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.

In Which I Apologize For What I Suggested About The Michigan DMV


My love took exception to something I published yesterday. That was the suggestion that Michigan was quirky in calling its Department of Motor Vehicles offices “Secretary of State Offices”. I want to reiterate that I don’t mind Michigan having a quirky name for an office like this. I’m glad they have. My love argues, correctly, that licensing motor vehicles is a function of the Michigan Department of State. And that’s fine. I answered that the name “Secretary of State Office” is quirky, because it implies that people could conduct other, non-motor-vehicle, Department of State business there. You know, like … um … certifying official copies of bilateral income tax reciprocity agreements to be accurate and true, or peering at the Great Seal of Michigan. And we can’t do that, as far as we know. (We never asked them.) Then my love asked if, back in New Jersey, the Motor Vehicle Commission regulates boats. I think it does but I don’t really know. So overall you see why everyone says we’re just the most adorable couple. Anyway I don’t want to suggest that it’s a wrong or bad name. Just that I think it implies a broader scope for work that can be done there than they mean. Maybe. Remind me next year to see if I can do something about notary public registration at the Secretary of State’s.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a little bit as the proper amount of baking powder was mixed in, without being over-mixed, and it was left to sit before baking. The result is not bad, although kind of flavorless, in that recipe-for-seventh-grade-home-economics-classes-in-1985 way. Mmmmmm. Smells like a B+.

118

Statistics Saturday: Some Words Of No Inspirational Value


I understand that inspirational words and stories are the most popular thing on WordPress, but, I must be true to my muse for no really clear reason. So here are some words which I expect will not move you in the slightest. Enjoy!

  1. Actuate.
  2. Today will find us between yesterday and tomorrow.
  3. Length of visible light.
  4. Bowls of multiple sizes, some of them glass.
  5. But then I’d have to react in some way.
  6. Print out this coupon for a discount of up to five percent.
  7. Most of our content is ingredients.
  8. Blissen.
  9. I’m thrilled to think how disappointed I’ll probably be by all this!
  10. Post-pastoral posting.
  11. That’s how many boats he’s blown up or eaten now?
  12. Active anticoagulant.

Actually, #9 makes me think of Ashleigh Brilliant’s Pot Shots so maybe it’s a tiny little bit inspirational.