Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Thus ends the Mark Trail, with an abrupt ker-thunk! — and with it my unhealthy obsession over this comic strip.

This is better than "42" as the answer to
the meaning of life! Way better!
Plus, talking
birds instead of talking dolphins.
I won't drag you down the jackrabbit hole anymore, because I have found the essence, the headwaters — the sine qua non  — of this decades-old serial strip. It is contained in one unexceptional panel in one of last week's unexceptional installations (left).

Except there ain't no maybe about it. In Mark Trail's world, it's Mark Trail's world — he will tell you what to do. What he says goes, for the birds of the air and beats of the field, and the human-like bipeds. He is right and just.

Mark Trail is God. Step aside a sec, Clapton.

How else to explain what goes on in the strip?

It just finished a five-month episode in which Mark Trail hunted for a story, found it, decided his public didn't need to read about it, and not only didn't write about it — despite mumbling about a good ending for the story he wouldn't write — but stole another reporter's materials so she couldn't write about it either.

Mark Trail told his editor about sabotaging his magazine and a competitor's hard work, and his editor said, essentially, "OK," and "Oh, well!" Mark told his wife, and his wife maligned the other reporter for trying to do her job. Silly other reporter!

In fact, Silly Other Reporter called Mark Trail after she discovered her photos missing, and confessed that he was right not to trust her. To do her job.

In the real world, reporters have written about troves of artifacts left by vanished civilizations, of ancient pristine cave paintings, and simply explained that the site needs to remain a secret to protect the findings from looters and vandals. See how easy that is?

Wise observation …
or is it? Better let
Mark Trail decide.
But Mark Trail's is not the real world. No sooner — no sooner! — does Mark return home to his wife and father-in-law and adopted son, does he get a phone call from an hunting guide friend who's best tracking dog has gone blind.

Mark immediately suggests visiting for a few days to see if he can help!

Back to the real world: What's a guy like Mark Trail going to do? Perform surgery? Heal the dog by faith (well, he is God …)? Explain the obvious or likely: "The dog has plenty of years and activity left, but he just won't be able to track?" Or explain the less obvious: "Don't worry. Blind dogs really can track game?" I don't even know if that's true.

(Turns out that's what the dog owner is now trying to convince Mark Trail about.)

And what does Mark Trail's chicken-liver family think of him leaping from one faraway dead-end deed to another? This one won't even net him a story, and it's been five months at least since he apparently put food on the table for the folks back home.

Why can't the hunting guide figure out stuff on his own? What does he Mark Trail for? The guide leads people out into the woods in the dark, with guns, for f*@# sake; I think he can handle situations without help.

But here Mark comes, to save the day, to save the world, and the hunting guide friend sure is grateful.

It is right and just.

If this was just fodder for sardonic snarking, it would be harmless. But Mark Trail is a mascot for conservation and environmental protection; maybe his star has dimmed since the 1970s, when throwing trash on the ground was something you actually had to tell people not to do.

For better or worse, The Sacramento Bee doesn't carry Mark Trail's Sunday strip, which deviates from the daily storyline to impart lessons and tidbits about wildlife and conservation management. A distinctive, if not popular, niche in comics.

I'm going to say Bee readers are worse off, because the Sunday strips are usually a showcase for what the Mark Trail artist(s) do best, capture wildlife vividly and accurately in pen and ink and CMYK separations. It's people, including the head Person, Mark Trail, that the artists have trouble with, inside and out.

To the extent anybody still pays attention to comics, and Mark Trail in particular — and I'm talking to you impressionable sprouts out there in Blogland — he/she can come away with a twisted view of the world. Well, not Mark Trail's world …

Here I part ways and find another trail.

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