Of all of the comic strips in the various newspapers I’ve read in my life, one seemed particularly stilted. Mark Trail, my wife noted, looked old-fashioned even when we were growing up. The three-panel stories advanced the plot incredibly slowly.
The “handsome hero and outdoor man” was created by cartoonist and national parks guide, Ed Dodd. It debuted on April 15, 1946, complete with a Saint Bernard named Andy. While Jack Elrod had become an assistant on the daily strip around 1950, he didn’t get credit until June of 1979. Then in August 1991, Ed Dodd would retire his name from the strip, though Elrod had been doing the work for some time.
Right from the beginning, Tom Hill was the artist for the Sunday pages, though he didn’t get his name in the signature ball until July 1967. He did much of the drawing of the daily strip as well. He kept that job until he died in 1978. Then the creator for the daily strip generally completed the Sunday version as well.
Around 2004, Elrod “took on James Allen as an assistant and trained him to take over the strip when the time came. From 2014 Allen and his writing partner Brice Vorderbrug ran the show. After the July 25, 2020 strip, King Features Syndicate abruptly dictated that the new Mark Trail would end, right in the middle of a storyline. You can read the full chronology here.
Surprise! For the strip of October 12, 2020, Jules Rivera took over. She is the creator of the webcomic Love, Joolz,. Rivera said, “I want to respect the legacy. I appreciate what the fans appreciate,” including Trail’s love for nature and dedication to protecting the environment. But “there are going to be jolts galore.”
And there are, for sure. Mark Trail wants to know if he has a “dadbod”?
It may be a cliche, but this simply is NOT your parents’ Mark Trail. It looks different, it reads differently. From a story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “Rivera, 37, is of Puerto Rican descent. She is the lone Latinx producing a daily newspaper comic strip, a field that is almost solely the domain of white males. But she’s not intimidated by that because she’s been in that situation before.”
Given the fact that I used to use Mark Trail as a tranquilizer, I’ll be checking out the Rivera version for a while. Go to the Comics Kingdom site and see the past week’s strips for free. Or subscribe for $20/year and access its 60,000 comics archive.