch of a kangaroo who's wearing checkerboard shorts and a big Taxi cap. In the second panel she's out of the pouch and shhaking badly; she hands a $ bill to the kangaroo. In the last panel the kangaroo's hopping away, while Broom Hilda says, 'I'll never do THAT again on a full stomach!'
Russell Myers’s Broom Hilda for the 2nd of July, 2019. Still, since I’m one of those persons who needs about thirty more seconds to compose a response than the conventions of small talk allow, I’m grateful that this isn’t a chatty kangaroo taxi driver.

You know, I hate to say anything bad about a person with the courage to dress a character in checkerboard pants but … just … that’s a dog’s tail and maybe a mole’s body. I’m waiting for the judges regarding what the legs are exactly but just … no. Sorry.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave JJ Looper for dead or what? April – June 2019


I’m glad to bring you up to date on the plot of James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about September 2019, I can get you more up-to-date with an essay at this link. And if you’re interested in my pop mathematics writing, here’s some more writing about comic strips. Thanks for considering that other essay. Now on with the story.

Mark Trail.

8 April – 30 June 2019.

Mark Trail had a mortal enemy last time we checked in. Not, so far as I’m aware, Dirty Dyer, who we’d last seen practicing his flamethrower skills on a Mark Trail mannequin. This one is J J Looper, supply store owner. Looper has agreed to supply and guide Mark Trail’s search for gold in the Sonoran Desert. But he is a man with facial hair. Stubbly facial hair. The lowest of the low, in the Mark Trail moral hierarchy.

They find some stuff out in the nature. Strange pictograms telling the tale of the last of the Oso Si-Papu, the “Bear from the Darkness of the Underworld”. (There’s like a 40% chance this is a reference to something I didn’t get.) A herd of stampeding javelinas, running through their group. The ocelot that’s chasing after the javelinas, inspiring a stampede. Remember that an important thread in the James Allen Mark Trail is that nature is working very hard to kill you, personally, right now.

Leola: 'The javelinas have babies, that's why they're being aggressive. Like they're protecting them from predators!' (Panel of a javelina grooming her baby.) Looper, laughing: 'Those dumb animals think we're predators?' Meanwhile an ocelot looks over his shoulder.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 13th of April, 2019. In the fourth panel, Mark Trail tugs at his collar and makes a “guh … yeah, about that” utterance.

The ocelot and javelinas chase each other off. Looper gets back to exposition. He’s heard of the Vanishing Mine. Looper says he doesn’t think Doc’s treasure map is anything. There might be some gold nuggets out there, but nothing much. And if there were, it would’ve been cleared out long ago. But he’ll look at the map, if he can photocopy it, scan it into his computer, and put it away for safekeeping.

He can make some sense of the map. It even seems to point to a spot where Cochise supposedly had a gold mine in the 1870s. So they agree to the expedition I had thought they’d already agreed to and get supplies. Mark, Doc, Leola, and Looper head out for the Chiricahua Mountains. Leola by the way is the widow of Doc’s friend who had the treasure map. I had mistaken her for Cherry Trail last update because I’m very bad with names. One of the things I like about comic strips is how often characters say the name of whoever they’re speaking to. If a comic strip goes two days without doing that I’m lost again.

Leola, sampling a substance: 'It smells like ... honey?' Mark Trail, alarmed: 'EVERYBODY RUN!' They flee a great buzzing swarm of, as Leola shouts, 'AFRICANIZED BEES!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of May, 2019. Hey, do you remember which hilarious 1970s revenge-of-nature movie this was from? The correct answer is: all of them.

They spend a night at the campfire, thinking of what if the gold were real. Looper points out how the four of them could carry back a million dollars in gold. And it would let him get out of this place where, to be honest, he’s always been stuck.

The morning starts off with nice weather, slopes that are less steep than Doc remembered, and an attack by Africanized bees. The slopes being too gentle is a bad sign. Either the terrain’s changed a good bit or they’re not where Doc remembers being. The bees are a good sign, it turns out. In dodging the bees, Mark Trail falls down a hill. When looks up, he sees Skull Mountain, exactly as on the map. And this is lucky. From another angle it might not be recognizable. Looper, who took a couple bee stings, can almost taste the gold already.

Mark Trail is skeptical, noting that even if there was gold, there’s been plenty of time for it to have been taken. Leola talks about the nature of gold rushes, and the mad dashes they inspire. The ephemeral nature of the rush but the lasting effects of the lives changed by it.

Looper, explaining the the rest of his party, in the background, while some woodpecker-type bird perches on a cactus in foreground: 'I don't think it's hopeless at all, Mark. I'm actually quite enthused by the maps you folks have. I'm just telling you part of the very real, sad history of 'gold fever'! By the way, Mark, wasn't it you who urged caution before we got too excited about the possibility of finding the Vanishing Mine!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 1st of June, 2019. This panel is, incidentally, representative of a lot of this story. There have been many single-panel strips with the characters in the remote background while we watch animals in the foreground. Some of them even have clear stories of their own. Theres an owl that swoops in to attack a ringtailed cat (it’s a raccoon relative), the 2nd of May. The next day we see the ringtail has chased the owl off. A few weeks later we see possibly the same owl looking all disgruntled. (I’ve lost just which date this happened, but it was later in May. Comics Kingdom has lessened the badness of its redesign, but it’s still too much work for me to find right now. Week at a glance, why is that something they don’t want us to have anymore? What problem does taking that away solve?)

The next day they come across an abandoned mine claim. Leola points out people here must have found gold. Looper acknowledges this, but that sooner or later the mine runs dry, if it produces at all. Mark Trail gets to wondering why Looper is so down on this Vanishing Mine. Looper explains he knows about gold fever and hey, weren’t you as skeptical about whether the mine exists yesterday? It’s a fair question. Mark Trail and JJ Looper have been trading off whether they think they mine exists, and whether there might be anything in it.

But now Mark Trail’s had enough. He admits to Doc not trusting Looper at all, and Doc admits something seems off. What, exactly? … Another fair question. Apart from salivating over the idea of gold he later says he doubts exists, Looper hasn’t done anything suspicious besides be scruffy. But, again, Mark Trail. You know?

Mark Trail, seeing distant storms: 'It's raining hard over there! ... The ground ... it's shaking!' (He thinks: Rain ... drainage basin ... ) Mark Trail: 'Everybody - get to higher ground, quick!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of June, 2019. “I’ll try to punch the floodwaters!”

Anyway, it’s a new day, so it’s time for Nature to try killing everyone again. The method this time: flash flooding. Everyone gets swept up in the suddenly appearing rivers, and the strong currents. Mark Trail’s able to rescue himself and Leola from the river. They find Doc walking in the rain. And Looper? … No idea. The last Doc saw he was running from the flood, and carrying the map. Which … they don’t have a photocopy of?

Doc: 'Twenty-three people died on Labor Day in 1970 due to flash floods in the high contry along waterways below the Mongollon Rim!' Mark Trail: 'I've got a feeling we won't see JJ again ... and NOT because he got washed away in the flood!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of June, 2019. I understand that James Allen wants to get to the next plot point. And he did show some of Mark Trail and company searching for JJ Looper. But it doesn’t get much on-panel time or emphasis. A casual reader can reasonably think they didn’t make any effort to find Looper. I don’t know how much time, or emphasis, should be put on a search that for plot reasons has to come up empty. But at this point, Mark Trail is ready for Looper’s heel turn before the groundwork’s been established. Or plausibly established, the way (last story) it looked like Raul was some bad guy chasing Rusty Trail and Mara. Anyway, those animals in the first panel are coatis, which are raccoon relatives. There are mammals in the Arizona deserts that are not raccoon relatives, I am told by people who don’t seem to be putting me on.

They search for Looper, without success. Mark Trail suspects foul play. And yet — even without the map, there’s hope. Doc recognizes weird rock formations, and a winding path that seems familiar. They climb for higher ground to spot the mine. Maybe also Looper in case he’s actually dead or injured or lost from the storm. Never know. That’s where we stand: atop the hills, maybe in view of a legendary gold mine.

Sunday Animals Watch

What soon-to-be extinct animals and plants have the Sunday Mark Trail panels shared with us recently? And how long is it going to take before we finally destroy them all? Let’s review.

  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. They’ve got, like four months to live.
  • Tremella Mesenterica (“Witches’ Butter”), 14 April 2019. About five years.
  • The Crest-Tailed Mulgara, 21 April 2019. 28 months.
  • The Vietnamese Moss Frog, 28 April 2019. Like, maybe through lunch tomorrow.
  • Ocelots, 5 May 2019. 40 weeks in the wild, indefinitely in captivity.
  • Wallace’s Giant Bee, 12 May 2019. Three years.
  • Hammerhead Sharks, 19 May 2019. Ten years.
  • Spix’s Macaw, 26 May 2019. In the wild: not since like 1986. In captivity: for as long as they can convince people they’re the birds from Rio.
  • The Arizona State Tree, 2 June 2019. Is a fictional construct anyway.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel/Malabar Giant Squirrel, 9 June 2019. 18 years.
  • Bombardier Beetles, 16 June 2019. Two years in its native habitat, then it turns invasive.
  • Syndicated Newspaper Comic Strips, 17 June 2019. Died finally when Richard Thompson had to retire from Cul de Sac because bodies suck.
  • Doc: 'Mark, remind me when we get back home to call my old buddy Barney Google!' Mark Trail: 'Why is that, Doc?' Doc: 'Well, it's his birthday, and I just want to call him and say 'Happy birthday, Barney Google'!'
    James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2019. So a lot of comic strips did a shout-out to Barney Google and Snuffy Smith on the 17th of June, celebrating that comic’s centennial. Most of them were joke strips, so it wasn’t any weirder or more continuity-straining than those strips where the characters stand together to shout Merry Christmas at everyone. Presented like this, at a tense moment in a life-or-death struggle, raises the question: “Hey, Joseph, why didn’t you say anything about Barney Google‘s centennial? You’re the freak who has some 1,150-word essay ready about what Snuffy Smith meant to you as a child.” And to this I can only say: hey, look, a big distracting thing! (I was on a road trip, and I forgot Barney Google‘s centennial was coming up, and I still might write something, so don’t go provoking me.)
  • Hummingbirds, 23 June 2019. For as long as people decorate their backyards with hummingbird-feeder tubes of sugar water, those people will be visited by situationally-unreasonably angry, angry hornets.
  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. Till about the next time you brush your teeth.

Next Week!

Oh. Oh. I have some of the happiest words that any snarky comics blogger can have. I plan to look at Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next week. How well did it go when Mary and Toby explained to Estelle that, in fact, Artheur Zerro was not a world-famous construction engineer and Nobel-prize winning astronaut rock star who’ll be joining her in Charterstone and his private mansion in Gold Monaco — it’s like normal Monaco, except way more elite because it’s made of gold — just as soon as he sends her (INSERT RETIRMENT SAVINGS HERE ONLY IN BITCOIN) in seed money?

Oh man now I want the Mary Worth story where she explains bitcoin scams and I am not going too far when I say so are you.

Statistics Saturday: Animals We Can Say The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Or Hasn’t Seen


Animal Can we say the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has seen this?
Duck No because why aren’t its feet webbed and do they even rest in trees? But if that’s not a mallard then what is it?
Squirrel Still Not Yet
Snake Yes
Another duck or maybe a badly colored pigeon? I guess? I’m stuck figuring out what it’s holding.
Horse Maybe?
Bear From the front and only the front
Mouse Also only from the front
Butterfly Yes
Uh … is … that one of those comical fish lures you see in 1950s cartoons and sitcoms about marginally competent fathers? I guess so?
Whatever kind of bird that is standing on the edge of the large tub there? No
Raccoon Turns out, yeah
Dog? Maybe? In that lower right corner? Or maybe it’s another bear? Y … uh … yeah? Maybe?

Reference:

Cookie: 'I thought the men would like a vegetarian meal for a change.' Sarge: 'Well, they didn't go for it.' Cookie: 'But it's a hit with the herbivores.' They look, in silhouette, over a number of animals drawn in that worn-down mid-century-modern style of Beetle Bailey; the animals include several birds, a horse, at least one bear cub, a squirrel, a raccoon, a mouse, a snake, and some flying insects.
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 14th of May, 2019. So, mallards, bears, and raccoons are omnivores. While mice and squirrels are mostly herbivorous, they’ll eat meat given the chance. I’ve heard rumors of an herbivorous snake but I’m not believing it before I see Mark Trail introduce it in a Sunday panel. And if that’s a dog instead of another bear cub under the table, that’s not an herbivore.

Some Unconventional Beliefs


Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.

  • That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
  • That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
  • That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
  • All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Möbius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
  • That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
  • That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.

There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.

In Which I Offer To Help Fix Australia’s Political Crisis


I want to talk about a political situation in another country here. So I acknowledge how I’m coming from a position of weakness. I’m from the United States, where yeah, everything is on fire. Actually, everything’s on some kind of hyperfire. The hyperfire doesn’t just occupy volume and duration. It reaches into strange other dimensions previously only suspected by research geometers. And it’s some kind of fractal hyperfire, since each flame itself contains another hyperfire. And each flame of that hyperfire contains a tiny hurricane. And that hurricane is made of buckets of rabid turds. And the buckets are themselves actually killbots. And each killbot is poorly electrically grounded. And I suspect the situation is even worse than that.

But. Do you know what’s going on in Australia? I mean besides the wildlife. The wildlife is adorable (the greater microcuddling woomera). Or deadly (the laser stanthorpe, which has has enough venom in each ankle to render the world’s mammal population and most of its fish flabbergasted six times over, and has eight ankles somehow despite having no legs). Or both (the trinitrootoluene kangaroo). I’m talking about the political situation. I’ve got a bunch of Australian friends who can not believe what’s going on. So let me explain what’s going on: I don’t know.

The thing is Australia runs a Westminster Parliament-style government. This is a standard issue of government. But again, I’m from the United States, where we just … don’t? And it’s hard wrapping my head around the thing. My introduction to how parliamentary governments work was as a kid hearing Italy had gone through like 48 governments in the forty years since World War II. I thought this meant, like, they’d had that many revolutions in that time. It staggered me. I tried to imagine how you could write even that many different constitutions. If I were on the constitution-writing committee of the Provisional Government I’d run out of ideas of what to even do differently. About four governments in I’d start submitting what we used three Republics ago and hope nobody noticed. I’d be so scared I forgot to update the number and someone would ask me why this was the Constitution for the 52nd Italian Postwar Republic when we were on the 54th.

Now I’m better-informed. When they say a parliamentary government has fallen, all they mean is the lower house of parliament planned to vote on something and didn’t. So then they have to go have a general election. If it was something important they didn’t vote on they hold a snap election. This wraps everything up in six weeks. If it was something boring they didn’t vote on they hold a more leisurely regular election. (They also do this if nothing didn’t get not voted on, but parliament had gone on a couple years and everyone was getting tired of the same old faces.) That wraps up in eight weeks. Anyway during the election everybody hopes there’ll be a hung parliament, because that sounds weird and exciting. But what happens instead is some big boring party teams up with some tiny right-wing party. This forms a coalition, and whoever runs the big boring party goes on being prime minister.

There’s also an upper house. It’s made of deceased wealthy representatives from each of the political subdivisions of the country. Its job is to have a huge, fancy, well-varnished wooden stick called a “mace” on a table up front. Any important legislation must spend a couple days in the upper house before it becomes law anyway. I think the legislation is to observe the mace and work out that if it laws badly it will get hit with a big stick. That’s just a guess. Anyway it seems important to do. The upper house members are expected to every few years produce a scandal about how they use their travel allowances. This keeps the government balanced.

Anyway, right now Australia is going through a political crisis caused by I don’t know. I keep reading explanations but then they get to how the ruling Liberal Party is the conservative party and I ask my Australian friends if this is a bit and they act all innocent. Anyway, key thing is the Australian people don’t like prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Liberal Party doesn’t like him either. Turnbull himself has been staring into a closet asking why he should like himself. And the closet door keeps stubbing his toe. Firing him would be easy. Even easier on his feet. But there’s the problem of who to make prime minister in his place. Australia’s been trying out all kinds of prime ministers since 2010 and hasn’t liked any of them. Some have lasted weeks in office. Some haven’t been nearly that stable. The crisis is getting urgent. Last week it emerged that Italy and New Zealand were huddling together and cackling at these guys. There’s a real chance some of these countries are going to start pantsing each other.

So here we get to me. Australia, I want you to know, I’m willing to come over and prime ministrate you for a while. I know this might be controversial. I’m not an Australian citizen. I’ve never even been to the country-continent. But I have liked basically every cartoon with a kangaroo in it ever. And in the Singapore Zoo’s walk-through enclosure I once petted a wallaby who seemed not distressed by my attention. She looked back with an expression one could describe as “Yes, well, ah. So if you didn’t need anything further I had some projects to get back to so, if you could scoot over a bit.” Oh, and I like Violet Crumble. It’s this Australian candy bar that you can eat once and spend the rest of your life picking honeycomb-toffee out of your teeth. Also sometimes I get that Kinks song stuck in my head. These might seem like slender qualifications to be prime minister of Australia. Even slenderer if I can’t tell you what my every game of Tropico goes like.

Small kangaroo, possibly a wallaby, staring right at my camera. From the Singapore zoo.
Not the kangaroo I petted, but one I got a better picture of, because I didn’t have to go finding that picture.

But I’m not looking to rule Australia, mind you. I figure to lead what’s called a “caretaker” government. In a caretaker government the prime minister doesn’t try to start any major initiatives. They just go around bringing mugs of hot chocolate and giving hugs to people who need it. I can add to that expectation a certain number of back-rubs. At the risk of bragging, I’m pretty good for being completely untrained in back-rubbing. I’m not looking to do this forever, mind you. I only want Australia to have some breathing space to figure out what it’s looking for in a government, and go out and have an election and get one. If you need to take an extra-long election cycle, like nine weeks or so, I bet I could swing that. I’ll need high-speed Internet so I can keep up with my day job. And airfare, please. I want to help, but I do have travel expenses of my own.

[[[ NOTE TO SELF double-check before this posts to see if they get a new prime minister in the next four hours ]]]

[[[ ALSO NOTE TO ALSO SELF find out why spellcheck isn’t flagging ‘hyperfire’. could be important ]]]

Looking Back: Guinea Pigs


I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.

Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.

Looking Back: Reviewing the Plants and Animals of Australia


So as a functional know-it-all I enjoy writing in the “nonfact” mode, that is. That is, using the structure of nonfiction writing to spread some kind of amusing nonsense. I should do it more. A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia is one of those pieces, and it even let me use some of my own pictures of real animals in a real zoo, and it foreshadows the Mark Trail plot recap due on Sunday. As a bonus, researching this piece caused me to run across the Wikipedia sentence “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic”. Not a funny sentence? Maybe it isn’t. But it has this wonderful rhythm to it that delights me. I will cling to this bauble of words and don’t care what other people think of me for it, unless they think something good or bad about me for it.

A Tip for Rabbit Health and Happiness in the Hot Weather


So suppose you’re going into your fourteenth continuous year of the temperature being consistently above 586 degrees. And your pet rabbits are showing signs of strain from the heat, such as extremely rapid nose-wiggling, shallow breathing, making picket signs that read “HEAT UNFAIR TO” and then the crayon melts, and even more disapproving glares at the window than usual. Well, just take an emptied bottle of soda or pop, as you prefer, fill it with water, and freeze it. Then set it in the rabbit’s enclosure and look! Within minutes you’ll have a rabbit nose-bump the thing until it rolls some, and then staring at you and asking what that was supposed to accomplish. And the answer is, nothing, really. It’s just important that you have a process.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why Is He Making So Many Nerd Movie Jokes? February – May 2018.


Here’s my most recent recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. At or near the top of that link, anyway. My recap here should cover the early part of 2018. Good luck.

And I discuss comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I hope you find that interesting too.

Mark Trail.

11 February – 6 May 2018.

Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.

Mark, on the phone, seeing a tiger in front of him: 'Dusty, I think we have a problem! Give me a second --- I want to test a theory!' Mark thinks: 'Turn around slowly, don't make any sudden movements! I've got to get back in the house!' In the house, Mark says, 'Cherry, honey, will you do me a favor?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of February, 2018. Next panel, Mark says, “Call Brewster Rockit and see if Winky’s free.”

After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.

Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”

Sheriff, telling of the clowns who survived a train derailment to wander into a kids' campout: 'As the clowns turned tail and ran, Old Man Basil loaded his shotgun with rock salt and fired off one good shot! They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other side of the valley!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2018. I mean, this is the Sheriff telling a tall tale, right? Because otherwise I’m stuck on why all the clowns were dressed and in makeup when they were just hanging out in the bar car while in transit. Which is a dumb thing to get hung up on, but I’m not sure I’m feeling merry about a guy who’s at least 80 years old — he’d been a clown at least 65 years — getting shot even if it is by rock salt at a distance.

Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”

I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.

Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.

Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.

Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)

Rhinoceros knocking over a tiger while Marlin looks on.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of March, 2018. Maybe the rhinoceros and the tiger had a simmering dispute for months, even years, and it finally flared up after the train accident?

With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)

Marlin, in the jeep, chasing the rhinoceros: 'Yeeee-haww! This reminds me of the days when Jim and I were on that television show!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2018. I refuse to consider the possibility that the “Yeee-haww!” is a Dukes of Hazard reference. Just. No.

The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.

With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.

Mark, with the rifle and tranquilizer dart, thinking: 'If that rhino comes out from behind that jeep, I can get a clear shot at him! I hope Marlin is okay --- ah! There's the beast!' (POW! as the gun fires.) Mark, thinking: 'That should do it!' The rhinoceros snorts over the wreck of the jeep.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of April, 2018. Also while it is exciting action I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail shooting two large animals within a month of reader time. Yes, yes, it’s tranquilizer darts. But tranquilizer darts aren’t phasers set on stun. I grant there might not be any sensible alternative, but there’s some real risk here that I feel gets treated lightly.

The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.

I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.

So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.

Not much has happened here yet. While taking off Cherry Trail mentions a couple stories back where the island Mark was on exploded under a volcano. And Mark talks a bit about where they’re going. It’s called the Azyoulik, an ecoresort near Tulum. And right near the town of Santa Poco. Get it?

Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.

So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.

Sunday Animals Watch

What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:

  • Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
  • Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
  • Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
  • Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
  • Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
  • Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
  • Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
  • Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
  • Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
  • Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.

Next Week!

Muffins. What are they, and what became of them? Can you put mayonnaise on a muffin? Come back in a week and I’ll share the weird message of existential despair from the car place down the block.

The Most Perfect Sentence I Have Ever Seen In Print This Week


So I was reading Seymour I Schwartz’s The Mismapping of America, which as you inferred from the title is all about the challenges in making an integrated-circuit design and surrounding circuit board that would be lightweight and reliable enough to serve as the Apollo Guidance Computer for the moon landings. In the last full chapter Schwartz discusses the history of mapping the Great Lakes and how we got around to having two Lake Superior islands — Isle Phelipeaux and Isle Pontchartain — which define part of the boundary between the United States and Canada despite neither actually in fact existing. Here “neither” refers to Lake Superior and to the United States, which should be a considerable relief to everyone but the mapmakers. And now consider this following sentence, about the late-1680s exploration reports by Louis, Baron de Lahontan et Hesleche, of the Fox River in what we now think of as Wisconsin.

Lahontan’s text includes an extensive, although improbable, description of domesticated beavers in the area.

And now try to tell me that sentence hasn’t caused you to pause in your day’s worries and allow a gentle, delighted smile to cross your face. You can’t do it, and for good reason. I thank whatever twists and turns of fate led Seymour I Schwartz to the point of writing such a delightful sentence. It’s rare for fourteen words to do so much for the human condition.

Statistics Saturday: Some Obscure Football Rules


  1. After three overtimes the game will be settled by a fifteen-word spelling bee.
  2. A regulation field is 120 yards in length, 53 and 1/3d yards in width, and 1.16 light-seconds in height, extending six feet, two inches below the surface of the ground.
  3. Any kind of zebra, whether talking or not, is specifically prohibited from playing in the Super Bowl.
  4. Team uniforms are not allowed to be chroma-key green.
  5. The zebra’s also prohibited from the Pro Bowl, Conference Championships, and the Divisional Rounds.
  6. No licking the ball after the two-minute warning.
  7. Yes, a zebra is allowed to play in the wild-card round, but only as a field goal kicker.
  8. All players must exist in no fewer than three dimensions of space and one of time.
  9. If by some chance the offensive team gets to a 7th Down that’s automatically one point.
  10. It’s a 20-yard penalty and loss of possession for four or more players on the offensive team to blep their tongues out simultaneously while behind the line of scrimmage.
  11. No player is allowed to wear his helmet either backwards or on either foot during the game. (However, this rule has never been enforced at the professional level.)
  12. It’s prohibited to use the player’s bench as a workbench for light carpentry projects.

Source: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

Me: Self-Image Versus Reality


What I Think I’m Good At What I Am Good At
Pop mathematics writing


Listening to distressed friends without making their anxieties worse


Nursing ill pet animals back to health


Reducto-ad-absurdum chains of humorous reasoning


Providing, when asked, historical context for minor oddities

Telling casual acquaintances on social media how to handle it if they’ve accidentally forgotten they were on call for jury duty this week and are kind of freaking out about this

In Which I Am Tasked In The Pet Store


I was just getting some rabbit food at the pet store, but I paused to watch the guinea pigs, because they’re always soothing and fun. Someone was there with a little kid, and she was pointing out and naming the animals to him. “There are some rats,” she said, “fancy rats.” And the kid asked, “Why?”

And I understand the kid was just at that age where “why” is the response to any question, including “would you like this extra chocolate we happened to have hanging around?” But I also feel like I’ve been given the responsibility of writing a charming, slightly twee children’s book explaining why some animals are rats.

And I gotta say, I’m not the person to ask that. The best I can come up with, and this is after literally dozens of minutes thinking about it, is that there are some animals who just did awesomely well in Mouse College, and they went on to earn their Masters of Rodent Arts. But they got ultimately sound advice to not go on to a doctorate in Possum Studies or something like that, so that’s left them as well-equipped and highly trained rats prowling around the world and adding to it that charming Halloween touch and also those great pictures online where one’s looking right at you with big, sweet, innocent eyes and grabbing a hindpaw with both front paws. Anyway, this is why my nieces refer to me as “Silly Uncle Joseph”. I’m sorry.

Vic and Sade: When The Building Falls In


Do you remember being bored? I mean, boredom is still with us. But it’s attenuated now, chopped up into small bits of boredom between something exciting happening on Facebook or watching the spectacle of the Future Disgraced Former President’s self-immolation or the like. And a lot of that is still an expression of boredom, since boredom is the state in which anything is sufficient to hold our attention. A video of a bird putting a cover on a cat isn’t actually interesting, but compared to nothing going on, it’s interesting enough.

But back in the days, we could be bored in quantity. Just have days, especially summer ones, when time stretched out and there wasn’t any prospect of something asking for attention. I’m not saying those were better days. They weren’t. By nearly all measures we are so much better off today that we have cell phones and abundant Internet and are never that far from someone we want to communicate with or something we find entertaining to watch or do.

In this Vic and Sade episode, from the 13th of June, 1939, it’s the boring part of summer. And the best of all possible things happens: something exciting comes up. A good part of an old building collapses. Rush gets to see it. And one of his friends is inspired. He turns something already exciting into a performance. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that could happen today. But I do wonder if it takes being bored, and knowing what the face of long stretches of quiet, inactive summer evenings imply, to see a chance like this and make it something even more.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index held steady today, not changing at all, as more cautious traders worried they were under surveillance by a cheetah and didn’t want to make a move lest they get caught in a rundown between second and third base.

331

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? March 2017 – June 2017


Hi, reader. This is my best attempt at explaining what’s been going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail for the last couple months. If for you the last couple months do not include, like, May of 2017 then I might be writing here about a story that’s not going on anymore, if the current story ever ends. Right now it’s not looking promising. But in case the story has ended by the time you read this, try reading this instead, as a more current essay might be among its first links. I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for.

Mark Trail

19 March – 10 June 2017

My last Mark Trail report coincided strangely well with the start of a new adventure. 17-year-periodic guest star Johnny Lone Elk had invited Mark Trail to South Dakota, there to watch the prairie dog census and to find out if there’s some way to get the black-footed ferret to explode a boat. I’m interested in this because as a kid I was deeply impressed by that Peanuts sequence where Snoopy pretended to be a prairie dog. To this day I think of the punch line “prairie dogs are making a comeback” as the sort of appropriately odd not-a-joke thing to be dropped into a conversation and so make it that much needlessly weirder, so once again I’m reminded why everybody treated me like that in middle school. Anyway, this would be the start of a lot of talk about prairie dogs by Mark Trail.

Meanwhile in Rapid City, South Dakota, a local tough has robbed a bank, taken a woman hostage, and spotted in the fresh-arrived Mark Trail just the unwitting getaway driver he wanted. Mark Trail, thinking fast, has enough of an internal monologue to ponder the need to alert some official without betraying what he’s doing to the bank robber. And, to a wonder, he does it without letting the reader in on his plan.

Bank Robber: 'Being a writer must be a pretty lame job these days! I mean, does anybody even read anything anymore?' Mark Trail: 'It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of April, 2017. Granting that this is impossible, is there any way that all cinematic portrayals of Mark Trail could be done by Michael Rennie? Because I feel like he’s just perfect for deploying dialogue like “It has proven to be a good career for me to provide for my family!” in the wake of being kidnapped at the rental car counter.

My best guess: he’s figuring to pull a Ransom of Red Chief only instead of being a holy terror, he’s going to drive the bank robber past every possible scene of animals interacting in some way. Am I being unfairly snarky? From the 19th of April through the 28th the strip showed the car driving past a clutch of groundhogs, wolf pups, some falcon-class bird learning that it can’t just pick up a jackrabbit, a herd of sheep, another falcon trying to prey upon the dialogue balloons, a couple rams head-butting one another, and some moose or something. After that the bank robber has enough of this, figures out Mark Trail’s got a tracking device put on the car, and rips that out.

Kidnapped Woman: 'Mark Trail, wow! You know, I read your work! In fact, I just read your latest article online!' Mark Trail: 'Oh yeah? What did you think?' Kidnapped Woman: 'I hate to sound like some of the snarky comments made by people online, but you're no entomologist!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2017. I would like to think this isn’t back-snarking at me for getting tired of the endless volcano explosion on Invasive Ant Island but who knows? Anyway that’s burying the lede, which is: Mark Trail is aware of the existence of snark. This changes everything!

After driving past some buffalo, antelope I guess, and groundhogs looking disapproving at a wolf the bank robber tells Mark Trail what they’re going to do. They’re going to go to Johnny Lone Elk’s, tell him that the bank robber and the kidnapped woman are his new camera crew, and put the stolen money in Mark Trail’s camera bags. Then they’ll all go off together to see these prairie dogs and an abandoned airstrip that Mark Trail exposited about earlier.

Meanwhile the local FBI, looking for the bank robbers, is following the clue that there’s something weird about how Mark Trail rented the car. I admit I have never tried to rent a car while being held at gunpoint by a bank robber, but for the life of me I can’t figure how I’d do something weird with my car rental. I mean weird enough that car rental people would notice. Maybe tell them yes, I’d love the car insurance that’s an extra $75 a day and doesn’t do anything my home insurance doesn’t do anyway.

Johnny Lone Elk's wife: 'I've got a bad feeling about this - that bald guy looks shady!' Johnny: 'That's because you suffer from peladophobia!' Other Guy: 'Ha ha ha!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's not entirely true ... I think guys with man buns are creepy too!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of May, 2017. Life goal: hire an acting class to figure some way of staging this conversation that doesn’t come across as some theater of the absurd stuff. And I will record every single run-through and trial and release it as an experimental film that will sweep, I tell you, positively sweep the Capital City Film Festival’s coveted “The Heck Am I Even Watching?” awards.

Mark Trail does his best not to act weird around Johnny and his wife and their handyman Nick Charles. But a stray $100 makes Johnny’s wife suspect there’s some connection to the Rapid City bank robbery, suggesting that she’s not really into this story and hopes to get it to the end as soon as possible. On the trail, Johnny knows something’s wrong and arranges for some dramatic talk about trick riding. Meanwhile a prairie dog tries to evade another swooping hawk, possibly the same one that was getting kicked by a rabbit a couple weeks back.

Mrs Lone Elk: '[ The bank robbery ] might explain Mark's odd behavior - Not coming in the house and leaving with potentially bad weather headed this way!' Other Guy: 'Plus it would explain why Mark left his new camera equipment in his vehicle!' Mrs Lone Elk: 'That's the same thing Sheriff Stober said when i told him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of May, 2017. I love the dirty look being given the cougar by what is either an abnormally skinny raccoon or else a ringtailed cat that doesn’t realize this story is taking place in South Dakota, like five hundred miles from anywhere it has any business being. Maybe he’s taking a vacation or getting in on that prairie dog census.

I know this sounds like a lot. But I gotta say, reading it one day at a time, it feels like the whole story has been waiting for stuff to happen. I expect James Allen is going for suspense in the question of how Mark Trail could possibly have arranged for help in all this, but the lack of specifics, or even hints of specifics, undermines that. I’m hoping that we’re about to see some action that brings this to a clear resolution. I’m also curious how the strip is going to turn into some major natural disaster that teaches us to never go anywhere more wild and untamed than an Apple Store. Well, there was threatened bad weather. That could mean anything.

Sunday Animals Watch

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Bees, 19 March 2017
  • Moose, 26 March 2017
  • Platerodrilus Beetles, 2 April 2017
  • Feather Stars, “Crinoids”, 9 April 2017
  • Dracaena Cinnabari, the “Dragon’s Blood Tree”, 16 April 2017
  • Giraffes, 23 April 2017
  • Male lions, 30 April 2017
  • Parrotfish, 7 March 2017
  • Saiga Antelope, 14 May 2017
  • Alligators, 21 May 2017
  • Black Rhinoceroses, 28 May 2017
  • Sanguinaria Canadensis, “Bloodroot”, 4 June 2017
  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017

Next Week!

Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Not to say too much about what’s been happening, but: cruise ships!.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders were feeling optimistic and full of pep today as they got like four half-filled loyalty cards at the mediterranean fast-food place merged down into … well, all right, three loyalty cards, but two of them were filled so that’s good for one free lunch today and one free lunch next time if nobody loses the filled card.

203

Statistics Saturday: 22 Kinds Of Mongoose Or Rabbit Ordered By Center Of Mass


  1. Arctic Hare
  2. Common Mongoose
  3. Volcano Rabbit
  4. Banded Doomed-Madagascaran-Marshlands Mongoose
  5. Invisibunny
  6. Meerkat
  7. Silver Marten Rabbit (which sounds like somebody being ironic or something)
  8. False Dwarf Rabbit
  9. Anglican Slender Mongoose (Reformed)
  10. Flat-headed kusimanse
  11. Mongoose Civique
  12. Bluffing Giant Hare
  13. Furtive Upper-Tailed Cape Gray Mongoose
  14. Belgian Hare IPA
  15. Mer-goose (properly, a fish which takes on the appearance of a mongoose in order to punch snakes)
  16. Morekat
  17. San Jose Brush Rabbit
  18. Trans-Canada Pika
  19. Robertson square-headed kusimanse
  20. Antelope Jackrabbit (which is not a jackalope we swear)
  21. Thumper
  22. Yellow Mongoose

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose twelve points as investors’ moods were buoyed by surveys asking what they would do if they had a robot donkey friend, with factions split between whether this would be a regular four-hoofed robot donkey or if it would be a humanoid robot donkey with two hooves but able to, like, shake hands and stuff like people swear they remember from that 80s cartoon about robot cowboys in Space Texas and that wasn’t just a crazy dream. Anyway, everybody’s enthusiastic after all this robot donkey friend talk.

165

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? December 2016 – March 2017


[ Edited the 10th of June, 2017 to add ] Hi, persons trying to catch up what’s going on in James Allen’s comic strip Mark Trail. This article’s true enough for when it was posted, but it’s out of date by now. Less out of date? The plot summaries at or near the top of this link. Thanks for reading and I hope something here helps you out.


Mark Trail was the second story strip I reviewed as having had a sea change considerably improving it. And I’ve talked in passing about the major event of November and December. But let me recap the whole of the last few months as best I understand it.

Mark Trail.

4 December 2016 through 18 March 2017

When I last talked about Mark Trail he was off on a remote Hawai’ian atoll, there to document an invasive species of ant that was bothering the local birds. While human-induced carelessness will create ecological problems nature has its ways of restoring the balance. In this case, nature chose to go with “titanic volcano explosion that destroys the island, the invasive ants, and everything else on it”. Nature has a real problem figuring out the appropriate scale for its responses. This by the way isn’t the first time in James Allen’s tenure as Mark Trail author-and-artist that an invasive species has been solved by fire. Some kind of beetle boring into woods was solved by a particularly well-placed bit of semi-controlled wildfire.

At the smoking ruins of the island: 'I've been a charter pilot through the islands for many years and I've seen coral atolls rise and sink from time to time, but I've never seen one totally erupt, crumble, and sink into the sea before!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 24th of December, 2016. And yes, this may look bad, what with Mark Trail having declined the insurance on Firecracker Island. But look on the bright side: now that the island has erupted, crumbled, and sunk into the waters there’s probably someone looking to build a Monty Python reference on the spot already.

Anyway, the volcano exploded a lot, and then exploded some more, and then went on exploding to the point that some readers got a bit cranky wondering if there was even any island left to explode. It reads better if you look at a week’s worth of strips at once, which Comics Kingdom’s web site makes easy to do, at least if you have a paid subscription. Once again, I recommend subscriptions to both Comics Kingdom and to GoComics if you like newspaper-grade syndicated comic strips. Both web sites do their jobs very well.

With the island escaped, Mark Trail observed the ritual of cleansing between storylines: eating pancakes while sharing stilted dialogue and promising his son Rusty that they’ll go fishing someday.

Cherry: 'I made your favorite!' Mark: 'Pancakes! - Indeed you did!' Rusty: 'I enjoy pancakes too! Thanks, Mom!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of January, 2017. So yes, that friend of yours who’s way too much into Mystery Science Theater 3000 would like to know whether any of these people would say “I like coffee”. (It’s a reference to the episode Red Zone Cuba, but I’m going to say it’s from The Skydivers in order to trick MST3K fans into commenting to tell me I’m wrong. I’ve always been an awful old-school Internet troll that way.) The rest of us are busy pondering the exact differences between the curls in Cherry Trail’s hair and the wisps of we-hope-that’s-steam coming off the mound of pancakes. Are they a life form trying to communicate? Surely not or Mark Trail would have known what to make of them.

Meanwhile, Lee Hunter, whom I don’t know anything about either, arrives in West Africa for a licensed safari hunt. In the West African village of Village, where all the lionesses and cubs have been shipped off to zoos, there’s an elderly male that’s turned human-eater. Possibly from loneliness; he’d hardly be the first person to go a little crazy at work because of an unsatisfying home life.

As she arrives she bumps into Chris, nicknamed Dirty, a guy who’d been in some Mark Trail story a couple years ago when the strip was all about poacher smuggling. He’s on his way to the United States, and we haven’t seen Lee Hunter again since that encounter. I don’t have any guess whether Village is going to have anything to do with the current storyline, or whether James Allen is setting up a future storyline, or whether the strip just wanted to put in a good word for licensed exotic-animal hunting. (It feels out of character for Mark Trail, but it is a difficult question of ethics, and a character is under no obligation to make choices that even the author thinks correct. A character is only obliged to make choices that the author thinks credible for the story.)

That’s also just about all we’ve seen from Chris Dirty, too. Since that airport encounter Mark Trail’s been talking about how his old buddy Johnny Lone Elk spotted a pair of gray wolves and some cougar tracks at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Also evidence of a bear, which is quite exciting stuff when Mark was just thinking about getting in on some black-footed-ferret and prairie dog census work. Cherry Trail mentioned that it isn’t tornado season, so we can look forward to a tornado catching on fire and blowing up in the near future.

Doc: 'Johnny found evidence of a bear? Does he have any idea what kind?' Mark: 'It's probably just a black bear. Not likely to be a grizzly!' Cherry: 'Wasn't someone out there doing a black-footed ferret and prairie dog survey? A bear isn't going to help that at all!' Doc: 'How's Johnny doing? We haven't seen him in years!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of March, 2017. You might ask if Cherry Trail is too quick to judge the bear’s unwillingness to help with the black-footed-ferret and prairie dog survey. Perhaps. Me, I wonder if in the third panel that’s Lampy, finally finding work after the end of Apartment 3-G.

Cherry’s also mentioned some water park incident that I don’t know anything about. Trusting that it’s something that really happened back when Jack Elrod was writing and drawing the strip I’m going to suppose that someone was smuggling otters down the lazy river. I have no further information about this incident.

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Pink Frogmouth, 12 March 2017
  • Toucans, 5 March 2017
  • The Western Pacific Biotwang (whale noise), 26 February 2017
  • Flying Lemurs, 19 February 2017
  • Amethyst, 12 February 2017
  • This Leaf-Shaped Spider In Yunnan, China, 5 February 2017
  • Hooded Nudibranches, 29 January 2017
  • New Zealand Keas, 22 January 2017
  • Spiders and Giraffe Assassin Bugs, 15 January 2017
  • Good news for bats affected with white-nose syndrome, 8 January 2017
  • Pyrosomes (which are these giant glowing sea-dwelling worms so don’t say I didn’t warn you), 1 January 2017
  • Blue Nawab caterpillars, 18 December 2016
  • Frog rescue and this amphibian-threatening fungus, 11 December 2016
  • The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize, 4 December 2016
  • Dodder Vine, 27 November 2016

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points when someone saw a tweet talking about a Victorian epidemic of “poisonous socks” and thought we ought to be spending more time hiding under furniture about this.

127

Some Weather-Forecasting Animals


  • Floriemel, Carmela, and Margarita Coati. Cohanzick Zoo, Bridgeton, NJ. February 1. The animals come out and eat fruit to predict how many human-interest features will explain what the heck coatis are. They’re what Belize has instead of raccoons.
  • Punxsutawney Phil, Punxsutawney, Totally Oughta Be Philadelphia. February 2. Groundhog famous for predicting whether we’ll get the place spelled right.
  • Woody the Woodchuck, Howell, Michigan. February 2. Predicts whether spring will come to the lower peninsula in six weeks or whether spring will be like normal and arrive sometime late May. No forecast for the upper peninsula as spring has never come to the upper peninsula.
  • Shrieking Sam the Shreveport Clam, Louisiana. February 4. Will holler up a storm about whether a storm is coming in. Does not count own hollering storm as a storm.
  • Jormungandr, Low Earth Orbit. February 5. Rises early in the morning to determine whether this will be the year he eats Scandinavia. Spoiler: hasn’t for the last 876 years, starting to think he never will. Dress warmly anyway.
  • Chris Squirrel, London. February 7. Adorable fluffy-tailed character in a computer-animated funny-animal movie about the Yes bassist. Forecasts whether the coming year will feature lasers.
  • Kenny Kangaroo, Pittsburgh, February 8. Forecasts whether the Kennywood amusement park would close for the day at 8:00 or 9:00, if it were open in the middle of winter like this. Mostly a public-relations thing, unlike the other weather-forecasting animals.
  • Carl, Des Moines, Washington, February 10. Oversleeping groundhog that makes us wonder why we need a Des Moines in Washington when the one in Iowa would seem to sate all our Des Moines needs, really. Forecasts whether eastern Washington state will have a quarter-inch of rain this year or whether it’ll stay dry.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped over twenty points on overnight orders. It was climbing steadily through the day when a fire alarm halted trading two hours before the normal close of business. The alarm was false, and everyone got to spend time in the light snow talking about old fire alarms back in the dorms or other fun memories like that. Everybody felt much better about themselves and the world. By the time the trading floor was cleared for the resumption there was only like twenty minutes left in the day so everyone went for a Rita’s Frozen Ice instead.

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