News of Yore: Ed Dodd Profile

Mark Trail Artist Cites Value of Realism
By Jane McMaster (E&P, 2/4/50)

Two decades ago, Ed Dodd, who later created “Mark Trail,” had a job at a place on Pearl Street, New York City, drawing calendars. But after putting in about three months at the confining work, his restlessness got the better of him. He quit and went on a fishing trip in Wyoming.

He has also at various times: worked with rangers in Glacier National Park; guided horseback packtrain trips through Yellowstone; gone on a bicycle camping trip in Norway; and studied the drawing of animals with Daniel Beard, animal painter and founder of the Boy Scouts.

Favors Realism
In fact, he exemplifies the maxim regularly dispensed in creative writing courses: “Deal with what you know best.” As a result, his outdoors strip rates high up the ladder in realism and authenticity.

“Mark Trail”(Post-Hall) will be four years old in April. In its short life it has won medals for distinguished service from Sigma Delta Chi, the Hunting and Fishing Club of America and the Wisconsin Humane Society; pulled 60,000 letters in a puppy-naming contest; and has been signed for a network radio show. (Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman introduced the initial program Jan. 30.)

Recognition has stemmed from the fact that “Mark Trail” not only entertains, it educates. The strip is, in a sense a war baby. “When troops were taught effectively by comic strips during the war, we became suddenly conscious of the fact that we had an educational medium on our hands,” says Mr. Dodd.

Youngsters and old-timers too are regularly “taught” in the comic strip, which has conservation as an underlying theme. But every effort is made to weave any instructional data smoothly into the drama so the reader won’t recognize the education as such.

Thus “Mark Trail” readers learn about the woodsman’s fire-preventing habit of breaking stick matches after they’ve been used (the match has to be completely out to do that). In the comic strip, this conservation device turned up as part of a story plot: Mark was following a man — a woodsman — and broken match stems were the clues to his whereabouts.

“Break a gun before you pick it up” would never be said that way in the “Mark Trail” strip. Mark would simply break a gun in the course of story action. In another case, some gun-carrying advice was suggested: a character got shot in the leg when holding a gun the wrong way going over a fence. The conservation theme was dramatized when a salmon trying to get back to the home pool swam into polluted water that came from an old mill.

Mr. Dodd does extensive research before each continuity. (Ones on the trumpeter swan, and on the fur seal at Pribilof Islands at migration time, are coming up soon.) The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Department of the Interior, cooperated particularly on these two continuities, sending numerous pictures and information about source material.

After the research is done,Mr. Dodd casts about for the dramatic story — the plot that will relate the animals and the human characters.

Drama in animal life, Mr. Dodd points out, is generally limited to: the struggle for food and shelter and for protection against man and nature; and breeding. (The field is further limited as breeding can get only cursory treatment in a newspaper strip.)

When faced with a knotty plot problem, Mr. Dodd daydreams sometime about the advantages of fantasy. But he doesn’t give in. Animals in the strip do only what is true to nature. Background details are authentic. And the same degree of realism for the human characters is sought.

Trend Away from Fantasy

“I think the trend is away from the fantastic in comic strips,” says Mr. Dodd. “A guy who reads a strip likes to think he could be in there doing what the hero is doing. And if Mark Trail does something too extraordinary, the reader loses his vicarious thrill.”

Thus Mark avoids the spectacular, catches the average small fish. In one case Mr. Dodd used a real life incident (a tree-topping episode) in the strip. But he toned it down considerably. The thing that had actually happened sounded too implausible.

Strip fan mail is generally split 50/50 between adults and kids, and 50/50 between men and women. Those who write in for advice on drawing a strip get advised to “forget drawing and learn short story writing.” “Sixty-five to 70% of a comic strip is story,” says Mr. Dodd.

The Atlanta, Ga. artist, who has worked up to three assistants but still gets up at 5:30 a.m., practiced what he preaches. For two years before he started his strip, he studied story technique by correspondence.

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