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 one 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.

It looks like we’ve run out of James Allen _Mark Trail_ dailies


So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.

[ A car rounds a hill overlooking Lost Forest. ] Driver: 'There's a ranch ... we'll put her out close to the entrance! I'm sure someone will find her and give her a good home ... stop crying, we just don't have time for a pet!' Passenger: 'I feel so guilty ... it doesn't seem right.'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 27th of July, 2020. While I did, sincerely, appreciate James Allen’s work in making the stories less relentlessly linear, and in sprucing up the depth of character motivation? I did miss the frequency of giant foreground animals. Also the word balloon tails that seem to mix up which silhouetted background character is saying what. I mean, the driver’s dialogue isn’t exactly inconsistent, if they’re first saying where they’ll put ‘her’ out and then admitting to feeling guilty. But it does read a little weird.
Saturday’s strip, apparently the last of James Allen’s weekday-continuity work, wasn’t apparently rewritten to cover the change of staff. The mention of ‘personal stories’ could have been used to cover reruns as ‘flashbacks’. This would mirror the way the final Amazing Spider-Man posits that everything since is Peter Parker dreaming while on the long flight to Australia.

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. So Jeremy Cartwright, the actor, is there to meet Mark Trail and understand him a bit better for A Movie. He’s been labelled as a bad boy, and Mark Trail thinks he hasn’t been “a very gracious guest”, as he complained about lunch and as you can see wants drinks. Cherry’s been more able to roll with things. I don’t know whether Cartwright’s wife(?) girlfriend(?) agent(?) companion has been given a name. (She’s called Cartwright ‘honey’, but that could just be an affectation.) Also, “not far from Lost Forest”, there were poachers, so we have some hint where things might have gone.

We got the news of James Allen leaving the strip at the end of June, so now we know what kind of lead time he was maintaining. I would guess without knowing that there are probably another month’s worth of Sunday strips in the works.

James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.

If I do get any information about Mark Trail I intend to put it on a post at this link.

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

What Is Going On With Mark Trail?


[ Edited the 10th of June, 2017 to add ] Thanks for coming to me to try figuring out what’s going on in James Allen’s animal-based adventure comic strip Mark Trail. This article’s out of date. Near the top of this link you should find my most recent articles about plot developments in the comic strip.

[Edited 25 September 2020: James Allen left the comic strip earlier this year.  Jules Rivera is taking over Mark Trail as of the middle of October.]


It was a strange interlude between two stories on Jack Elrod’s long-running, epically stodgy, nature-adventure strip Mark Trail. Mark’s son, Rusty, paused from being a homunculus to nap in the yard, and he dreamed of the tens of millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed what would become the Lost Forest. It lasted only a week, not even an eyeblink in story strip times. But this August 2013 sequence signalled important stuff about how the comic strip would change.

'Rusty dreams he is being chased by a carnivorous dinosaur.' And he trips and faceplants.
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail for the 24th of August, 2013. Drawn and written by James Allen. Now why would you dream about tripping like that? Could it be that Rusty Trail secretly wanted to meet Todd The Dinosaur?

Mark Trail.

For decades now Mark Trail has been a dependable member of the family of comic strips you can’t quite believe actually run. I never read the strip when creator Ed Dodd wrote it. I knew it from Jack Elrod’s tenure. By the 2000s and this decade it had an identity so charmingly square it threatened to be hip again. Mark Trail, square-everythinged nature reporter, would get a call from his editor that there was nature somewhere. He ventured out in some direction where there might be a tree. He would introduce himself to the local women, most of whom I think were named Kelly, by speaking every thought that came into his head. The locals were charmed by Mark Trail’s ever-imaginative choices of which words to stress. And then Mark Trail would find there were smugglers, or poachers, or maybe smuggling poachers, doing mischief to nature. He would punch the bearded among them, and return home with an empty promise to take Rusty fishing.

'OKAY MR RABBIT, OR WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS, YOUR FUN IS OVER!' Rabbit is baffled. 'That's a PET raccoon, and I came to take it home!' 'You've got to be kidding!'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail for the 13th of November, 2008. While every word that Mark Trail utters here is completely true and correct it’s still an odd thing to say. I recommend it as a challenge for new actors to make this come out sounding natural.

The dinosaur interlude was a week when Jack Elrod gave his assistant, James Allen, the chance to do what he’d really like. Elrod’s main concern, Allen explained in comments on the Comics Curmudgeon blog, was that the fantasy sequence not go on too long. After all, whatever else Mark Trail might be, it is a strip about nature and how people interact with it. We can learn about the time of the dinosaurs, but we ought not have Professor Challenger-style antics in it. Allen took that, and a lot of thought into what makes Mark Trail, to heart.

He loosened some things up. One of the first things he did was make good on Mark’s promises to take Rusty fishing. (The poor kid’s hopes were often dashed in order to make a new story start with urgency.) Mark would openly hold and even kiss his wife Cherry. Stories became less ruthlessly linear. They stopped reusing or tracing old artwork or at least got better at hiding it. Rusty Trail was drawn to look less like an unsuccessful ventriloquist dummy. Mark’s editor began calling him out on implausible expense account items. Mark sometimes even had internal thoughts.

This has mostly been good for the comic. I admit missing the gleeful moments when a strangely-placed word balloon would suggest the dialogue was taken over by a giant squirrel. Indeed that was one of the iconic jokes to make about Mark Trail this past decade. But it is a good thing to make the easy jokes about the comic harder to justify.

And the stories have gotten more diverse, and less ruthlessly linear. A storyline earlier this year started with human trafficking, discovered by its effects on wildlife that were under observation. And it didn’t proceed to the inevitable conclusion of Mark Trail punching someone: Mark and his companions got caught in a cave and preoccupied with finding their way to safety. The triggering smuggling, as best I remember, went unresolved. You never saw that in the day, but it’s interesting to have it happen.

The storyline just concluding began with an actual honest-to-goodness flashback. Yes, people in normal media wonder what could be interesting about that. But that’s a literary technique unknown in story circles. And it was run immediately after Mark’s escape from the cave, without the traditional pancake breakfast that signals the start of a new story.

'I'm sorry something bit you, Darling!' says Honey, and then they go kissing on the beach. Meanwhile in the way foreground an ant climbs off their firewood onto a remote Pacific island.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of July, 2016. A flashback set “two years ago” as Darling and Honey bring to a beautiful Pacific island the untold doom of something like normal human affection! Or it would be the doom except …

And it had great promise as the story started. It wasn’t about anyone particularly trying to do mischief to nature. It started with a couple that unintentionally brought ants to a Pacific island, ants now overrunning the local fauna. It’s the sort of honest, small-scale nature story that happens all the time and makes you wonder if humans shouldn’t just give up on this outdoor stuff since we’re clearly no good at it. And it included a great bit, albeit one run too long, when Mark Trail’s editor refuses to authorize his renting a boat to examine the island. The last few storylines included boats in Mark’s care getting blown up. Is the world ready for a self-aware Mark Trail comic? We’ve got one, ready or not.

So here’s the thing. Mark got an abundance of good evidence of the invasive ants and what they’re doing to the wildlife on the island. And it would be one more of those terrible little tragedies. Except that we might argue there’s no harm done. The past couple weeks the island’s been blowing up as the volcano returns to life. It’s exciting stuff, but it wipes out the whole storyline about humans unintentionally damaging nature.

Abbey and Mark Trail call each other's names while the island they're on blows up, catches on fire, sinks into the ocean, and everything else happens.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of November, 2016. Now there’s really no blaming the ants, or Honey and Darling, for the island tearing itself up. This is the sort of problem you need the starship Enterprise to drop a science thingy into a volcano for.

It reminds me of many Lost World-style stories in which a band of explorers comes across a strange, wondrous land, has some adventures in it, and then flees as the land destroys itself. It particularly reminds me of great yet awful movies like Lost Continent or First Spaceship On Venus, the first of which I think Allen has mentioned as liking. And that’s fine, although it does remind me that the previous story, the human-traffickers one, turned into an extremely long slog through an enclosed cavern. Mark and company found all sorts of wonders of nature, but escaped with their lives ahead of an earthquake and its aftershocks. The cave, who knows if its natural wonders will survive? A previous story had a grove of trees saved from spreading blight by a massive wildfire burning up the infected trees and making enough of a clear path that something might be saved.

There’s an unsettling pattern here. One is this motif of people finding a wondrous land as it’s destroyed. Another is this: Nature? That stuff is gonna kill you. Something’s awry when Mark Trail is making a good case for staying in bed with the windows covered and the air conditioner puttering all day.

I doubt James Allen is trying to push a stay-inside-for-your-own-sake agenda here. I suspect he’s just caught up in the fun of telling adventure stories and trying to avoid poaching smugglers. And enjoys the slightly obsolete genre of wilderness-explorer action-adventurers so thoroughly that he’s letting the less reputable parts of the genre in. (Edge of Adventure, his and Brice Vorderbrug’s weekly strip on Gocomics.com, is nothing but this sort of wilderness adventure.) But this is why Mark Trail has been a different and more action-packed strip lately.

The Sunday installments have been miscellaneous illustrations and facts about animals, as they have ever been. Allen has a fondness for insects and deep-sea creatures that send me hiding under the covers, especially when they’re lushly illustrated. But he’s absolutely right to be featuring that stuff in a Mark Trail Sunday installment.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose one point in trading today. Investors had no particular plans after the successful merging of the mainstream and alternate, or as the alternates put it, the alternate and the mainstream indices. They just wanted to get through a day without anything weird happening and they did. And they’re not falling for the bit about that being the strangest thing of all.

101