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.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is the Mark Trail writing changing again? June – August 2022


I’m aware Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail hasn’t been to everyone’s tastes. The more cartoony art style, and the soft reboot of the characters, hasn’t worked for many. That characters and, especially, the narrator lean in to delivering jokes more has also bothered some. They liked the strip more when it was square.

So I’m taking my preface to point out something that’s grown more prominent the last few months. And that is that the writing — as in, the words on the page — is becoming more square again. The stories haven’t changed, particularly in running separate Mark and Cherry stories. But we’re seeing Mark Trail say things like “Holy guacamole! Rex handled those Canada geese well! He’s sure got a way with animals.” Or “Oh, for Pete’s sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUV! We have to get him out!” We’re also seeing more exaggerated reaction poses for individual characters. And minor character names that are more on the nose, like “Jimmy Songbird” the keytar player.

It’s a return to a more stodgy, slightly off mode of your classic Jack Elrod narrative. It’s not a complete reversion. For one, I feel Rivera is doing this as deliberate effect; Elrod, my sense is, just wrote like that. Mark Trail continues his new habit of internalized thoughts. Sometimes he even says things without exclamation points.

I imagine someone who can’t stand Rivera’s style will not be moved by this observation. But, for those who aren’t sure? You might enjoy the comic strip more if you’re cued to look for it.

This should catch you up to late August 2022 in the Mark Trail story. If you’re reading this after about November 2022, or news about the comic strip comes out, there should be a more useful essay here. Also, on my other blog, I looked at a couple comic strips for their mathematical themes. Hope you enjoy.

Mark Trail.

12 June – 28 August 2022.

Professor Bee Sharp had rushed the DJ’s booth, at the Bettancourt’s NFT scam launch party. He talked the DJ into playing his tracks. These turned his investigations into “Cricket Bro” Rob and “Crypto Bro” Sterling Bettancourt into EDM. The revelation? The NFTs are a scam and the crypto is worthless garbage. Really, uh, caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story there, Floyd.

[ The Cricket Bro Cryptocurrency event is lit. Literally! ] DJ: 'Holy smokes! For real! The forest is on fire. Everyone, evacuate!' [ Meanwhile, Mark struggles with another emergency. ] A smashed-up electric utility vehicle has hit against a tree; Mark Trail and Bee Sharp watch, horrified. Mark Trail: 'Oh, for Pete's sake! Cricket Bro is locked in the EUC! We have to get him out!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 20th of June, 2022. In before the weird T-6000 fanboys explain it’s perfectly normal for cars to lock up and catch on fire after a low-speed crash into a tree.
Rob is angered by the EDM lyrics, and also the revelation that EDM has lyrics. He charges at Mark Trail and Bee Sharp using the only weapon at hand, his Electric Utility Vehicle. He crashes immediately into a tree, and the car locks up and catches fire. The two smash open the car’s windshield and drag an angry Rob out. The crash starts a wildfire, though. The partygoers evacuate, and leave the area. But not before a piece of the half-pipe built for the event falls on Rusty Trail. Rusty calls for help, and sees what he believes to be the Seaside Specter. We don’t see what happens, or what he “really” saw. We see him reunited with his parents, safe and sound, though.

The wildfire doesn’t grow much, and the local fire authorities credit our friend the beaver. Beaver dams around the location kept the local area moist, limiting the fire’s spread. Oregon Fish and Wildlife wants to talk with the Bettancourts, but they’ve fled to California. And, with Happy Trail considering whether he can sell flame-roasted cricket protein bars, the story comes to a natural end, the 2nd of July.


The current stories began the 4th of July. There are two pieces, as has become traditional, one following Cherry Trail and one following Mark Trail. I’ll recap Cherry Trail’s first.

Her father, Doc Davis, asks for help at the veterinary clinic. There’s all kinds of animals suffering allergic reactions or chemical burns. It looks like pesticide poisoning, but that’s not usually this serious. And it becomes personal for the Trails, as Sassy, their other dog that I forgot about too gets the same rash. Mark Trail figures it’s some kind of weed killer, but who’s using such strong weed killer out here in the Lost Forest?

[ Cherry receives shocking news ... ] Cherry: 'You're hiring Honest Ernest to do your gardening instead of me?' Violet Cheshire: 'Cherry, there's plenty left for you to do. Ernest is only doing the lawn treatment.' Cherry: 'Treatment ? Like with pesticides and weedkillers?' Honest Ernest: 'The very best! I'm using a new compound of my own creation!' [ He holds out a bottle, foreshortened ] 'Honest Ernest's lawn libation!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 5th of August, 2022. I’m not sure about this home-brewed toxin stuff, but I do respect anyone in the year 2022 who’s out making “libations”.
I mean, it’s the Sunny Soleil Society. We all knew that going in, but how they’re responsible takes time to reveal itself. Early August, reader time, we get that. Violet Cheshire wants that big mass of native plants ripped out to make a proper lawn, for the teatime garden. And she’s hired Honest Ernest, bug exterminator, to do it. He’s got a great new compound “of my own creation” to control weeds and insects. That “thud” you heard was the jaws of everybody at the EPA and FDA hitting the floor. Ernest is happy to give Cherry a sample, though, and she takes it back to Doc to test how corrosive it is. It quickly dissolves away the dirt on a penny, then the penny, then the pan the penny’s in, the table, the floor, the basement, and five feet of Piedmont anorthosite underneath. And that’s how far that story’s gotten.


The 14th of July saw Mark Trail’s story split off from Cherry’s. Bill Ellis offers a choice of stories. One is tracking a rampaging elephant reported in four states. The other is for Teen Girl Sparkle, and it’s about a New Age healing center with an animal-therapy focus. Mark Trail picks the boring safe one, and we get Amy Lee back in the strip. She explains how it’s not so much a healing center as a roadside zoo. But he’ll be working with celebrity stunt driver-turned-Bikbok animal wrangler Rex Scorpius. Also, the New Age resort may be some kind of tiger cult, you know how these things go.

Amy Lee, explaining scenes we see illustrated: 'Mark, this job pairs you with Rex Scorpius, famous for going from stunt driver to naturalist. You'll sign up for a spa package at the tiger touch center in Texas. This place claims to provide animal therapy. The center was created by Tess Tigress, an animal expert who wrote the pestseller 'Just Pet The Cat'.' Mark Trail: 'Petting an animal has been shown to reduce stress, but not when that animal is a 500-pound tiger!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of July, 2022. I don’t know, the tiger seems quite comfortable with it.

On scene in Houston Mark Trail meets up with … Diana Daggers again! She’s working with Rex Scorpius as he’s not doing NFT/crypto scam money. Also, hey, she was in Raccoon Rangers with Amy Lee. She’s where Lee got the idea of pitching this job to Mark Trail. She wanted Mark Trail because she believes Rex Scorpius is in real danger. Not so much physical danger, as emotional. He’s been going through some major stuff and guys like him get sucked into cults like this.

It’s happened before. She mentions how a couple years ago one of her stars had a mental break. He’d left town to film a movie in a lost forest and vanished. This sure seems to refer to James Allen’s final, abandoned, story for Mark Trail. In that story bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright comes to Lost Forest to be kind of a jerk. If this is Jeremy Cartwright, he’s gone off to a Naturalist cult in Mendocino County so I guess we don’t need to worry about him anymore.

[ Mark Trail watches the live filming of an animal-themed tv show ] Mark Trail ;'How exciting!' Rex, addressing his camera: 'I'm Rex Scorpius and this is 'Animal Rexpertise'. Today we'll confront these fierce Canada geese ... who made their home in the yard of famous musician Jimmy Songbird.' As the geese honk, Jimmy Songbird says, 'help! I cannot play my keytar in such hostility!' [ Looks like the geese have their own musical notes. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2022. Oh, yeah, for some reason Mark Trail decided to go to this Texas cult dressed in what he thinks of as cowboy garb.
Mark Trail’s first meeting with Rex Scorpius goes well enough. He’s filming an episode about removing Canada geese from the yard of famed keytar musician Jimmy Songbird. Removing Canada geese is the stuff for professionals and … I guess Rex Scorpius is one, or brought in experts for his show, as that goes well enough. Mark Trail tries to catch up with Rex and ask about his secret, but Rex has to get to bed and to the gym. Anything to spend time not with other people. I get that.

And that’s about as far as that story’s gotten. We’re not yet to the tiger cult. I trust this will all play out in the next eleven weeks, by the time I get back to recapping Mark Trail plots.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Spiders, 12 June 2022. With advice about how to get more spiders!
  • Native-Plant Lawns, 19 June 2022. This is where that smug friend showing a picture of a yard that’s covered in what turn out to be invasive Siberian wheats got their idea.
  • Goats, 26 June 2022. They can mow lawns and chew on lab coats!
  • Bald Eagles, 3 July 2022. Remember when we almost killed them all? Glad we’re not trying to that anymore … right?
  • Turtles, 10 July 2022. Don’t mess up their work. They’re busy defeating Shredder and the whole Foot Clan for us.
  • Wildfires, 17 July 2022. Let’s stop setting them, OK? Think we can do that a little?
  • Sea Turtles, 24 July 2022. Could we stop making their lives harder than they need to be too?
  • De-Pavement, 31 July 2022. Turns out having soil and plants and trees and stuff is good even for cities.
  • Rabbits and Hares, 7 August 2022. Which ones are the clever ones, and which are the ones that are full of tricks?
  • Sharks, 14 August 2022. Are we making their lives harder than they need to be too? Why do we keep doing this?
  • Canada Geese, 21 August 2022. Just … like … don’t start with them. Oof.
  • Scorpions, 28 August 2022. Don’t start anything with them, they won’t start anything with you. Check your boots.

Next Week!

Is another member of the Weston clan making a complete mess of their lives? Why yes they are! Are we getting dubious-to-bad relationship advice passed off as somehow acceptable? Hoo yeah. It’s all sorts of cautionary tales in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What is Bee Sharp’s Deal? March – June 2022


Professor Bee Sharp is, in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail continuity, some manner of pop scientist. Rusty Trail’s a big fan. They’ve had a couple of interactions. Most have been centered around “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt, childhood nemesis of Mark Trail.

We’ve been seeing more of Bee Sharp since his lab coat got chewed up by goats, part of Bettancourt’s NFT-minting scam. This story, Bee Sharp’s appeared a couple times. Once was in giving Rusty Trail some advice about seeking out cryptids. Another has been to reveal that Bettancourt’s current big NFT scam is, in fact, a scam, to a bunch of the people Bettncourt’s been scamming.

The effect (and I don’t know how much of this is Rivera’s intent) is Bee Sharp seems to have a deal rather like Mark Trail’s. That is, that he’s going about having adventures in bringing nature, or maybe science, to the public, and fighting evildoers. But also being much more successful in getting to be Internet Famous and all. Kelly Welly has a similar life, in Rivera’s telling, doing nature reporting stuff to greater acclaim than Mark Trail does. It makes good storytelling sense to have Mark Trail be the underdog even in his own field. And having several rivals opens more possibilities, although so far, Kelly Welly’s barely featured.

This should catch you up to mid-June 2022 in the comic strip. If any news about Mark Trail breaks, or if you’re reading this after about September 2022, you may find a more useful article here. And now to the strip.

Mark Trail.

27 March – 12 June 2022.

Mark Trail and family are in Oregon! For Rusty, it’s the chance to try and catch the Seaside Specter, a kind of aquatic Bigfoot. With the guidance of a graphic novel about another cryptid, the “Surfsquatch”, he goes looking and mostly scares himself. Professor Bee Sharp happens to be at the comic book shop, and offers some advice. (One senses Sharp, like many of a particular nerd genre could not get enough of cryptids before growing up. I bet he wanted Cecil Adams to explain the 17/23 Correlation too.) If the Seaside Specter is covered in seaweed, as reports say, he’s likely to be near salt water. If he feeds at night, as reports say, he needs protein. Surfsquatch, Rusty learns, turned to crickets to stay alive. He thinks of shrimp and his father’s odd, meme-worthy declaration that “crickets are land shrimp”. And has access to an abundance of cricket protein powder, courtesy Rob Bettancourt. Rusty does not (as of this week) find any cryptids. But he’s got an angle that would work if anything could.

At the comic book shop. Rusty: 'Professor Bee Sharp! My favorite Bikbok Star!' Sharp: 'Greetings, Citizens! I'm in town doing an event for Earth Day! I came to talk about all the weird and wonderful things that make up our planet! I couldn't help overhearing ... Did you know that in Oregon, Bigfoot sightings are often black bears standing or walking upright?' Rusty: 'But I'm not looking for Bigfoot. I'm looking for the Seaside Specter. Can you help, Professor?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 22nd of April, 2022. Sharp’s entrance to the story was set up the day before with the narration box, ‘A wild professor appears!’, and there’s a similar message when Sharp meets up with Mark Trail later on. I’m amused, even though I don’t play the genre of video games this references.

For Mark Trail, it’s become a working holiday. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, teamed his trail-mix business up with “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt and his brother, “Crypto Bro” Sterling. Why would Happy Trail be working with someone who pushes NFT scams? Beyond that Happy Trail got to know the Bettancourts when he was estranged from his son, and they needed a father, and you trust the people you like.

There’s more alarming news. The NFTs are some of where they get money. Most of it comes from logging, a business that exists in that awkward space of being necessary but also an environmental hazard. Some good news though, too. The Bettancourts take Mark Trail to the Wings Of Love rehabilitation center, a bird wildlife refuge. They donate some of their profits to support the place. It’s another nice touch, shading the Bettancourts so they aren’t as cartoonishly evil as your Jack Elrod-era story might have done. But … a couple computers are cheap, hard as it is for wildlife rescues to afford them. Is this the Bettancourts using some spare change to greenwash their business?

Happy Trail: 'Mark! The bird is named Joyce Kestrel Oates! Isn't that just adorable?' Mark Trail, reaching his phone up to snap a picture of the Crypto Brothers: 'Hold still! Let me get a picture.' Narrator: 'Mark spots the Crypto brothers taking an urgent phone call. What could it be?' Sterling Bettancourt: 'Hey, uh, Mark? You're a nature dude, right? You know what to do with a lumber mill catches fire?' Narrator: 'This situation just heated up!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 16th of April, 2022. Oh, hey, I think this is the first Attack of Nature since James Allen was doing the comic. I should reset the counter.

There’s little time to investigate. The Bettancourts’ lumber mill is on fire. Mark Trail rapidly deduces the problem: beavers. Oh, you may think of beavers as providing adorable videos the zoo tweets as coming from their “branch manager”. But they’ll cut down trees that are too near power lines. Or cut down power poles, mistaking them for trees. And that can cause fires. The Bettancourts don’t know what to do about the immediate problem besides putting out an anti-beaver press release. Mark Trail and Happy Trail take the lead in evacuating the workers. Happy Trail gets to a radio tower to give directions. Mark Trail — given his father’s compass and camping scarf, a symbol of reconciliation so obvious even I understand it — is able to navigate to the electrical control station and power things off. With the humans out of danger, fire-fighting can get going, and the disaster’s soon not.

Narrator: 'Mark and his Dad are trapped behind a live power line!' Lumberjacks, also behind the live power line and the fire: 'For Pete's sake! A downed power line here in the woods? Where even trees can be conductors? This is a pickle!' Mark Trail: 'There should be a way to shut off the main electricity safely so those men can escape.' Happy Trail: 'Mark, I can show you the floor plans, but the road to the electrical control station is on fire! It's too dangerous!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of May, 2022. So I want to highlight this strip as representative of Rivera’s development as writer. She’s never been shy to have reasonably complicated storylines, with several independent threads and somewhat more complex emotions involved. But she has been embracing some touches of deep, essential Mark Trail squareness. In the first panel, loggers, caught in a fire aggravated by a long series of managerial blunders, are crying out things like “For Pete’s sake!” and “This is a pickle!” Elsewhere you get characters talking about things as “malarkey” (a word I’m warming to, as it connotes to me not just that someone is spreading nonsense but not even trying to spread good nonsense). The dialogue and the narration boxes are less stodgy than they used to be, as note the references to Internet memes that turn up in them. But they are keeping some of the stylized writing that made Mark Trail an ironic favorite of so many people who’d go on to consider it a sincere favorite.

You may wonder how the Bettancourts needed advice to evacuate workers from a forest fire. The company’s poorly run, the loggers explain to Mark Trail. No fire safety plan, the most relevant thing here. They turned to Happy Trail, the only person who’d even listen to complaints about unsafe working condition. But Happy Trail doesn’t own the mill; why is he in their business? Mark investigates his father.

The Bettancourts get a half-pipe built in the woods, part of preparing a party for some kind of NFT scam launch event. Mark Trail barely follows this when Bee Sharp appears. Sharp has evidence that the NFTs are a scam, with any actual money from them embezzled from the lumber mill. Sharp is there to disrupt Crypto Bro’s event and save the participants from being swindled. And getting revenge for that time Rob Bettancourt had a goat eat his lab coat. I’m not clear why Bee Sharp tells Mark Trail of his plans, except maybe to force Trail into high gear in clearing his father’s name. But I don’t see where Sharp would know anything about that. It may be Sharp was just gloating, as one will, about the chance to do good by being a chaos agent, and it happened to give Mark Trail some needed initiative.

Mark Trail: 'Professor Bee Sharp, why would you mess with the crypto event? That's crazy?' Sharp: 'I prefer to say I'm buggin'. It has to be done. The crypto bros are scammers! I have proof on this flash drive.' Mark Trail: 'Proof of what?' Sharp: 'The crypto and NFTs are worthless! Their only income is embezzling the Sterling log mill! Everyone at this crypto event is in danger of being swindled. They have to know!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of May, 2022. Now you might think that it’s a pretty poor businessperson who’ll run a viable business like a logging mill poorly just to embezzle money to pump an investment scam. And yet every business you know is rolling out the NFT plans they started forming four months ago when it was just everybody not pitching an NFT scam warning that it was a scam.

As best Mark Trail can work out, his father ended up in that trap where when authority is absent, command flows to whoever competent is nearby and doesn’t shake it off fast enough. Happy Trail doesn’t seem to have investments in the lumber mill or the NFT scams. Or any documented management role. People just know he can tell the Bettancourts to straighten this out. Happy Trail also doesn’t seem to know what an NFT is. He explains to his son that they’re nothing but cheap promotional giveaways for cricket protein bars. He’s baffled by the idea someone would think a monkey picture could be worth anything. Or why it’d be dangerous if Bee Sharp shares his fraud accusations at the crypto event, as “nobody fights over computer games”.

The big day arrives, and it’s a good party. Rusty Trail even talks to a couple skater girls, and they have something to talk about. It’s cryptids. Bee Sharp turns up, though, to get to the DJ booth and slip some hard-hitting investigative journalism in to the EDM mix. I can’t tell you how he imagines this will turn out, but (as of Wednesday), it hasn’t yet.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • The Northwest Rainforest, 27 March 2022. It’s a good idea; we should have one.
  • Evolutionary Carcinization, 3 April 2022. Whether it’s a good idea or not, we have it.
  • Industrial Logging, 10 April 2022. We could do a better job with this, really.
  • Beavers, 17 April 2022. Or we could turn it over to the beavers, that’s an option.
  • Porcupines, 24 April 2022. Not mentioned, but fun to know: porcupines are born with hair (like guinea pigs, and are rare among rodents to do so). It stiffens up into quills in a couple days.
  • Oregon Wildfires, 1 May 2022. We kind of have to have them too, but we could make it less of a disaster if we tried.
  • Cricket Farming, 8 May 2022. Jules Rivera seems to think insect-eating is likely to become a non-novelty in Western diets and here we part ways.
  • Bigfoot, 15 May 2022. I mean, this would be so cool, right?
  • Lady Beetles, 22 May 2022. Look, there was no way to stop an invasive species of aphids except bringing in invasive lady beetles, that’s just now nature works, right?
  • Beavers, 29 May 2022. They just thought they heard some running water around you and that maybe they could put a stop to that.
  • Sunscreen, 5 June 2022. It’s a really good idea and yes, of course we’ve turned it into other species’ problem.
  • Spiders, 12 June 2022. They’re not just for having other people do the superheroics anymore!

Next Week!

Dubious quotes and questionable relationships! Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth gets some love from me, at least. If all goes well, which would be a nice change of pace.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why did that lizard rapper visit Rusty? January – March 2022


Part of the current story in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail was a family reunion. The Trails, and the Rogers family, got together. Reptiliannaire, the eco-rapper Mark Trail visited two storylines ago, visited after the launch of his new album. Reptiliannaire’s one of Rusty’s favorite singers.

Mark Trail said something about his father hiring Reptiliannaire. This is plausible. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, runs a granola concern big enough to be a local environmental hazard and bully, though not so big as to be bought out by a real bastard company like Nestle. But this means Reptiliannaire went from his album launch to working a private event. That’s a lot of work. But it could be that the reptile-themed rap star world is small enough that you have to do that much work. Nobody confirms that Happy Trail hired him, though. As Mark Trail had a successful heist with Reptiliannaire that time, it’s plausible Happy Trail invited him and he came to see a quasi-friend and a fan. Take the interpretation you find most credible.

So this should catch you up on Mark Trail for the end of March, 2022. If you’re reading this after about June 2022 a more up-to-date plot recap should be here. I’ll also post news about the comic strip at this link. Thanks for reading and now let’s explore what all is going on with environmental villains who need punching.

Mark Trail.

9 January – 26 March 2022.

Mark Trail, Diana Daggers, and the veterans on the De-Bait Team had a plan to fight Duck Duck Goose shipping. The plan: make a public spectacle of themselves. Our Heroes got as many small ships as they could together to blockade the Lost Forest-area waterway the zebra-mussel-contaminated ships used. It’s a popular protest, because we all want that thrill of that stuck boat again. Duck Duck Goose makes the concession of declaring they’re totally going to make things better. And have Mark Trail, Diana Daggers, and Cliff (who probably has a last name) arrested.

[ Mark and Cliff both post bail in the Lost Forest county jail, but Diana is left behind. ] Daggers, from behind bars; 'Go on, Mark! Tell my story! I will carry on, an envronmental rebel! And let my sacrifice show --- ' Sheriff: 'Okay, Miss Daggers. You're free to go.' As she takes the box of her things she asks, 'Eh? Who bailed me out? I burned all my bridges in California.' [ As Cliff called it, an old friend showed up when she least expected it. ] Her phone's getting a call; 'Aw, Bee Sharp?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of January, 2022. Along with the protest Mark Trail posted his story, and Kelly Welly boosted it to their millions of followers.
Cherry posts bail for Mark, and someone’s able to post bail for Cliff. Diana Daggers is ready to sit it out in jail when Professor Bee Sharp bails her out. He’s apologetic for taking “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt’s NFT money and glad to use it for something moral. She’s glad to help him patch his coat. And somehow the cops haven’t connected him to the boat explosion in Miami. You remember, from the story where Mark reconnected with his father, Mark “Happy” Trail. Hot Catch magazine editor Rafael Suave loves the story and the publicity the arrests generated. Mark Trail gets 55 new social media followers, only a few of him ask do he rp. It’s a happy resolution altogether.


A minor plot resolved: the Sunny Soleil society has some tiny aquariums with Marimo balls. These can also spread zebra mussels. They give the readers instructions on how to dispose of them safely (freeze them for a day or more and throw them in the trash). And explain to Violet Cheshire how to handle it: let Cherry Trail handle it, for free. (This is also a good way to handle the poison ivy or the knotweed growing in from your neighbor’s yard.)


The 7th of February starts the current batch of storylines. One is about Rusty Trail and his natural love of cryptids. He shares one about the Seaside Specter, a onetime human covered in seaweed and coral with eyes like a puffy-eyed fish. (Looking at him curses your eyeballs.) He would bond with Cherry Trail’s sister Olive at the family reunion, the big setting for the start of this story.

[ Rusty discovers his Aunt Olive knows a lot about cryptids. ] Olive: 'So you're going to the West Coast to get footage of the Seaside Specter?' Rusty: 'It's a lifetime opportunity! I may not get another chance!' Olive: 'Kiddo, I have hunted cryptids. It's dangerous out there. Take this.' Rusty: 'Is taht a face shield?' She holds one, offering face, nose, and mouth protection: 'Yeah. This will protect you from looking directly at the Seaside Specter.' Rusty: 'Cool! Thanks, Auntie Olive.' [ And that's how Rusty learned the importance of masking up! ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 4th of March, 2022. Really sweet of her. Not clear why she had that on hand, unless Mark or Cherry had told her about Rusty’s cryptid mania. I’m assuming the “it’s dangerous out there, take this” is a meme reference and I have no way to guess whether it’s something Olive would be expecting Rusty to get. Book recommendation: Joshua Blu Buhs’s Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend.
The reunion is a roller coaster of emotions for Rusty. He wanted to meet relatives as much as any kid that age does. But then it turned out Reptiliannaire, his favorite eco-rapper, was doing a concert nearby. There was no going to that, though. Happy Trail, though, is sensitive to his grandson’s feelings. That’s why Reptiliannaire visits, however the thing got arranged.

The happiness screeches to a halt when Happy Trail and Jolly Roger mention they’re doing new TV commercials. The young Mark Trail was traumatized by being the semi-willing child star of those ages ago. (Other kids, such as Rob Bettancourt, teased him for his natural on-camera squareness.) Now he’s traumatized because the new spokescreature is a monkey. That part’s survivable, but Monk Trail is also being turned into an NFT. Happy Trail’s startled to learn there’s anything about NFTs to concern an environmentalist, or a non-fool. His surprise that his new business partner didn’t bring up this big problem invites the question of how Happy Trail has built a successful business. You’d expect he would have been phished into sending the company to an e-mail claiming to be the county IRS inspector. Perhaps his really good Chief Operating Officer retired two weeks ago.

His NFT partner, in Portland, is Jadsen Sterling. Happy Trail asserts that Sterling and his brother are friends of Mark Trail’s. Turns out Sterling’s (step)brother is Rob “Cricket Bro” Bettancourt. Mark Trail spends the flight to Oregon (where they’d been planning to go for reasons that escape me; maybe it was a vacation?) trying to work out Sterling’s deal. He runs a tech firm committed to NFT scams, but makes his real money logging.

[ Mark discussees his concerns with Cherry on the way to Portland. ] Mark Trail: 'I know my dad means wel, but sometimes his choices really BUG me!' (The word 'Bug' is highlighted; the panel shows a close-up on a pandora pinemoth while Mark's plane is in the background sky.) 'The dad I remember would've never done business with other companies that hurt the environment like NFTs do.' Cherry: 'Mark, your dad isn't the man you remember anymore. He's older and he's looking to connect. Try to be kind.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 16th of March, 2022. This is another moment of Rivera making clear the decision to treat the “traditional” Mark Trail as father to the one she’s writing about. And it’s another good reminder of our need to be as compassionate as we can even to the people who’ve hurt us.
And yet Sterling has the spare time to catch the Trails at the airport and offer them a ride. He introduces himself as “Crypto Bro” and hey, his brother Cricket Bro is there too. They share a story that’s brief but nice — how they bonded as stepbrothers over surfing — and then how they had befriended Happy Trail on the beach. They’d been cut off by their father, and Mark Trail wasn’t speaking to his at the time. This is a small story moment I find quite humanizing and effective. It’s a deft reminder that these people, villains as they are to us, have lives they’re basically happy with and have reason to be basically happy with.

That’s how the Bros and Happy Trail turned into a big business-family partnership mess.  And also explains why Happy Trail might not have asked them questions about the downsides of NFTs.  And that’s where we stand at the end of March. Also going on: a bunch of first panels with animals in the foreground looking at the camera. That’s a welcome feature to return to the strip.

Sunday Animals Watch

What parts of nature got attention in Sunday strips the past three months? And how badly off are they? Let’s review.

  • Zebra mussels, 9 January 2022. Still a problem despite the plan to ignore the problem, somehow.
  • Bobcats, 16 January 2022. Robertcats, if you haven’t been introduced, thank you.
  • White-tailed deer, 23 January 2022. The population was in danger until we tried “have people not just shoot them”. Weird.
  • American kestrels, 30 January 2022. They only weigh like six ounces which, even considering birds don’t weigh much, doesn’t seem like much.
  • Horseshoe Crabs, 6 February 2022. Which have survived 455 million years, and then humans screwed things up.
  • Alligators, 13 February 2022. My father’s living in South Carolina and constantly sending pictures of alligators that get near the apartment complex while my mother rolls her eyes all the way into North Carolina.
  • Wildlife Crossings, 20 February 2022. Not an ideal solution to the problem of highways but at least some remediation.
  • Vultures, 27 February 2022. Apparently they don’t circle dying animals? Huh. This is going to mess up the late, lamented comic strip Little Dog Lost.
  • Spotted Owls, 6 March 2022. Threatened by invasive barred owls.
  • Pandora Pinemoths, 13 March 2022. They don’t eat, as adults, because nature is weird and creepy.
  • Western Gray Squirrels, 20 March 2022. You know how bad humanity is doing that we’re screwing up squirrels? Seriously.
  • The Northwest Rainforest, 27 March 2022. Both of the remaining trees.

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston is not dead. I’ll go into the unhappy story of why not when I recap Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. That’s my plan for what to do next week.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why is Mark Trail worked up about NFTs? October 2021 – January 2022


In the last scene of The Stingiest Man In Town, the 1978 Rankin/Bass adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge tells Cratchit to burn some more coal. Cratchit asks if that’s good for business and Scrooge laughs it off as good for humanity. The irony is it has turned out burning coal is extremely good business, as it’s catastrophic for humanity.

So this should catch you up to early January 2022 in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. If news about the strip breaks, or if you’re reading this after about April 2022, a more up-to-date essay is likely here. And now let’s get on to explaining the past three months of story.

Mark Trail.

17 October 2021 – 8 January 2022.

We had two and a half stories going on when I last checked in on the Lost Forest. One was Mark Trail’s assignment with former rival/high-speed-pursuer Diana Daggers. It’s to investigate a shipping company spreading zebra mussels. One was Diana Daggers’s breakup with her pop-science star friend Professor Bee Sharp. And one was Cherry Trail’s efforts to move a bee colony before its extermination. Each has advanced some. I’ll take each strand as a separate thing.

Cherry Trail’s first. She’s been landscaping for the Sunny Soleil Society. Their statue of the Forest Pioneer got colonized by bees. Society chair Violet Cheshire hires “Honest Ernest”, the new pest control guy in town. Also husband of one of the Society members. So she calls on her friends with the Black Rose Garden Club, who plan a daring nighttime bee-relocation heist.

[ Mark Trail takes on Honest Ernest and the Exterminator Gators in a bid to save the bees on the explorer statue. Just another night for Mark. ] Honest Ernest: 'How can you stand in our way? We're hardworking Americans doing an honest job. You must not be a true American, Mark.' Mark Trail: 'That's where you're wrong! True Americans care about preserving America's environment! Not profiting from it! We need all these bees to pollinate our crops so we can eat! Bees are dying en masse due to climate change. Saving them is saving ourselves.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 15th of December, 2021. Just wanted to brag that I saw Honest Ernest and the Exterminator Gators play at Common Ground music festival and they were a better-than-you-expect Devo cover band.

Honest Ernest and his staff intrude, though. Mark Trail arrives, fighting them back with nature facts and a shovel. It’s a powerful combo and lets the Black Rose sneak off with the bees. But there are consequences: Caroline (Ernest’s wife) complains to Cheshire about the bee-napping. Cheshire cuts through the charges and counter-charges of trespassing and whatever bee-napping would be. If the bees left on their own, why, there’s no need for a bee-extermination contract. Cherry agrees, falsely, that sometimes bees just go off somewhere else. And that, you know, the Sunny Soleil Society building likely has termites that could actually use extermination. Cheshire’s up for that and we have a settlement that’s happy except for the termites.


DuckDuckGoose Owner: 'How can my company 'spread invasive species' when I don't even know what that means?' Assistant: 'Sir, I'm sorry to say nature writers will attack hard-working American business owners just because they hate capitalism.' Owner: 'Mark Trail is a menace! How do we stop him?' Assistant: 'Sir, I have a solution. We'll make sure Mark Trail does not turn in that article. ... Right, Boffo?' Boffo, in the distance, taps his hat.
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of October, 2021. The villainy here might seem unsubtle but, no, it turns out society’s villains are pretty much just this.

Mark Trail’s story next. This was about taking underwater photos of Duck Duck Goose freighters, carrying zebra mussels into new waters. Daggers thinks the photos are lousy, but Mark Trail’s old army buddy, and De-Bait Team member Cliff, likes them. Trail and Daggers work on reporting how the giant shipping company is polluting new territories. So, Duck Duck Goose sends some toughs around to bust things up.

Mark Trail, Daggers, and Cliff are able to escape, thanks in part to Daggers swiping Cherry Trail’s shovel earlier. They hole up in the De-Bait Team lodge, a more defensible retreat, or at least one that’s harder for Duck Duck Goose to find. Much of the attention shifted away from Mark to Cherry at this point. It left me confused whether the zebra-mussels storyline had dried up, when I was reading day-to-day. Like, had Mark Trail published and I missed it? No, the story was moving to the back of the stage for a bit.

[ Mark decides to reason with the large, scary corporate goons threatening him and his friends. ] Boffo, banging the door: 'If y'all don't come out and talk, we're coming inside!' After Mark Trail opens the door, Boffo asks, 'Are you Mark Trail?' Mark Trail: 'Yes. Can we discuss this like resonable --- ' Boffo punches him in the face as the other goon calls out, 'Boffo!' [ But you can't reason with corporate goons! ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 1st of December, 2021. Wow! Where does this come from besides the entire and complete history of labor-capital interactions?

And Mark Trail continued thinking, not only how to report on Duck Duck Goose, but also how to stop them bringing zebra mussels into the Lost Forest’s waterways. In a moment that ran, for us, on Christmas Day he noted how poinsettias are not actually poisonous, but have this reputation. That “if we can look intimidating to Duck Duck Goose, it might be enough to get them out of our waters”. I don’t know what that would entail either.

Poinsettias, according to the National Capital Poison Center, can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if eaten. But they are not actually dangerous to children or pets. Quite inconvenient, though, it appears.


And the last thread, generally, Diana Daggers’s things. She came to the zebra mussels story miserable after an unexplained breakup with Professor Bee Sharp. As Cliff and Mark Trail came over to make amends, she explained. She was getting paid with Non-Fungible Token money. Much as she misses Sharp, she couldn’t take money literally raised by destroying the planet.

[ Professor Bee Sharp is about to learn why you shouldn't go into business with NFTs ... the hard way! ] At a photo shoot for NFT mintings, a goat starts to eat his lab coat, and keeps pulling ripping it, as Sharp protests, 'Hey, wait! Stop!' Rob Bettancourt, and the other onlookers, start to chant: 'Goat that coat! Goat that coat!' As Sharp mourns 'My lab coat!' the narrator warns: [ NFTs: They will tear up the environment, and they won't stop there! ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 13th of November, 2021. I mean, on the one hand, this is something that could happen at any photo session and is the result of animals being animals, and not your props. On the other hand, NFTs are ecocidal scams so if we slap them down for the wrong reasons, well, they still needed the slapping.

So “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt had the brainwave to sell NFTs of all sorts of Bee Sharp-focused nonsense. Bee Sharp stuck through Daggers leaving. But he was shaken when a photo shoot results in a goat tearing his lab coat, and leaves. It pains me to admit NFTs can’t be blamed for that, although if it gets someone to stop making a mistake, fine.

We learn that when Bettancourt calls Mark Trail, offering to make him the face of his NFT projects. How this is going to fit into the zebra mussels story is not yet known. Catch you in April. We should have some idea then.

Sunday Animals Watch

So here’s what nature events we’ve been seeing on Sundays. Nearly all of them have been reflected in the weekday continuity, too. It’s a nice tight integration of things.

  • Bees, 17 October 2021. Who has a bad word for bees, at this point?
  • Trees, 24 October 2021. Similarly, they’re still doing a lot of great work.
  • Bats, 31 October 2021. They’re doing good too although I’d like them out of the attic when convenient, please.
  • Skunks, 7 November 2021. So last summer I was walking late at night and saw a skunk shuffling along. And then saw a cottontail rabbit charging at the skunk and dashing back away, charging up and dashing away. It’s the aggressive get-out-of-here move rabbits sometimes do. I got out of the area and lost them in the night after that and I just hope that scene worked out the way the rabbit imagined it would.
  • Goats, 14 November 2021. Lot of people have good things to say about them.
  • Bees, 21 November 2021. Look, if you’re not sold on bees by this point I don’t know what the trouble is.
  • Turkeys, 28 November 2021. Everybody likes to talk about the dubious legend about how the turkey was almost the United States’s national bird, but do we ever talk about how turkeys have pretty near the same body plan as peacocks? If they’d done a little work on their coloration every New World nation would want them as national birds.
  • Garden Clubs, 5 December 2021. Get yourself a garden club that’ll sneak out in the middle of the night to steal a beehive, is what we’re saying.
  • Salamanders, 12 December 2021. Which have not appeared in the comic strip recently. Might be a setup to something later on.
  • Climate Change, 19 December 2021. It’s hard work to do anything to remediate now, but the alternative is even more, harder work, later on.
  • Poinsettias, 26 December 2021. Also, you can keep the one you get at Christmas and nurse it through the year. You have to do something I don’t understand to get them to bloom at Christmas, but it’s doable.
  • Cryptocurrency, 2 January 2022. Guh. Could we please not, for once, everybody?
  • Zebra mussels, 9 January 2022. Which had a Sunday panel appearance back in August, too, but the problem (and plot) have been sticking around.

Next Week!

Is Wilbur Weston dead, and why does everyone want him to be? Come with me on a CRUISE SHIP in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What happened between Diana Daggers and Bee Sharp? July – October 2021


It’s not revealed yet! Last story, Diana Daggers was protective to the point of fanaticism of pop-scientist “Professor” Bee Sharp. This story she turned up without him, and won’t say anything about her former partner. We see one panel of Bee Sharp checking, it seems, Daggers’s social media and getting riled up that she’s working with Mark Trail. And Mark Trail spits out a nasty comment about how she drives everyone away from her. She goes off to console herself with pancakes and old photos of Sharp. What this all means, and what their exact relationship was, has yet to be told us.

So this should catch you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for mid-October 2021. If you’re reading this in 2022 or later, a more current plot recap should be at this link.

And for my side gig, I’m doing a little mathematics glossary, one essay a week explaining some mathematical term. There should be a new post in the middle of the day Wednesday, and I hope you enjoy that too.

Mark Trail.

25 July – 1 October 2021.

I caught Mark Trail at the end of a caper last time. Not catching him were Professor Bee Sharp and his producer/bodyguard Diana Daggers. “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt calls Mark Trail’s editor to complain about his breaking in to a facility he was invited into and the editor asks about this weird boxing thing. So Mark Trail had a clean escape.


Mark Trail’s current story started the 2nd of August. Bill Ellis has a new job, for Rafael Suave at fishing magazine Hot Catch. It’s to investigate whether the Duck Duck Goose shipping line is bringing zebra mussels into the waterways near the Lost Forest. Suave has a partner for Mark Trail, too: Diana Daggers. Mark tries to get out of this without admitting to any crimes. Suave doesn’t care and points out that given the danger of crossing big companies they’ll need people who can punch a lot.

Diana Daggers: 'Heh-heh. You scare easy, Mark.' Mark Trail: 'Can you blame me for being a little jumpy, Diana? The last time we met, you were about to mow me down!' Daggers: 'And? You lived. What's the problem?' Mark Trail: 'The problem is that I'm having a hard time working with someone who attacked me!' Daggers: 'Don't be such a baby. People work with bad guys all the time. Welcome to Hollywood.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 31st of August, 2021. I accept that Rivera’s keeping to herself for now just why Daggers is free of Bee Sharp, and why she went to take a job alongside Mark Trail. And I understand her wanting to load more fun characters into the story. And that she accepted we’d have doubts Mark Trail would be willing to work with her right after that whole car chase thing. I still hope that by the time the story’s done we have a clear idea why she’s here, and why Rafael Suave thought she was a good partner for this project.

Daggers is sharp but not exactly hostile. She also has nothing to say about Bee Sharp. They set out in Mark Trail’s boat. Once close enough to a Duck Duck Goose freighter, Mark Trail’s able to get shoved into the water by Daggers. From underwater he takes pictures of zebra mussels clung to the ship. Also another fishing boat charges in, demanding to know why this woman they never saw before is piloting Mark Trail’s boat. This all attracts the Duck Duck Goose ship’s attention, and anti-pirate deterrents. This includes water hoses that, shot long enough, could sink the interloper.

[ Mark finds himself caught between a boat and a hard place ] Mark Trail, between his boat the Debait boat: 'Stop!' Daggers: 'Mark! It's about time you got back! These guys are giving me static about your boat!' Debait Boater: 'Hey, we know this boat doesn't belong to you!' Daggers: 'Back off!' Mark Trail: 'Everyone keep it down or the shipper will --- !' [ And then things get harder. ] The Duck Duck Goose ship blasts a siren.
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of September, 2021. I’m assuming the guy on the De-Bait boat is Cliff, since I’m not sure anyone else in the club knows Mark Trail. But I don’t understand why he didn’t mention having been the guy in the interloper boat here. It’s something that would take a load off Mark Trail’s mind, for one thing. (This is not a plot hole. A character isn’t wrong to not think of doing something that would clarify a mystery right away.)

Daggers takes the boat out of there, against Mark Trail’s insistence they have to help. He’s horrified by this and goes ashore, intending to walk back to his car. But he’s picked up by Cliff, an old friend, and — like Mark Trail — a war veteran. Cliff joined a veteran’s fishing lodge, the De-Bait Team. Mark Trail meets the gang, and they get to talking. As I write this, Mark Trail hasn’t noticed the interloping boat was marked De-Bait, but I expect that to be discovered soon.


Meanwhile, Cherry Trail’s been having unrelated adventures. This we’ve seen a week at a time, separate from Mark’s plot. She’s been working with the Soleil Society’s garden and not needing to strangle society chair Violet Cheshire too much. But uncovering a Forest Pioneer statue reveals an incredible swarm of bees. Cherry Trail knows a bee-removal person. Cheshire knows a bee-exterminator person. You see why the two women get along so well.

[ Violet discovers the Sunny Soleil Society's prized statue is covered in ... ] Violet Cheshire, running from a huge swarm of bees; 'BEES!' Cherry Trail; 'The bees built a hive right on top of the statue?' Cheshire: 'Run, Cherry, run! The bees will destroy us all!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of August, 2021. I love how stilted Violet Cheshire is when she speaks. Possibly it’s an ongoing riff about the stylized forms Mark Trail dialogue has taken in the past. It’s quite effective in conveying how Cheshire is someone you have to breathe deeply before dealing with, without requiring Cheshire to do anything that outrageous. And, that said … I understand we’re not seeing the statue as the sculptor intended, but I’m also not clear what it’s supposed to look like. I assume that when the bee problem is resolved we’ll understand the image better.

As Cherry Trail has dinner at Planet Pancake, Diana Daggers storms in. Daggers demands a stack of pancakes “big enough to make me forget the last eight hours of my life”. Cherry Trail judges this a reasonable response to boating with Mark Trail. Daggers needs her space, looking and sighing at old pictures of her with Bee Sharp. Cherry Trail respects her privacy, and goes to a friend named Georgia, member of the Underground Black Rose Garden Club. I have no special foreknowledge, but it does look like we may be in for a bee heist.

Sunday Animals Watch

  • Butterflies, 25 July 2021. The understated stars of Cherry Trail’s last story get their Sunday page in.
  • Southern Alligator Lizard, 1 August 2021. Which doesn’t seem relevant to the recent stories any, but they don’t all tie in to anything.
  • Zebra Mussels and Marimo Moss Balls, 8 August 2021. Zebra mussels became a big driving point this story, but I haven’t seen anything about the moss balls. Or heard of them before this Sunday strip.
  • Drugs in waterways, 15 August 2021. Also a problem and you shouldn’ flush unneeded drugs away.
  • Hybridized “Killer” Bees, 22 August 2021. Once this dropped we were all waiting to see when killer bees might break in to the plot.
  • Canada Geese, 29 August 2021. One time I stayed at a hotel with a nesting pair of geese out by the parking lot. Made for some exciting times getting luggage in the car.
  • Spiders, centipedes, and bees, 5 September 2021. Warning: do not look at this page if you have a house centipede phobia.
  • Frogs and Toads, 12 September 2021. Cherry Trail’s story does feature an abundance of frogs too, in one panel, but they’re less of an urgent issue than the bees were.
  • Coyotes, 19 September 2021. They’ve got projects not involving road runners.
  • Birds, 26 September 2021. So we could either lose two-thirds of North American bird species to climate change or we could pay coal miners to take other jobs. This should not be a hard choice.
  • Catfish, 3 October 2021. Not part of the story yet, but Mark Trail does get exasperated with Florida, which is always fun.
  • Mushrooms, 10 October 2021.
  • Bees, 17 October 2021. This may seem like a lot of bee talk, but bees have a lot of problems, and most of them are our doing.

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston returns, so it’s cautionary tale season in
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth.
We’ll catch up with the Santa Royale community next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How did turning off the headlights help Mark Trail evade that car? May – July 2021


There’s a point in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail’s current story where Mark Trail’s in a nighttime car chase. He tells the driver to turn off the headlights. This confuses the pursuers, Diana Daggers and Bee Sharp, but only for a few moments. I’m not sure why it’s supposed to work. I get the idea is to make the car as invisible as possible at night and go in a direction that Daggers and Sharp can’t see. But it’s not clear in the panels that there’s anywhere to go. They can’t have gone far off the road, after all, not in the couple seconds we see. This might be a problem of the limited time and space the strip has. In a movie, one good overhead shot of a complicated city street would address the question. I’m sorry not to have a more definite answer.

So this should bring you up to date on Mark Trail’s stories, as of late March 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021 there may be a more useful plot recap at this link. Thanks for considering me as a source for Mark Trail information.

Mark Trail.

2 May – 24 July 2021.

We had two story threads going, last time I checked in. Mark Trail was in Los Angeles as his odd charms landed him a music video cameo with rapper Reptiliannaire. Meanwhile Cherry Trail’s landscaping company was having trouble with the Sunny Soleil homeowners association. The plots have nothing to do with one another. So the strip’s done two weeks with Mark and then a week with Cherry. For sake of clarity I’ll re-separate the plot recaps, and start with Cherry’s.

Cherry Trail saw her big landscaping project, the roundabout near the Planet Pancake diner, had been demolished. Violet Cheshire, of the Sunny Soleil society, tore out all the “savage jungle brush” in favor of butterfly bushes. Butterfly bushes, I learn from this, attract butterflies but are not good for them. Butterflies like the plants, but the larva they lay on them can’t eat the leaves, which sucks for the next generation of larvae.

Narrator: 'Cherry and her brother Dirk have unleashed feral hogs onto the Sunny Soleil Society's butterfly bushes ... to eat them!' (The hogs chew down on the plants. A lot.) Chery: 'Dirk ... how do we ... make them stop?' Narrator: 'Cherry, they don't call it 'pigging out' for nothing.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of July, 2021. Also, over the last couple months the narration box has rather stepped up. It’s providing exposition still, yes, but it’s been showing more flair, more personality. It’s not quite pre-snarking the strips for us, but it’s getting there. I enjoy this. Narration boxes have fallen out of favor in comic strips (and, it is my understanding, comic books) but they carry some expository loads well. Having that delivered with a smile? I like that. It’s a gentle reinforcement of the light tone for the story. Makes me feel that Rivera is getting the whole comic better balanced.

So she calls her brother Dirk Davis. He’s one of those I-hate-the-government recluses who knows how to wrangle a herd of feral hogs onto a truck bed and leave them off where they can devour a landscaped roundabout in minutes. You know, like that friend your younger brother still has from high school somehow. It’s an awesome scene of destruction that leaves Cherry ashamed of what she wrought.

Also awesomely destroyed: Violet Cheshire, trying to drown her sorrows in pancakes and syrup. Cherry tries to say something consoling. “I mean, sometimes a pack of eight feral hogs will happen to appear at a reserve of invasive butterfly bushes between 11:35 and 11:55 on a Friday night,” she offers. Violet suspects Cherry knows something about the destruction. And, in a moment that surprised me, Cherry owned up. I’d had thought she could bluff through it. But she’s feeling guilty and Violet’s feeling desperate. They agree to work together fixing this.


Now to Mark Trail’s story. He was hanging out with Reptiliannaire and the Herp Hacienda gang. They suggest he hit the sack early, like, before sundown even. Mark eavesdrops. The gang is reminding each other why they’re angry at “Cricket Bro” Rob Bettancourt. (Yes, this is people telling each other stuff they already know. But I absolutely believe in a group of people talking about how they were all screwed by the same ex-friend.) He’s the tech-millionaire-turned-cricket-protein-seller who hosted the party they just came from. Bettancourt had sponsored the Herp Hacienda and their reptile-rescue(?) sideline. This until they learned he was using spying on them. (I’m not clear whether he was spying on the group or on the reptiles themselves. I’m also not sure why he would bother. But there is a streak of tech guy that figures everybody not them should be under surveillance, so, fine.) And he impounded Aparna’s laptop. She’d been developing an app for testing air quality for animals. This so people would be better able to judge when to keep animals indoors for safer breathing.

Mark Trail: 'All my problems with Cricket Bro began when I broke his dad's magnifying glass.' [ Flashbacks ] 'I had to write an apology and do my dad's granola commercials to work off replacing that magnifier ... but the adults didn't seem to care he had used it to burn ants. That day I learned people love to protect nature, until it's time to protect their property.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of May, 2021. The clash between what people say their ideals are and what their revealed preferences are? This is absolutely a childhood trauma I believe for Mark Trail. And, for that matter, many people who care about the environment.

So this gives the heist a goal: get the laptop that has the impounded “Air For All” app code. I admit I don’t understand why Cricket Bro wants this suppressed, but accept it under the “tech millionaires are jerks” rule. I also don’t understand why Aparna didn’t have her own copy. I mean, they sell 256 GB Flash drives. But I’ll accept that as a “didn’t expect to need an off-site backup” case. I also don’t understand why she can’t rewrite it. Maybe it requires models that she no longer has access to. I grant that I would be much harder on these same plot points if they turned up in, say, Funky Winkerbean. But I feel justified in my anger at Funky Winkerbean. Rivera I’m willing still to suppose there are reasons for things not explained.

Mark Trail’s way into this heist idea. He’s got a history back to childhood of not liking Bettancourt. And he hasn’t stolen anything since those motorboats last plot. He’s overdue. At the party earlier Bettancourt offered Mark Trail “help” with his career. So Mark calls, feigning interest. Bettancourt’s got a great idea. How about some interaction between “Marky” Trail and his pop-science celebrity Professor “Killer” Bee Sharp?

Narrator: 'Meanwhile, the Herp Hacienda friends search for the prized laptop.' Aparna: 'Here's the development room!' Reptiliannaire: 'That's wild. They never changed the security codes after you left?' Aparna: 'Tech bros act lazy and call it a 'life hack'.' (Inside the room) Aparna: 'Start checking the laptop serial numbers! It's one of these.' Reptiliannaire: 'This might take a while. Can Mark buy us enough time?' Cut to the boxing. Narrator: 'The better question is can Mark's *face* buy them enough time?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2021. Now this strains plausibility some. If I know anything about tech bros they might well have changed the code (1793) to the other code they use (2684).

The plan: Mark Trail will talk to Bettancourt long enough to distract him while the Herp Hacienda guys steal the laptop. (Why would the laptop not have been wiped clean? Aparna is betting on the tech guys being too lazy to bother. I accept this; I understand if you do not.) How do the Herp Hacienda gang get into Bettancourt’s facility when only Mark Trail was invited? Professor Bee Sharp is enough of a celebrity that the gang can say they couldn’t pass up the chance to get to meet him. And the Professor is enough of a narcissist to buy that.

Bettancourt has an even better idea than talking about a Mark Trail/Bee Sharp interaction. Why not have them do something for real right now? He knows a director and everything, and here he is. Also, instead of, like, two pop-science guys enthusing over one another, why not have them punch each other? So that’s why it’s a sudden boxing match.

A boxing match is good and distracting, though, and Aparna and crew have time to find the laptop. When they take it out of the charging docks, it sets off an alarm, though. It’s a race against time to upload the source code to the Internet, which the upload wins.

Mark Trail: 'Aparna! Get out of here!' Aparna: 'Not till I face Cricket Bro! Remember me? You said my work was worthless before tossing me out!' Cricket Bro Rob Bettancourt: 'So? I say taht to everyone before I fire them!' Aparna, showing the laptop; 'If my work is so worthless, then you shouldn't mind if I upload the source code to the Internet.' Bettancourt: 'Wait, What? No!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 24th of June, 2021. I agree with Aparna on the principle that if the company’s declared something is worthless, there’s nothing wrong in giving it away, on the same principle that when you throw something out anyone can just come and take it. I suppose the courts aren’t as open-minded about this. On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance the judge would have no idea what a source code is or how it could be stolen if it’s still right there on the laptop. I like Aparna’s dinosaur/lizard hoodie. I’m surprised she’s using plain old FTP instead of at least SFTP.

So now it’s about escaping. Bee Sharp’s manager, Diana Daggers, wants to catch Mark Trail on camera, “breaking and entering” the Cricket Bro tech labs. I don’t know why she thinks that’s important. I only have the knowledge of the law that you get from being on a student newspaper in the early 90s. But whatever laws Mark Trail did violate there, none of them were about breaking or entering. He came at the owner’s invitation. I also don’t get what’s important about getting him on camera fleeing. There were plenty of witnesses that he was there. They might even have video of him boxing with Bee Sharp. The thing to get him on is conspiring with people who stole company property. I don’t get where video of Mark Trail fleeing matters.

Daggers is angry about Mark Trail punching Bee Sharp, which, fair enough. But it was in a boxing match that Bee Sharp presumably agreed to.

Mark Trail, in the car: 'Rep, where are you taking us? That last run-in was way too close!' Reptiliannaire: 'We're going where all the cool cats in hybrids hang out on a weeknight! ... The farmers market!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 16th of July, 2021. OK yes, if I were having someone stay with me a few days I’d want to show them to the farmers market in town. But you have to understand, the tuba museum diner closed years ago, we have to go with what we still have.

Daggers and Sharp, in a faster car, chase Trail and gang. This leads to the headlight trick mentioned at the start of this essay. Since they’re found the moment they move, Mark Trail thinks of a better plan. That’s camouflage. Where to hide a green hybrid in the city on a weeknight? … Well, the farmers market, that’s where. I laughed. It’s silly, but jabs close enough to me that I respect it. I understand if you do not. Sharp concedes that Mark Trail has escaped … but also that this is not over.

What is over, though, is the window for my plot recapping here. We’ll see how these stories resolve over the weeks ahead and I’ll recap them in about three months, if all goes well.

Sunday Animals Watch

A neat and understated bit about the animals here? Nearly all of them have had some appearance in the comic strip dailies. Not always the same week as their Sunday appearance. Like, the Burrowing owls were mentioned as being around Los Angeles International Airport. And one’s seen in the daily strip when Mark Trail arrived in Los Angeles. I like that.

  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. Imported into southern California and somehow not an ecological disaster, which is a nice change of pace.
  • Burrowing owls, 9 May 2021. Hanging around LAX, which is nice.
  • Coyotes, 16 May 2021. Yes, roadrunners are coming.
  • Native grasses, 23 May 2021. I’d love to have more native grasses on our lawn but I live in mid-Michigan so the ecologically correct thing is to be a marshland. This is hard to mow.
  • Peregrine falcons, 30 May 2021. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed inevitable they were going to go extinct so, uh, it’s possible for good things to happen in the environment.
  • Mountain lions, 6 June 2021. The Sunday panel isn’t just listing all 640 common names for these animals, but it’s close.
  • Muscovy ducks, 13 June 2021. OK, did not know they were invasive. That’s inconvenient.
  • Butterfly bushes, 20 June 2021. I never even heard of these before this story but now I know of a new kind of invasive plant to feel bad about.
  • Black-tailed jackrabbits, 27 June 2021. Featuring illustrations of jackrabbits standing upright, and you’ll want to see that because they look weird when they do.
  • Feral hogs, 4 July 2021. Mark Trail points out how the 80s were an ecological disaster, which yes, but it understates how much everything else was a disaster. The eight-bit computers were pretty great, though.
  • Grizzly bears, 11 July 2021. Mark Trail takes a moment to process his feelings about the California Grizzly’s extinction, which I’m guessing is him playing to stereotype? Amusing, though.
  • Roadrunners, 18 July 2021. Will say I was worried for the roadrunners along the roads during Mark Trail’s car chase.
  • Butterflies, 25 July 2021. Butterflies are free. What does that mean? It means you can have all of them you want.

Next Week!

Stolen watches! Messy, emotional backstory break-ups! Women scheming for the love and/or wallet of Dr Drew Cory! All this and quotes of dubious authenticity in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, to be reviewed in a week, if all goes well.

Comics Kingdom has vintage Mark Trail now and Prince Valiant for the past 18 months already


So there’s some comic strip news that’s great for my Dad. Maybe your Dad too. It’s really for anyone who’s into the story strips, though. Comics Kingdom has added to its Vintage comics section two prominent story comics.

The first is Mark Trail, which has gone back to the era of original writer Ed Dodd, with Tom Hill and Jack Elrod illustrating. Not all the way to the start of the comic, but to July of 1971. I’m a little sad not to see it run from the comic’s start in 1946, but perhaps they had to go with where the archives first start being well-organized. It’s begun in the midst of a story, with a kid named Scat who seems to be a prototype for the not-yet-introduced Rusty.

Scat, explaining to Mark Trail: 'So there the poachers were, with the dead sheep ... I caught 'em! Let's get home and develop the pictures as fast as we can!' [ Mark and Scat hurry down the mountain ] [ Later (in a darkroom) ] Scat, as Mark Trail develops pictures: 'BOY, I can't wait to see these pictures!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 16th of July, 1971. It was reprinted the 10th of July, 2021. Poachers, you say? In a Mark Trail story? I suppose we can see how this turns out.

The second is Prince Valiant, which it turns out they started running in January of 2020 if you can imagine that far back, and I only just noticed this past week. I’ll own up to my general obliviousness but I do think maybe Comics Kingdom isn’t publicizing its vintage comic launches effectively. (On the other hand, as it is I never have to hear about Mallard Fillmore.) The vintage Prince Valiant only goes back to panel #2239, which ran the 6th of January, 1980. That then includes the last strip that Hal Foster wrote (#2241). But it’s mostly the comics from John Cullen Murphy’s tenure as artist and Cullen Murphy as writer.

Our Story: As they ride back, Gawain is angry: 'King Arthur sent us here to aid Earl Karran and expel the Northmen from the island. But Karran is the greater evil, for he is enslaving freemen'. 'Sir! I spent a month here on man and found Northmen only at the place called Peel ... about ten leagues south of here,' Arn adds. 'Then call the Captains together. We march at dawn!' orders Gawain. In the oyster light of early dawn, Gawain leads a dozen mounted knights and fifty foot soldiers with baggage animals. Progress is slow for the way leads through forest and scattered farmland. On the third day they look down on Patrick Island and the little port town of Peel. A great roar echoes over the hills when the Northmen see Arthur's dreaded knights approaching across the meadow, and they take up their ever-present weapons. They scramble up from the rocky beach to the field above ... only to meet the one thing the Northmen fear: the charge of mounted knights! Lance points reach out ahead of the pounding hooves; swords flash. For the first time the fierce men of the North flee in panic. They race across the causeway to rocky Patrick Island where Horsemen cannot follow.
Hal Foster and John Cullen Murphy’s Prince Valiant for the 20th of January, 1980. It was reprinted the 2nd of February, 2020. The last strip scripted by Hal Foster. The next week the credit starts reading “Created by Hal Foster” instead.

The Mark Trail run doesn’t seem to include Sundays. And the Prince Valiant panels are not in color. None of the vintage Sunday strips are. I assume this reflects the original color instructions being lost or too difficult to reconstruct. It’s all still grand to see.

So this all leaves Walt Kelly’s Pogo as the comic strip most in need of a decent online presentation. It was before, but this gives me a fresh chance to complain about that lack.

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 juveniles, 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.

Mark Trail is 75 Years Old


Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the debut of Mark Trail this week. So, uh, Dad, I hope you do something special and maybe wave to the alligators. (Dad lives in South Carolina.)

I don’t remember the comic making a particular impression on me, as a kid. It was buried in the impenetrable dark column of story strips, on the left side of the first page of the Star-Ledger’s pages. I bet I looked at it because animal pictures were always interesting, but I didn’t know how to read a story strip to understand the goings-on. I didn’t really start paying attention until joining rec.arts.comics.strips. Having a group to read the comics with does a lot to encourage reading more comics. And Mark Trail offered a lot of chances to read. One could enjoy reading an action-adventure story and snarking on an action-adventure story. Sometimes for odd writing choices, especially in how to emphasize words. (Story strips, like older comic books, keep a convention of using bold for key words rather than to suggest line readings.)

Mark Trail at 75. Mark Trail pointing to a cartoonist: 'With 75 years on the trail coming up, we honor the main who started it all ... the original creator of Mark Trail, Ed Dodd! Edward Benton Dodd was born in Lafayette, Georgia, where nature would define his whole life. At 16, he began working for artist and woodsman Dan Beard in his camp for boys. Ed started waiting tables, but worked his way up to camp director, all while training how to draw wildlife with Dan. Ed Dodd went on to create nature comics as a means of educating others about nature conservation and wilderness survival. He launched his greated creation on April 15th, 1946 ... Mark Trail! Mark has gone on to appear in books radio dramas and, of course, 75 years of comic strips! Thanks to Ed Dodd, Mark Trail has become an icon for nature, environmentalism, and science. Here's to another 75!
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of April, 2021. I don’t know whether the plan is to have a page honoring Jack Elrod or James Allen to follow. I also don’t know whether the daily strip for the 15th will mention the day, but we’ll know within four hours of this posting.

The strip’s become a more important part of my life. Partly because I’ve shifted my snark from being the goal to being the side effect. Partly because I’m writing these plot recaps and have finally learned how to read story comics. (Reading three months’ worth in one day makes the plot much clearer.) Partly because people want to know why I’m not mad at the comic strip for changing. I have been mad at comic strips before, not all of them by Tom Batiuk. Even once at the Jack Elrod-era Mark Trail. I just don’t have it in me to be at a comic strip for not being the comic strip I used to read. And I’m glad to have the comic still in production. It would have been easy to lose the comic altogether.

My schedule puts the next Mark Trail plot recap at about the 4th of May. In the meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying the strip at all. The Daily Cartoonist has early promotional materials and the strips that ran on the 25th and 50th anniversaries, It also has some discussion of the history of the strip. And I’m aware that the HobbyDrama Reddit has a discussion of the unfortunate James Allen trouble. I’m aware of this because the post links to one of my images and so I got about 300 billion views with no readers. But it’s kind of my thing to go anonymously noticed.

If you prefer the miscellaneous, here are several dozen episodes of the early-50s Mark Trail radio series. I have not listened to more than a handful of these, so I’m afraid I can’t guide you to the good ones. There was also a Mark Trail comic book in the 1950s, but I’m aware of only one issue that’s in the public domain and uploaded for your convenient reading.

So I hope you all enjoy the day and take the chance to punch a smuggler or poacher in the beard.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How is Mark Trail not in jail? November 2020 – January 2021


I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.

So that catches you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the end of January 2021. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, there’ll likely be a more up-to-date plot recap at a post here. I’ll also post any news about the strip there.

Mark Trail.

15 November 2020 – 31 January 2021.

The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.

Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.

Frankie, boating Mark Trail up to a bunch of ripples in the swamp: 'We're here.' Mark Trail: 'Jolly Roger is here? Where?' Roger bursts up from under the water, holding a python. Mark: 'Oh, wow! Jolly Roger, it's Mark. It's been a while. How are you, Jolly?' Roger, putting the snake in a cage: 'Not too bad ... ever since your father stole my farm.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2020. So you’re either amused by the snake’s ! word balloon in the second panel there or you hate it, and I imagine that defines whether you like Rivera’s strip or not. Me, I wonder what the strip looks like in black-and-white, if any newspapers are running the dailies without color.

Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.

Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.

Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.

Roger, narrating flashbacks: 'I contacted the media. That's when things got ugly.' (Roger speaking with a news reporter.) 'The protest started outside the farm ... ' (Protest march outside Happy Trails Farm.) 'My family faced a backlash of hate ... ' (Roger's family looking at a smashed up and graffitied van with N-something and GO AWAY sprayed across it.) 'And for the last 13 years ... I've been trying to get my farm back.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of December, 2020. The van in the third panel hit me particularly. It’s a more direct and intense thing than goings-on with, like, Jolly Roger laughing at having caught a python.

All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.

Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.

Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.

Happy Trail: 'The speedboat was supposed to be a surprise! We were going to have fun!' Niecy Roger: 'Guys?' Mark: 'FUN? You messed with people's lives! You have to make things right!' (Niecy covers her ears and tries to dodge the fight.) Happy: 'I tried to give you a good life and this is how you repay me? You bum!' Niecy, unnoticed: 'I'm leaving.' Mark: 'At least I'm not a hypocrite! You know speedboats hurt MANATEES!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 1st of January, 2021. I propose the last panel as the proof that Jules Rivera does have an exact handle on what’s essential about Mark Trail. Even if he’s leaving his shirt unbuttoned. He is absolutely someone who yells at his father for endangering manatees.

And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.

He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.

But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.

Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.


So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?

No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.

Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.

I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.

Cherry Trail narrating flashbacks of her at a young age driving away with Doc: 'Rusty, try to understand that leaving was the most difficult thing your Poppy ever had to do. He wasn't proud of leaving a mentally ill wife behind in Florida, but it was the only way for us all to stay safe.' (Present day, Cherry hugging Rusty.) 'Later, I learned Mama had Peach and Olive and I had two sisters living in Christmas, Florida.' Peach: 'What a wild Christmas gift, huh?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of December, 2020. I’m interested in the artistic choice to depict a young Cherry but obscure Doc’s face. It may be just that Rivera figured this the easiest way to convey that it was a horrible day for Doc that Cherry barely understood at the time. Still, the story is about revealing hidden identity; to show identity still being hidden carries meaning.

Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.

And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.


Sunday Animals Watch!

I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.

  • Gardening, 15 November 2020. It’s a great way to discover plants that won’t thrive for you!
  • Burmese Pythons, 22 November 2020. Which are invasive in Florida, thanks to humans making dumb pet choices.
  • Cuban Treefrogs, 29 November 2020. Invasive again and this one keeps jumping into Mark Trail’s face.
  • Alligators, 6 December 2020. The strip says they eat fruits and berries but I’ve been reading a lot of Pogo and I think this is understating how much they eat pies and not Little Pup Dogs.
  • Peacocks, 13 December 2020. They’re loud, aggressive, pretty ridiculous, and oh yeah native to Southeast Asia but who doesn’t like them anyway?
  • Toxic algae blooms, 20 December 2020. Mentioned the week after Jolly Roger brought them up in the strip, so you see how well these are being integrated to the daily storyline.
  • Bobcats, 27 December 2020. More Florida animals, ones that the strip says will even hunt sharks, which seems like going a bit too far for this whole bobcatting thing.
  • Manatees, 3 January 2021. The only thing bigger than manatees is the list of manatee vulnerabilities.
  • Ibises, 10 January 2021. Which aren’t really invasive, but they’re being pushed out of their natural habitat because we’re destroying it.
  • Armadillos, 17 January 2021. Which have also moved into Florida. The strip says they’re the “only mammal with armor” and I was going to ask about pangolins but Jules Rivera noted that should have read “in North America”.
  • Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.

Next Week!

I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020


My answer is long. Let me defer it until after the plot recap. This plot recap should get you up to speed for mid-November, 2020, and the start of Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s more Mark Trail news, you might find an essay at this link more useful.

Also! Remember that Comics Kingdom survey? It hasn’t come to anything yet. But D D Degg, at Daily Cartoonist, reports how Comics Kingdom is doing a Flash Gordon Anthology strip. Flash Forward started this past Sunday. It’s in honor of the 40th anniversary of the movie, and they seem to have forty artists lined up to do stuff. I don’t know whether it’ll have an ongoing story. If there is one, I’ll try and do plot recaps.

Last, my A-to-Z of mathematics terms resumes this week on my other blog. Would you like to see me say something about velocity? The answer may surprise you.

Mark Trail.

23 August – 14 November 2020.

When I last checked with Mark Trail, it was a Jack Elrod-era rerun. I did not know when it was from. I’ve since learned. The story ran from the 13th of March through to the 29th of May, 2001.

And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.

[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut.  Well, I tried.  Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020”

Statistics Saturday: How Many People Wanted To Know What Was Up With Mark Trail This Past Week


Drawing from WordPress’s statistics page and how many people went to Mark Trail-tagged items. Promise.

Day of WeekReaders Asking About Mark Trail
Last Friday4
Saturday5
Sunday16
Monday120 [ First Jules Rivera strip publishes ]
Tuesday158
Wednesday188
Thursday126
Friday147

Reference: Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. Peter Watson.

All my Mark Trail plot recaps are gathered at this page. Those and all my story comics plot recaps are at this link.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Jules Rivera destroying Mark Trail yet? July – October 2020


OK, so it’s not Mark Trail’s week. But yes, Jules Rivera took over the daily strips on Monday. Her Sunday strips start next month. This is why Mark Trail looks different. Any news about the Mark Trail that I get, I’ll post in an essay gathered here. Yes, I too am worried by Tuesday’s revelation that the new Mark Trail may be a tiny little bit self-aware, but, hey. We adapted to Mark Trail sometimes internalizing thoughts for James Allen, after all. Mark Trail can notice how much Mark Trail has blown up boats and cars and islands the last few years.

But this essay is, in the main, about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This should catch you up to mid-October. If you’re reading this after about January 2021, if there is a January 2021, you’ll likely find a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about Alley Oop, if there is news.

And, last, on my mathematics blog I’m still working through the alphabet, explaining terms. This week we get to ‘R’. No, it’s not a joke about the beloved statistics computing and graphing programming language! Ho ho! Had you going there, though, I bet.

Alley Oop.

20 July – 10 October 2020.

Everyone was hanging around in Moo, last we left off. Ooola was rehearsing a play. She impressed Gromp, the director. Gromp pitches another job for her: using the play as cover to enter neighboring land Lem and steal King Tunk’s giant opal. She hates the plan. Gromp sends his dinosaur, Steve, to make her see reason. She beats Steve in a fair fight, though, and hauls Gromp off to be in a desert island cartoon.

Gromp, tied up, on a palm-tree-deserted-island: 'What are you doing? Are you just going to leave me here?' Ooola: 'Yep.' Gromp: 'But I can't swim!' Ooola: 'I hope you like coconuts.' Gromp: 'I do! Especially shredded over a nice chocolate dessert. And the milk is divine! [ Noticing Ooola swimming away. ] Oh, very funny. Hey, how am I going to open them?!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 1st of August, 2020. It looks harsh, but if there’s one thing we know about being in a desert island cartoon it’s that someone else is coming along any minute now.

That, the 1st of August, wraps up that little story. From the 3rd we get a string of events leading into the current story. It starts with a joyride: Alley Oop wants to go to an amusement park. So they return to the present, and Doc Wonmug looks for the greatest amusement park, past, present, or future. But who can tell him what that is? rec.roller-coaster just fights about Kennywood versus Knoebels versus Efteling versus Holiday World. (Did you consider Waldameer? Especially if you have a family? Very under-rated park, especially if you aren’t all about high-intensity everything.) So he goes to The Clawed Oracle.

Ooola: 'You know, I'm kind of looking forward to the amusement park.' Wonmug: 'What's in the fanny pack?' Alley Oop, showing off his fanny pack: 'Zinc for my nose, quarters for skeeball, antacids in case I overeat, a compass so we don't get lost. I'm so excited!' Wonmug: 'You know, they might not have corn dogs in the future.' Oop: 'What? I changed my mind! I want to go somewhere else!' (As they ZANNNNG! into the future.)
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of August, 2020. A fanny pack. Really. I would not have guessed Alley Oop was also in the American Coaster Enthusiasts group.

The Clawed Oracle, off in a never-before-mentioned room of Wonmug’s Time Laboratory, is a cat. She pronounces that the greatest amusement park ever is in Saint Louis in the year 3277. They zip off to Future Saint Louis. The place stinks, apart from the giant pine tree air freshener hanging from the Arch. What looks like an abandoned warehouse is labelled Amusement Park #41. Inside is an array of virtual-reality goo-filled tubes. Despite the ominous everything, they go in.

Attendant, to Our Heroes in their goo-filled VR tubes: 'Once I press this button your body will stay here while your consciousness controls an avatar in the park. When you're ready to leave, just say the password 'finicky veranda garbanzo' and your session will end.' Wonmug: 'How long do most people stay in?' Attendant: 'Ten years is average.' Ooola: 'Wait, WHAT?' Oop: 'That doesn't seem great.' Attendant: 'Enjoy!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of August, 2020. A throwaway line established that the admission price was about ten thousand dollars (in 2020 money), which sounds like a lot, but if you can live for ten years on that? That’s a pretty sweet deal. Well, except the upcharges get you: Wonmug wasted another fifty thousand (2020) dollars in avatar-change shenanigans. I have to suppose that, like, park fries or the reverse bungee rides are similarly scaled.

It’s a good time, though, until the fortune teller learns they’re from the 21st century. On that she leads them to a secret reality within the virtual reality. And to Phil, leader of the Underground Stronghold Alliance. He tells of the Great Culture Famine, a mysterious event that destroyed culture. All that’s left since 2081 are these virtual-reality amusement parks. But what can three time travellers do? They leave the park and journey to Phil’s coordinates in 2081. And there they meet … The Clawed Oracle.

It turns out The Clawed Oracle is an eternal ethereal being who manifests on earth as a cat, so that’s a nice gig. She reveals who’s responsible for the Great Culture Famine. It’s Dr Wonmug, yeah. Indirectly. It’s really the clone of Albert Einstein that Wonmug made and then abandoned on a farm. She sends them off to deal with Einstein Two. (Why not Zweistein?)

Einstein Two: 'I'd like to show you something. It's the culmination of the horrible hand that life dealt me. It's taken me nearly fifty years to build. I kept it secret from my parents until the day they died. [ Revealing a machine ] Ta-da! Behind the grand culture eraser! It will destroy all forms of art and culture, past, present and future.' Wonmug: 'This is LITERALLY what I was talking about before, when I asked about the Great Culture Famine.' Einstein Two: 'I guess they COULD be related, but I just don't see it.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of October, 2020. In the follow-up we learn Einstein Two’s gone on to become a local politician, successfully defunding the library and the school’s dance program because everybody has smart phones now.

Einstein Two’s gripe: his parents insisted he put all his scientific energies into the farm, and the zany cow bra business. So he invented a Grand Culture Eraser, to destroy all forms of art, past, present, and future. He has justification for this: he’s grown up to be a STEM jerkface so doesn’t see why gadgetry is not a life. Einstein Two proclaims this a gift to every child whose love of science was crushed by small-mindedness. Then Alley Oop punches his machine to rubble. Ooola smashes his backup, too. Dr Wonmug tears up the machine’s plans. Alley Oop digs up and rips up the backup plans. So that’s some success.

And that takes us to the start of the week. Also into a new timeline. Saint Louis of 3277 “now” has a giant chandelier hanging from the Arch. And Amusement Park #41 is the aquatic stadium any amusement park used for dolphin shows back in the 1970s when we were making that mistake. This looks like the resolution of a storyline. But it could also be the transition to a new story. Too soon to tell.

Next Week!

So how did the reunion between Kadia and her mother Imara Sahara go? Pretty good, right? It’s, like, literally impossible it could have gone bad. We’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week, all going well. Thank you.

Jules Rivera takes over Mark Trail in October


Finally, some good news for 2020. Per D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, King Features has a new artist and writer for Mark Trail. Jules Rivera, creator of the slice-of-life web comic Love, Joolz, is to take over the strip from the 12th of October. (I haven’t read the web comic, but I am a surprisingly poor reader of web comics.)

The New York Times has more of a story, and comments from Rivera. She says that she hadn’t read the strip before — I assume — being asked to consider it. But that she got to love his square wackiness.

The sample strip that The New York Times has suggests a more visually dynamic strip. Also one that suggests the Trails have specific jobs in-between hearing giant squirrels talking. Maybe even something the hew-mons call sexual attraction. The Times article says that Rivera’s strip should have a “modern sensibility” and more prominent roles for Cherry and Rusty Trail. But Rivera has an electrical engineering background, so I am hopeful that some of Mark Trail’s natural squareness will stick around.

Any further news I get about Mark Trail should be posted to an essay at this link. My next regularly scheduled plot recap I plan to be in mid-November, when Rivera should have about a month’s worth of daily strips to snark on. The most recent plot recap, getting halfway into the Jack Elrod rerun story, is at this link. And all my story comic plot recaps and news should be at this link.

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.

The last new Mark Trail just ran on Sunday and it’s all reruns for now


Per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, yesterday was the last of James Allen’s Mark Trail Sunday panels. The dailies have been reruns from the Jack Elrod era for several weeks now. Allen continues to publish his Edge of Adventure comic strip on GoComics.

Since the world is a strange one, of course the last new Mark Trail for the foreseeable future is about octopus sex.

Although new species are found regularly, there are at least 800 known species of cephalopods! Cephalopods can be found in oceans all around the world! Asie from a species of squid that tolerates brackish water, no cephalopods live in fresh water! Aptly named because they seem to be draped in bed linens, the blanket octopus has one of the largest size differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom. While the females can reach 6 feet in length, the males are the size of a walnut. The male detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating. She will then use the arm to fertilize her eggs, producing the next generation of deep-sea denizens.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of August, 2020. And, wow; it’s amazing to think things have come to an end just as Mark Trail got relaxed enough to not button the top button of his shirt. While he’s walking on the beach. And no other time. Ever.

There’s no word yet on a new creator (solo or team). If I get any, first, it’ll probably be through The Daily Cartoonist. And second, I’ll pass word along in an essay at this link. I am still planning to do plot recaps, at least unless I get word that the strip has been retired into permanent reruns.

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

Degg’s article, linked at the top of this piece, shares the first-and-last pages for the comic strip’s various artists and writers. Also the first appearance of Cherry Davis, eventually Mark’s wife. And some promotional art. And some fan art. Also the revelation-to-me that James Allen had a writing partner, Brice Vorderbrug. Maybe this was generally known to the community, but I didn’t, and that’s why I didn’t credit him in my various plot recaps. (Vorderbrug has been credited all along on Edge of Adventure.)

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.]

Why does Mark Trail look different? Did James Allen leave Mark Trail?


So some breaking comic strip news, that I learn through Daily Cartoonist again: James Allen is leaving the story strip Mark Trail. In a Facebook post for his Edge of Adventure comic strip Allan says the strip will continue, “with a bit of a new direction”. And, in comments, that the choice was “a bit of both” his choice and King Features’s. Allen says “I’m tired and they wanted a new direction”.

I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.

If I get any news on Mark Trail I’ll post it at this link. If I get any news about any story strip, I’ll post it at this link.

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

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

Why does Mark Trail look funny? Did something happen to James Allen?


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

Edited 5 June 2020 to add: James Allen is going to leave Mark Trail sometime soon. It’s not yet announced when, but it is to be before the recently-begun story, about a movie adaptation of an earlier adventure, is finished. It’s not known whether that story will be finished. Allen says the decision to leave was mutual, between him and King Features Syndicate.


I addressed this in a strip caption on Sunday, but I’m aware people are poking around looking for explanations. Particularly since this week and in the new story the art style has gotten cartoony and loose in a way that’s quite an adjustment for Mark Trail. Say what you will for emotional authenticity, but a big part of the comic strip has been that its characters are drawn photo-realistically, which is part of what makes the animal and plant and landscape art count. And then this week, well, here you go.

One kid: 'Rusty, want to be in our group?' Rusty Trail: 'Nah ... I'm going to stick with my dad and help him with his article! Kevin, do you want to tag along with me and my dad?' The non-Rusty kids are drawn slightly bug-eyed and with mouths hanging open not really attractively.
Another point supporting George K Atkins’s hypothesis, mentioned below: the strip has put in a LOT of characters all at once this week. A Mark Trail story always has guest characters, of course, and isn’t always as good about giving them names up front. Someone writing their first story may not understand how to keep the story’s cast to a number, and spread, of people that the audience can follow. Or might understand the principle but not know how to act on that.

So. I do not know with the confidence that I would like just what’s happened. Many commenters on Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen has been taking care of a family member in need. And this has forced him away from the usual studio, so that he’s trying to draw without the usual setup. And, one may imagine, with less time and less ability to focus on the art. Also perhaps the writing, if you thought the conclusion of the Yeti story was an abrupt halt rather than a planned resolution.

This is a plausible and understandable story. What it is not is confirmed, at least to my eyes. I have not seen a comment from James Allen, who would post on the Comics Curmudgeon under the screen name “The Real Mark Trail”, about this. Nor any comment from him in months. Nor have I seen a comment from King Features Syndicate about this. Nor an article on Daily Cartoonist, nor on rec.arts.comics.strips.

On Mark Trail snark-reading blog The Daily Trail, commenter George K Atkins had an interesting hypothesis about this week’s strips particularly. This proposition is that this week has been a strip drawn in-universe by Rusty Trail, who’s been established as very intersted in comics and sharing them online. This would not explain rough patches in the art in the Yeti storyline. But it would be an interesting reason for this week’s art to look so weird, particularly with characters being inconsistent between strips. It would also explain a weird bit Monday where some kids could identify another as “a homeless kid” on sight. We can understand a kid writing a story not knowing how to set up backstory with grace. Or not quite being able to keep a character from sometimes looking like Li’l Funky Winkerbean.

It would be new for Mark Trail to slip into “fiction” without warning the reader ahead of time. But Allen has been trying to add some narrative complexity and nonlinearity to the comic. Pulling back to show Mark Trail reading the comic strip his son created would fit that nicely. And if that is the intention, then it’s well done.

But this is again all guesses. It is not confirmed. All I can say with certainty is, yes, there’s something weird in the art of Mark Trail lately.

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.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? When does Mark Trail get to punch a yeti? September – December 2019


Mark Trail is getting around to it. At least now, in mid-December 2019. If you’re trying to catch up on James Allen’s Mark Trail after about March 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also any news about the strip important enough to break my cycles here.

Mark Trail.

23 September – 14 December 2019

Mark Trail was in the Himalayas, last we saw. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis sent him there, to cover Dr Harvey Camel’s search for the Yeti. And also the plants and animals that do exist in the Himalayas. In the last flight to Tumligtar, Camel tells Trail and his assistant Genie of his obsession with the Yeti. Trail is skeptical of this whole cryptozoology stuff. He starts to get snide when Camel’s assistant Genie points out Mark Trail himself has written about animals mistakenly thought extinct.

Mark Trail: 'So more than a hundred thousand people watched you catch a three-inch fish ... live? Dr Camel, why would that many people watch you do something so mundane?' Camel: 'Because, Mark, most of them were probably sitting at home living ordinary lives ... they never get out to do anything exciting!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of October, 2019. “Why, Mark, I can take any man I see standing in the road and put rouge on his cheeks and put some powder on his nose. I’ll teach him how to act, I’ll remould and reshape him. I’ll put him in a stage suit and I’ll teach him how to pose!”

Camel tries to push Mark Trail into social media. It’s worked out great for him. Like, a hundred thousand people watched him catch what proved to be a three-inch fish. Camel points out, most people are boring losers who never do anything cool, like have their jeep run off the road by a charging Indian rhinoceros. You know, like is happening to them. So that’s our first Attack of Nature for the story.

They walk to a nearby outpost, where they hook up with a couple elephants to carry them and their gear on. Mark Trail mentions being generally opposed to this kind of animal exploitation. Camel rolls his eyes halfway to Bangladesh at how Trail’s being some kind of unrealistic starry-eyed tree-hugging politically correct weepy momma’s soy boy who’s so out of touch with the hard decisions of real life in Nepal. Anyway, here’s some vampire bats he can tweet.

In Num village, to trade the elephants out for Sherpas, Trail asks Genie, like, is Camel always so … like that? Not that Mark Trail’s being judgemental but he is awfully like that. Anyway, Genie says yeah, gads but he’s like that.

Mark Trail: 'Is Dr Camel always so ... abrasive?' Genie: 'If by abrasive you mean outspoken and cocksure ... yes!' Mark Trail: 'I guess I expected a man so educated to be a bit more introspective and reserved!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of October, 2019. “I mean, how could you have an advanced degree in anthropology and not be a quiet, soft-spoken person? But instead he acts like he has an advanced degree in electrical engineering and a podcast where he informs people that Jesus Christ never existed and maybe New Testament writers made up the city of ‘Nazareth’ too or something.”

With two Sherpas, Mingma and Pemba, they set out. All on foot, to get to the mountain from the reported Yeti sighting. And Mingma shares from his grandfather’s stories. These are of a hairy man who’d come looking for food during winter months, making a “haunting whistling” and “low growls”. And that his grandfather saw the creature kill a dzo once. A dzo is a hybrid, between a male water buffalo and a female domesticated yak. And as Mingma shares this — in a strip that ran Halloween week — they hear a strange low growl. It’s a wandering dzo.

More walking. At a river stop, Mark Trail asks Genie about Dr Camel’s strange walk. Genie asks why he doesn’t just ask Dr Camel why he’s establishing a story moment where he’ll be mistaken for a Yeti later on. And then a crocodile comes near eating her. There’s our second Attack of Nature for the story. Mark Trail whacks it with a stick, until it leaves. And Camel livestreams the whole thing, to an audience of ten thousand people. Genie’s annoyed. She didn’t expect that Camel would be so much like that. Also, I’m going to imagine, Bill Ellis wonders if this is something they were supposed to have first-publication rights on. Well, I’m sure the people who keep Mark Trail in business are hep to the ways of publishing in a world filled with social media.

More climbing, on the mountain where the Yeti was maybe spotted in April. And rain’s coming in. Mark Trail’s a little concerned, but after all, a flash flood hasn’t screwed up anything since his last adventure. He’s finally talked people into setting up a lean-to when the landslide comes in. So that’s the third Attack of Nature for the story.

Mark Trail: 'I don't mean to sound snarky, Harvey. I understand your followers on social media are important to you. But when you're out in the real world, being aware of your surroundings is more important than social media! Folks have died trying to get pictures of themselves standing too close to wild animals or on cliff edges!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of November, 2019. “You know, people die from doing pointlessly dangerous stuff for social media. Getting too near cliff edges. Provoking wild animals. Live-tweeting themselves watching mockbuster children’s movies. People need to use their common sense and situational awareness more!”

Everyone gets through all right, and the party doesn’t even scatter or anything. Camel admits he’d have loved to livestream that. After a stop in the town of Seduwa, for permits and nature trivia, the party … continues hiking. They set up camp and admire the night sky. Camel talks of how he’s sure they’re close to the Yeti. While lying awake, Mark hears … something. Something whistling. And … some figure, in shadow, on the ridge. Does he see? … no, it’s a bunch of rocks. And this gets Mark Trail kind of mopey.

I understand the folks calling this attitude snide. Mark Trail is, after all, having a trip most people would consider what they’d do with their lottery winnings. Mark Trail’s in the Himalayas, asked to communicate the experience of wildlife we’ll never understand well enough. Mark Trail’s pouting that he’s seen rocks before. But it’s also normal to be homesick, especially going to a very unfamiliar place. Mark Trail’s had a rhinoceros try to kill him. Mark Trail’s had a landslide nearly kill him. Mark Trail’s had to listen to four straight days of Dr Camel saying get on the Twitter, that won’t make you more sad and tired. So especially after fooling himself into thinking he maybe saw a Yeti? In the middle of the night, when all our fears and doubts are at their highest? Yeah, that’s a normal human emotion out of Mark Trail.

And that’s where the story is. Will Mark Trail witness an actual for-real yeti? How many more times is Nature going to almost kill our protagonists? And is “Dirty” Dyer ever going to get around to killing Mark Trail with fire? We might have progress on these questions by the time I check in again, in I figure about twelve weeks.

Sunday Animals Watch

And what animals or plants or natural wonders would Mark Trail like us to be aware of before humans destroy them? The past three months, it’s been these:

  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They’re doing okay except for when the hornets get really fed up with how they repeat everything the hornets say but in this nasal sing-song voice.
  • Pinzon Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, 29 September 2019. Well, it was only a century since the previous baby Pinzon Island tortoise was spotted, but we’ve seen some now and that’s something at least.
  • Regal Moths, 6 October 2019. As larvae they’re “hickory horned devils” and they’re utterly harmless, they tell us.
  • Scale Worms, 13 October 2019. Even Mark Trail calls them “ghastly in appearance” but since they’re hanging out in deep sea trenches we’re probably going to knock them out without even half trying.
  • Angiosperms, 20 October 2019. So here, particularly, a “flowering yam” named the black bat flower which, yeah, is endangered.
  • Spiders and Bats, 27 October 2019. Mark Trail spotlights a video of a bat caught in a spider web, in case you’re skipping reading the Amazing Spider-Man reruns.
  • Palm trees, 3 November 2019. Oh, they’re dying thanks to ‘lethal bronzing’, yet another invasive disease.
  • Tigers, 10 November 2019. There are more furries who suit as tigers at conventions than there are tigers in the real world and I do not want to know whether this claim is actually true, thank you.
  • Quokkas, 17 November 2019. They’re pleasant and not afraid of humans, so it’s probably for the best that Australia’s setting up laws against messing with them.
  • Kodiak and Polar Bears, 24 November 2019. Oh dear, yeah.
  • White Ligers, 1 December 2019. There’s four known to exist. (Young ones, just recently born.)
  • Zebras, 8 December 2019. There’s this pseudomelanistic zebra with these neat spots instead of stripes.
  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re listed as “threatened”, so it’s probably worse than that.

Next Week!

So how did Wilbur Weston’s extremely drunken double date with Estelle and Iris and Zak turn out, anyway? It’s Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth coming up in a week, barring surprises. Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading my mathematics-themed comic strip talk on my other blog. See you later.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail gonna punch a Yeti? July – September 2019


Hello, nature lovers. It’s too soon to answer the Yeti question, sorry. But it’s on the table. The most current plot recaps and news I have about James Allen’s Mark Trail should be at this link. If you’re reading this later than about December 2019 you might be better off going there. And as ever, my mathematics blog reviews comic strips too. It’s also looking at concepts from each letter of the alphabet, with new essays on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now back to nature.

Mark Trail.

1 July – 21 September 2019.

Nature finally got around to trying to kill Mark Trail last time I checked in. He, Doc, Leola, and J J Looper were following a map to a gold mine seen decades ago by Doc and his friend. (His friend, Leola’s husband, had recently died, the incident putting the map into the story.) Looper, owner of a supply store, was their guide. At least until Nature sent a flash flood in that swept everyone away and left Looper nowhere to be found. This is an inconvenience, what with Looper maybe being dead and having the only copy of the map.

Leola: 'Ther's a pile of rocks over there in that clearing!' Mark Trail, wide-eyed: 'Doc!? Can that be it!?' Doc: 'There's only one way to find out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of July, 2019. Mark Trail proving he’s not going to let Dick Tracy just waltz in and take the Wide-Eyed Look Of The Year trophy.

But. Doc finds the terrain familiar. He recalls a pile of rocks covering the mine entrance and that’s exactly what Leola sees. It’s a great discovery. And oh, here’s J J Looper! And he’s sharing a gun with them! He has reasons. Envy of Mark Trail’s easy lifestyle of globetrotting while animals are nearby, sure. But also thoughts of his hard life. He can barely make a living teaching tourists to pan for gold. Actual gold, now, that would solve some of his problems.

Mark, Leola, and Doc uncover the mine entrance. It’s definitely where the mysterious stranger led his friends, decades ago, and took great piles of gold out. And now, having finally rediscovered the mine, there’s … nothing. No gold. No mining equipment. Just … a great big shiny thing! It’s Mark’s chance to punch Looper out, and get the gun away from him. Now they can see what the shiny thing in back is.

Mark Trail, looking at the framed item 'It's a local newspaper. Decades old. I think I understand what happened now! Three men were photographed robbing a dealer at a gem show ... they all escaped!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2019. So let me first say, Mark Trail’s prop there does absolutely everything that it needs to. It looks like a newspaper with a headline about a gold dealer being robbed. Its artistic purpose is completely satisfied. Having said that, I’m going to go a bit Newspaper Layout Nerd here. What format, exactly, is the Herald? That’s a painfully narrow broadsheet, especially for the era, or else an incredibly wordy tabloid. And jeez, I know about the Densonized look for the Herald-Tribune but I can not make myself believe in there not being some horizontal rule between the newspaper’s name and the headline. I’m sorry. Anyway, I admire the prankish nature of the gold robber that he decided at some point to get the newspaper reporting on this crime framed, bring it to the mine (when? When he went there with Doc and Doc’s friends? Before? Later?) and leave it behind in the treasure chest just in case anyone ever followed up on this. It shows a serious commitment to a posthumous laugh.

It’s a treasure chest. Its contents: a framed newspaper. Its headline, surprisingly large for the era, is of a gold dealer robbed at a gem show. Two of the robbers were later killed; the third, and the gold nuggets, were never found. The third was the bearded stranger who, five years later, brought him to the mine.

The rationalization: the three buried the gold, figuring to come back when the heat was off. With his partners killed the bearded stranger needed help getting the gold back. So he set up this mystery of a lost gold mine and all. Why couldn’t Doc and his friends couldn’t find the place again? Well, it’s hard to find stuff in the mountains. Especially under different light or from different angles or all. Especially because they were thinking of a mine instead of this, a cave just deep enough for someone to vanish in.

So Doc feels foolish for having believed a cave with gold inside was some kind of gold mine. Looper meanwhile feels like an astounding idiot, what with threatening to shoot people and all that. Looper begs forgiveness. Mark Trail points out, he was pointing a loaded gun at them. But in the awkward days of getting back to town, Mark Trail’s heart softens. After all, they were on a gold-digging expedition in the southwest. If someone desperately afraid of poverty doesn’t pull a gun on the rest of the party, has everyone really had the Gold Prospecting Experience? Of course not. And so Looper gets community service and probation.


We get, from the 12th through 17th of August, a little bit of nature in tooth and claw. It’s a mother cougar fighting a bear until she realizes it’s easier if she moves her cub out of the way instead.

Mark Trail, monologuing: 'Some online comments seem downright mean ... as though the person is questioning my intelligence or something like that!' Cherry: 'Uhh ... Mark ... ?' Mark Trail: 'I mean, why read something you rarely agree with?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of August, 2019. So anyway I’d like to talk a bit more about the overall structure of this gold-mine plot and what about the internal logic doesn’t convince me, but they just delivered this package from an “Al Jamesen” and I can’t wait to find out what’s inside because it sounds like a very excited swarm of hornets and I bet whatever it really is will be a delight!

After this interlude we see Mark Trail and Doc having an epilogue back at home. Telling what happens to Looper, and how Cherry Trail would rather Mark didn’t go get himself almost killed. The mention that Rusty Trail is reading the Jungle Jim comic on Comics Kingdom. And that people are mean in comments sections. It’s hard to not think James Allen is working out his frustration with comics snarkers here. Well, whatever gets the bad energies out.


And with the 2nd of September, the current story starts. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis has an assignment for Mark Trail. University Professor Harvey Camel, anthropologist and explorer, is searching for proof of the Yeti. Ellis is funding the trip, in exchange for first publication rights. Mark Trail is skeptical of any cryptozoology adventures. But this past April, the Indian army tweeted the discovery of a possible Yeti footprint. Mark is finally won over by the journalistic value of such an expedition, and how if legends are right, the Yeti has a lot of facial hair.

Looking over the city streets. Mark Trail: 'Kathmandu is much busier than I expected!' Genie: 'More than 985,000 people live here, Mark! It's not the primitive, out-of-date city the world thinks it is!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 18th of September, 2019. ObMST3K: Mark Trail thinks, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t comment on the apparent widths of their bodies of water!” (3 point reference.)

Cherry worries for his safety. She mentions how when Mark went to Africa, he had that encounter with “Dirty” Dyer, who’s still lurking around subplots ready to kill Mark with fire. Mark promises that he’s going to be fine, a promise that he can not in fact make. But she accepts his confidence, anyway.

So this past week, Mark Trail has flown to Kathmandu, and met Doctor Camel’s assistant Genie. They’re going from there to Tumlingtar and then to Mount Makalu, where the footprints were found. There’ll be more to say, surely, when we get to the next plot recap, which I expect to be in mid-to-late December.

(By the way, to let you know what a deep strain of Copy Editor Nerd there is in me: I would appreciate thoughts about whether to prefer writing “yeti” or “Yeti”. I know enough that the creature has some presence in legends around the Himalayan mountains. I’d rather refer to it in not-obnoxious ways when I do the next plot recap.)

Sunday Animals Watch

Each Sunday Mark Trail features some wonder of animals, plants, or nature itself, that we’re doing our best to eliminate by 2030. Here’s what’s leaving soon, and when it got featured.

  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. After six years being thought extinct some were found again.
  • Epomis ground beetles, 7 July 2019. They prey on frogs, which the frogs report is “totally bogus”.
  • Isopods, 14 July 2019. Deep-sea scavengers. They’re weirder than we realized.
  • Razorbacks/Peccaries, 21 July 2019. And this was before that “30-50 feral hogs” meme, so don’t go accusing James Allen of hopping on bandwagons here.
  • Giant Water Bugs, 28 July 2019. Oh, I think I know those guys. Yeah, they’re creepy but leave them alone and they’ll go about whatever their business is exactly.
  • Sumatran Rhinoceroses, 4 August 2019. It’s the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. But their outlook is grim.
  • Ravens, 11 August 2019. Particularly, white ravens. Do not cross them.
  • Golden tortoise beetles, 18 August 2019. So if you were wondering what was feeding on your morning glory, bindweed, or sweet potatoes see if these guys are the problem.
  • Raccoon dogs, 25 August 2019. The only canine species known to hibernate, by the way, so you’re welcome when this comes up during your Jeopardy! audition.
  • Amazon Parrots, 1 September 2019. Yeah, they’re great, but they have longer lifespans than do Fortune 500 Companies, so what to do with them after you die is a discussion you have to have a lot.
  • Grasshopper Mice, 8 September 2019. Not to be all animal hipster with you, but I knew about these guys in the 90s and I’m glad the Internet is discovering these weirdoes. Like, they’ll howl like tiny wolves, and stalk prey species, and they’re even immune to some animals’ venom. I know, right?
  • Sea slugs, 15 September 2019. OK, they’ve got an awful name but these critters do some amazing things with body design and color.
  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They look like hornets, but don’t sting, so if you have one hanging around you, relax!

Next Week!

Oh, how is Dawn Weston’s summer romance going? Is her beau, the For-Real French Foreign Exchange Student Jean-Luke Baguette really so heartless as to leave her, even for his home village of Mal-de-Mere, in the Bibliothèque province of France? Is there hope for true love winning out over all? In Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Will there be muffins? I’m delighted to have the answers to these and more silly questions, next Sunday.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Did Mark Trail leave JJ Looper for dead or what? April – June 2019


I’m glad to bring you up to date on the plot of James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about September 2019, I can get you more up-to-date with an essay at this link. And if you’re interested in my pop mathematics writing, here’s some more writing about comic strips. Thanks for considering that other essay. Now on with the story.

Mark Trail.

8 April – 30 June 2019.

Mark Trail had a mortal enemy last time we checked in. Not, so far as I’m aware, Dirty Dyer, who we’d last seen practicing his flamethrower skills on a Mark Trail mannequin. This one is J J Looper, supply store owner. Looper has agreed to supply and guide Mark Trail’s search for gold in the Sonoran Desert. But he is a man with facial hair. Stubbly facial hair. The lowest of the low, in the Mark Trail moral hierarchy.

They find some stuff out in the nature. Strange pictograms telling the tale of the last of the Oso Si-Papu, the “Bear from the Darkness of the Underworld”. (There’s like a 40% chance this is a reference to something I didn’t get.) A herd of stampeding javelinas, running through their group. The ocelot that’s chasing after the javelinas, inspiring a stampede. Remember that an important thread in the James Allen Mark Trail is that nature is working very hard to kill you, personally, right now.

Leola: 'The javelinas have babies, that's why they're being aggressive. Like they're protecting them from predators!' (Panel of a javelina grooming her baby.) Looper, laughing: 'Those dumb animals think we're predators?' Meanwhile an ocelot looks over his shoulder.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 13th of April, 2019. In the fourth panel, Mark Trail tugs at his collar and makes a “guh … yeah, about that” utterance.

The ocelot and javelinas chase each other off. Looper gets back to exposition. He’s heard of the Vanishing Mine. Looper says he doesn’t think Doc’s treasure map is anything. There might be some gold nuggets out there, but nothing much. And if there were, it would’ve been cleared out long ago. But he’ll look at the map, if he can photocopy it, scan it into his computer, and put it away for safekeeping.

He can make some sense of the map. It even seems to point to a spot where Cochise supposedly had a gold mine in the 1870s. So they agree to the expedition I had thought they’d already agreed to and get supplies. Mark, Doc, Leola, and Looper head out for the Chiricahua Mountains. Leola by the way is the widow of Doc’s friend who had the treasure map. I had mistaken her for Cherry Trail last update because I’m very bad with names. One of the things I like about comic strips is how often characters say the name of whoever they’re speaking to. If a comic strip goes two days without doing that I’m lost again.

Leola, sampling a substance: 'It smells like ... honey?' Mark Trail, alarmed: 'EVERYBODY RUN!' They flee a great buzzing swarm of, as Leola shouts, 'AFRICANIZED BEES!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of May, 2019. Hey, do you remember which hilarious 1970s revenge-of-nature movie this was from? The correct answer is: all of them.

They spend a night at the campfire, thinking of what if the gold were real. Looper points out how the four of them could carry back a million dollars in gold. And it would let him get out of this place where, to be honest, he’s always been stuck.

The morning starts off with nice weather, slopes that are less steep than Doc remembered, and an attack by Africanized bees. The slopes being too gentle is a bad sign. Either the terrain’s changed a good bit or they’re not where Doc remembers being. The bees are a good sign, it turns out. In dodging the bees, Mark Trail falls down a hill. When looks up, he sees Skull Mountain, exactly as on the map. And this is lucky. From another angle it might not be recognizable. Looper, who took a couple bee stings, can almost taste the gold already.

Mark Trail is skeptical, noting that even if there was gold, there’s been plenty of time for it to have been taken. Leola talks about the nature of gold rushes, and the mad dashes they inspire. The ephemeral nature of the rush but the lasting effects of the lives changed by it.

Looper, explaining the the rest of his party, in the background, while some woodpecker-type bird perches on a cactus in foreground: 'I don't think it's hopeless at all, Mark. I'm actually quite enthused by the maps you folks have. I'm just telling you part of the very real, sad history of 'gold fever'! By the way, Mark, wasn't it you who urged caution before we got too excited about the possibility of finding the Vanishing Mine!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 1st of June, 2019. This panel is, incidentally, representative of a lot of this story. There have been many single-panel strips with the characters in the remote background while we watch animals in the foreground. Some of them even have clear stories of their own. Theres an owl that swoops in to attack a ringtailed cat (it’s a raccoon relative), the 2nd of May. The next day we see the ringtail has chased the owl off. A few weeks later we see possibly the same owl looking all disgruntled. (I’ve lost just which date this happened, but it was later in May. Comics Kingdom has lessened the badness of its redesign, but it’s still too much work for me to find right now. Week at a glance, why is that something they don’t want us to have anymore? What problem does taking that away solve?)

The next day they come across an abandoned mine claim. Leola points out people here must have found gold. Looper acknowledges this, but that sooner or later the mine runs dry, if it produces at all. Mark Trail gets to wondering why Looper is so down on this Vanishing Mine. Looper explains he knows about gold fever and hey, weren’t you as skeptical about whether the mine exists yesterday? It’s a fair question. Mark Trail and JJ Looper have been trading off whether they think they mine exists, and whether there might be anything in it.

But now Mark Trail’s had enough. He admits to Doc not trusting Looper at all, and Doc admits something seems off. What, exactly? … Another fair question. Apart from salivating over the idea of gold he later says he doubts exists, Looper hasn’t done anything suspicious besides be scruffy. But, again, Mark Trail. You know?

Mark Trail, seeing distant storms: 'It's raining hard over there! ... The ground ... it's shaking!' (He thinks: Rain ... drainage basin ... ) Mark Trail: 'Everybody - get to higher ground, quick!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of June, 2019. “I’ll try to punch the floodwaters!”

Anyway, it’s a new day, so it’s time for Nature to try killing everyone again. The method this time: flash flooding. Everyone gets swept up in the suddenly appearing rivers, and the strong currents. Mark Trail’s able to rescue himself and Leola from the river. They find Doc walking in the rain. And Looper? … No idea. The last Doc saw he was running from the flood, and carrying the map. Which … they don’t have a photocopy of?

Doc: 'Twenty-three people died on Labor Day in 1970 due to flash floods in the high contry along waterways below the Mongollon Rim!' Mark Trail: 'I've got a feeling we won't see JJ again ... and NOT because he got washed away in the flood!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of June, 2019. I understand that James Allen wants to get to the next plot point. And he did show some of Mark Trail and company searching for JJ Looper. But it doesn’t get much on-panel time or emphasis. A casual reader can reasonably think they didn’t make any effort to find Looper. I don’t know how much time, or emphasis, should be put on a search that for plot reasons has to come up empty. But at this point, Mark Trail is ready for Looper’s heel turn before the groundwork’s been established. Or plausibly established, the way (last story) it looked like Raul was some bad guy chasing Rusty Trail and Mara. Anyway, those animals in the first panel are coatis, which are raccoon relatives. There are mammals in the Arizona deserts that are not raccoon relatives, I am told by people who don’t seem to be putting me on.

They search for Looper, without success. Mark Trail suspects foul play. And yet — even without the map, there’s hope. Doc recognizes weird rock formations, and a winding path that seems familiar. They climb for higher ground to spot the mine. Maybe also Looper in case he’s actually dead or injured or lost from the storm. Never know. That’s where we stand: atop the hills, maybe in view of a legendary gold mine.

Sunday Animals Watch

What soon-to-be extinct animals and plants have the Sunday Mark Trail panels shared with us recently? And how long is it going to take before we finally destroy them all? Let’s review.

  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. They’ve got, like four months to live.
  • Tremella Mesenterica (“Witches’ Butter”), 14 April 2019. About five years.
  • The Crest-Tailed Mulgara, 21 April 2019. 28 months.
  • The Vietnamese Moss Frog, 28 April 2019. Like, maybe through lunch tomorrow.
  • Ocelots, 5 May 2019. 40 weeks in the wild, indefinitely in captivity.
  • Wallace’s Giant Bee, 12 May 2019. Three years.
  • Hammerhead Sharks, 19 May 2019. Ten years.
  • Spix’s Macaw, 26 May 2019. In the wild: not since like 1986. In captivity: for as long as they can convince people they’re the birds from Rio.
  • The Arizona State Tree, 2 June 2019. Is a fictional construct anyway.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel/Malabar Giant Squirrel, 9 June 2019. 18 years.
  • Bombardier Beetles, 16 June 2019. Two years in its native habitat, then it turns invasive.
  • Syndicated Newspaper Comic Strips, 17 June 2019. Died finally when Richard Thompson had to retire from Cul de Sac because bodies suck.
  • Doc: 'Mark, remind me when we get back home to call my old buddy Barney Google!' Mark Trail: 'Why is that, Doc?' Doc: 'Well, it's his birthday, and I just want to call him and say 'Happy birthday, Barney Google'!'
    James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of June, 2019. So a lot of comic strips did a shout-out to Barney Google and Snuffy Smith on the 17th of June, celebrating that comic’s centennial. Most of them were joke strips, so it wasn’t any weirder or more continuity-straining than those strips where the characters stand together to shout Merry Christmas at everyone. Presented like this, at a tense moment in a life-or-death struggle, raises the question: “Hey, Joseph, why didn’t you say anything about Barney Google‘s centennial? You’re the freak who has some 1,150-word essay ready about what Snuffy Smith meant to you as a child.” And to this I can only say: hey, look, a big distracting thing! (I was on a road trip, and I forgot Barney Google‘s centennial was coming up, and I still might write something, so don’t go provoking me.)

  • Hummingbirds, 23 June 2019. For as long as people decorate their backyards with hummingbird-feeder tubes of sugar water, those people will be visited by situationally-unreasonably angry, angry hornets.
  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. Till about the next time you brush your teeth.

Next Week!

Oh. Oh. I have some of the happiest words that any snarky comics blogger can have. I plan to look at Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth next week. How well did it go when Mary and Toby explained to Estelle that, in fact, Artheur Zerro was not a world-famous construction engineer and Nobel-prize winning astronaut rock star who’ll be joining her in Charterstone and his private mansion in Gold Monaco — it’s like normal Monaco, except way more elite because it’s made of gold — just as soon as he sends her (INSERT RETIRMENT SAVINGS HERE ONLY IN BITCOIN) in seed money?

Oh man now I want the Mary Worth story where she explains bitcoin scams and I am not going too far when I say so are you.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why did Comics Kingdom screw up its web site? January – April 2019.


I have no idea why Comics Kingdom decided to screw up its web site. But they went and redesigned it, so now it works worse by every measure. It’s that thing where a web site decides to see what it can do to annoy its regular customers. For me, that’s by two approaches: I can’t load all my comics in one go anymore. You know, the way you’d think a comics page on a comics-page site would do. I have to keep hitting ‘load six more comics’, and hoping that the site doesn’t hang, so that I have to reload the entire thing from scratch. Since the site redesign I have gotten through the day’s comics without a glitch exactly zero times. Also for me, that’s the trashing of archives. Comics Kingdom used to let me look at seven comics on a single page, which is invaluable for following a story comic. They’ve forgotten to include that in the redesign. So I’ll be sending them notes about this lost functionality until they stop reading complaints about things they broke. That would be when I first sent any complaint at all.

Anyway. If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Or I’ve given up on comics altogether as a bad job. If I haven’t, though, my newer plot recaps should be at this link. Thanks for sticking with me through this mess.

Mark Trail.

13 January – 7 April 2019.

Mark Trail’s long journey in Mexico seemed ready to end, last time I checked in. Mark and responsible-ish authority-like figures found Rusty Trail and Mara. They, in turn, had found Boss and Jefe, who were smuggling archeological finds out of Professor Carter’s dig site. And Mark Trail knew them: in early 2016 they were smuggling people into the United States. Along the way Boss and Jefe left Mark and company for dead, in an enormous and amazing cavern system. Now, finally, Mark Trail has someone to punch.

Juanito, watching Mark Trail punching guys, thinks: 'Boy! That guy made quick work of Jose and Jefe --- I'm running for it!' He runs for it. Jose the cop sees this and thinks: 'Uh-oh ... that third guy is getting away! I've got to stop him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2019. So this gets a bit confusing because José is also the name of the cop in the second and third panels, and he was finally established as being on the good side in the weeks before this strip ran. The guy that Juanito thinks of as Jose was being called Boss before. I’m not sure if this was a slip of James Allen’s pen or if they were just both named José. It would be one of those coincidences that happens all the time in real life. In fiction, though, it’s supposed to mean something or else just confuse people. But this storyline went a long time without naming any of the Mexican characters.

Mark and Jose are able to punch, and catch, Boss, Jefe, and their underling Juanito. They don’t find Rusty and Mara right away, though. The last they saw, the kids were heading towards the old library Boss and Jefe had been using. Rusty and Mara are there, playing Go Fish with Raul. You remember Raul: he’s the slightly bearded motorcycle … agent … who was part of the ring trying to catch the smugglers. So everyone’s reunited, the bad guys are foiled, and it’s been a productive day that’s run since, like, July of last year.

The rest of the Mexico visit is quiet. The Trails spend time on the beach watching nature. Rusty and Mara agree to swap e-mail addresses, in case either of them ever sends an e-mail. And there’s a lot of pictures of toucans, a running joke this storyline that I don’t understand. While flying home, Mark Trail takes time to explain how he loves the great adventure comics of the past. He cites particularly Jungle Jim, which ran from 1934 to 1954. This seems a little old for Mark Trail, if he’s not supposed to be a timeless, unageing spirit. Maybe he encountered it in reprints. Jungle Jim, written by Don Moore and illustrated by Alex Raymond, is a Vintage reprint on Comics Kingdom. Good luck reading it.

Jose, entering the library, seeing Raul, Mara, and Rusty: 'Raul ... ' Jose and Mark Trail: 'You're playing cards?' Raul: 'I told you I would deal with the kids!' Mara: 'Raul has been cheating!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2019. Oh, yes, you see, “deal” with the kids. It’s part of how Raul talks like he’s in a genially dopey mid-80s action comedy. Also, they’re playing Go Fish, which is a game you can’t cheat in without the other party knowing you’re cheating. Now, one time I was playing chess with this like seven-year-old who loved the idea of becoming a chess player, but didn’t know enough to realize that, like, I wasn’t making up castling. But I’m not going to go crushing young enthusiasm. Somewhere around five moves in, he left the king incredibly open, and I had to shuffle around for three or four moves before he finally noticed, or maybe just moved by accident to close the vulnerability. And that was the last game of chess I ever won.

The close to the Mexico storyline came the 9th of March. Rusty Trail got a package. After a couple days spent talking about how good it is to read the comics, Rusty opened it: it’s the Zuni fetish doll. The one that turned up without explanation at the archeologists’ camp. The one that revealed Mark Trail knew of the word “fetish”. Even though it’s not that kind of fetish. Anyway, with that note, something that surely refers to something I don’t know, we could leave Mexico in the past.


But before that was another “Dirty” Dyer interlude. We hadn’t seen him since April 2018. He’s still figuring to kill Mark Trail. We meet him testing out a flamethrower in the Bahamas. He’s trying out that and a rocket launcher supplied by a Mister Smith. Smith is surprisingly curious about why Dyer wants to buy stuff that can kill someone so much. Dyer is surprisingly upfront about it: he wants to kill someone so much.

Smith: 'Using the rocket launcher to kill someone, however, might be a bit of overkill!' Dyer: 'Well, you haven't met Mark Trail yet!' Smith, astounded: 'Mark Trail? You mean the famous writer!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 22nd of February, 2019. Wait a minute, a fez-wearing guy who asks us to call him ‘Mr Smith’? Is this some slightly baffling reference to the Eleventh Doctor? … Eh, probably just coincidence. But … eh. We’ll see when “Dirty” Dyer’s story picks up next.

And Smith is surprised who Dyer wants to kill. He knows of Mark Trail, and loves his articles. He’s glad to help kill Mark Trail. He’d like to get an autograph first, but it’s not like he’s going to run out of Mark Trail archives. Also surprisingly interested in joining the fun: Semo, the cabana boy. He’s good at forging passports and other legal documents. And he knows Microsoft Office, so that’s useful. Also he’s tired of being a cabana boy and getting, like, crazy demands from guests such as David Hasselhoff. (Yes, the text in that strip is written in an odd, evasive style. But on the 4th of March Dyer names “The Hoff”.)


The new story got started the 11th of March. Doc had sad news: his old buddy Amos died. And he tells a story of when he and Amos were working a dude ranch. One day a bearded stranger came to them with the map of a vanished gold mine. He’d said the Native Americans who worked the strange mine with an entrance that moved around had left a rich cache of gold. They’d gone with him, and followed the map. The stranger dug underneath a pile of rocks, going into the opening alone, and emerged hours later with bags of gold. The stranger left town, saying he had all the gold he needed. Doc and Amos and other boys from town searched the area the next day, but the land seemed to have changed.

Doc, recounting an illustrated memory: 'As we removed the pile of rocks, the skies grew dark as clouds rolled in, bringing thunder and lightning with them! The stranger descended to the unearthed opening alone! Hours later he came back --- his arms weighed down with bags of gold!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of March, 2019. Yeah, I’m really not sure I’m into Disney’s CGI remake of Aladdin.

So that’s the story. Amos had the stranger’s map. His widow is giving it to Doc. He wonders what became of the mine that he swears he saw. So, let’s put on a mining expedition! Besides, Mark can probably photograph some Sonoran desert creatures and make a story about it and maybe blow up a jeep or something. They fly to Phoenix, a city where I know surprisingly many people considering I’ve never been in Arizona. And set out to get gold-prospecting equipment while trading facts about the Sonoran Desert. This has offered a lot of chances to show animals in the foreground and large vehicles driving in the mid-background. They meet up with J J Looper, who owns a supply store, and acts friendly even though he’s got a stubbly beard. But Looper offers his expertise in gold-prospecting and in gold-prospecting lore. The folklore might be handy this adventure.

Cherry Trail, picking up satchels of things in the prospecting supply store: 'There are two types of gold deposits --- lode and tracer.' Looper: 'That's correct! Pardon me for interrupting ... I'm J J Looper, and this is my shop!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2019. So is anyone else wondering why Mark Trail has clearly vowed to revenge himself by all methods possible on J J Looper for how he just went and confirmed Cherry’s knowledge of the principal types of gold deposit?

So they’re ready to set off. I should be ready to check back in on them around late June or early July of this year. Whatever I have to report should appear at this link.

Also, hey, I read comic strips for their mathematical content too. Here’s some discussion of five comic strips, which you might like to read.

Sunday Animals Watch

What wonders of the natural world — animals, plants, phenomena — have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? And how much have we specifically doomed them? Here’s your roundup.

  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened. Yet.
  • Tanzanite, 20 January 2019. It was discovered only in 1967, and there’s one spot where it’s known to occur, but don’t worry: the American Gem Trade Association has named it a birthstone so we’ll be doing something terrible to people to get it now.
  • Spotted Lanternflies, 27 January 2019. They’re doing very well, now that they’re an invasive species in the United States Northeast.
  • Redback Spider, 3 February 2019. It’s in Australia so I assume any one of them is able to poison over one-quarter of the world’s human population.
  • The United States Forest Service, 10 February 2019. Incredibly endangered.
  • Albatrosses, 17 February 2019. Threatened or endangered, plus, you start talking about them and some nerd does Monty Python at you.
  • Tortugas National Park, Florida, 24 February 2019. Unbelievably doomed.
  • The Horned Marsupial Frog, 3 March 2019. We’d thought it was extinct the last decade, but it’s turned up in Ecuador, so that’s something.
  • King Vultures, 10 March 2019. Not particularly threatened, although they do live in Brazil, so, mm. That won’t end well.
  • The Deep-Sea Cucumber, Enyphiastes Eximia, 17 March 2019. It’s a deep sea creature. Who even knows?
  • Scorpions, 24 March 2019. They seem safe. The panel gives “Special Thanks to Jude Nelson”. So we may infer that scorpion in your room is Jude’s doing.
  • Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, 31 March 2019. It’s a turtle you never heard of, so, you see where this is going.
  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. There might be as many as fifteen of them left alive.

Next Week!

Am I angry with Karen Moy and June Brigman? As of my writing these words no, I am not. Will that change in seven days? We’ll know in under 169 hours what I think’s going on with Mary Worth.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Are These Guys Mark Trail Is Punching? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.

If you need discussions of mathematically-themed comic strips, you can find some on my other blog, and I’d be glad if you tried them out too.

Mark Trail.

21 October 2018 – 13 January 2019.

My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.

Narration: As Rusty and Mara try to catch up to Juanito, Raul has taken to the rooftops in order to locate them. (A toucan flies up toward Raul.) Raul, thinking: 'Me, on a rooftap, looking for two brat kids ... this is NOT how I would've imagined my life would turn out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of November, 2018. You forget how weird the theme song to Friends gets in the third verse. But that’s what you get for going back and listening to the “full” version of any TV show’s theme songs. They’re all either nervous repetitions of whatever the part that came on-screen was, or they’re weird riffs on the TV show lyrics that have maybe aged in unfortunate ways. Looking at you, Cheers.

Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.

Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.

Mark: 'You don't think anything strange about Jose?' Carter: 'Well, now that you mention it, he seems more highly educated than most of the guys that grew up here in the jungle like he claims, but I think he did mention going away to school somewhere!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of November, 2018. “I suppose I do occasionally think about if José were a robot made of Moon Cheese and whether he’d still like me if he were, and whether that answer would depend on whether he were a hard or a soft Moon Cheese robot. That’s kind of a strange thought about José, but … I mean, why do you wonder, Mark Trail?”

Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.

Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.

Raul: 'Something smells delicious!' Scared Man: 'That's my wife's cooking ... you landed in it! All of her food is delicious!' Raul: 'I certainly believe that from the smell!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of December, 2018. So I’m no good at small talk. If I had just fallen through someone’s skylight and smashed onto their dinner table, flattening their supper, I would never think to talk about the pleasantness of that room’s odors.

It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.

Scared Woman: 'I'm sorry to hear that [ you've been chasing someone all day ]. Take some empanadas and some churros with you. Maybe they'll pick you up some, and you won't look or feel so tired when you finally catch whoever you're looking for!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of December, 2018. And see again, if some strange man crashed through my ceiling and landed on my supper table, and shared with me a story about how frustrated he was chasing someone through the city all day, I wouldn’t think to talk about how my cooking might be a useful pick-me-up. This is because I am deeply incompetent at promoting my brand.

Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.

Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.

A phone inside the backpack rings. Boss: 'Juanito, you know how I feel about cellphones in here!' Juanito: 'That's not my phone ... I turned mine off!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of December, 2018. “We have talked about this! Cell phones are pleasant. But it is their nature to spoil people’s abilities to be fully present. Instead of experiencing as a coherent whole what you are doing in person, or what you are doing with your online community, you experience this shadowy, half-dreaming state. You feel alive, because you’re twitching in response to interruptions. It’s thrilling, but it doesn’t satisfy your need as a social being to participate in things. You’d do better to set time to be wholly present in person, or wholly present online, and experience the healing action of emotional and mental continuity.”

José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.

Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.

And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.

Mark, furious: 'You tried to kill me and my friends by dynamiting us in a cave ... then you left us for dead!' (He punches Boss, in a dramatic scene where Boss, upside-down, flies at the camera with Mark finishing his punch, tiny, in the centerbackground.) 'WHERE IS MY SON!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of January, 2019. I’m aware that many of the strips I excerpted here weren’t that visually exciting: a lot of tight shots of people’s faces. Well, the first panel brightens things up by showing Mark Trail making the eye expression that Michael Dorn had to use whenever Worf felt an emotion. And that second panel is a solid “Yeah, so this is why we started reading Marvel Comics in the 60s” image.

And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.

One might ask how a reader should recognize these guys. They were a small presence a couple of years ago and in a very different context. But, hey, Funky Winkerbean expects readers will thrill to recognize names from the supporting cast of John Darling. And that’s not weird at all. So I don’t know what to tell you. Well, Mark’s filling everyone in.

And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.

I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Sunday Animals Watch

What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.

  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
  • Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
  • Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
  • Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
  • Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
  • Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
  • Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
  • Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
  • The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
  • Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
  • Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
  • White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.

Next Week!

I spent so much of 2018 infuriated with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Did I spend the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 similarly angry? Check back in next week and we’ll see!

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Is Chasing Rusty Trail And Why? July – October 2018


I know you want to find out about all the comic strips which mentioned mathematics topics last week. They’re discussed on that link, the one that just passed. And you probably also want to know about a fascinating selection of words from mathematics. That’s here. It’s also possible that you want to know about James Allen’s Mark Trail, but it’s so much later than the mid-October date when I publish this that my plot summary doesn’t help. If I’ve got a more recent recap, it should be here. Glad to help. If you’re reading this around lat October, though, this should get you caught up soon enough.

Mark Trail

31 July – 21 October 2018.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Last time I checked in, Mark Trail and company were in the pop-culture district of Mexico. Mark’s archeology buddy Professor Howard Carter was finding weird stuff in a 2500-year-old temple. His assistant Becky had this weird habit of cataloguing and making 3-D scans of everything before taking it to a secure facility. And hey, she’s off-stage now for unknown reasons. Rusty found a “Zuni Fetish Doll” that arrived in an anonymous box. And this wasn’t the first time one of these has turned up. That and some references to Indiana Jones and Three Amigos filled out the setting. I don’t know if the doll is a reference to something.

Mark Trail realizes the story is stalling out. It’s been going since April and what we know is this ancient temple is weird and Becky’s off-stage. He suggests Rusty and his girlfriend-based partner organism Mara go to the other temple. See if they can’t get kidnapped or something while he takes a nap and disappears from the story. Joe the van driver mentions how the dolls started showing up and the site has a curse or something. Also that he’d heard Becky was at the dig site in the morning but guesses he was wrong. Anyway, he drops them off in care of the tour guide at Non-Creepy Mayan Temple.

Mara: 'Who is that man she's [ Becky's ] talking with --- he wasn't part of the group!' (Becky hands a mask to Backpack Guy.) Rusty: 'Hey! That's the mask from Professor Carter's trailer!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 17th of August, 2018. You can’t see it from this angle, but just out of frame, Rip Haywire is punching an explosion. It’s pretty cool.

Rusty and Mara notice that Becky’s in with the tour group. They call to her, but she doesn’t react. Mara thinks it’s odd that Becky didn’t hear them. But Rusty has people “not hearing” him and fleeing his approach all the time. Still, they press on. They find Becky! She’s talking with someone else, someone wearing a backpack who was not from the tour group. And holding what looks like one of the masks dug up earlier. Mara thinks Becky is trying to sell it. They work up the hypothesis that Becky is making 3-D prints of the artifacts, selling the real ones, and putting the fakes into museums. Rusty thinks it’s a shame someone as nice-seeming as Becky would do something so underhanded. Mara calls him out on this: “you meet a girl one time, and just because she’s pretty, you think she’s nice”. A good point. Rusty doesn’t seem to consider he hasn’t met Mara all that much, and she seems nice, and she’s feeding the idea Becky is arranging an artifact sale. Just saying.

Raul, over the phone: 'I didn't see much --- the kids were in the way --- but I know the rop went as planned!' Joe, in his truck: 'That complicates things ... we may have to use the kids for a while before we get them out of the way! This makes me very unhappy --- you know Mark Trail's reputation!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of August, 2018. The next day’s strip makes it clear they’ve read Mark Trail’s writings before, so they just happen to be low-level Mark Trail fans out here. It’s not like he showed up in their scheme and they quickly looked up what this means for their life-stories.

They notice someone’s watching them. And they follow the guy who took the mask. Backpack Guy is taking the tour bus back to Santa Poco. The guy who watched them gets on the radio with Joe the driver, though. Joe and Watching Guy share an ominous radio conversation about having to use the kids before getting them out of the way. And that they know this is dangerous, given Mark Trail’s reputation for how every story ends in major explosions lately. Rusty and Mara get back to Joe, and ask him to take them into Santa Poco and hey, why not stop wherever the tour bus does? He can’t figure an excuse not to comply. Mara wonders if Joe might have been the watcher, and she thinks that’s a shame, as “he seems like such a nice guy”. Credit to James Allen for underplaying the character moments there. Anyway, they drive past a week’s worth of panels of Central American wildlife eating other pieces of Central American wildlife.

Mara’s talked Rusty into putting some kind of tracking app on his phone and I’m sorry, Rusty Trail has a smart phone. I have to go lie down a while. Also he has a smart phone that works in Mexico. Y’know, my love and I spent a week in Mexico City earlier this year. Working out whether we could get a phone to work on the Mexican network was something we stressed about without ever solving the problem. (We made it through the week without a phone. Not looking for a medal here, just some acknowledgement of our courage.) Anyway, Mara’s plan is to turn on the tracking app, drop the phone in Backpack Guy’s backpack and then even if they lose sight of him, it’s all right. They can follow. Mara mentions getting the idea from Nancy Drew, a reference Rusty doesn’t get, and wait Nancy Drew has smart phones now? I have to go lie down again.

Mara: 'We're going to walk over to Backpack Guy. You kind of push me into him, I'll trip and fall. When he tries to help me up, you slip the phone into his backpack!' Rusty: 'Awesome! Then we can use your phone and the Snap-N-Rap App to track my phone's location and find out where he is in case we lose sight of him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of September, 2018. So, seriously, the only comic strips that show kids with cell phones in anything approaching realism are Nancy, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and Mark Trail? The heck, world? You know?

Back to Joe, who mercifully gives us some names for characters. Watching Guy turns out to be Pablo. They and Raul — who’s talking to Joe while posing with his cool motorcycle — know the kids are on to something. And that Pablo saw the “courier”, while Raul saw Becky. They note that they didn’t see the courier and Becky together. This point is so inconsequential that taking panel time to establish it must mean it’s consequential. Joe think that Rusty and Mara were following the “second courier”. But since they’re not following Backpack Guy now he doesn’t know what to think. This may be how this scenario would happen. But it made for a week of baffling reading as people say they don’t know what’s going on. Raul promises to “take care” of Rusty and Mara. He also says he’s “let Pablo take care of” Becky. Yes, I’m aware the phrasing looks ominous without actually committing to anything. I mean, there’s enough space here for Joe and Pablo and Raul to be part of the smuggling operation. There’s also enough for them to be undercover agents busting the crime syndicate.

Raul: 'What do you mean?' Joe: 'I thought the kids had just led me to the second courier --- they just tripped over a guy wearing a backpack who was getting off the bus, but now they seem to have lost all interest in him!' Raul: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not following you!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of September, 2018. A sentiment that I did see expressed while the story was going on. The lack of explicitly given names didn’t help following the story as it suddenly got all this intrigue.

All right. So. Rusty and Mara try to act casual as Backpack Guy encounters them. He recognizes his “clumsy friends” who knocked him over at the bus stop. That scene wasn’t actually shown on-panel by the way. But it was how they dropped Rusty’s phone into his backpack. He proposes that they walk with him, since this is not a great part of town for unattended kids. And introduces himself as Juanito, so now I have all the player-characters’ names. Juanito says he’s a courier, and he’s got a package to deliver nearby, so why not walk with him? Rusty and Mara go along with this. Juanito stops at the next street because he’s seen the motorcyclist, whom we know to be Raul. Juanito’s not sure that Raul is following them, but does think he “looks like trouble”. Juanito proposes they run into a crowd. I’m assuming a fruit stand is going to get knocked over. Could even get exploded.

Mara: 'Rusty, Backpack Guy is headed this way!' Rusty: 'Quick! Let's act like we're reading!' (They pick up comic books. Rusty reads 'Fist of Justice' and Mara 'Giant Squirrel!'. Comics in the background include 'Spider Guy' and 'Super Dude' and a 'Gore' that I think might be a reference to this early 50s Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown demolishes a poor newsstand owner's comics display.)
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of October, 2018. Wait, those comics. Fists of Justice? Giant Squirrel? Mark Trail is getting all self-aware and I’m not sure I can take it!

I do appreciate that James Allen has put in play at least three groups here. Each knows a little about the other groups. None knows enough that anyone can be confident in who to trust or how far. It’s a bit foggy reading this day-to-day. Comics Kingdom lets subscribers read a week’s worth of strips at once. That helps the plot threads focus for me. And, I hope, I help that for you.

Sunday Animals Watch

What fascinating animals, plants, or forces of nature were highlighted in the Sunday panels recently? And have we killed them yet? Here’s the recap.

  • Ants, 29 July 2018. So there’s ants that explode and they’re not even from Australia and what the flipping heck?
  • Honeysuckle, 5 August 2018. Not any more endangered than all life on Earth is right now.
  • Dobsonflies, 12 August 2018. Early indicators of when the local environment is dying.
  • Hognose Snakes, 19 August 2018. Not endangered, but they do play dead so they’re a little drama-prone.
  • Giant Hogweed, 26 August 2018. Also called Giant Cow Parsley or Hogsbane, claims Mark Trail. It’s invasive and its sap can send you to the hospital with third-degree burns.
  • Gila Monsters, 2 September 2018. Fun episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Humbolt Martens, 9 September 2018. Endangered, and Mark Trail tries to cast some blame on the marihuana.
  • Rhinoceroses, 16 September 2018. Ugh. You know. But it does mention that thing where earlier this year it looks like lions killed a poacher of rhinoceroses.
  • Mount Lico’s “Lost Continent”, 23 September 2018. Cool, technology-assisted discovery of a previously undisturbed forest with a bunch of unknown species that’ll probably blow up, if that episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is any guide.
  • Jaguars, 30 September 2018. Endangered. Features one of the three known in recent years to be in the United States and that got killed by a poacher.
  • The Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, 7 October 2018. Probably endangered, but apparently it’s too rarely seen to be sure.
  • Parasitoid Wasps, 14 October 2018. Yeah, it’s got a stinger that’s, like, twelve feet long and Mark Trail looks like he’s about five feet into his impalement here.
  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. They can cause second-degree chemical burns, which is no Giant Hogweed but is still a valuable reminder to never eat anything natural enough that its name isn’t required legally to be misspelled.

Next Week!

Will I make it seven days without turning into a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage? There’s only one way to know and that’s to see if I last until next Sunday reading Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If I survive, I’ll tell you why you should probably be a white-hot ball of incoherent, jibbering rage too!

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Told Mark Trail ‘Fetish’ Was A Word He Could Say? May – July 2018.


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

If you want my most recent recap of the plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail, please, enjoy it at or near the top of this link. If you read this before about November 2018, that’s likely this essay. If you want to see the mathematical content of comic strips discussed, please look to my other blog, which I also can’t decide whether to get a professional WordPress package and hosting deal for. Thank you.

Mark Trail.

7 May – 28 July 2018.

Mark Trail‘s current storyline began in April. Either the 16th of the 26th, depending on whether a couple strips about “Dirty” Dyer planning to kill Mark Trail come into play in the current story. Dyer’s been seen in interludes for quite a while now, a promise of a story to come. I’m still unsettled to see Mark Trail using any narrative technique besides “and then Mark punched the poaching smugglers right in the beard”.

So Mark, Cherry, and Rusty Trail were to visit the Azyoulik Resort, near the Mexican village of Santa Poco. They’re there to see wildlife and check in with an archeologist friend of Mark’s. James Allen has a bit of a taste for pulp adventure stories. His side project (with Brice Vorderbrug) is a weekly strip, Edge of Adventure, that’s entirely pulpy adventure action. Mark’s archeologist friend is Professor Howard Carter. So at this point anyone a little genre-aware knows the ending. At best someone is going to have to jump into a vortex of death rays to prevent some ancient unstoppable evil from eating the world. Fantasy/Science Fiction reviewer James Nicoll has asked how responsible societies allow archeology. The question has no answer.

Man on Beach: 'This whale got stuck here at the end of low tide!' Woman: 'Poor thing! I wonder what kind of whale it is?!' Mark Trail: 'It's a Minke Whale!' Man: 'Now, Mister, REALLY? How in the world do YOU know that?!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of May, 2018. I am always delighted when a story strip character responds to something with way more emotion than the situation will bear. So Minke Whale Skeptic there is fantastic. It’s the sort of panel that will keep me looking forward to a strip for years afterward.

There’s some commotion at the beach. Turns out a whale got stuck on the sand. Mark is on the scene, happy to explain it’s a Minke Whale. He would have explained all sorts of amazing things about how humans are killing them, except a square-headed man asks how Mark could know that. But the conversation gets distracted by the plan to push the whale back in the water. The reader gets distracted by Mark standing there shirtless on the beach while grinning a little weird. Anyway, this goes well for the whale. The square-headed man apologizes for doubting Mark. And it works well for Rusty too, as this whale-saving impresses Mara, the girl he cute-met on the airplane. They go off looking at toucans after dinner.

Mark Trail: 'How do I know that is a Minke Whale? ... Let's just say that I know a little something about wildlife!' Cherry: 'Mark, listen, the tide is starting to come in!' Mark Trail: 'Right! Maybe if we work together, we can get this whale back in the sea!' Cherry: 'Well, if the tide is coming in, that should help!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of May, 2018. While I want to appreciate Mark Trail’s quiet confidence in his own authority HOLY COW MARK TRAIL HAS NIPPLES HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN ALLOWED TO GO ON.

To the main plot, though. Professor Carter’s discovered a 2500-year-old lost temple (GET IT?). It’s a weird one. How weird? Weird. There’s a good week or two of driving to the temple that establishes some of the practical points of how the expedition is going. And it shows off Central American wildlife. The generic strip this whole story has been a single panel of a couple characters talking, usually inside a building, sometimes in a vehicle, while off on the right edge of the panel a cacomistle or a tayra or something goes about its business. Yes, we all want to see capybaras, but they don’t live that far north naturally.

Mark, Rusty, and Mara arrive at the temple and agree that it’s creepy. It’s a neat illustration. Architecture overgrown with plants is very hard to draw. But is it creepy? Mark and Rusty Trail agree that it’s weird, but can’t pin down how. I don’t know enough about Yucatan architecture of the fifth and sixth centuries BCE to know how either. They meet up with Howard Carter, whom Mark joshingly referes to as “you old tomb raider”. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism issues a Problematic Tropes Watch.

What’s so strange about the ruins doesn’t get exactly explained. Lidar, the use of pulsed laser light to map terrains, gets explained. But what’s archeologically mysterious about the four temples? Not so much. But there are some things established.

[ The truck arrives in front of a fairly tall, multi-tiered, complex Mayan-ish pyramid covered in plants; there's a huge grimacing, fanged face sculpture at the lower right corner of it. ] Truck Driver: 'Well, here we are --- I told you. Kind of creepy!' Rusty: 'WOW! Dad, look! How cool is that?' Mark Trail: 'Settle down, Rusty!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of June, 2018. So just how rambunctiously was Rusty looking at a 2500-year-old temple and calling it cool that Mark Trail had to tell him to settle down? I’m not saying this question is interesting enough to make a fanfiction about, but maybe he was bounding around like a dog you took with you through the car wash or something.
Carter notes the carvings are not-quite-right for Mayan ruins. Perhaps, he says, the site simply predates the classical Mayan look’s development. This seems quite reasonable to me. I waited for some reason why I shouldn’t accept that explanation. Carter goes on to explain how some of the locals they hired as diggers had more sinister and pulpy ideas. “They believe this place was built by a more primitive, savage tribe — a tribe that routinely engaged in dark rituals!” And the National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism raises their advisory to a Warning. They also recommend casting a Mexican or Mayan person in a player-character role with all deliberate speed.

(To clarify my boring politics here. I don’t accuse James Allen of trying to write a racist story. I know nothing of him or his motivations beyond his comments on the Comics Curmudgeon blog. And what one can learn from reading the stories he writes. That is, what kinds of subjects and plotlines he finds interesting, or plausible, or salable. That’s not an exclusive or. That lets me say that he enjoys lost valleys and ancient peoples and forgotten civilizations like you got in late-19th and early-20th-century adventure tales. Remember one of his first weeks writing Mark Trail was Rusty Trail dreaming of being in the Lost World. And that’s fine. But those tales had a lot of late-19th and early-20th-century racism baked into them. Drawing on the elements that made those stories can summon that racism even against all the best intentions to write an exciting archeological mystery story. To put the words “primitive, savage tribe” in the mouth of the archeologist — even at the remove of “I’m just saying, I hear people saying this” — is unsettling. “Savage” is a value judgement, and a pretty ripe one coming in the pop culture of a country whose leader gloats at stealing children to lock them in dog cages. “Primitive”, too — a people’s understanding or practice of something can be primitive. Their calendar might poorly track the astronomical features it’s meant to. Their art might have few traits of specialized, focused development. Their clothing might be made more laboriously and be less useful than some available innovations would allow. Their mythology might be boring. But the people are as smart, as curious, as involved with each other, and as interested in their world as we are. If you call someone else primitive, then, remember that so are we.)

Carter can’t take Rusty and Mara inside any of the temples. But he can show them, and show Mark, some of the artefacts excavated. He mentions how much each piece is worth to any museum. And how they make a 3-D scan of every artefact before moving it to a secure facility. Also hey, it’s a bit odd that his assistant Becky, who’d had dinner with the Trails the night before, wasn’t in today. Oh and hey, did you know they’d be worth even more on the black market? Anyway, if other archeologists think you’re a bit artefact-classification mad you might be a touch out of control.

Carter, showing of the artefacts room: 'After cleanup, Becky does a 3D scan of everything! I think that is a little overkill ... but she is adamant about it! She gets totally obsessive about artifacts!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of July, 2018. “Anyway, I’m sorry Becky can’t be here today. She was saying something about having to close on four mansions in Belize, I think? Seems weird, especially after she bought that apartment building in San Salvador two weeks ago and hasn’t even got to ride in her new private jet. Sweet woman, though.”

Mark joshingly asks if Carter’s found any gold fertility statues lately. You know, like hold on while I process Mark Trail being aware of the existence of human fertility. Sorry. You know, like their nutty old archeology professor Doctor Jones claimed to have found in some Chachapoyan death-trap temple. (GET IT? Yes! Like when you start multiball on the Indiana Jones pinball game. I’m guessing it’s in the movies too. Haven’t seen them.) And then Rusty runs across a weird little toothy, black-skinned doll. Mark identifies it as a “Zuni Fetish Doll” and yes I know that he doesn’t mean that kind of fetish but who even taught Mark Trail such a word as “fetish” exists? What were you trying to do to the world? Are you proud of yourself?

Anyway. Carter says he got the doll “the same way other people supposedly have gotten it”, delivered anonymously in a box. And, you know, he playfully leaves drinks and a cigar for it every morning. In the evening, the drinks are gone, the cigar’s smoked, and the doll’s face-down ten feet away. I never did trust that Elf on a Shelf guy. Carter figures it’s Bill and Ted having an excellent adventure by playing pranks. Anyway, that’s where the action stands near the end of July, 2018.

Sunday Animals Watch

How much nature has been in the last three months’ worth of Mark Trail Sunday informational panels? This much!

  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not yet endangered, somehow.
  • Elephants, 13 May 2018. Humans love elephants so much that we’re going to kill every last one of them, apparently.
  • Lionesses with manes, 20 May 2018. Endangered, sure, but also so very tired of people on Twitter who want to show off they’ve heard of XX and XY chromosomes but don’t actually study genetics.
  • Rhinoceroses, 27 May 2018. Endangered for their horns and the way they unnerve spell-checkers.
  • The Au Sable River, Michigan, 3 June 2018. Hey, I’ve heard of that river! Anyway, Nestle’s probably going to steal it, but claim it wasn’t really theft because they paid the state $7.25 for the water.
  • Howler Monkeys, 10 June 2018. Remarkably not endangered except when it’s like 5:30 in the morning and they just keep, you know.
  • That Yellow Cardinal, 17 June 2018. Cardinals are probably okay; yellow, though? Huh.
  • Peppers, 24 June 2018. Not endangered, although hey, it turns out they could endanger you so that’s something to look forward to.
  • Paper Nautilus, 1 July 2018. It’s a shelled octopus. Not endangered, but wait until we figure how to pass their meat off as “dorsal cod” or something.
  • Iguanas, 8 July 2018. They’ve turned invasive in Florida, as though Florida didn’t have enough to deal with.
  • Eastern Cougar, 15 July 2018. Extinct. Good job, everyone.
  • Royal Flycatchers, 22 July 2018. Some species of royal flycatcher are ecologically vulnerable.
  • Ants, 29 July 2018. Um, OK, apparently there’s a newly-discovered southeast Asian species of ant that can explode and it seems like we should maybe have a plan in place in case it turns out most insects can just spontaneously blow up on us?

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston had been pulled back from the precipice of despair and the Pacific Ocean. But what comes after that step toward emotional healing? We’ll have a report on how everything is coming up mayonnaise next week, with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Also other plots.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why Is He Making So Many Nerd Movie Jokes? February – May 2018.


Here’s my most recent recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. At or near the top of that link, anyway. My recap here should cover the early part of 2018. Good luck.

And I discuss comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I hope you find that interesting too.

Mark Trail.

11 February – 6 May 2018.

Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.

Mark, on the phone, seeing a tiger in front of him: 'Dusty, I think we have a problem! Give me a second --- I want to test a theory!' Mark thinks: 'Turn around slowly, don't make any sudden movements! I've got to get back in the house!' In the house, Mark says, 'Cherry, honey, will you do me a favor?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of February, 2018. Next panel, Mark says, “Call Brewster Rockit and see if Winky’s free.”

After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.

Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”

Sheriff, telling of the clowns who survived a train derailment to wander into a kids' campout: 'As the clowns turned tail and ran, Old Man Basil loaded his shotgun with rock salt and fired off one good shot! They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other side of the valley!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2018. I mean, this is the Sheriff telling a tall tale, right? Because otherwise I’m stuck on why all the clowns were dressed and in makeup when they were just hanging out in the bar car while in transit. Which is a dumb thing to get hung up on, but I’m not sure I’m feeling merry about a guy who’s at least 80 years old — he’d been a clown at least 65 years — getting shot even if it is by rock salt at a distance.

Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”

I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.

Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.

Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.

Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)

Rhinoceros knocking over a tiger while Marlin looks on.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of March, 2018. Maybe the rhinoceros and the tiger had a simmering dispute for months, even years, and it finally flared up after the train accident?

With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)

Marlin, in the jeep, chasing the rhinoceros: 'Yeeee-haww! This reminds me of the days when Jim and I were on that television show!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2018. I refuse to consider the possibility that the “Yeee-haww!” is a Dukes of Hazard reference. Just. No.

The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.

With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.

Mark, with the rifle and tranquilizer dart, thinking: 'If that rhino comes out from behind that jeep, I can get a clear shot at him! I hope Marlin is okay --- ah! There's the beast!' (POW! as the gun fires.) Mark, thinking: 'That should do it!' The rhinoceros snorts over the wreck of the jeep.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of April, 2018. Also while it is exciting action I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail shooting two large animals within a month of reader time. Yes, yes, it’s tranquilizer darts. But tranquilizer darts aren’t phasers set on stun. I grant there might not be any sensible alternative, but there’s some real risk here that I feel gets treated lightly.

The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.

I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.

So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.

Not much has happened here yet. While taking off Cherry Trail mentions a couple stories back where the island Mark was on exploded under a volcano. And Mark talks a bit about where they’re going. It’s called the Azyoulik, an ecoresort near Tulum. And right near the town of Santa Poco. Get it?

Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.

So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.

Sunday Animals Watch

What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:

  • Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
  • Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
  • Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
  • Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
  • Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
  • Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
  • Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
  • Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
  • Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
  • Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.

Next Week!

Muffins. What are they, and what became of them? Can you put mayonnaise on a muffin? Come back in a week and I’ll share the weird message of existential despair from the car place down the block.

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