Resurrecting a Zombie Comic Strip (Keep the Exploding Boats, Please!)
October 14, 2020 8:47 AM   Subscribe

This week marked the debut of a new writer/artist for "Mark Trail". "Mark Trail" is an American newspaper comic strip that's been running since it was first created by Edward Dodd back in 1946. The new writer is Jules Rivera, creator of "Love, Joolz", and now "the sole daily syndicated female Latinx cartoonist." This might seem like just a mildly interesting, perhaps encouraging development, but in the world of newspaper comic syndicate discussion forums and social media more broadly, there's no story so small that it can't be the cause of crazed over-reactions.
posted by Ipsifendus (39 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've seen this discussion cropping up on my Twitter feed recently and went to check out the strip and see what the issue is. As far as I can tell, the problems are:

1) the main character has stubble instead of being clean shaven
2) his assistant has an undercut

That's.. that's it.
posted by fight or flight at 8:56 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


As a kid I can't say I ever really cared about the narratives of Mark Trail (and having read the Comics Curmudgeon for a while, I stand by that decision), but I always really loved the Sunday strips with the beautifully illustrated animals. I hope those stick around.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:59 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


I read the Rivera's first strip, and it made me chuckle very slightly, and I think I might be able to remember which snake is dangerous, so it looks like 10000% improvement from the first 76 years combined. Although maybe it's not supposed to be funny or interesting? I could never figure out. It always left me very confused and frustrated when I was reading the comics page, along with Prince Valiant.
posted by skewed at 8:59 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Yep, the stubble is a HUGE problem for a few of the commenters, and the wife's haircut (which has been a beehive for something like 50 years before now), but by far the biggest complaint that actually relates to anything on the page is that Mark doesn't have his shirt tucked in. Seriously. People are really offended that his shirt's not tucked in. That was the argument that broke through my resolve never to argue with manifest stupidity on the internet.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:02 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


Comic Curmudgeon does seem to be taking it in stride.

I thought Cherry was Mark's girlfriend (wife?) not "assistant."

And again, the only reason I know anything about this (very terrible up to now) strip was thanks to Comics Curmudgeon so I'm good. Good luck to the new writer!
posted by emjaybee at 9:02 AM on October 14


Oh, forgot to add...also a lot of complaints that strip is "woke" now, but nobody has explained how or in what manner, except by reference to Rivera's Twitter feed, which is a lot of fun.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:04 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


(also can we redo Gil Thorp now? I think we should give it to Jon Bois).
posted by emjaybee at 9:05 AM on October 14 [13 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the problems are:

1) the main character has stubble instead of being clean shaven
2) his assistant has an undercut


So, as a long-time reader of The Comics Curmudgeon (here's his post about the new Mark Trail), these are actually both major departures worthy of note.

1. The fundamental plot of most Mark Trail storylines is "Mark uncovers some sort of illegal shenanigans like dognapping or artifact theft and eventually punches the culprit into submission." And almost every single time, the characters who are later revealed to be evil have beards or stubble. It's such a constant in the strip that it's basically a running joke. Giving Mark Trail stubble himself is a STATEMENT.

2. His "assistant" there is his wife Cherry, whose characterization up to this point has been essentially "poofy-haired homemaker who appears in the strip every other month when Mark briefly comes home from an assignment, and also does a lot of worrying." She was not really much of a character at all and pretty much never joined Mark on his adventures. Her new haircut is just one small part of a total character reboot.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:06 AM on October 14 [10 favorites]


I went looking for a good example of a Cherry-centric strip and honestly they're few and far between, but this one's pretty great and shows what her old look was.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:16 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


This just in: Humans Dislike Change.

People like Mark Trail not because it's any good, but because it's always the same.

Honestly these handful of new strips are literally the only Mark Trail that I have ever given a shit about because they're actually thoughtfully written.

But most humans don't care about new and thoughtful, they care about the comfort that repetition brings. They don't want things changing. They just want the same old Mark Trail with the same old tropes and if they can't have that they'd rather burn it down.

It's not like Ed Dodd died thirty fucking years ago or anything so it's fucking time to either throw the series in the trash or start fresh.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:16 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


So, first three strips, Mark's hardly getting any real assignments, so he's instead trying to make viral nature videos in which he handles poisonous snakes. Also, he has a side hustle serving as eye candy for his wife's landscaping company.

I am 100% on board with this.
posted by box at 9:22 AM on October 14 [10 favorites]


Oh yeah - another ludicrous thing about Old Mark Trail was that his job was "nature magazine writer" who seemed to turn in about one article every six months, yet was able to support a household of four on his writing salary and was constantly jetting all around the planet (and was almost universally recognized wherever he went). Like Cherry having a job and Mark having stubble, "Mark struggling because he's not getting assignments" is a very deliberate reversal of, and comment on, the previous status quo of the strip.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:26 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


I was really into Mark Trail when Ed Dodd was still making it way back in the day (even having one series of panels blown up and hung on my wall for a while) in no small part because it was an archaic throwback to an earlier aesthetic, something I understood even when I read it as a child in the late seventies. It was a bit like a comic strip relative to the scientist heroes from fifties sci-fi movies or the Perry Mason type heroes of TV. Trail was a morally upstanding keeper of knowledge, like those heroes, but his domain was nature. He came out on top in his conflicts with those that threatened the presumed order by his keen understanding of nature and moral sensibility.

Dodd's artistic style matched the tone of the strip admirably, itself feeling a bit archaic, something like a throwback to magazine illustrations from that earlier era and his stories, both in concept and the way they played out, went along with that. I enjoyed those elements because they carried a charming simplicity to them that mostly wasn't trying to match the mood of the day and yet wasn'ta full on soap strip like Mary Worth or "super" heroic like Spider-Man.

The new strip seems to be poking fun at that, which is gonna put people off as that was the Mark Trail thing. I'm fine with it conceptually, but would rather the old strip just stopped when Dodd left it rather than being "rebooted" at all as not everything needs to last forever just because it has name recognition. But since they're making it, good luck to 'em. I hope it does well.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:46 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Interesting to contrast some of these comments with what is happening over on the LOTR discussion. Apparently re-telling and re-purposing some old stories can be acceptable?

I find this general question to be fascinating. Apparently there are all kinds of "new" stories to be told, and we can get into the entities that take our stories as 'property' etc.. At the end of the day, even a (tired) adaptation of a story told many times employs crews of people, creates space for potential creativity.
posted by elkevelvet at 9:56 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


So, In following all of this, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the history of "Mark Trail". For one thing, Rivera isn't replacing Edward Dodd, here; he retired in 1978. She's also not replacing his sucessor, Jack Elrod, who wrote the strip until 2014. Nope, Rivera is replacing James Allen, who left the strip "by mutual consent" with the syndicate, shortly after directing some sexual harassment at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex on Twitter. There are a lot of moments in Allen's run where he's noticeably using the same copied face from one panel to the next. And in many cases the copy seems to be copy of Elrod's art. OH, and also: despite the strip's conservationist themes, Allen was also a climate change denier.

Point being...the ship has sailed on preserving whatever legacy Dodd left behind. I have way more confidence in Rivera being able to do right by his work than the asshole who was running things before her.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:02 AM on October 14 [27 favorites]


Interesting to contrast some of these comments with what is happening over on the LOTR discussion. Apparently re-telling and re-purposing some old stories can be acceptable?

The thing about newspaper comic strips is, basically no newspaper editors are out there shopping around for brand new strips. Often if a long-running one gets cancelled outright, the paper just won't replace it, or will replace it with a rerun strip like Peanuts or something. It's INCREDIBLY difficult to break into that industry - so new authors taking over legacy strips like Mark Trail and Mary Worth and Nancy is often the only realistic way to ever get their work into papers. It's really not analogous to the TV landscape.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:06 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


I developed a very brief and non-lasting interest in Mark Trail when I was young when my grandmother mentioned that Ed Dodd was her cousin (second cousin; her grandmother was a Dodd). Based on my admittedly hazy recollections the update looks...not bad? It feels more contemporary and less stilted, both of which are good things; there's room to use legacy characters to tell contemporary stories in ways that still respect the general outlines of who the character is (see for instance what's been going on with Archie comics in the past decade or so; it's definitely not your grandparents' Riverdale).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:17 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


The very image of Mark Trail taking a selfie is such a dramatic departure from the old version of the script that my mind is blown. That’s all I got.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:31 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


So I get that art is subjective, but the previous artist (Allen?) was just bad, right? Like, it's not a well-drawn strip by modern standards and I don't even think it's all that good by "Prince Valiant" standards either. And somehow the digital copies I can see if recent-ish strips online seem... blurry? like they were bad scans? But I don't think they actually were scans and have somehow just been drawn poorly with wet ink or something? Is this just me?
posted by GuyZero at 10:45 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


And somehow the digital copies I can see if recent-ish strips online seem... blurry? like they were bad scans? But I don't think they actually were scans and have somehow just been drawn poorly with wet ink or something?

He was definitely reusing art, so it's very possible they WERE bad scans, or parts of them were.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:47 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I went looking for a good example of a Cherry-centric strip and honestly they're few and far between, but this one's pretty great and shows what her old look was.

That's only from five years ago and it looks like it's from sixty.
posted by octothorpe at 10:47 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised there hasn't been any talk of how the previous artist had a meltdown online and started putting lookalikes of the people he got into arguments with into the comic as bad guys.

It is theorized this is why there is a new artist.
posted by Canageek at 11:07 AM on October 14 [11 favorites]


Wow, haven't thought about this strip in many, many years.

*blink*

As long as the character's fundamental decency isn't removed...good to update!

(just had a moment of self-realization that MT was something like a role model to me)
posted by notsnot at 11:13 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


I really like this new artist, just as I really like the new artist of Nancy. The character design reminded me so much of Dream Daddy that I had to check and see if she was an artist there. (Apparently not.)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:22 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Interesting to contrast some of these comments with what is happening over on the LOTR discussion. Apparently re-telling and re-purposing some old stories can be acceptable?

I think there is a relative difference between a daily comic strip which is meant to be an ongoing concern and consistently repurposing relatively complete works. It would be nicer to have new and different characters and stories and voices working in the comics sphere, tbut a changing of the guard is at least a chance to tell new stories in a format that's meant for that.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:25 AM on October 14


Human beings have been retelling and repurposing stories all the way back to when oral storytelling was the only option. I think it's a little late to start litigating what sorts of stories are okay to retell and what ones aren't.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:29 AM on October 14


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex

Most MetaFilter typo ever.
posted by briank at 11:39 AM on October 14 [19 favorites]


Most MetaFilter typo ever.

Omigod. I'm torn between asking for a mod to edit and wanting it to stand so as not to ruin this. I've been here too long.
posted by Ipsifendus at 11:42 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


I kinda liked the fuddy-duddy stilted 40s style of the strip, but am interested to see where this goes. I am not invested enough in Mark Trail of all god-forsaken things to get upset about a change. I'm more shocked it wasn't just cancelled.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:20 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]



I'm surprised there hasn't been any talk of how the previous artist had a meltdown online and started putting lookalikes of the people he got into arguments with into the comic as bad guys.


Specifically, someone from the Something Awful forums (who wasn’t hassling him on Twitter AFAIK, just posting about how Mark Trail sucks).

I suspect the AOC thing is really what did it (along side the awful plotting and art. The climate change denialism was likely just a bonus. James Allen wasn’t great on a number of levels!)
posted by dismas at 12:47 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


I'm excited about this! I like the new look and Mark Trail as a contemporary strip had as people have noted above both aesthetic and authorial problems you could hide bodies in. A change was due, and this feels like a much more forward-looking one than usual.

I spent an unhealthy amount of time gleefully hate-reading grumpy comments when the Nancy reboot happened so I'm not gonna put myself through that again, especially with Rivera operating non-psuedonymously and all the extra horseshit that'll attract from bigots of various stripes. But I am hoping we get to see Rivera and Jaimes do a crossover strip or seven.

Omigod. I'm torn between asking for a mod to edit and wanting it to stand so as not to ruin this. I've been here too long.

I am absolutely not gonna fix that typo.

(also can we redo Gil Thorp now? I think we should give it to Jon Bois).

Yes please.
posted by cortex at 1:15 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


As an amateur cartoonist, I’ve long written off newspaper strips precisely because publishers would rather keep a long-running strip on life support rather than do anything new (what showbiz_liz said, with the additional note that newspaper funnies, at least nowadays, tilt inherently conservative). I just can’t read that damn comics page anymore and not feel a little despair. But I’m glad that between this and the new Nancy, there are folks yet willing to update the format into something modern.
posted by Eikonaut at 1:41 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


So I get that art is subjective, but the previous artist (Allen?) was just bad, right?

Yes.
posted by trig at 1:56 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


So, in addition to Rivera taking over "Mark Trail", and Jaimes taking over "Nancy", there's also been some other interesting changes in the creative staff on newspaper strips recently. Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon are currently doing "Alley Oop" in a run that seems to have inspired similar cries of outrage from people with too much time on their hands. Six Chix is a strip with a rotating crew of women sharing the byline. "Dick Tracy" of all things is having an award-winning run under it's current creators. And while nobody would ever in a million million years dare to give "Peanuts" to anybody other than Charles Schulz, "Haircut Practice" is basically exactly that with the serial numbers filed off.
posted by Ipsifendus at 1:58 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


You all may be in to your new-fashioned "reboots" and "over-the-air updates" or whatever now, but in five years when you're begging to escape from your Deep VR simulation loop of Charlie Brown soiling himself while Peppermint Patty and Lucy van Pelt take turns kicking the shit out of him, you'll yearn for the simple, reliable pleasures of Prince Valiant and The Lockhorns.

(jk, you'll never miss the lockhorns)
posted by phooky at 2:11 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Once a week someone would leave a newspaper with comics at work, and there were some comics whose plots I could follow that way. "Mary Worth" was one, "Mark Trail" was another, and even once a week they bored me. Based on the Pablo Escobar/hippo story, this kickier style is going to make conservation more interesting to comics readers.
posted by acrasis at 3:33 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


As an amateur cartoonist, I’ve long written off newspaper strips precisely because publishers would rather keep a long-running strip on life support rather than do anything new

The Ombudsmen
posted by thelonius at 3:47 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


God, Kurtz can do it sometimes. The Ombudmen was so right on.
posted by GuyZero at 6:53 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


If you click thelonius's Ombudsman link, don't miss that there are several strips in the sequence because wow does Kurtz use that whole bit well.
posted by straight at 7:37 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


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