Tutoring under Jack Elrod for 10 years proved to be an education in itself, and one of the earliest things he told me was “one of the great things about this job is that you get to keep learning”. Now, hang on to that thought … throughout the history of the strip, Mark Trail’s Sunday edition has always been a stand-alone educational feature, not related to the daily storyline. Well, back on February 2nd of 2014, the Sunday page was one I did on the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. The page merely described the invasive insect, warned of the damage it could do and encouraged readers to contact the USDA if they spotted the insect. Fast forward a year… I’m considering ideas for a daily storyline and the Emerald Ash Borer beetle page came to mind. I got the idea of featuring a topic mentioned in a Sunday page as a “plot” for a daily storyline. A friend of Mark’s grows trees, the beetles infest the trees endangering his livelihood, Mark calls the USDA (as suggested in the Sunday page), and they come out and do… what? I had no idea. So, it was time to EDUCATE myself. I called the USDA, told them who I was, what I was planning to do, and after a few transfers, started speaking with Abbey Powell. I wanted to know what the USDA would do if I spotted the insects on my property. Abbey got right on the task (as I imagine the USDA does) and sent over a treasure trove of info and pictures. Details of everything… step by step procedures of their approach to identifying the insect, quarantine of the area and treatment. Abbey was so helpful, I asked her permission to put her in the strip as an agent of the USDA. She kindly obliged and sent over a pic of herself. I referenced from her photo and made her a “Mark Trail-ized” character. As I continued writing the story, her part began to grow. It seems the public’s interest grew as well. Readers at the Comics Kingdom website were commenting things like “I googled Abbey Powell… there is one that actually works at the USDA!” … and another- “I found her Linkedin profile and she looks like the character in the strip!” It was all very flattering. You can read what the actual Agent Powell had to sqay about it all at her blog here –
It has certainly been educational for me and at the same time, fun to strike up a new partnership for Mark Trail. I have a feeling “Agent Powell” will return in the future (I recall doing a Sunday page on the Asian Longhorn beetle). See you in the funny papers!