What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail ever coming back? June – August 2020


There is no word, yet, on who King Features Syndicate is hiring to take over Mark Trail. Nor whether they are actually going to hire anyone. If I get any news about Mark Trail I will share it in a post at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Also on my mathematics blog I’m looking at mathematical terms from A through Z. This week: K. I’m not covering all the mathematical terms that start with K, not in one essay.

Mark Trail.

1 June – 22 August 2020

A story about Andy, Mark Trail’s dog, had just started last time I checked in. Andy, unsupervised, playing near a construction site. He’s accidentally locked into a truck trailer and driven off. Rusty and Cherry worry that Andy’s out and won’t come back, but Mark Trail is confident everything is fine.

Mark Trail, off-screen: 'Yes, Andy has ben gone before, but he always comes home!' Andy is seen running through a stream, startling a raccoon and deer and drawing the wary eye of a robin.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of June, 2020. That raccoon is auditioning for the Disney+ remake of The Hound That Thought He Was A Raccoon. (It’s a cute movie except when you realize what they had to be doing to the raccoon “actors” and an animated version would be great to have.)

At a motel the truck driver opens the van and finds that weird noise was a dog in the back. Andy leaps out and runs into the woods. Mark Trail reassures Rusty and Cherry that sure, Andy’s been gone a long while, but “he always comes home”. And Mark Trail tells of how pets can find their way home over great distances. Like, how dogs can focus on scent. Rusty puts Andy’s bed out on the porch in case that extra bit of familiar scent might help. There is some neat storytelling to how it’s done. We see Andy bounding through the forest, passing turtles and raccoons and waterfalls and everything else. We hear Mark Trail explaining the clues that a dog might use to find home from a great distance away. And, sure enough, Andy finds his way home.

Mark Trail, explaining: 'As the dog gets closer to home, faint familiar scents will get stronger and stronger! As the scents get stronger, the dog will know he's headed in the right direction!' We see Andy on a rock, looking down on Mark Trail's log cabin and several other buildings in the vincity.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2020. So there’s several other cabins right beside Mark Trail’s, too? I guess Mark Trail’s neighborhood is gentrifying. There’s all sorts of nature-explainerers and poacher-punchers around now. There would be even more of them except new residents keep growing hipster beards and having to punch themselves.

And, yeah, as Mark Trail predicts, Andy finds his way home safe and sound. Which is all good for the Trails. “Don’t worry, dogs usually come home” is awful advice for anyone whose dog or cat has gone missing. The only useful thing was Rusty planning to put up Lost Dog posters. There’s not even a mention of getting your pets’ ears microchipped, so Animal Control will have a chance at contacting you. Or that you could watch your dog when’s playing at the construction site so he doesn’t get locked in a truck trailer or something.

But Andy is safe back home. And on the 22nd of June what proved to be James Allen’s last story started. It’s incomplete. If a new team is hired, I assume they will have the choice to complete this story or let it drop. They will also have the choice whether to see “Dirty” Dyer’s revenge against Mark Trail carried out.


The last story’s premise: Hollywood liked Mark Trail’s story about white-nose syndrome in bats. Not just for bats. Along the way Mark Trail discovered human traffickers. (This was the story from just before I started doing plot recaps. Mark Trail eventually caught the traffickers while he was in Mexico with Dr Carter, though.) And found an astounding cave system of wondrous beauty, most of which survived Mark Trail’s visit. So producer Marnie Spencer wants to make a film adaptation of this award-winning Mark Trail article. And she wants her boyfriend, bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright, to play the lead. And the lead is Mark Trail. Also, yeah, they’re interested in the bats. Not the Yeti search. Could be they’re waiting to see how the civil suit from Harvey Camel’s family plays out.

Mark Trail’s open to making a movie, though. This provided money from it goes into fighting human trafficking. And he’s glad to have Jeremy Cartwright over to meet him. Learn what he’s like. Read his Starbuck Jones comic books while drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies. Rusty is impressed. Mark Trail is less so, noting how Jeremy Cartwright is just an actor and hinting about his reputed bad behavior.

Poacher: 'Hunting out of season is one thing but taking down these bighorn sheep is highly illegal!' Other poacher: 'We could make a small fortune guiding individual hunters out to bag a bighorn!' Another poacher, with a hacksaw, cutting the horn off: 'Yeah, a lot of money --- if we don't get caught!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 14th of July, 2020. And there we are, the last poachers of Mark Trail, at least before it goes into reruns for an unknown time! I don’t know why the poacher in the middle is Bill Bixby as Mark Trail’s evil twin, Mike Trail. Sorry. Anyway, just imagine living in a world where wanton, pointless cruelty to animals was punished. You know?

And then we get the return of a traditional Mark Trail guest star: poachers! Someone named Digby and someone who isn’t are hunting bighorn sheep. It looked like Jeremy Cartwright was being set up for the full Mark Trail experience.

Spencer is delighted to meet everyone and see everyone in the Lost Forest. Cartwright is smug and vaguely condescending toward the small town. We don’t see exactly what happens but Mark Trail describes him as not being “a very gracious guest”. He complained about the food, which Cherry shrugs off. And he’s not big on the outdoors. Of course, during James Allen’s tenure, the outdoors has done a whole lot of trying to kill Mark Trail. While fishing with Rusty Cartwright complains how he needs a drink, and wonders if they’re heading back to the hotel soon.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. The last new daily Mark Trail for the foreseeable future. I am a little surprised King Features didn’t have the last panel rewritten, or if need be redrawn, so that Rusty said something about “let me tell you about a time that — ” so that we could pretend the reruns are a framed device within the story.

And that, the 25th of the July, is the end. James Allen leaves Mark Trail (dailies) and we go into Jack Elrod-era reruns. James Allen-produced Sunday strips continued for a few more weeks, because Sunday strips have a longer lead time than dailies. And this week we got back to Jack Elrod-written Sundays with a bit about squirrels.


With the 27th of July we enter Jack Elrod reruns. I don’t know when this story first appeared. It is, in odd symmetry with the last complete James Allen story, an Andy story, and a lost-pet story. In this case, it’s a cat “not wanted by its owners” that’s deliberately abandoned. Far enough away that the owner is sure it won’t find her way back. The cat, unfamiliar with wild life, approaches some animals, who all run away. Except for Andy. So the lost cat makes a friend.

The Trails are happy to take in the cat, dubbed Tabby. Tabby is happy to explore the farm. Also I guess Mark Trail has a farm? Maybe that’s the buildings so close to the log cabin? I do not know. Tabby’s chased off by a rooster, prompting Andy to rush in and protect her. Cherry Trail scolds Andy for harassing the rooster. So for all of you whose favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy, good news: you do not exist. Nobody’s favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy. Buttons and Mindy just made us all feel tense and bad.

[ Andy rushes to rescue Tabby from the skunk ... but he realizes his mistake before he can back off. ] Andy jumps over a log toward a skunk, who stands on its front legs, the warning before spraying. Andy tries to scramble away but can't. [ Later ] Cherry Trail, looking over a stinking Andy: 'WHAT is that smell? OH, NO!'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 19th of August, 2020. I do, sincerely, appreciate and like how much James Allen worked to make the Mark Trail storytelling less stodgy. Plots that are less linear, for example. Mark Trail sometimes having thoughts Mark Trail does not express aloud. The narration box’s role reducing to the minimum possible. (I like a narration box that’s also a character, myself. But I know that’s one of many old-fashioned things that I like.) But I also do like just how resolutely square Jack Elrod could be, and scenes like this are a part of it. Also it’s adorable seeing that skunk do the about-to-spray handstand from over here on the safe side of the page. Also a prime moment: the day before, as Tabby approaches the skunk, and according to the narration, “Andy, keeping an eye on the cat, can’t believe what he sees”.
Wild dogs raid a neighbor’s farm, and Mark Trail mentions how they need to keep a close watch. Not close enough to keep Andy and Tabby from wandering unsupervised, though. Andy tries to rescue Tabby from a skunk, realizing too late that this is not a rush-in-and-rescue situation. Even washed off he still stinks, though, so Andy goes off deeper into the woods to avoid bothering anyone. Tabby insists on following. The wild dogs, meanwhile, move into the area and surround Tabby. Looks serious.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They know some things about not being eaten by predators. Do you?
  • Fossa, 7 June 2020. They’re nice and weird creatures and if I’m not wrong their name’s better pronounced “foosh”, which is pleasant to say. They’re doomed in the wild.
  • Blue Whales, 14 June 2020. There’s evidence they’re making a comeback. Nothing like how prairies dogs are making a comeback, of course, but still, a comeback.
  • Rhinoceros and Oxpecker, 21 June 2020. Great team. Some of our earliest sound films are recordings of this pair’s vaudeville act.
  • Lava Crickets, 28 June 2020. They’re doing all right in the volcano eruptions, if you wondered.
  • Maned Wolfves, 5 July 2020. Legs.
  • The Fly Geyser, Washoe County, Nevada. 12 July 2020. So as industrial accidents go this one is pretty cool. I hope it’s not screwing up the water table too badly.
  • Asian Giant Hornet, 19 July 2020. That is, the “murder hornet”; it kills as many as 50 people a year, which is about one-third of yesterday’s reported Covid-19 deaths in Florida alone. So let’s not get worked up about hornets.
  • Banksia, 26 July 2020. It’s a plant that relies on bush fires to grow and reproduce so at least it’s having a good year.
  • Iterative Evolution, 2 August 2020. So the Aldabra white-throated rail went extinct when their atoll sank. When the atoll emerged from the sea again, the animal re-evolved from its parent species, and isn’t this amazing?
  • Invasive Species, 9 August 2020. Kudzu, of course, and Tegu lizards, a “squamate scourge” intruding into Georgia.
  • Blanket Octopus, 16 August 2020. Last James Allen Sunday strip. So the male of this species “detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating”, which is a heck of a thing for Mark Trail to go out on.
  • Squirrels, 23 August 2020. First Jack Elrod Sunday rerun. Check out the flopsweat from that on the bird feeder line, though. That’s just great. And I say this even though I have a squirrel feeder, to feed the raccoons.

Next Week!

How is Madi doing, living with her (uncle?) Saul while her dad’s busy getting arrested for his hilariously failed coup in Venezuela? We check in with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next Tuesday, unless things get in the way.

And Then I Lost My Chain Of Thought


All was well enough, and then New Scientist delivered this one:

'Wireless signal sent through meat fast enough to watch Netflix'
New Scientist article about wireless signals transmitted through meat.

And who can avoid the questions that raises? First one answered: it was the signal moving fast enough, not the meat. There is no particular limitation on Netflix wireless streaming that depends on how fast chunks of meat travel. And the people who did this worked up a reason to do this that sounds respectable, as if “rewatch Animaniacs with signals blasted through lumps of ground chuck” wasn’t enough reason. But the article just says it was fast enough to watch Netflix and doesn’t say what, if anything, anybody was watching through meat. Also, Animaniacs is a lot worse than you remember it being. You’d be shocked and a bit sad. Those jokes you thought were clever, smart things for adults that kids would never understand? They’re all “Wakko or Dot drags a celebrity on-screen for a second because something reminiscent of what the person’s celebrated for was mentioned, and the celebrity looks confused and blinks”. That’s it, all of them. Don’t go rewatching. Sorry.

Oh yeah, also, I did some more comic strips on my mathematics blog. It includes a Jumble puzzle. Jumble is about like you remember it being, so some things you can depend on yet.

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad


I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

On The New Blogging Standards


I’m sure everyone’s heard by now that the International Organization for Standardization — the group that’s brought us best-selling hits like ISO 9000, ISO 9001, ISO 2000, and their mashup, ISO 9001-2000 — is proposing a change to the fundamental unit of blogging as set out in ISO 764 (“Horology: Magnetic Resistant Watches”). Naturally I’m torn about this and I’m surprised more people aren’t bewailing them. I grant that the old unit of blogging — making fun of the Superfriends — is tired, and not just because I’ve been desperately trying to think of anything fresh I could possibly say about the episode where the Wonder Twins are so wholly overwhelmed by a roller coaster with defective brakes they need the help of an actual superhero. But it’s been the style for a good long while, and it’s shaped how we think about blogging, and goodness knows, what if they change it to something like “pointing out Animaniacs episodes that don’t have jokes, just a big pile of pop culture references draped over each other” instead? I need to know what they’re changing things to before I can vehemently oppose the change correctly.