Seventy-five years ago, the late Ed Dodd of Gainesville featured his first comic strip of “Mark Trail.”
Today, a Latina cartoonist from Los Angeles is carrying on his legacy of environmentalism and adventure. Since Oct. 12, 2020, Jules Rivera — known for her webcomic “Love, Joolz” — has immersed herself into the world Dodd created and connected with her readers in a meaningful way.
When people read the comic strip, Rivera said she hopes they take away the message of, “Love the environment and your family hard enough to fight for it.”
The more she dove into the history of the comic strip, Rivera said the more she realized there was a lot more to the protagonist, Mark, than “wacky stories about talking squirrels and exploding boats.”
“There was a hero who cared about nature and science under here who values his connection to the world around him,” Rivera told The Times. “This is a guy who cares about nature so much he’s willing to throw hands about it. Mark Trail became my perfect project, and I decided to fight for him as hard as I could.”
Half a year into her new cartoonist role, Rivera shared that she has enjoyed the interactions with both Trailheads — fans of the comic — and those first experiencing “Mark Trail.” She added that she especially loves reviving details readers cherish like the Trail family’s dog, Andy.
“Bringing him back was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve done,” she said. “Words cannot describe how much I love Andy, aka Mark Trail’s Beethoven. I spread joy with my work. What’s not to love?”
As “Mark Trail’s” cartoonist, Rivera said she’s been able to experience tender moments that make her efforts as an artist and writer worthwhile. She shared that these moments include heart-warming plot points, offering callbacks to the previous artist’s work, drawing explosions, which she especially adores, and receiving feedback from real-world scientists about how “Mark Trail” spreads the type of messages they’re trying to promote. Through conversations with these scientists, she said new topic ideas have arisen for future storylines, ones that spotlight environmental issues that affect everyone.
“I have my blind spots, so I appreciate any help I can get finding important issues to take on,” Rivera said. “That type of community is exactly what can save our environment. I can honestly say my job is awesome.”
Although her editorial team claims that she’s most like Cherry Trail, Mark’s wife, Rivera said she can’t help but feel for the protagonist and the burden he takes on while serving the world.
“He struggles with trying to appear perfect and do everything right even though he’s got his own hang-ups and a past that has shaped him for better or for worse,” Rivera said. “He has a hard job taking on all of the greed in the world that hurts our environment in the first place. I wear the red plaid proudly.”
The comic — first released on April 15, 1946 — has been awarded more than 30 conservation awards from private organizations and government agencies, including the Georgia Wildlife Federation, National Forest Recreation Association, National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“Mark Trail” is syndicated to nearly 150 newspapers and digital news outlets worldwide, according to King Features Syndicate.
“Mark Trail” runs in the weekend print edition of The Times.