Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Mark Trail grows cold

Five things you can count on with the Mark Trail comic strip: (1) Boring stories that take weeks and weeks [and weeks]
to resolve; (2) Comparatively more interesting stories that wrap up suddenly using plot holes and great leaps of logic;
(3) faithfully rendered wildlife; (4) ham-handedly rendered humans, with the same shaped heads, eyes crossed or big as tea saucers, and interchangeable snap-on facial features; and (5) at least once a week, as in this example, a strip composed in such a way that it appears — inadvertently, I gotta believe — the animals or inanimate objects are talking.
Comics are the first order of every day for me, and have been since I could read, which makes me sad when people tell me they don't even subscribe to a newspaper, much less read comics.

I love comics so much, I even read the bad ones, including Mark Trail, which The Sacramento Bee carries.

Mark Trail is one of those serial comics, like Mary Worth, Rex Morgan M.D., Apartment 3-G et al. They're the comics equivalent of TV soap operas. Thankfully, the Bee spares readers this parade, leaving Mark Trail alone to carry the banner of anachronism.

Serial comics had their day, and it was June 18, 1963. Since then the world of multimedia has swept past, and we get all the stories we need from TV, iPhones and every other communications device except newspapers.

Only in the mid-20th Century, without benefit of so many media tools to sate our entertainment demand, would readers have put up with the glacial pace of Mark Trail stories. Yet this comic plods on, as if nothing has changed and time stands still. Which is appropriate, because that's what usually takes place — or doesn't — in this strip.

This story arc in this particular strip, from Oct. 24, 2011, has been going on, honest to God, since at least JULY 28! Three months!! My thanks to Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Curmudgeon, who produces a hilarious blog I just stumbled upon, offering daily biting commentary on today's comic strips — "Making the Funnies Funnier since 2004" — for tracking this for me.

The current episode shows no sign of ending.

It began, as almost all Mark Trail stories do, with intrepid Woods and Wildlife Magazine writer Mark getting tipped off to a great story, mere moments after he has finished his last great adventure, which often requires Mark to punch someone and to call others "fellows," single-handedly sustaining that usage of the word in the English language. (Even after 41 years of writing essays, I haven't lost the gift for run-on sentences.)

Mark is forever (and I mean forever) stumbling upon poachers, moonshiners, rum runners, drug runners, mad trophy hunters — bad people doing environmental harm, usually to where he lives, Lost Forest National Forest. This is not meant to be funny, like Phil Frank's Asphalt State Park, but it's no less hilarious.

Mark usually gets help from his faithful Lassie-like St. Bernard, Andy, and no help from the meddling reporter named Kelly Welly (weally?), who desires Mark even though he finally married Cherry after a 47-year courtship. Also, their adopted son Rusty often gets kidnapped or roughed up mid-adventure, which slows the already lethargic story pace.

In the current arc, Mark discovers a wounded Canada goose wearing solid-gold tracking band, inscribed with a Bible verse, and decides its source will make a good story. Okaaaaaayyyyy, not the most riveting start. The adventure takes him to the Canadian border, where a Mounted Police officer attempts to throw Mark off the trail (no pun intended, but since I've written it, nice touch from yours truly) by detaining Andy the dog from helping uncover the mystery. What mystery? What does it matter?

The band and a plaque on the Mountie's wall contain the same verse, Genesis 1:20, King James version: “And God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." The Mountie's in deep!

One Mark Trail "fan" on the Internet points out why this story has taken so long to tell. Week after week, it's been like this:

Mark: I can't figure out why this bird had a Bible verse on its band
Let me ask [ __ ]

Mark: I found a bird with a Bible verse on its band. Know anything?

[ __ ] : Nope.

Mark: I sure wonder why this bird had a Bible verse on its band.
Maybe I'll ask [ ... ]

Mark: I found this bird. It had this Bible verse on its band. Any ideas?

[ ... ] : Nope.

(seemingly infinite loop) …

Having finally wrested themselves from this loop, Mark, Kelly Welly, and Johnny Malotte, a French-Canadian friend who looks a lot like the Golden Age B-list movie star Gilbert Roland, have entered a valley that appears to teem with wildlife that don't usually coexist: A biblical paradise, one might say. An Eden. The Mountie sneaks up on the trio and arrests them, even though they are his good friends.

This week, readers are treated to a looooooong conversation with Mother McQueen, the Mountie's mom, who lords it over this strange valley, her fringed buckskin coat serving as her cape and crown. (Did she dispatch the buck, or talk him out of his skin?) The Comics Curmudgeon publicly doubts whether Mother McQueen and the Mountie are really related, but they bear a close resemblance; then again, everyone in a Mark Trail strip looks alike.

Kelly Welly's first question to Mother McQueen: "Where did you get the gold to make the bands?" That's the first question?! Not, "What have we done wrong to be stuck in this strip?"

Who knows where this is going? Granted, it's different from the usual Mark Trail fare, which would pique my interest were it not for the fear I'll have grandchildren, or artist Jack Elrod — heir to Ed Dodd — will expire before this episode plays out.

For a fundraiser, by the way, Fruhlinger mailed to fans bird bands stamped with "Genesis 1:20" and "Lost Forest;" blog fans responded with photos of the bands on birds real and imaginary, as well as on a cat and a robot.

Writing this has also alerted me to a myriad Websites devoted to the silliness of serial comic strips. I may never resurface.


  1. Wonderful. I can't believe this strip is still around.

  2. the comics curmudgeon is one who rails against comics that persist in the newspaper at the expense of readers getting access to new fresh comics. granted, mark trail's current creator is still kicking and was one of the originator's original staff, but there's gotta be a point where enough is enough and let's give someone else a chance.