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.

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.

Everything There Is To Say About Going Outside


Going outside is one of the popular things to do when you mean to go somewhere. It ranks almost up there with “going inside”. It’s no “meaning to go outside but then rolling over and groaning”. But, you know, what else are you going to do? Stay inside with your intrusive thoughts? Including that one about the time in 1997 your friend was excited to have noticed Team Rocket’s names were Jessie and James and you acted all cool about that, as if you’d noticed long ago, when you really had never put that together? No, the only way to avoid imagining that they’ve been hurting for 23 years over that thought is to go outside, anywhere, and keep going.

I have to preface this by admitting I’m not one for going outside much. Oh, I do it, but only because somehow the topic keeps coming up. I’m not even much for going to the other room. For that matter I need motivation to get to the other side of the table. Even reaching my arms out to their full length needs some motivation. In my defense, there’s plants I might hit if I just tossed my arms around wildly and they don’t need to be involved in whatever my issues are.

Still, the outside offers over four things that the inside just can’t. Unlike the inside, for example, outside there’s no way of controlling the temperature, humidity, precipitation, or light levels. You can find that you’re uncomfortably cold. Or warm. For part of the year you can be uncomfortably medium, with your outfit just making you bigger than you’d otherwise be. With the rain, you can get wet in ways you don’t want. Or you can put on water-resistant clothing, so that only your face, hands, and feet, the things that you most immediately use to interact with the world, get wet. I feel like I’m not making a good case for outside here. Let me slide a foot or two down the table and think this out.

It was only half a foot. Ah, but here: outside, you’re able to get to places. Like, you can go to a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop. Or, if you’d rather, you can go to a Jersey Giant sandwich shop. I mean if you’re around my area of mid-Michigan. Which, you can see, has a bunch of places to get Jersey sandwiches. There’s maybe more places to get a New Jersey-branded sandwich here than there were when I lived in New Jersey. I confess I’m not sure precisely what it is that makes something a New Jersey-branded sandwich. From observation, I think it’s “having a picture of the Shore at Sea Girt in the bathroom”. And oh, there’s something. There’s much more of the Jersey Shore that’s outside, compared to inside. That’s not likely to change unless someone goes and turns a door inside-out.

Outside also offers the greater number of bank drive-through stations. This is valuable because the outer lanes used to have those great little tubes you’d put bank stuff in, and it would go into the bank using what you always supposed were pneumatic tubes but probably were not. That’s all right. It’s so much fun to think of having, like, a savings passbook that’s shuttling around in a pneumatic tube. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s all just drive-up ATMs. So you can go up there and think how much more fun this all used to be. I’m doing a lousy job promoting the outside as something.

Oh, the outside is great for animals. You can see squirrels and more squirrels and different-colored squirrels and pigeons and none of that makes you nervous. If you see them inside you have an issue that you have to deal with, and you haven’t had time to deal with a new issue since October 2014. But outside? They have every right to be there, as do you, and all’s at peace. Oh, you could see some of these from inside, if you look through a window. Or if you’re not interested, looking through a wall. But then they’ll go off somewhere a little obstructed when they’re being the most interesting. Outside, if you see them hiding, you can walk around and then they’ll notice you and leave. From inside, you can’t have that experience of squirrels deciding they don’t want to be involved in whatever your issues are.

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 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.


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? From November 2017 to February 2018? Did He Scream A Lot?


Greetings, nature fans. I thank you for coming here in search of a quick explanation of the current plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about April 2018 when you read this, the essay might be hopelessly out of date. But if all goes well I’ll have a follow-up essay, maybe several. You should be able to find them at or near the top of this page. And if you’re interested just in what was going on in Mark Trail in the winter of 2017-18, please read on.

My latest review of mathematically-themed comic strips is over on my other blog, the mathematics one.

Also I apologize for the short notice, but I only discovered it myself earlier today. TCM, United States feed, is showing Skippy, the 1931 movie about Percy Crosby’s classic and influential comic strip, at 2:30 am Sunday night/Monday morning (Eastern Time) the 11th/12th. I’d mentioned this last time they ran it, early last year. But I haven’t seen the movie yet as our TV died shortly after recording and we had to get a new DVR and, look, somehow it got all complicated, okay? They’re also showing Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on Tuesday the 13th, at 10 pm Eastern Time. Jacques Tati films will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you can sit and watch it, without distraction, you may just discover one of the most wonderful things the 20th century has to offer.

Mark Trail.

21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018

The Bank Robber was disarmed. His Accomplice surrendered to Johnny Lone Elk. Light-aircraft pilot Alan Parker was in custody. Things were looking good for Mark Trail last time we checked in. They had one problem left. It’s side effects of that time Mark Trail declared at the top of Mount Olympus how he was so much more awesome than the whole Greek pantheon.

The Sheriff advises getting into the bank. It’s only technically speaking on fire. But it’s also got tunnels that he and Johnny Lone Elk had used to get back into the plot. Everyone has to get in, not quite far enough to encounter Samson the grizzly bear. Zeus curses his lack of foresight. He’s still feuding with Hades and can’t get to them from underground, and asking Artemis to send out the bears is right out this year. With the Sheriff mentioning he’s out of the candy bars that pacify Samson the Grizzly the story ends. I call it for the 28th of November, pretty near ten months after the story began (about the 24th of February).

With the 29th, more or less, starts the new story. There’s an epilogue on the Bank Robber story two weeks later. It establishes that Mark wants to go home and not count the prairie dogs of Rapid City, South Dakota. Indeed, he never even sees a prairie dog, a pity because I hear prairie dogs are making a comeback. The Bank Robber and his Accomplice never get named that I saw.

Chris Dirty, thinking as he reads the paper: 'Man! What is with the sad headlines today?' Headline: 'World's Oldest Clown, The Great Wilhelm, set to retire - Hasn't spoken a word in 65 years!' Dirty, thinking: 'I remember his act --- he never said anything, he just screamed a lot!' King Tut: 'Come in, Mister Dyer --- it's good to see you again! Although you look a little worse for wear!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 5th of December, 2018. This is, I confess, not one of the load-bearing strips for this plot. But, oh man, that second panel was Christmas come early for loyal readers of Mark Trail. I don’t know if James Allen was aiming to go viral in the comics-snark community but, you know what? I’ve rarely had a sentence bring me so much joy so automatically since Earl Camembert admitted Floyd Robertson had “really caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story” so good on James Allen for writing it.

The new story starts by following Chris “Dirty” Dyer. He was shown coming back from Africa early in 2017, immediately before the Bank Robber story started. (He’d been part of at least one story before, in 2014. If there’s a Mark Trail wikia with full summaries of earlier stories and character histories and such I don’t know it. But the Comics Curmudgeon reports on this are likely good enough.) Dirty reads about the circus closing on his way to a meeting with Batman ’66 villain King Tut. Dirty’s figuring to fence some African diamonds. King Tut will only offer five thousand and a recommendation to go on vacation. He takes the advice, and his Crocodile Dundee knife, and the chance to stab (off-panel) King Tut. Chris Dirty then passes out of our storyline, apart from some talk about how he’s got to get in shape to take on Mark Trail.

King Tut: 'My, my my ... where did you find those [ diamonds ]? Just lying about Africa, I suppose?' Dirty: 'Don't ask --- don't tell!' King Tut: 'That has always been my policy!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of December, 2017. … Wait, what?

Back to the peaceful idyll of the Lost Forest, where Andy the dog is harassing a peaceful raccoon trying to feed her kids. We see Rusty Trail, taking a well-earned break from taunting players of the FunHouse pinball game. Also we see a truly bizarre scene: Rusty gathering apples because “apple slices will be delicious on pancakes”. I assume this is James Allen slipping a message past the bank robber holding him hostage. Also Rusty sees a giraffe and her child. He rushes back to his parents who can’t believe his story. Apple slices on pancakes? Maybe this is me. I thought bananas on pancakes were IHOP bluffing and it turns out they’re pretty good.

Rusty Trail, watching a giraffe eat his pail of apples: 'My apples!' He reaches out and pets the giraffe's head. The giraffe eats up and drops an apple.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of January, 2018. This actually is a load-bearing scene from the story, since Rusty grabs the apple slice that the giraffe drops and uses it to try convincing Mark that there’s something funny going on here.

Mark and Cherry also don’t believe in the giraffe, and bring up that time Rusty daydreamed about dinosaurs. Still, strange things are happening. Doc, sitting on the porch, sees a monkey dressed for organ-grinding duty and riding an ostrich. Nearby, Shannon and Kathy, who as far as I know are original bit players to this story, are camping. At least until a rhinoceros rampages at them, grabs their tent, and runs into the lake. ([Edited to add because I didn’t notice this in today’s strip at first] The Sunday panel for the 11th of February, about sea turtles, sends “special thanks to Shannon and Kathy Davidson” for unspecified services. Going to go out on a limb here and suppose that part of the thanking is having them get chased down by a rhino. I had the plot summary written up before that strip was published.) There the rhino terrifies a guy out fishing until he decides that actually some days fishing are not better than all days working. (And I’m sorry to murder the joke this way. It’s done over the course of three days and pretty funny done so.) And that’s the current action.

Capuchin(?) monkey in bandleader outfit: 'SCRAAAW!' Ostrich: 'SKREE!' They ride off. Doc thinks: 'Is there something in this coffee!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 20th of January, 2018. This is what it’s like to have something really blow up on Furry Twitter, by the way, so plan your popular statements accordingly.

This also highlights how James Allen has gotten the storytelling in the strip to be more sophisticated. And without shifting its tone much. We, the readers, understand what’s going on well ahead of Mark Trail. And it’s not because Mark’s shown to be dense. He lacks information that he couldn’t be expected to have: Artemis has forgiven Zeus just enough that they can launch the Revenge of Nature plot. By this time next month maybe Doc will have been eaten by rampaging quolls. Let’s watch!

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. They’re probably dying.
  • Pigs! 26 November 2017. There’s some in the Bahamas that have learned to swim out to tourists.
  • Sperm whales, 3 December 2017. They nap in collective groups that don’t look at all like the creepy moment right before a Revenge of Nature movie gets to the good stuff.
  • Vangunu Island vikas, 10 December 2017. White folk finally noticed them and they’re probably all but dead now.
  • Worms, 17 December 2017. We’d be dead without them and there’s this invasive one that’s got a powerful neurotoxin so good luck.
  • Mistletoe, 24 December 2017. It’s in good shape, but is a parasite to trees and shrubs so enjoy?
  • Penguins, 31 December 2017. Adelie penguins are in trouble thanks to global warming so, great.
  • Moths, 7 January 2018. This crazypants Australian one went viral, apparently (I missed it) just on the strength of looking like a crazypants Australian moth.
  • Tapanuli Orangutans, 14 January 2018. We just found them and they’re incredibly endangered.
  • Mosquitoes, 21 January 2018. Not endangered but we’re figuring to try releasing some bacterium-infected males in an attempt to create a new Revenge of Nature movie.
  • Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis, 28 January 2018. Might get named the Official State Amphibian of Pennsylvania!
  • Virginia Opossums, 4 February 2018. Not endangered.
  • Sea turtles, 11 February 2018. Crazy endangered.

Next Week!

I had expectations about where Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth was going, last time I checked in on them. How close were my expectations to reality? You should find out next week when it’s the chance for a certain food-making advice-giver to be recapped here. And I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. But if there’s one word that’s been on every Mary-watcher’s lips the past week it has been: muffins.

I am so excited.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017


Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still some hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

What We Can Learn From The Squamous Among Us


Consider the green iguana. It is known taxonomically as the genus Iguana, species iguana. The species Iguana iguana belongs to the family Iguanidae. The family Iguanidae belongs to the suborder Iguania. From this, students, we learn that the iguana was scientifically classified by a bunch of people who were ditching work four hours early. It’s a minor miracle we didn’t get dogs classified as doggo doggo of the family doggy, suborder puppos, order goodboys.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? June – August 2017


Have you been wondering what the current storyline is in James Allen’s Mark Trail? You’re not alone. The past several months have been this story about Mark Trail and a bank robber and a much-delayed census of prairie dogs in North Dakota. It’s possible that this story, which was going on in August of 2017, has ended by the time you read this. I admit, right now, it’s hard to imagine that. But if “prairie dog bank robber rental car” seem like words completely irrelevant to what you’re reading in the comic strip, maybe this essay is just out of date. At or near the top of this page should be my most recent Mark Trail update essay. I hope that helps you out.

If you’re interested in other comic strips, my other blog reviews the comics that touched on mathematical topics. You might find that interesting. I don’t see why you wouldn’t. You know that thing where you write out a long number, grouped in bunches of three? Like, 10,000,000 instead of, say, 10,00,00,00 or 1000,0000? You know how long people have been doing that? I tell you over there.

Mark Trail.

11 June – 26 August 2017.

It’s been eleven weeks since I last reviewed the action in Mark Trail. Back then I thought we might be drawing near the end of a story that began in mid-March, about Mark Trail held hostage by a bank robber instead of doing a prairie dog census. I misjudged the story length. But now I really, truly, think we’re coming near the end of the story. We’re at the point that every James Allen Mark Trail reaches: the point where Nature tries to kill everybody. The story had promised “bad weather” last time around, but now we’ve got it.

Where we had been: Mark Trail, trying to rent a car in Rapid City, South Dakota, is approached by an armed gunman with a hostage. He’s robbed a bank and wants Trail to drive him to safety. Trail superficially complies but somehow alerts the car rental agency that he’s in distress. Trail drives the bank robber and hostage to the cabin of Johnny Lone Elk, where Trail picks up his friend and they all shift to horseback. Lone Elk knows something’s wrong and he and Trail talk trick riding, while Lone Elk’s wife suspects something’s up.

Trail and Lone Elk tell the Bank Robber (still unnamed, by the way) and Hostage that there’s a major storm coming. The least incredibly unsafe course is to go down the Vulture Creek ridge. The Bank Robber and Hostage go along with this plan, but they’re not near the ghost town they hope to reach before the rain gets heavy. Lightning explodes a tree next to Lone Elk, and his horse panics, leaping over the edge of the ravine.

Meanwhile — just a second here. I do mean “meanwhile”. Something James Allen’s brought to Mark Trail has been a relenting of the stories’ linearity. We can get information on separate threads. It’s not as unsettling as Allen’s choice to have Mark Trail sometimes think a thing instead of saying it aloud at the top of his lungs with random words emphasized. But it’s still a surprise for the long-time reader. That’s just the world we live in anymore.

FBI Agent John Paul: 'Mrs Trail, you seem remarkably calm for someone whose husband has been kidnapped by bank robber!' Cherry Trail: 'Agent JP, have you ever met my husband?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of June, 2017. “The only thing I would worry about is if my husband were kidnapped by bank robbers while being out in a major storm out in the open, trying to get to a ghost town occupied by a provoked grizzly bear! But what are the odds of that?”

Meanwhile, FBI Agent John Paul is on the case, because of the bank robbery. The car rental agent recognized Mark Trail and figured something weird was going on, I think because Trail rented a minivan and not a giant squirrel. He asks Cherry Trail about who Mark Trail expected to meet and where they were. And then why Mark Trail skipped out on his own reservation, instead using one for “Lesley Joyce” at “WaterWorld”. Cherry Trail finds this hilarious, but can explain: Mark surely figured this would be a way to alert people without raising Bank Robber’s suspicions. John Paul is surprised by Cherry Trail’s calm, but she points out she’s been in this strip since like the 40s. Mark’s been through way more serious hostage situations than this.

Lesley Joyce enters the narrative to explain while showing off every pose from How To Draw Realistic Fashion Design Figures ever. Trail and Lone Elk had been hired by Joyce and WaterWorld Theme Park to film a walrus giving birth. The walrus got loose, but Trail and Lone Elk found her. They loaded her into Joyce’s new Escalade, and on the drive back the walrus gave birth to twins. The car technically survived. So if you remember being confused when Cadillac kept running those “pregnant walrus” ads for the Escalade, now you know why they were doing it. And this all ties in to the current story because the car rental contract Trail had with WaterWorld from back then was somehow still open, and he could use that to get Joyce’s attention at least?

Lesley Joyce: 'Thanks to Mark Trail, the pregnant walrus proceeded to deliver twin baby walruses all over the back of my brand-new vehicle!' The strip includes an image of the scene, with the car shattered by its interior walrus.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of July, 2017. Words cannot express just how many different poses and how many facial expressions Lesley Joyce took on during this anecdote, which ran in the daily strips from the 29th of June through the 15th of July. The anecdote was all Lesley Joyce striking a pose and FBI Agent John Paul saying this is hilarious, please go on. It almost read like that Futurama episode mocking silent movies. If you find someone who can use this as the storyboard for a live-action scene that reads naturally, hire them: they can film anything.

I admit this all seems like a lot of story time spent on a tiny point. It isn’t as if the FBI wasn’t looking for the Bank Robber or as they didn’t find the Mark Trail connection on their own. But it’s realistic that Mark Trail couldn’t know that, and would send out whatever distress signals he could. And that car rental counters don’t offer a lot of chances.

The FBI works out something about the bank robbery security footage and the car rental counter footage. The female hostage in the second is one of the Bank Robber’s accomplices in the first. Remember what I said about James Allen making the Mark Trail stories less relentlessly linear? The twist took me by surprise, yes. On rereading the story, I have to grant: Bank Robber and Hostage/Accomplice’s interactions make much more sense now. It wasn’t planted by anything overt; it was just interactions.

FBI Agent John Paul(?): 'The woman who helped rob the bank and the female hostage in the airport video ... they are one and the same!' Other FBI Agent: 'WHAT!?' FBI Agent: 'Yep! - She's a willing accomplice ... and she's armed!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of July, 2017. Agent John Paul delivers what is a real, legitimate plot twist in this storyline. Also, I don’t know the name of the guy in the second panel so I don’t know whether to call him Agent George Ringo or Agent Benedict Francis. But I’m going to be ripping that off for Telegram stickers.

The FBI follows Trail’s … trail, into the storm, and they borrow horses from the local town sheriff to get to the ghost town. The storm’s getting worse, with tornadoes in the area.

Meanwhile, Johnny Lone Elk turns out not to have died by falling down the ravine. The plan was to go down a not-as-steep-as-it-looks part of the ravine to fake his death. Then Lone Elk would get help while Mark Trail manages a distraction, by which we mean, while Mark Trail punches somebody.

Mark Trail, punching Bank Robber: 'I have had ENOUGH of you I'm DONE with your attitude!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 9th of August, 2017. Yeah, so me acting like that is why I’m not allowed at my local Congressman’s town hall meetings anymore, but I feel that history and the Free American provisional government will forgive me.

Besides punching the Bank Robber, Trail reveals he saw through the Hostage/Accomplice long ago. Trail explains he knows terror-stricken people when he sees them and she wasn’t it. … Which, is fair enough. But as fun as punching and yelling at people is, the storm’s getting worse and they need to get to the ghost town.

Lone Elk finds the sheriff, and they agree to head over to the caves where a big old grizzly bear named Samson lives. They figure this is the best way to get to the ghost town through the rain and maybe get the Bank Robber eaten by a bear. And that’s where the story stands right now. We’ll see how that all turns out, and see whether we do eventually find out how many prairie dogs live near Rapid City, South Dakota.

Sunday Animals Watch.

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Tornadoes, 11 June 2017
  • Bees and Wasps, 18 June 2017
  • Giant African Snails, 25 June 2017
  • Egyptian Fruit Bats, 2 July 2017 (we understand their arguments! Weird, huh?)
  • Komodo dragons, 9 July 2017
  • Hoopoe (birds), 16 July 2017
  • Pygmy Dormouse, 23 July 2017
  • Slipper Lobsters, 30 July 2017
  • Roseate Spoonbills, 6 August 2017
  • Cook Pines, 13 August 2017 (wait, they grow at an angle proportionate to the latitude? The heck?)
  • Bay Cats, 20 August 2017
  • Whales as ecological influencers, 27 August 2017

Next Week!

I don’t want everyone out there quivering too hard with anticipation, because it doesn’t have as many cruise ships! as it could have. But still: Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth is back!

Coming To Senses


It’s natural to ask about being knocked senseless. It would even be good sense, if only that weren’t an impossibly complicated logical problem. About the only resolution is to list important senses ahead of time so if you lose them you will be able to tell, and feel the worse for it.

The sense of taste. Without this, there’s really no way to know whether you like what you’re eating or whether you merely think you do. To test whether you have this you’ll need some calibration. With a trusted friend, or an enemy whose respect for the integrity of knowledge overcomes your differences, swap tongues and test some agreed-upon meal. Take notes! You’ll want to compare them. Under no circumstances start arguing about whether the color that you perceive as blue is the same thing that your friend or enemy perceives as blue. Starting on this path will result in unpleasant questions about whether chocolate tastes like chocolate or whether you merely think there is a taste to chocolate. Those lacking friends or trustworthy enemies can borrow a tongue from the library. It is normally kept in the multi-media section so that patrons will know all of their audiobooks and DVDs have been licked by a qualified tongue.

The sense of scale. There are so many needs for this, and not just if you want to tell whether that’s a naked cobra in front of you. It’s not. It’s a garter snake. You live in Troy, New York, for crying out loud. Be sensible. It’s not like … wait, garter snakes are venomous? Who’s responsible for that? Excuse me, can we talk with the person in charge of reptiles so we can sort out who thought we needed venomous garter snakes? OK, wait, Wikipedia says they don’t produce a lot of venom and they don’t have any good way of delivering it? The heck, garter snakes? If you’re going to be venomous then do it right, and if you’re not going to be venomous don’t go getting us all riled up like that. You’re supposed to be North America’s cute little starter snake so we can look at you and feel a little thrill and then laugh at ourselves for getting scared. What are you doing getting all complicated like that?

The sense of touch. This is an important sense in order that people learn whether their legs are being attacked by a cat hiding underneath the bed. Without this sense who could say whether they were even on a bed, apart from looking at the thing they’re in and reviewing the checklist of important qualities of bed-ness to see if enough of them are satisfied? Yes, exactly. And you thought I was just going on a bunch of nonsense today.

The sense of balance. Without this it’s almost impossible to do a professional job arranging the graphic elements for a newspaper page. While one can carry on, the best one can hope for is pages made competently, without the sense of joy or wonder that truly engages readers. Without attractively-arranged pictures, headlines, and text blocks, people are forced to leave behind the printed newspaper and take up positions in web page design and glaring at the neighbor that’s parked on the wrong side of the road and building dense hedge mazes around what was until hours ago the municipal parking lot.

The sense of scale. Among the other many needs of this you need something to help you avoid stepping onto one and getting the unpleasant news about your weight. You have one. That’s a hard thing to hear about this early in the century, and it won’t be any easier later in the century either.

The sense of smell. Without the ability to notice a curious odor there’s no way to tell that your car is on fire except by the honking and frantic waving of people in the car next to you. This limits your driving to two-lane roads with enough traffic, which can cause you to be late for whatever you needed to do.

The sense of scale. Without the ability to tell which things are nearby and small and which are far away yet large you might accidentally take too large a step for the situation and turn out to be ten floors up on top of the building. This may inconvenience the person you were walking with. It’s different if you were trying to lose the person after finding out what they think food tastes like. You just have to know the context for what you think you’re doing.

The sense of sponge. Without this sense you could be surprised by something moist yet compressible. You can’t go around spritzing objects to then test whether they become more compressible, not without having to answer questions from the unexpectedly damp.

Should any senses be missing you should replace them from the store. Try aisle four, by the dollar toys.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points and now everybody’s ready to panic about how they suddenly have what sure seems like a nice thing and how could that happen to people like them and you know it’s honestly kind of exhausting dealing with people like that all the time.

266

In Which I Am Amused By Fish Lip Research


Before I get to it, here’s my mathematics blog with last week’s comic strips. Thanks.

Now, amusing me is this Reuters article about a kind of fish I never heard of before, the “tubelip wrasse”. It lives in the Indian Ocean and the central-western Pacific, which seems to narrow its existence down to one-eighth of the globe. I suppose that’s enough detail for a news report anyway. It’s not like I was going to go visit them anyway, not without more research. What’s interesting is that it eats corals, which are hard to eat, what with how they’re all coral-y. The secret is in their mouths: they have mouths that let them eat coral, and once you have that, eating coral is easy. Anyway, they have this quote in:

“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.

It’s a beautiful sentence and I want everyone to take a moment just to admire that. But it’s also a beautiful sentence with this beautiful implication: there’s some record of all the adequately studied lips out there. There are people whose jobs include the task of overseeing and keeping up-to-date some portion of the world’s record of lips. Maybe even someone who oversees all the lip records known to humanity. Suppose there is. Then that is a person who either grew up wanting to be the master of humanity’s record of lips, or else it’s someone whose life went through twists and turns to bring them there. Either way, is anything about this not delightful? No, it is not.

If that were not enough for you, somehow, Víctor Huertas of the James Cook University in Australia offered this detail about the coral-eating process:

“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”

Never mind the stuff about flesh ripped off skeletons since that isn’t so jolly as I’d hoped. Think of fish giving hickies to coral and making a little ‘tuk’ sound doing it. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eighteen points today as investors thought it was just too hot to short any contracts, however obviously they’re set to fall. It sounds good for everyone who’s going long but, you know, heat snaps end. Just saying.

221

Update On What’s Going On in Mark Trail


That volcano that started exploding back in November? It’s finally destroyed the island and Our Heroes have escaped so I suppose that’s all a happy ending. Apart from like how they’re somewhere in the Pacific ocean right next to an active volcano that just destroyed their island. But there is this good news!

The survivors in a boat: 'Sorry we didn't get an ant specimen, Abbey!' 'That's okay, Mark --- you and I both saw that ant mound!' 'At least the ants on that island can't spread any further!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of December 2016. Part of me admires their task focus. If I had just escaped an exploding island I would not be worrying about whether they had proof of the ants that were invading the island and upsetting its natural ecological balance unless I were trying to justify my decision to destroy the island. I would be worrying about whether I was far enough from the many, many, many lava explosions. Since they are trying to justify destroying the island it implies we must ask which of them is the lava-god with the power to destroy Hawaiian islands and authority to make that decision?

Unless, anyway, some of the invasive ants that were destroying the wildlife on this doomed island got aboard their boat and are going to get going wherever these three are rescued, anyway. Good times.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped nine points, which is getting more like everybody figured what with it being grey and rainy outside and the analysts getting into a fight over whether it should be ‘gray’ instead. And it wasn’t even a good fight. It was the kind of fight where two guys manage to hurt their backs by swinging too hard in the wrong direction and they have to go lie in bed the rest of the week, arguing over whether it should be ‘lay’. On their cell phones because getting up for a live in-person argument would hurt too much.

82

In Which Reuters Spoils My Weekend Plans


From the science news:

Crustacean revelation: coconut crab’s claw is stunningly strong

By Will Dunham | WASHINGTON

It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. Its claw is a mighty weapon.

Scientists on Wednesday said they measured the pinch strength of this large land crab that inhabits islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, calculating that its claw can exert up to an amazing 742 pounds (336.5 kg) of force.

The coconut crab’s pinch strength even matches or beats the bite strength of most land predators.

“The pinching force of the largest coconut crab is almost equal to the bite force of adult lions,” said marine biologist Shin-ichiro Oka of Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Foundation, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

OK, so, I admit I was looking for an excuse not to wrestle any coconut crabs this weekend. Call me a coward if you will. I’ll be over here calling a Patagonian Cavy names until it starts whining.

But three things caught me by the end of that third paragraph. The first: next time I make a mind-bogglingly stupid science fiction move set in the dystopian future I’m going to name something in it PLOS ONE. Maybe the megacity everyone’s trying to escape. Maybe the computer-god-supercorporation ruling everyone. Maybe the spunky talking motorcycle the hero rides to save the day. But something.

Second: the dateline. Reuters wants us to know that Will Dunham reviewed PLOS ONE while writing for the Washington office, I suppose. It would have totally different connotations if the story were filed from New York, or Lisbon, or New Delhi, or Buenos Aires.

Third: “It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab”. May not. May not. Dunham is willing to concede there are circumstances in which it is wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. He can’t think of any himself, but he’s aware of his fallibility. He grants there are people whose lives bring them to the point of scrapping with coconut crabs, which are ten-legged monstrosities as much as three feet long. And he’ll allow there are people for whom that is a wise and even good path for their lives to take. I appreciate the open-mindedness. Someone might look back on their life and say, “It all turned around for me when I wrestled that giant crab”, and wouldn’t you like to know how that came about? I mean, you don’t want to know that so much as you feel you feel you ought to find out how Norman Borlaug had the idea of ending world hunger. (“Well, what if people had something to eat? I thought that might help.”) But still you’d like to know. I’m still using the excuse to avoid Saturday’s scrap myself.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index, the mainstream one, rose sharply six points today. And that would be fine and dandy except for once the alternate index did something different, rising only five points to 105 and that’s scrambled all the plans to merge the mainstream and alternate indices back together. Seriously, the two indices were doing the exact same thing for like ever and now that it doesn’t matter anymore it breaks? It’s not right, that’s all there is to it.

106

A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia


Kangaroos. For this review I regard ‘Kangaroo’ as including all the variant models. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Potoroos, Wallaroos, Pottabies, Wottabies, Kangabies, plus any of the new 4th-generation-compatible variations to come out the last month. Doesn’t matter. They’re great all around. Fine body plan. Fur that can feel surprisingly like my sideburns when they get the most bushy and out of control. They anthropomorphize well by just adding a vest and maybe a pair of glasses. They’ve got everything under control. Rated A. The only thing keeping them from an A+ is the sloppy design job regarding the male genitalia. Granted that most mammals have design problems on this point. The only species that’s really got that handled with dignity are guinea pigs, the males of which keep their out-of-use private parts in safety deposit banks with an institution in Lima, Peru.

Small kangaroo, possibly a wallaby, staring right at my camera. From the Singapore zoo.
This kangaroo was not in Australia when I photographed him. Neither was I.

Koalas. Generally adorable, with great ears. But they have been coasting on past fame since the mid-80s. They’ve done nothing to freshen up the line to respond to the rise of fennecs for the status of “oh such adorable animals they look like plush toys only they’re alive!”. Nostalgia acts are fine but we should make way for new innovation. B.

Alpine Tasmanian button grass. Much-needed bit of flora with the sort of name we have the word “mellifluous” for. As plant life goes these are plants that live while not dead. Button grass looks like the hair of a minor Peanuts character with a name like “Leland”. Shows good imaginative use of the “long thin stuff with beady tops” motif. B+.

Platypus. You figure the platypus came about from someone hearing a jumbled description of a griffon and going wild with what they had. And that’s great. Some awesome stuff comes about from trying to follow a jumbled description. It’s how we got centaurs and Cincinnati chili and Chinese lion costumes and some other things that don’t start with ‘c’. All that’s fine and this blend has a nice self-assured weirdness to it. And then it sweats milk. That’s getting into strange-for-the-sake-of-strange territory. C+, would accept resubmission. Not of milk.

Wombats. Are real things? Huh. I thought they were made up so cartoons could do stories about Australian wildlife without getting into hassles from the real species over inaccurate depictions. You know, the way they make a movie about “Charles Foster Kane” instead of William Randolph Hearst, or a political TV show will do a story about going to war with a fake country, or people will vacation in “Florida”. OK, if they’re real then. C, get your brand identity under control. Next.

'Resembling something from a monster movie, Clathrus archeri has been mysteriously emerging in yards and shocking homeowners across America' and it GETS WORSE FROM THERE. And it's Australia's doing.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2016, doing us the public service of reminding us to never have anything to do with nature, ever, under any circumstances.

Octopus Stinkhorn. I just learned about this on Sunday thanks to Mark Trail and WHAT THE HECK, Australia. WHAT THE FLIPPING HECK? You know when we other continents talk about the problem of Australian species THIS is the sort of thing we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about spiders that have enough toxin in each of their fourteen venom sacs to knock unconscious 6.25 billion people and every raccoon in North America. We’re talking about snakes that spontaneously detonate with the force of a malfunctioning Saturn V rocket smashing into a xylophone Daffy Duck rigged with dynamite to make getting rid of Bugs Bunny “look like an accident”. And now we’re talking about octopus-tentacled corpse-smelling alien-egg fungus. REALLY? What is even WRONG with you? I mean, you give us a tree kangaroo, a kangaroo that literally lives in trees, and you follow that up with this? Stop, go back, redo this entire disaster from the start, and by redo I mean “never do anything even remotely inspired by anyone who has thought this a possible idea again”. This doesn’t even get a grade because we need to invent whole new letters to deal with how flipping WRONG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS. I mean, just, I mean. The flipping heck? I mean. Just. UGH.

Microbats. Microbats! Australia’s got lots of microbat species and they’re exactly what you think, bats that are small. Everything great about bats only little. This could get us back on Australia’s side. Even the name of the grouping is so adorable we don’t worry about whether they’re flying into the nostrils of everyone in Canberra. Microbats! B+ and not just because we’re getting them right after alien egg octopus corpse fungus. Seriously, Australia.

Marsupial tigers. OK, so, they’re kind of dog-shaped, and they have kangaroo heads. They have pouches, males and females. They’ve got tiger stripes down their back and tail. Oh yeah, and they’ve been extinct since Joseph Lyons was the prime minister. Great job piddling away an easy win, Australia. Check the backs of your closet and anywhere else they might be hiding and you can re-submit for an A-. I just … honestly.

Raccoon lounging in a tree, in the Singapore Zoo, and looking like she's got the world pretty much figured out.
Included for contrast: a non-Australian animal which was not in Australia when I photographed her.

Editorial note. While reviewing Wikipedia’s entry on the flora of Australia I encountered this sentence. “The dominant Acacia species varies with the location, and may include lancewood, bendee, mulga, gidgee and brigalow.” The page is clearly still subject to rampant vandalism. Fix and re-submit.

On Reasons Not To Visit Prehistoric Australia


Yes, I also saw that news report about Australia’s prehistoric “marsupial lion”. According to it, according to a study, the marsupial lion turns out to be a thing that (a) existed and (b) could climb trees. I don’t know what a marsupial lion would be doing in a tree. And it’s not actually any of my business. Why shouldn’t a marsupial lion climb a tree in Australia, if it can find one?

Except I know anything about Australian wildlife. And therefore I know the marsupial lion must have been poisonous, venomous, razor-tipped at no fewer than 68 points of its anatomy, and prone to exploding as a defense mechanism. BBC News’s report on it says they would have been “a threat to humans”. Not this human. I’ve never gotten closer than 1,700 miles to Australia, and I haven’t got closer than about 42,500 years to marsupial lions. I’d like to think I’m outside the blast range. If I’m fooling myself, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise. I just know it’s coming.

Discovering Stuff About Guinea Pigs


A history of the local zoo mentioned that the place used to have a guinea pig mound. It supported this claim with one of those slightly blurry black-and-white photos you get in local histories, showing what is certainly a mound maybe twenty feet across and not so high in the middle. This inspires all sorts of questions, like, why don’t more zoos have guinea pig mounds? An individual guinea pig might not be a very exciting animal, what with it mostly wanting to stand where it is and stare back at you with the expression that says, “I have some projects I could get to too, if you wanted to leave”. But get a big enough mass of them together and at any time you’ll have maybe two of them scurrying along as much as two feet before deciding they could just stop and stand where they are instead.

Another question it raises is: so, guinea pigs live in mounds, then? And I don’t know. Back in middle school I bred guinea pigs (the guinea pigs did most of the breeding, while I did the hard work of explaining to my parents why their cages didn’t need cleaning, even as the odor melted my bagged Star Trek comic books off the walls where they’d been hung as horrible decoration) but that’s in the highly unnatural environment of ten-gallon aquarium cages. I now know ten-gallon aquarium cages are terrible places to keep guinea pigs, and I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s what the guide books back then suggested was perfectly all right. I should have known their research was suspect, since the books were published by leading manufacturers of rodent scuba gear, but I was young and the guinea pigs thought they looked great in wetsuits. Plus several of them said their favorite superhero was Aquaman. Who would be suspicious?

Still, do guinea pigs live in mounds? A friend wisely noted that of course they do, if all you give them to live in is a mound. But if a mound weren’t at least tolerable, the guinea pigs would have words with their keepers. Most of those words would be “fweep”, with a couple “wheep” phrases included for good measure, but it would get the point across, especially when the keepers needed to sleep.

In the hope of finding some dubiously sourced, not-quite-grammatical sentences that were almost but not quite on point, I went to Wikipedia. Their article mentioned how guinea pigs aren’t found naturally in the wild. They’re creatures of domestication. That’s a heady thought. There are things it’s obvious there would never be if humans didn’t exist — Saturn V rockets, Dutch stroopwaffel, competitive Rock-Paper-Scissors leagues, Elvira-themed pinball games, Phil Harris’s novelty song “The Thing” — but how many such items would you have to list before you thought to mention “guinea pigs”? I needed at least six.

But the guinea pig article says that cavies, which is how people who want to sound like scientists but are not actually scientists refer to guinea pigs (scientists just say “guinea pigs” and giggle at people who say “cavies”), or their wild counterparts “are found on grassy plains” with no mention of mounds. So guinea pigs are perfectly camouflaged to live on mounds and not so perfectly for grassy plains. It also mentions guinea pigs “occupy an ecological niche similar to that of cattle”. It’s been days since a sentence delighted me so much.

Now my mind swirls with thoughts of herds of guinea pigs roaming the plains like ankle-high cattle. Itty-bitty cowboys, possibly costumed mice, watch over the herds, with lassoos made of dental floss and perhaps riding the backs of hares. All the cowboy-mice stay alert, listening for the sounds of mass “wheep”ing that marks the start of a guinea pig stampede. It’s a massive, thundering squirming of the critters that can get as far as four feet before all the guinea pigs remember that instead of running, they could be not running. And all this could be going on just underneath our line of sight, at least if we live near grassy plains or mounds. It’s inspired me to spend more time looking down.

The Harshness of Sidewalk Nature


It was a terrible scene, there on that little strip of lawn that’s between the sidewalk and the street, where stuff that’s going to be thrown out gets put. Also trees. It was a pair of sofas, battered, smashed up, their backs fallen off, their cushions piled over one another, the uncomfortable metal frames exposed to the elements. I could understand it, I guess. It’s been a hard season, and clearly, the two sofas destroyed one another in what should have been nearly ritual combat ahead of sofa mating season. It’s tragic seeing nature be so cruel to her own furniture.

What’s Happening In Town


Now and then I read the actual local newspaper listings of upcoming events, usually a couple days after the weekly paper’s come out so that I can see what I might have wanted to go to if it hadn’t already happened. One that really appeared was a nature lecture: “Learn about mosquitoes.” And that was the entire description of the event.

I don’t envy the people organizing this. Selling mosquito knowledge is going to be an uphill struggle because once you get past advanced swatting techniques folks don’t want to hear it. Yes, yes, fascinating evolutionary heritage key part web of life blah blah, swat. But to have only three words to convince people to come? Maybe they’d be better off pitching it as a chance to learn about some more popular animal and then reveal it’s actually mosquitoes to a surprise audience. “Puppies kiss you” would probably get a better if swiftly angered and turning-to-biteyness turnout.

What Prairie Dogs Do During Their Comeback


BBC News tells me — and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging; the truth is it’ll tell anyone who asks, although you have to know to ask, and I didn’t precisely ask so much as be around when it happened to mention — that animal researchers discovered prairie dogs can do The Wave. Even more than that, it turns out they do do it. I mean, prairie dogs might be capable of all sorts of things, like tennis or spackling drywall or calculating the libration of the Moon or doing itty-bitty pole vaults, but that doesn’t mean they get around to any of them, what with their busy schedules. Yet Robert Senkiw with the University of Manitoba, who is a qualified prairie dog research scientist, has videos of prairie dogs doing just that.

Now isn’t that wonderful? We keep discovering all sorts of new things about animals ever since the breakthrough 1995 decision that animal researchers were allowed to actually look at what animals did when they weren’t being bothered, and here it turns out at least some of them are doing The Wave.

You know, it just struck me what kind of chaos might be wrought if some unqualified prairie dog researchers were on the scene. “Look at that,” one might say, “They’re doing The Wave! No, no, this isn’t like last week when I said they were doing itty-bitty pole vaults. Yes, I know, I was totally misunderstanding their actions because I didn’t realize they were building bamboo scaffolding. Well, yes, if someone had told me I might have guessed at the time but, look, they’re doing The Wave right now! See? Well, not now, they finished. I don’t know, maybe they saw some really good soccer play. Well, why wouldn’t prairie dogs be as interested in soccer as any other rodent is? Well, my capybara friends say they are too soccer fans.” And it turns out he was staring at some nutrias all the time instead.

If they aren’t soccer fans, though, that leaves the question what they’re doing The Wave for. I don’t really know what prairie dogs think about most spectator sports, although I’d guess if they were gathered in any kind of stadium as an audience that would’ve been mentioned in the news. On the other hand, the article was filed under Science and maybe over in the Sport section there’s an article about science-y types crowding around the playing fields not being even a little interested when there’s a hat trick or an octopus thrown on the field or whatever it is people do at soccer matches when they’re prairie dogs. I checked and in mere moments was being asked to confirm my purchase of a Nautical Origami Kit. I probably clicked something wrong.

For what it’s worth, the article says that the scientists have a theory that prairie dogs are doing this so as not to get eaten, which I have to rate as a pretty good motive. The current thinking is that they occasionally hop up and yip and set off a Wave because there are potential predators around. This is a change from the older thinking, when they were believed to hop up and set off a Wave because there were no potential predators around. I wonder if sometimes the prairie dogs don’t just hop up like that simply to mess around, but that seems so immature.

Since the news article comes from a British source, instead of the Wave it’s called the Mexican Wave, which was named after Mexico but before vaguely remembered celebrity child Suri Cruise. I’m not sure what the adjective Mexican adds to the proceedings, unless it turns out that in Britain there are all sorts of other Waves, like, say, an Eritrean Wave where a row of spectators all lean forward and then sit back again before getting up, or a Bolivian Wave where people in turn cough, nervous, at how the people next to them seem to be coming down with something.

I think the best part of it is, knowing we have prairie dogs to work for us, the pressure is off the humans in the community to do The Wave.

S J Perlman: Poisonous Mushrooms


It strikes me that apart from “Captain Future, Block That Kick” I haven’t shown off many of the works of S J Perelman. That’s a bit odd considering his influence, although I’ll admit that I’ve read less of him directly than I have of people who were influenced by him. Here, from The Best of S J Perelman, is a bit of thought about mushrooms.


Poisonous Mushrooms

Are We At The Crossroads?

Well, autumn is here again, and very shortly every Tom, Dick and Harry will be asking himself the question “Poisonous mushrooms—-yes or no?” In every mossy dell, in every nook of granny, these delicious little edibles are springing up. Only yesterday I happened to fall into conversation with a stranger in the subway, an extremely well-made woman of thirty-one with Dresden-dainty hands and feet, I noticed that she was eating a small umbrella-shaped object and asked her what it was.

“An umbrella,” she replied shortly, descending from the train at Seventy-second Street. Needless to say, the incident did not pass unnoticed, and I retired in confusion amid the hearty laughter of several wealthy cattle-drovers who had come down to New York for the day on the steam cars.

I first became interested in mushrooms about ten years ago. Two friends of mine named Johnny had a little place, a sort of cellar, on Fifty-second Street where they kept coal and wood and ice. I was down there one evening bent on some coal and wood when Tony pointed to the ceiling and said “Corpo di Bacco, what’s that?” I looked up and there was a whole clump of mushrooms growing right out at me. Well, I let out a scream fit to wake a dead man–as a matter of fact, it did wake up a dead man who’d been in the corner for three days and he came over and tried to bite me. As I say, I stayed in bed nearly two weeks that time, but after I was well, I got this Frank and Johnny to put aside the place as a sort of permanent laboratory where I could study the mushrooms.

It will probably come as a mild shock to no one that there are all of four hundred different kinds of mushrooms. Four hundred and one, really, because when I looked up this fact in the World Almanac, I found a new variety growing out of Page 29. Now, what are mushrooms? Nothing more or less than toadstools, though why they are called toadstools is beyond me; I have yet to see a toad sitting on a stool, although I have combed all the books dealing with the subject. Of course I haven’t had a chance to study the books yet–all I’ve been able to do is comb them, but still, it seems a peculiar name to give an unoffending mushroom, doesn’t it? It was probably made up by someone who hated mushrooms and thought he could get even. But why should anybody hate mushrooms? The little fellow goes about his business quietly; once in a while he kills a family of twenty or thirty people, but then, what right has anyone to have a family of twenty or thirty people? I was wrapping up some laundry in a newspaper recently and saw a note about a man who had had thirty children. This sort of thing can’t go on indefinitely, no matter what the man says.

In the eleven years I have been studying mushrooms at my laboratory on Fifty-second Street, I have seen cases of almost uncanny intelligence among my specimens. I had a Peppery Lactarius growing in a glass right next to a Fistulina Hepatica, or Beefsteak Mushroom. (If you can imagine a purple beefsteak covered with short prickly spines growing out of a tree, you will easily see why science chose this name, and you can then explain it to me.) Well, one morning I made the rounds of my collection and found that during the night Miss Peppery Lactarius had moved into Mr. Beefsteak Mushroom’s jar. I woke up my assistant, put a little ice on his head, and quizzed him. But no; he had been right there on the floor since eleven-thirty the night before. To this day we have never been able to solve the riddle, and it is still referred to by superstitious folk in the neighborhood as “The Mystery of the Migrating Mushrooms.” I am thinking of bringing it out in book form, perhaps adding a mysterious puffy toadstool in a black hat who was seen skulking near by.

But how to tell the poisonous mushroom from the harmless variety, since both are found in the same localities, have the same habits, and the same dull look around the face? Ah–don’t be surprised—-the mushroom has a face, and if you look very closely and carefully, you will see the merest hint of an eye, two noses, and a lip. For purposes of identification, we have what we call the Alfred Zeigler test, named after Professor Schaffner of the University of Rochester. The mushrooms are boiled for twenty minutes and their jackets removed. They are then placed in a frying pan with a cubic centimeter of butter, a gram of pepper, and a penny-weight of coarse salt, after which they are subjected to 137 degrees of heat Fahrenheit in the laboratory oven, removed, and placed on antiseptic paper plates. Fifteen minutes after they are eaten, a reaction will be noted. If the mushrooms are harmless, the subject will want to lie down, remove his or her collar, and roll over on his or her face. If poisonous, the balance of the mushrooms should be thrown out, as they are
unfit to consume.

The mushroom often turns up in some really remarkable forms. Sir Joseph Mushroom, from whom their name is derived, tells an interesting anecdote. A cask of wine had been left undisturbed in a cellar for three years, in some country other than the United States. At the end of that time, the cask was found firmly fastened to the ceiling by a large mushroom which had grown as the wine leaked out. The cask was quite empty when found, and how the mushroom looked was nobody’s business. Sir Joseph, by the way, no longer raises mushrooms; he has settled down quietly in Surrey, where he devotes himself to raising bees, but there is still a reminiscent gleam in his eye when Irene Adler is mentioned.

Little else remains to be told. Fred Patton, the former Erie train boy, still continues to rise in Mr. Proskauer’s mercantile establishment on Ann Street, and Gloria Proskauer blushes prettily whenever Fred’s name is uttered. This, however, is all too seldom, as the unfortunate Fred was hit in the vertical cervix by a baked apple last New Year’s Day and succumbed almost instantly. And so we leave the little snitch right smack up behind the eight-ball, and a good end for the mealy-mouthed, psalm-singing petty thief, if you ask me.

The Leaves


Well, the leaves started falling in earnest over the past week. With the help of a little rain last night there’s now drifts of up to eight feet tall in the backyard, with a strong undertow when I go out to put recyclables in the giant monster bin. We’ve had to tie a safety rope to the Bauhaus Monstrosity bench we have in the front yard, so passers-by can tack their way down the sidewalk, and the squirrels have assembled a modest lighthouse by the pond so their kind can navigate safely. Also I’m pretty sure I saw a flock of maple leaves attacking Tippi Hedren. Going to be a heck of a November.

Once Again, Our Fish Protest


We had to put a net up over our pond in the backyard, because there’s about 700 trees in our and the immediate neighbor’s yards, and come this time of year we get approximately every leaf in the world falling on them, and it already takes roughly from the 15th of November through the following July to rake them off the land. The water just gets unmanageable. So we put up a net that catches the leaves for two or three days, then bows into the water, and then every weekend we go out and haul in a fresh supply of leaves which we bring to the farmer’s market, where the organizers throw sticks at us until we flee. It’s a very civilized process.

This year, though, we’ve got fish, and it’s their first autumn in our pond. They saw the net going up and now they keep banging on the side door and saying, “Hey, man, I thought we were cool. What’s with the net?” And they just are not getting the leaf thing. Also, they’re tired of this cooler weather and told us we should turn the summer back on. I’d like to oblige but we’re almost out of summer coupons for this year.

Higgs Boson Wins Nobel Prize


There’s an engaging little spoof over at the Scientific American that claims the Nobel Prize in Physics is going to the Higgs boson rather than to any of the many, many people who deserve some attention and reward for that. It’s a little science-y but I think makes all the context clear enough. From Ashutosh Jogalekar’s report, so you can judge if you want to read the whole thing:

Since interviews with the particle could not be held for obvious reasons, the media was instead shown a graph displaying a bump supposed to indicate its existence. A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.

Missing International Rabbit Day


“I imagine you’re wondering why I’m not talking to you,” said our pet rabbit. This was the first I’d heard he wasn’t talking to me, but I’m like that. I looked thoughtful, or confused, which is about right for me any time. “You know Saturday was International Rabbit Day?”

“I do. And did.”

“And you’ve noticed that I’m a rabbit, right?”

I allowed that I had.

“And we didn’t do anything international!”

“I … talked about you online. I’m pretty sure someone from Canada heard about you.”

“And I’ve never even been to Canada! How international a rabbit can I be when I haven’t even been there?”

“You haven’t even been to Ohio, either — ”

“I’ve missed Canada and Ohio! I’ll never be a world traveller at this rate!”

“You hate travel. You spent two days sulking when we put you upstairs in the air conditioned room this summer.”

“You can’t go to other countries if you won’t even stand going upstairs.”

“You could bring other countries in here. It’s the least you could do for International Rabbit Day.”

I considered telling him he was a Flemish giant, so was already kind of International by not being in … and then I realized I couldn’t explain where the Flemish were from without getting in more trouble. So I promised to do something about it next year.

In Which I See Through A Chipmunk


So I was eavesdropping on that troupe of squirrels doing improv in the backyard when I noticed there was this chipmunk, dressed in a bow tie of all things, looking up at me and grinning in this way that just screams “sunflower seeds”. I tried to just sort of smile and shuffle off without committing to anything, but he started talking about how great it was that this gang had a venue in which to perform now, and how they were looking ready for great things, and how somebody really sharp with a modest investment could see them rocket out of the sticks and into at least regional importance.

I tried not to look offended that my backyard — mine, mind you — was being called the sticks, and I didn’t explain that all the giggling from the pond was not because it’d been installed as a laugh track (“it’s wonderfully awkward, laughing at all the wrong beats, it really throws the performances into this whole new area, and challenges the audience” which what?) but because we’d put fish in it.

Still, I made my getaway as quickly as I could. I know when somebody’s warming up to hitting me for cash.

Robert Benchley: Are You Between the Ages of 7 and 94 ?


[ If I haven’t burned you out on Robert Benchley’s Of All Things, please accept this offering. It is addressed to those who can say “yes” to the question, “Are You Between The Ages of 7 and 94?” ]

If so, what this eminent growth specialist says here applies directly to you and to your family

EVERY man, woman and child between the ages of 7 and 94 is going through a process of growth or metamorphosis, whether they know it or not. Are you making the most of this opportunity which is coming to you (if your age falls within the magic circle given above) every day of your life? Do you realize that, during this crucial period, you have it in your power to make what you will of yourself, provided only that you know how to go about it and make no false steps? As you grow from day to day, either mentally, morally or physically, you can say to yourself, on awakening in the morning:

“To-day I will develop. I will grow bigger, either mentally, morally or physically. Maybe, if it is a nice, warm day, I will grow in all three ways at once.”

And, sure enough, when evening finds you returning home from the work of the day, it will also find you in some way changed from the person you were in the morning, either through the shedding of the dry epidermis from the backs of your hands (which, according to one of Nature’s most wonderful processes, is replaced by new epidermis as soon as the old is gone), or through the addition of a fraction of an inch to your height or girth, or through some other of the inscrutable alchemies of Nature.

Think this over as you go to work, to-day, and see if it doesn’t tell you something about your problem.