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.

A Report On The Series Of Disasters


The eruption of the smallcano was a surprise. There were rumblings, yes. But they were tiny ones. Even those nearest the eruption site just thought maybe they were hungry. Or there was a truck on some street nearby. Or the truck was hungry. Anyone would need great foresight to realize what was coming.

But then once it surfaced! People who found themselves in the active caldera-minima zone couldn’t help it. They would shrink to as much as one-tenth their ordinary size, if they found themselves somehow unable to escape the microclastic flow. Which, since the flow never got faster than a quarter-of-an-inch per day, you’d really think they would be able to. Heck, at its maximum the whole effect zone was maybe eight feet across, and that the long way.

You hate to say it. But you have to suspect at least some of the affected wanted to be caught up by the smallcano. You can see some of the appeal. Be small enough and you can have bunnies push you around. Be smaller still and you can see whether it’s possible to ride on a fly, like in a cartoon. Be just the right size and your liverwurst-and-onion sandwich can last you months, even years. The only other way to get an effect like that is to not like liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches very much but feel like you shouldn’t let that go to waste. So apart from people trying to make these sandwiches last, it’s hard to explain the people rushing toward the scene except those hoping for a little more smallness in their lives.

Now, when the tallcano erupted, that was a different story. You can’t blame anyone not being able to outrun its effect zone. Not unless they were already gigantified enough. And if they were, well, there’s only so many ways to explain how they got that way. And sure, the caldera-maxima got pretty crowded but that’s what everybody expected so what’s one more person making the joke about how the average person was now 2.3 persons? (This was a funny joke because the average was actually closer to 2.2 persons, but 2.3 is a funnier number, according to a study that compared it to 2.2, 1.75, and 1.0625, but did not test it against 3.7.)

The ballcano, well, that was different. Just this fount of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, beach balls, medicine balls, pouring out of the mountain’s top? Balls bouncing and rolling for miles? Many even landing in the sea? That was just great for everybody except the sporting-goods manufacturers. Oh, they weren’t all regulation size or stitching, yes. But they were good enough for casual play. Or to fill the need people didn’t realize they had for spherical toys. It wasn’t even thought of as a hazard until it started shooting hockey pucks. This was seen as an unforgivable variation from its brand. But the ballcano insisted that it had to follow its creative energies where they lead and that it didn’t have time for the haters. We all agreed we could learn something from it, except we didn’t want to be anywhere a hockey puck could bonk us on the head. People who came in hoping to be turned into volleyballs were disappointed yes. Worse, when people asked them what they were expecting, and told honestly, got looked at like they were the weird ones. Kind of tragic, really.

The mallcano should have been seen as a greater threat than it was. The hillside just spewing out Foot Locker Juniors and Spencer Gifts and shuttered Radio Shack storefronts and kiosks demonstrating toy drones wasn’t at all economically sustainable. The flow just didn’t have enough anchor stores. And the flow was steady enough to keep a proper food court from congealing. Signs that there might be somewhere to get a pita, or burrito, or something else that’s food wrapped inside dough never panned out. Even so, people flocked to the epicenter, since “Epicenter” sounded so much like the kind of name a mall ought to have.

All things considered, it was kind of a strange week in town. And all that before the open-floor houseplans of a whole subdivision were ruined by the wallcano.

What The Flipping Heck Is *Wrong* With You, Funky Winkerbean?


If you’ve ever entered “funky winkerbean” into Google for some reason you’ve probably noticed the autocompletes are “misery porn” or “depressing” or “cancer cancer cancer cancer death die cancer death”. I haven’t checked recently but that’s all right. The strip made a staggering reputation for itself in the 90s and 2000s when Tom Batiuk decided to make it a serious issue-addressing strip by making everybody in it miserable and giving lead character Les Moore’s wife Lisa the traits of (a) being Les Moore’s wife and (b) having plot cancer. It’s an especially pernicious kind of cancer, what with how it can reappear years after a heartwarming conclusion just when the author thinks the readers least expect it, even though the readers have been saying in the comments section how they expect it ever since it went into remission.

So. Funky’s Ambiguous Relative (I think he’s a nephew maybe?) Wally had it particularly hard during the Misery Porn years. He went from troubled youth to soldier in Afghanistan, where he was captured by Enemy Forces and held captive for years. He was freed, though, and went home, but it turned out he still had a day of service left and so was called back to duty and shipped to Iraq. And by this point the readers’ relationship with Funky Winkerbean was so bad that even if this were based on something that actually happened to somebody it didn’t matter. None of us were buying it. And then he got captured by More Enemy Forces and held for … a very long time.

It’s hard to say how long. While Wally Winkerbean was off in Enemy Forces hands the strip did its second big “time jump”. This was a half-considered flash-forward after the Death Of Lisa Moore, Who Somehow Keeps Appearing In The Comics A Lot Considering How Dead She Is. The purpose of this was to allow Les Moore to transition from being a widower traumatized by his wife’s recent death from plot cancer into being a widower who’s somehow not even remotely over his wife’s death ten years before. I mean, to an extent I’m sympathetic. Should I outlive my love by a decade-plus I know there will be days I will be miserable, like anniversaries and my love’s birthday and some other special days. “Special days” does not mean, as it does to Moore, “weekdays, plus Sundays, and Saturdays too”. My love understands: a decade on, there will be days I smile even without having a reason.

Anyway, during the time jump, in which Funky Winkerbean got everybody ten years older and more decrepit while sister strip Crankshaft didn’t even though the comics share a universe and sometimes cross over into each other, Wally was held captive. Was he captive for more than ten years? Or was his captivity just retconned into the recent-yet-now-technically-unseen past? Good question and nobody has the faintest idea, Wally included.

As you might imagine Wally came out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a terrible case. Its primary trigger is being seen on-panel for his one storyline a year, which is about how he’s totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College. And then we got to last week’s iteration of the story, in which Wally’s regularly present female companion of some relationship interrupts Funky’s work on his Tiny Laptop with a plan that can’t in any way possibly go wrong:

'Let me get this straight. You're going to the Monsters Of Metal Show to help Wally get ready for school?' 'Exactly. There's going to be a big crowd with lots of noise and pyrotechnics. It's sort of a final exam for his PTSD.'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 3rd of August, 2016. I know I’ve only taught a few community-college courses. And they’ve been in mathematics, which Wally might not be interested in taking. But we never used pyrotechnics, not for explaining the z-score. We more used the motion-sensor light switch no mortal power could override and that would make the lights cut out when I was sitting down because it was the middle of an exam and I could see everybody was being discreet about their cheating. But the class was at two in the afternoon and there were windows all along the wall so the room would just suddenly go from a little too bright to really quite pleasant instead. The z-score is a mathematics thing in which we subtract one number from another, divide it by a third number, and call the result ‘z’. Not just any numbers; we pick those for special reasons ahead of time and call them x and μ and σ and if they mind they’ve never said so.

OK. Since the second Time Warp (the first one was in the early 90s when original characters finally graduated high school, then came back to work at the high school and suffer for it) Funky Winkerbean has moved away from its Misery Porn incarnation. It’s been much more about aged people sitting around being depressed. Also about praising this imaginary comic-book franchise named Starbuck Jones that’s produced some nice looking Silver Age-style covers and no actual stories. And the occasional halfhearted attempt to bring back the pre-1992 era’s flights of fancy and even whimsy. And yet I keep looking back on this strip and, well, see the subject line here.

If you have any explanation you’re doing better than Tom Batiuk.

SPOILER: Nothing went wrong and Wally is totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College!

Escaping to Lansing


Disasters not afflicting Lansing: Hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanos, pop singers, scorpions.

The local newspaper mentioned that at South By Southwest a trade group from the Lansing area advertised to whoever’s interested in this sort of thing the proposition “Escape To Lansing”. The big selling point — and the one that’s on their web site — is that Lansing is free of many disasters which make it annoying to do business, to wit:

Hurricanes. True. Mid-Michigan is admirably hurricane-free, what with most hurricanes refusing to tromp over the Appalachian mountains and deal with trying to follow the highways around Toledo.

Scorpions. I can’t dispute that the Lansing metropolitan area has a pretty low number of scorpions, and most of those who are around are either in their designated pens within the pet shops or are work-study students helping make sure that visitors to the college or university library are briefly examined by eye and grunted at before they finish entering or exiting. I have to question whether scorpions are a major problem in most business districts, however. If they are then maybe startup businesses just need to buy screen doors.

Radioactive Gas. I hadn’t imagined that Lansing ever had a problem with radioactive gas emissions gathering to dangerous levels, but now that they’re going to the bother of telling people there’s no radioactive gas it’s started to make me worry. They maybe shouldn’t have raised the issue.

Earthquakes. Michigan has a very low earthquake risk, with the greatest hazard being earthquakes which other states or Canadian provinces hold and which spill over owing to inadequate soundproofing in the walls between states. The upper peninsula was subject to a series of earthquakes in the mid-19th century as the copper underneath it was dug out and turned into telephone wires in New York City and Boston, and the remaining crust collapsed over and over again, but the ground has mostly settled since then, and any attempt to get an earthquake going will be dampened by abandoned mining equipment. No serious risk there.

Justin Bieber. This seems petty. Pop stars are a fundamentally unpredictable, whimsical force of nature, prone to blowing into our lives and inspiring tiresome conversations about how we don’t like them and then blowing back out again, sometimes leaving us with a song we can’t quite get out of our heads. We have little to fear from them, and they pay for their existence by giving entertainment journalists something to talk about which isn’t lists of TV shows you won’t watch. They should be appreciated for how they enrich life’s tapestry of things we don’t really have to do anything about.

Tsunamis. Actually, the adorable little wave they use here makes me think of the original Bell Atlantic logo. While it’s true Michigan had very little phone service by Bell Atlantic before it changed its name and become a more annoying company, I don’t see why South By Southwest attendees would be particularly impressed by this. If they didn’t want to do business with Bell Atlantic they could as easily do that in Austin.

The 1984-era Bell Atlantic logo, with a little wave for the crossbar of the A.

Volcanos. Michigan hasn’t had an active volcano in about 2.5 billion years, but it seems presumptuous to say that companies would want to relocate to mid-Michigan just to avoid volcanos. Obviously companies that do volcano tours are going to be attracted by having volcanos, but what about places that hope to get in on something igneous? Maybe they’re figuring corporate headquarters can be away from the magma action and this will be somehow worth it in the end. I don’t know.

Sharks. I’m fairly sure there aren’t many shark attacks even in the business districts of coastal towns. I have to imagine a company that’s routinely losing key personnel or equipment to shark attacks, and isn’t in the shark-annoying trade, is screwed up in fundamental ways. If they relocated to Lansing they’d probably just get lost in the woods and see their business plan get eaten by squirrels.

I notice they don’t say a word about the ice storms causing blackouts or that stretch in early February when it got so cold all molecular motion ceased. Well, it was a harsh winter but we do generally have indoor heating. They also don’t mention that in Lansing you’re relatively unlikely to be surrounded by Texans, which I’d think would be a selling point in Austin. But they didn’t ask me to contribute promotional material.

Also, apparently Lansing has a 3-D Printer you can use, if you need it. Sold!