This week's spotlight is on Mark Trail, by James Allen.
Mark Trail dates back to 1946, long before environmentalism was a hotbutton issue in the news every day. Ed Dodd, Mark Trail's creator, was a US National Parks guide. Inspired by parks ranger and nature journalist Charles Elliott, Dodd created Mark to be both a scholar of natural science and an outdoor adventurer. The Sunday strips were originally drawn by Tom Hill, a nature artist.
Mark lives in Lost Forest National Forest, the very setting where it sprung to life, with his wife, Cherry, their adopted son, Rusty, and his faithful dog, Andy, the St. Bernard. With a big heart and a strong sense of ethics and responsibility when it comes to protecting wildlife, Mark, often accompanied by his family or any one of a number of friends, often finds himself in the middle of plots by poachers, opportunistic businessmen and politicians, and more.
Jack Elrod joined the Mark Trail team as the background artist in 1950, and went on to helm the strip from Dodd's retirement in 1978 until he too retired in 2014. He passed the torch on to James Allen, who writes and draws Mark Trail today.
One of my favorite things about Mark Trail is the Sunday strips, which don't follow the serial plot of the daily strips, but highlight a certain animal or natural phenomenon, sometimes dealing with environmental concerns. They present neat illustrations and useful information about everything from natural disasters to fuzzy bumblebees. And I love the addition of James' fondness for "creepy crawlies." While the strip previously avoided featuring animals that might gross people out, James has delved into teaching about snakes, insects, and other squishy and scary things with a relish that makes them seem as approachable as any other part of nature.
But, of course, Mark Trail is also extremely timely these days, as nature and conservation play a big role in the news. Reading about why different natural phenomena, endangered species, and wildlife habitats are important while enjoying Mark Trail's adventures is always illuminating. The balance of campy wilderness adventures with useful information and cool wildlife illustrations is always a treat.