The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod            [email protected]

 

Ed Dodd, Original Creator of "Mark Trail"

March 21, 2011

 

Cartoonist Ed Dodd was a smart man, using the things he knew best for his subjects. The devoted outdoorsman created "MarkTrail," a comic strip with a strong, handsomely rugged hero fighting to preserve the environment and conserve wildlife. Debuting the environmental strip in 1946, Dodd promoted "green living" long before the rest of the world caught up.

 
"Mark Trail" 1925 Comic Book, by Cartoonist Ed Dodd

Edward Benson Dodd was born on November 7, 1902, his childhood spent in the town of LaFayette, Georgia. As a teenager and in later years, he worked summers "at the Pennsylvania camp of Dan Beard, a foudner of the Boy Scouts and a well-known wildlife artist and outddor writer," said William Dunn in "The Encyclopedia of American Comics, 1897 to the Present," (Promised Land Productions, New York City 1990). Completing high school, Dodd chose an architecture program at Georgia Technical College, but left after a year. Architecture was not the job for him.

In his early twenties, Dodd took a job at a dude ranch in Wyoming, making his home there for several years. He also worked as a guide in Yellowstone National Park. The outdoors - hunting, fishing and camping - was his way of life. So was art. Beard passed on lessons in illustration to the avid young man.

Dodd "dabbled in art," said Dunn, "first drawing pictures for calendars, and then experimenting with cartooning, meeting with increased success." Receiving a job drawing a comic panel in the mid-1930s, Dodd created "Back Home Again" until the mid-1940s

Deciding to improve his skill, Dodd enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City in the 1940s. Creating several varied strip ideas that failed to catch editors' attention, Dodd wasn't ready to call it quits. Changing themes, he drew a comic strip about a clean-cut hero in the outdoors. The maincharacter was a handsome man who cared about the land and the wildlife, a gentleman that no doubt closely resembled Dodd's own philosophy. It was the right move.

Hall Syndicate accepted the new comic strip. "Mark Trail" debuted in April of 1946. The star of the strip was accompanied by his faithful pooch, Andy, a Saint Bernard. Adventures ensued, with the calm, pipe-smoking Mark and Andy fighting off bad men with evil intent toward nature. Cherry Davis entered the strip as the hero's love interest. They later married and adopted a son, Rusty.

Carefully recreating wildlife and forests, Dodd's skill in art was evident in each strip, as was his sense of ecology and preservation. Audiences agreed.

"When the Washington Post dropped the award-winning strip," said the Los Angeles Times in Edward Dodd's obituary in May 1991, readers protested by the thousands and teh newspaper not only reinstated it, but devoted two full pages to reprint the 40 episodes tha its outraged readers missed." That is fan adoration!

Dodd took on an assistant in 1950, Jack Elrod. (He had also been a Boy Scout.) The comic strip was created in a studio on Penn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia, with the help of another artist, Tom Hill.

Ed Dodd's "Mark Trail" sample

In 1978, Dodd's eyesight was failing. By this time, Elrod was doing most the daily work and Hill was completing the Sunday strip. In the same year, Dodd retired and Tom Hill passed away, leaving Elrod in charge of "Mark Trail." Elrod has been writing and drawing the journeys and escapades of the dedicated environmentalist ever since, with the artistic skill of a professional.

Changing syndicate hands several times, "Mark Trail" is now under the King Features umbrella, the strip appearing in about 175 newspapers around the world, with an estimated 23 million readers. While a cartoonist, Dodd wrote several books for children about environmentalism. "Mark Trail" made appearances in environmental promotions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and under Elrod's skilled guidance, became spokestoon for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

 
After an lengthy illness, Edward Dodd died at age 88 on May 27, 1991. His strong belief in the preservation of the ecology and environment made his comic strip, "Mark Trail" unique for its time. It's "green" theme gave it an appeal that has happily lasted well over five decades.
Catch up with the latest adventures of "Mark Trail" at King Features Syndicate.
© Susanna McLeod 2011
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