Emerald Ash Borer beetles

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 –

http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/05/22/invasive-pest-invades-a-national-comic-strip/
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!
-James

Sea Turtle Sanctuary!

A favorite getaway place of mine is Jekyll Island\, Georgia. While there, I always stay in the historic Jekyll Island Clubhouse. The hotel is the birthplace of our Federal Reserve (I encourage you to read of the rather interesting formation of the Federal Reserve), and to this day it maintains that “old world elegance” that was projected by (very) early twentieth century millionaires. Just a few steps away from the hotel is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center gets sick or injured sea turtles from surrounding states and nurses them back to health in order to release them back into the wild! They’ve recently made national news with the number of “cold stunned” sea turtles they have received.

Working closely with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the Jekyll Island Authority, I decided to do a feature on their efforts to treat these fascinating members of the animal kingdom. Please go to the Sea Turtle Center website listed in the strip to take a tour of it … you can even ADOPT A TURTLE!

Creepy black cats

Today’s Mark Trail regarding black cats has a couple of little interesting tidbits of “inside baseball” some readers may want to know. First, the top panel with the logo in it – a spooky shot of black cats on tombstones in a graveyard. It is an “homage” to a piece of art by a famous horror artist, Bernie Wrightson. He did a piece of similar art and the “story” behind it was :he went to a flooded cemetery once and saw all these snakes that had slithered up on tombstones to escape the water and decided to depict the scene replacing the snakes with black cats. It is a wonderful piece of art and I decided to pay a little tribute to Bernie by doing a similar shot in the logo panel. Second, I have two black cats as pets… one is Kong (of course) and he is pictured lying on the table in the first stretched panel, and the other black cat is Lil’ Dude… he is pictured in the last panel stretched across the top of two filing cabinets. I referenced off an actual photo in both instances, but in that last panel… the two filing cabinets – they’re real. When Jack Elrod retired, he gave me all of his research… animal info and tons of photographs… it’s all in 2 giant filing cabinets. As soon as I moved them into my studio, Lil’ Dude jumped on top of them and layed down. I took the photo and now… he’s in a Mark Trail strip, actually laying on Mark Trail research! Now you know. :)