What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What’s with Comics Kingdom’s ads? August – November 2022


So those ads I was complaining about yesterday? Comics Kingdom wrote back. They explained they had changed to a new company providing “programming” and they’re working on the problem which should be solved soon. I am filled with no confidence because it’s been nine months since the Sunday comics problem started and they’ve done nothing about it. Also, they’re calling advertisements “programming”. They are “programming” only in the propaganda sense of the word.

Also for what it’s worth I started clicking on the little ‘Stop seeing this ad’ box. Google Ads told me OK, they won’t show this particular ad again. And three links after that, guess what was back? It’s wild that there’s such a sexual harassment problem at Google, isn’t it?

Anyway that’s all to the side. What we’re here for is Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail and to see a tiger fight an elephant. No luck on that count yet. But maybe by January 2023, when a subsequent plot recap should be at this link, we’ll have seen it. For now, let’s catch you up to mid-November 2022.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 13 November 2022.

One of the stories going on regarded Andy and Sassy, and many other pets, getting chemical burns. It’s the Sunny Soleil Society, of course, and Honest Ernest’s Lawn Libation. Some weedkiller potion that Ernest brewed up. Cherry and Rusty Trail walk Sassy around to figure where he got exposed. They find a perfect green weedless lawn with a koi pond; Sassy loves barking at fish, as who would not, so that explains that. And the lawn is Violet Cheshire’s, turns out.

[ Cherry's talk about Honest Ernest's lawn chemicals with Violet takes a startling turn. ] Violet: 'Ernest and i are not having an affair!' Cherry Trail: ' ? What?? I only came to talk about Honest Ernest's Lawn Libation!' Honest Ernest, carrying a bouquet of flowers, running up: 'Violet! I can't take it anymore! The longing stares, the late-night texts, our bonding over a bee sting! I love you and I don't care who knows it!' [ Ernest probably should care that Cherry is standing right there. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 14th of October, 2022. The bee stings were part of an earlier adventure that introduced Honest Ernest and his wife Caroline.

Cherry Trail returns, fruit basket in hand. She means to apologize to Violet Cheshire for accidentally trespassing and ask if they could tone down the toxins. Cheshire’s instantly suspicious, and nearly panics when Cherry says she wants to talk about Ernest. Cherry can barely talk about the Lawn Libation chemicals before Cheshire denies having an affair with Honest Ernest. Also, Ernest comes up with a bouquet of flowers declaring he doesn’t care who knows about his love. Although he’s a little embarrassed to say it right in front of Cherry Trail. Cherry talks with Mark about this; on the one hand, it’s rotten to Cheshire and Ernest’s partners. On the other, it’s not specifically their business. It’s something that ran into them like a rampaging elephant or something.


Speaking of rampaging elephants. The story Mark Trail passed up? You know, to cover Tess Tigress’s Tiger Touch Center? And work alongside stunt-driver-turned-naturalist Rex Scorpius? That other story was an escaped elephant reported in four states. Keep that in mind.

Mark Trail snoops on the reclusive Rex Scorpius, and finds he’s Facetiming his dog back home. Mark Trail shares his own Facetiming with his dog, and they bond over having dogs who helped them through traumas. So they’re new friends as the arrive for the first day of shooting with Tess Tigress. Diana Daggers starts things off polite but vicious, complimenting her “roadside zoo”. Tigress declares they won’t have her bad vibes and kicks her out. This leaves an unprepared Mark Trail with directing duties since, hey, photography is pretty much like directing, right? Well, it worked for Stanley Kubrick and I bet some other director too.

[ Tess Tigress leads Mark and Rex through the Tiger Touch Center to film. ] Tigress, holding a cub: 'These tiger cubs help us tune into Nature and out of our everyday traumas.' Mark Trail, filming and thinking: 'How old are these tiger cubs? They shouldn't be separated from their mother before two years.' [ Mark decides to use this chance to keep an eye on the tigers as well as the talent. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2022. Mark Trail may be an unqualified director but he’s quick to pick up on a couple good tricks. At one point he feigns the camera being low on battery, to avoid filming Rex Scorpius cuddling the tiger cubs. Much like the difficulty in making an anti-war movie, it’s hard to overcome the compelling fascinating prospect of interacting with an animal in the wrong ways.

Tigress leads them on a tour that threatens to be so exciting and adorable as to overwhelm one’s senses. It’s exciting and thrilling and magical to hold a tiger cub. Should a cub be separated from their mother so young? There must be a lot of people paying cash for seeing so many tiger cubs; does the volunteer staff get paid? Or deeper questions, asked when Tess Tigress isn’t around to glare at volunteers. Where are they getting enough meat for the animals? Do they have a vet on-site? Have they harmed other animals? That rogue elephant, is she moving in this direction because she remembers a traumatic experience with the Tiger Touch Center?

Jiffy, one of the Tiger Teammates, says they don’t have a vet, and half their animals are sick. And there’s a “weird trailer” they’re not allowed in because that’s where Gemma the Rogue Elephant’s cub is kept. The staff sleeps in tents, and there’s not resources to care for the animals. Mark Trail’s ready to investigate the weird trailer, when he’s interrupted by Tess Tigress and Rex Scorpius.

[ Mark discovers a mysterious trailer at the Tiger Touch Center. ] Mark Trail: 'You're taking a big risk showing me this, Jiffy.' Jiffy: 'Hey, I love these animals, but I never signed up for this. We're not healing anyone here. We sleep in tents and don't have the resources to care for these animals. Meanwhile Tess rakes in cash from fancy clients and book sales. Tess sold us on a lie!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of October, 2022. I get the dramatic purpose of Mark Trail mentioning the risk Jiffy is taking; it’s for readers. But in-universe, it seems best if Mark Trail pumps Jiffy for information making it sound like he’s not asking about anything special, just doing some small talk. People don’t want to snitch but they love to gossip.

Tigress and Scorpius have been committing acts of canoodlery almost since first meeting. I’m not sure is this is strategic on Tigress’s part. It’s wise if it is; Scorpius’s infatuation makes him dismiss Mark Trail’s concerns. It may be sincere, though. Scorpius was a celebrity stunt driver and became a Bikbok star animal-wrangler. He seems attractive enough in his own right. Scorpius’s angles are clearer. He’s been going through a rough time. He abandoned stunt driving after a severe crash and found that being a video star is hard, unfulfilling work. And Tigress fits neatly with a fantasy he’s had since his childhood favorite superhero movie had “the ultimate catgirl”. (I don’t know if that’s an elliptical way of saying Catwoman, of if the character is literally named Ultimate Catgirl.) But between that transferred crush and her warm, inviting, accepting pose he’s fallen hard for her.

[ Mark can only look in horror as the tiger walks into the pen with Rex for the Tiger Truth Test. ] Mark Trail: 'Rex, please! If something happens to you, who will take care of Buzz? YOUR DOG?' Rex Scorpius: 'Buzz! My dog! Oh no. What am I doing?' Tess Tigress ;'Rex, don't! Nothing can stand between you and your love for me!' Gemma the rogue elephant trumpets into the scene, barging into the arena. [ Nothing except that elephant. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2022. So, like, did Mark Trail almost get Rex Scorpius killed here? Because if he weren’t there, I assume Diana Daggers would have still got herself kicked out of the Tiger Touch Center, but with nobody else to hold the camera wouldn’t Rex Scorpius have gone home instead? Gemma might still have run back to the Tiger Touch Center for whatever old horrors were inflicted on her, but Scorpius at least wouldn’t have been there? Maybe not; I can imagine Tigress putting the moves on Scorpius anyway, since the center does depend on celebrity clients, and without the responsibility of a shooting schedule he might have fallen even faster for her.

And foolishly, too. This past week we saw him shirtless and chained down in an arena for the “Tiger Truth Ceremony”. He can be part of Tigress’s family if he proves himself true, by the tiger not mauling him. Her other five boyfriends didn’t pass but he’s feeling good about this. Until Mark Trail reminds him: if something goes wrong who feeds his dog? Scorpius has a moment of life-clarifying doubt, but the tiger is already loose.

So is Gemma, the rogue elephant who it turns out was heading right for here, and smashes into the arena.

That closed out last week; this week has been back on Cherry Trail’s storyline.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Note: not former stunt-driver turned Bikbok star Rex Scorpius! Know the difference!
  • Armadillos, 4 September 2022. Apparently armadillo litters are identical pups, which seems like something that should’ve been used in more kids shows.
  • Lawn Chemicals, 11 September 2022. Just use native grasses and if you absolutely must have a uniformly green lawn, try food dye.
  • Monarch Butterflies, 18 September 2022. If you’ve got some milkweed you could do the butterflies a solid.
  • Horned Lizards, 25 September 2022. Also known as the ‘horny toad’ because of its after-dark account.
  • Raccoons, 2 October 2022. In one panel Mark Trail recommends setting a radio near the den of a raccoon you need to relocate and there’s this adorable picture of a raccoon looking cross at your choice in music.
  • Floods, 9 October 2022. Remember that thing where Pakistan got destroyed earlier this year? We should be trying to stop that from happening.
  • Grasshopper mice, 16 October 2022. They’re mice that think they’re little wolves! Seriously.
  • Sandhill Cranes, 23 October 2022. They migrate through Texas so, as you can imagine, they need a lot of help.
  • Texas Red Wolves, 30 October 2022. Which are interbreeding with coyotes on Galveston Island, a reminder of how messy and ambiguous the concept of ‘species’ is in the real world.
  • Yellowbelly Racers, 6 November 2022. The snake is fast and harmless to humans, even beneficial for most of our purposes since they prey on insects and rodents, but, you know, people.
  • Roadside Zoos, 13 November 2022. I mean, sure, any individual roadside zoo may look bad.

Next Week!

It’s been a cliffhanger of a time in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth! Find out all there is to know about the cliff when I recap the plot, I hope in six days. See you then.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Sycophants vs 24-bit Computing


Sycophants

The Case For: Word turns out to mean “people who tell you where the figs are”.

The Case Against: Is not related the word meaning “people who tell you where the unhealthy elephants are”.

24-bit Computing

The Case For: Represents signed integers of up to 8,388,607 in a single word.

The Case Against: Most implementations are really 16-bit and they just leave the other eight bits in the junk drawer.

60s Popeye: Who’s Kidding Zoo, a title that needs some baby goats to really land


Who’s Kidding Zoo is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, and the direction to Seymour Kneitel. This is not the same credit given to every Paramount Popeye cartoon of the era. It just feels like it.

This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.

The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.

Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)

The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.

Popeye looks startled that the kangaroo joey he's brought a carrot to is hopping off, past him, thanks to springs stuck to the joey's feet. The mother kangaroo stands over all this, looking asleep.
Why the surprised look, Popeye? Everyone knows a kangaroo’s favorite food is … uh … carrots … I guess?

With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.

The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.

And In Elephant Traffic Control News


The easy thing to do is be thrown by the lede of this Reuters “Oddly Enough” feature. Let me prove it:

Chilli-powder condoms, firecrackers boost Tanzania elephant protection

Conservationists in Tanzania are using an unorthodox way of keeping elephants from wandering into human settlements — by throwing condoms filled with chilli powder at them.

The method has proved effective and Honeyguide Foundation, which hit upon the idea several years ago, with U.S.-based Nature Conservancy has stepped up its promotion, training volunteers in villages in north Tanzania to use a non-violent four-step way of protecting their homes and crops without hurting the animals. Previously many used spears to defend themselves.

[ Skipping ahead a bit. ]
Chilli powder mixed with soil is packed with a firecracker into a condom, its end is twisted shut with just the fuse exposed. When lit, the condom bursts open with a bang, spraying a fine dust of chilli powder into the air. One whiff is usually enough to send an elephant the other way.

OK, so that’s all good merry fun that helps us feel a tiny bit less guilty about how everybody likes elephants and we still treat them like humans treat elephants regardless. But here’s what I wonder. Given that apparently condoms filled with chilli powder and firecrackers are an effective means of elephant direction, how long is it going to take before this is the orthodox way to do it? At some point somebody will propose a way to shoo elephants out of the village and people will say, “That’s daft talk, Chad!” (He’s only nicknamed Chad, but nobody remembers his original name anymore.) “Now be sensible and stuff chilli powder and fireworks into these condoms! We’re counting on you!”

And yet a future generation will acknowledge that Chad was right, just … right too soon.

Picturing Me


So the new thing in the world of competitive pinball is not telling people the world of competitive pinball exists. That’s the old thing. It goes back to when pinball first started being competitive, which was about ten minutes after the second guy saw someone doing it. But the new thing is “Selfie Leagues”. This is a thing where they base your seeding in a tournament on your high score during some qualifying tables the weeks before the match. You prove your score by taking a selfie with the score displayed. And we know people can’t cheat because of that big, distracting thing over there.

I’m not a natural selfie-taker. I have no objection to them. It’s just I’m not much on taking pictures with people in them at all. I’m one of those people who can somehow photograph a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore at the height of summer and catch the one moment everybody’s ducked inside for a frozen custard. Or at least is looking away as if embarrassed. The height of summer is 14 feet, two inches.

I have some photographs of people. Most I took on dares. And I have a couple pictures of myself too. Most of those are from the early 2000s, when I lived in Singapore, and per request I got some pictures of myself in front of local landmarks. This was to prove to my parents that I was in Singapore and not just slow about answering their e-mails. I should probably send them some pictures sometime. But those were old-fashioned pictures of me, done with a camera tripod and a timer. Oh, I could have asked someone to take a picture of me, but that would involve me talking to a person and I went from 2003 through 2005 not doing that.

When I look over the pictures I took of myself I notice a couple things. The first is that I don’t look good. I couldn’t help that. I was quite fat at the time. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned sometimes, somewhere around age eight I realized that instead of eating a bagel I could eat two bagels. Also that instead of eating a bagel smeared with a little cream cheese, I could eat a bagel smeared with as much cream cheese as I could load up on before my parents caught me. And, now, I’m from what we regard these days as a large family; nearly all of us are over nine feet tall. (My little brother is the only one who’s not, and that’s because the rest of us kept pressing his head down while we were growing. He makes up for it in other ways, such as by punching us in the shins.) Large-family folks learn to make and eat food as fast as possible, before anyone can catch us. I’m not saying I’m an Olympian-class competitor for eating the 25-meter bagel. But I could go on to regionals and hold my head high, as long as I held my upper lip higher.

But the thing about being fat is if you’re also tall, then you don’t look fat. You just look badly proportioned, like you’re drawn by an art student who’s not quite good enough not to use references, or maybe by an elephant working on her MFA. So I have pictures of me standing beside, say, the sign at the Cavenagh Bridge as the unrealistic part of the scene. The Cavenagh Bridge is this small downtown pedestrian bridge that has an old sign warning about how it just looks like you’ve spelled the name wrong but you haven’t. (It’s named for Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, so the committment to looking like it’s not spelled right goes back a long way.) If you visit Singapore you’re required to get a photograph of it. I was able to stretch a two-year contract into four years by “happening” to forget my camera when I went downtown that way.

Police notice: Cavenagh Bridge: The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt and to all cattle and horses. --- By order, Chief Police Officer.
Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge, photographed by me. Me nearly wholly omitted for clarity. Elbow awkwardly poking in from the right: me. Messenger bag I’m carrying: one of maybe a dozen identical ones my father picked up free from a company he did consulting for in like 2001. For a decade after every time one wore out, usually by the strap breaking, I grabbed the next off the stack.
The ‘cwt’, or ‘hundredweight’, is an old British measure for a weight which is not a hundred pounds.

I could improve a photograph of me by having less of me in it, of course. But that gets balanced by other problems. Particularly, the less you see of me the more you see of my face. I have three expressions in this kind of picture. One is, “Is the timer ever going to go off?” The next is “My eyes look closed, as if I’m asleep”. The last is “I’m trying so hard to not look asleep that I look as if I’m watching cattle transmogrify into flying saucers right here in the middle of the hipster bar! I don’t dare blink lest I miss the good part”.

But since those days I’ve lost a good bit of weight. (I didn’t really lose it. I just tucked it all in these plastic bins I left in the cellar where nobody will see them, because they’re disgusting.) But the result is I have what pass for normal proportions. And with other people, folks who aren’t me, taking the picture I can focus on better facial expressions. If I’m just off thinking about whatever, I have the look that says “the water bill’s been uncharacteristically low the past three months. I wonder if the metering system is faulty”. If I’m really interested what’s going on, paying attention to it all, my face expresses, “the FOOLS! I shall crush them all!”

Despite all this progress I’m not good at being photographed. Which all ties back to my original point which was … wait, let me check. Pinball? … This was about pinball? I … huh. Well, that’s what it says up there, isn’t it? Weird. I’m going to have to think about this and come back next week with an update.

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