What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What makes crickets “land shrimp”? January – May 2021


“Crickets are land shrimp” is the odd catchphrase of the current Mark Trail storyline. Wikipedia claims that spider crickets are sometimes called “land shrimp”, but that’s Wikipedia. I can find some older articles saying that spider crickets resemble shrimp, and … I guess? There’s a stronger way that crickets could be “land shrimp”, though. Note this Slate article from 2008 about a company selling crickets as food that pitches them as “land shrimp”. So it looks like some of the people who think they can sell Westerners on eating crickets instead of beef are calling them “land shrimp”.

In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.

So this should catch you up to the end of April 2021. If you’re reading this after about August 2021, or if any news breaks out about Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, I should have a more up-to-date article for you here. Thanks for reading.

Mark Trail.

31 January – 1 May 2021.

Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.

Mark Trail: 'I didn't come here to fight. I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier.' Happy Trail: 'You started a fight with me over a speedboat! Which you destroyed!' Mark: 'And I should have destroyed it! That's what you raised me to be! What have YOU become?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of February, 2021. The touch of the older-style Mark Trail is one of the things Rivera does to reinforce that, different as it may be, this isn’t intended as a reboot of the Mark Trail universe. The 18th of March included a more explicit one, referencing the Jack Elrod-era rerun used between James Allen’s departure and Rivera’s arrival.

Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.

Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?

Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.

Happy Trail: 'By the way, you sucker-punched me on the pier, boy! You wouldn't get so far in a fair fight.' Mark: 'What?' Niecy Rogers, dragging her father out: 'Okay, now we bounce.' Jolly Rogers: 'Wait, I wanna watch this.' Niecy: 'No, you don't.' Mark: 'You're twice my age, Dad. Stop.' Happy: 'Really? Who taught you the two fists of --- JUSTICE?!' (Smacking Mark Trail in the face.)
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of February, 2021. I understand people bothered to have beloved snarky commentary like “Mark Trail’s two fists of justice” put into the text. But it’s done so playfully. And, after all, Mark Trail did come around with facial hair. What did he expect?

With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.

Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.

Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.


The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.

Mark Trail: 'So you're telling me the throwaway video my kid made got sampled by a hip-hop artist?' Amy Lee: 'Yep! Reptiliannaire's people are ramping up to shoot the 'Crickets are land shrimp' trap remix video and they want you in it! This is a golden opportunity to build your brand with the Teen Girl Sparkle audience. I suggest you take it!' Mark Trail: 'Because I'm such a good rapper?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of March, 2021. Hey, when fame comes, it is never for the thing you want. Or so I am told.

And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.

Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.

Rob Bettancourt: 'Thanks so much for coming, professor. Say, have you met my old friend, Marky Trail?' Mark Trail: 'MARK TRAIL, award-winning nature journalist.' Professor Bee Sharp: 'Ah! I HAVE heard of you! Read your article on bats and human trafficking. Intriguing, if a little confusing.' Mark: 'My son is on the phone. Can you say a few --- ' Sharp, snatching the phone: 'GLADLY! Hiya there, sport!' Mark; 'But my phone!' He lurches toward Sharp and is blocked by a woman declaring ,'If you touch him, I BREAK you.' Narrator: 'Mark knew Hollywood women could be tough, but not *this* tough.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of April, 2021. And here’s another reference to older stories, this one from early in James Allen’s tenure. The bats-and-human-trafficking story was from shortly before I did recaps, sorry to say. But Mark Trail went to do a story about white-nose syndrome in some bats in Texas caves, and got tangled up with human traffickers. Also an extremely long though gorgeous progression through caves with neat rocks and stranger (though realistic) life. The traffickers were eventually caught in Mexico. And the last James Allen story, never completed, was to be Hollywood adapting the story. So this was rather a keystone story in Allen’s tenure for Rivera to reference.

Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.

All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.

Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.

Mark Trail: 'Cherry, I won't leave you hanging. I am gonna give that Sunny Soleil Committee the two fists o' justice ... in an e-mail.' Cherry: 'I appreciate that, sugar.' Mark: 'Oh, and I will get you the biggest agave I can get through airport security!' Cherry: 'Mark, don't do anything silly, now.' Narrator: 'Mark decides now is NOT the time to tell her he's flying to Los Angeles to star in a music video with a lizard-themed eco-rapper.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2021. The narration box has been a much bigger player this story, and has been a wonderful commenter on the story. I do not know what Mark Trail did tell Cherry was his reason for flying to Los Angeles if it wasn’t this music video business.

Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.

Violet Cheshire: 'I cannot speak to whatever agreements you have with your landscaping clients, but the Sunny Soleil Society has its guidelines.' Cherry: 'My husband sent an e-mail explaining the situation.' Cheshire: 'I am well aware of your husband's e-mail. It was ... ' [ Flashback. Cheshire sees a man (her husband?) reading e-mail: 'By jove! This e-mail felt like it punched me in the face with two fists!' ] Cheshire, continuing: '... Confrontational!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 29th of April, 2021. I don’t know whether we are supposed to take the third panel as literally what happened or as Cherry Trail’s fantasy of what happened. Either way, it brings me delight. The only way it falls short of perfection is not having Cheshire and the man with her wearing monocles.

So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
  • Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
  • Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
  • Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
  • Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
  • Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
  • Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
  • Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
  • Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
  • Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
  • Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
  • Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juvenies, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
  • Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.

Next Week!

Romance! Inspirational quotes! Post-traumatic stress disorder! Working for “exposure”! All this and a lot of thanking Mary worth, in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, if all goes to plan.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

Mammoth Engineering Works


I’m seeing these days a lot more idle talk — I hope it’s idle talk — about bringing mammoths back from extinction through the cloning and whatever else of preserved mammoth DNA. I admit that’d be a pretty good trick, and a fine solution to the nation’s crippling mammoth shortage. It’d certainly make drive-through safaris an even more exciting affair, as after a herd of deer blockade your car you could then have a mammoth give you the choice of surrendering your cup full of kibble or getting your Scion tC sat on.

If they ever achieve it, though, then what are future genetic engineers supposed to do to impress us? I think they’d have to start doing it the hard way, and bring mammoths back into being using nothing but quokka DNA instead, or maybe skip the DNA altogether and breed new mammoths using nothing but some string, a megaphone, and a highly surprised squirrel. Thus ever do the standards required for science stuff to impress us keep rising.

This Day In History


1722: The village of Lesser Pompous Lakes finds the solution to its problem of chronic flooding when a visiting officer from the Royal Navy identifies the problem as tides. Over the coming year the village moves two feet farther away from Lousy Creek and the community is that much dryer. A statue commemorating the officer was ordered in 1725, but by then he had backed warily far out of town.

I Misread Science Headlines


I thought the link on the BBC News Science and Environment page read “Bird slime reserve baffles experts” and that’s why I clicked it. Who wouldn’t wonder what there was to be baffled by in the current bird slime reserves? Bird slime reserves are the soundest form of capital deposit known to the financial world, because anyone challenging the worth of one nation’s reserves is liable to get a telegraphic transfer of bird slime for their nosiness.

But no, the link was really, “Bird reserve slime baffles experts”, as there’s mysterious jellies appearing at a nature reserve in the Ham Wall nature reserve in Somerset, England. That’s not so mysterious, apart from how nobody knows just what it is or why it’s here or what it’s doing. I want my link-clicking returned, which I can get by applying in care of this office.