Memories of Lost Forest

                         

New Link (spoof):  The Adventures of Mark Trail

   Talk before the Pleasant Oaks Gem and Mineral Club of Dallas

                                                              June 5, 2003

                                            

(free hand drawn with a mouse a few years ago with Microsoft Paint- Jack Hill)

Lost Forest is the fictional home of Mark Trail, a comic strip character who hit the newspapers in 1946

under the pen of Ed Dodd. Mark Trail is a mild mannered reporter for the Woods and Wildlife magazine…

he is the perpetual 30-something year old protector of Lost Forest, fighting thieves, poachers, and others of

ill repute. To his right is Cherry, whom he finally married after a few decades. Mark’s reflects a reverence

for God’s creatures, nature and the conservation of woods, water, and wildlife. Mark Trail championed

several conservation causes, including preservation of Alaskan wilderness lands, urging boat speed limits

to protect the manatee in Florida, and countering the maligned reputations of coyotes, wolves, mountain lions,

and alligators.

The Real Lost Forest

Actually, the real Lost Forest was a 130-acre forest located in Sandy Springs, Georgia north of Atlanta,

on land that was  purchased by Ed Dodd from the Brandon family around 1950. The location was

on Brandon-Mill Road with the property located on Marsh Creek, a tributary to the Chattahoochee River.

Dodd built a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright style home overlooking a creek on the property, reminiscent

of Falling Water, the famous home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The exterior was bald cypress, which

acquired a natural grey patina over the years. Inside the big house around the stone fireplace on

wood panel wall was a rich collection of natural history and art books, Eskimo kayaks & fish-skin mukluks,

African artifacts, and photos of famous people.

above: living room with art studio on second floor

right: Outside view of the Mark Trail Studio...circa 1974

The art studio where Tom Hill (my father), Jack Elrod, and Barbara Chen worked was on the second floor,

where they had a great view of the Forest. There was also a homesteader, groundskeeper Hubert Hamrick

and his family, who lived at Lost Forest and maintained the ranch and animals. Besides native wildlife which

abounded on the Forest, there was riding stables, guinea fowl, caged pigeons, a 10-acre fishing lake, and

of course, Andy, the great Saint Bernard who appeared as Mark’s companion in the comic strip. I would

 visit Andy every time I went to visit Ed Dodd or to go fishing at the Lost Forest lake. Andy never had

the freedom of his fictional counterpart, and was kept in a running pen bounded by chain links. Ed’s other

dog, Mose, was usually found at his master’s feet as Ed smoked his afternoon pipe. Famous people would

 visit Lost Forest, such as Marlin Perkins, sharpshooters, big game hunters, and newspaper/magazine journalists.

Ed Dodd was a personal friend of Daniel Beard, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts in 1910 and a fellow

naturalist and illustrator. They both attended the Art Students League in New York City.

 

 

 

Left to Right: Sunday "strip", Sunday "strip", pencil drawing of the ole staff (Ed upper left,

Elrod lower left, Barbara Chen (middle), dad (lower right)

History of Mark Trail

The comic strip was borne in 1946 after Dodd had tried an unsuccessful comic strip. I remember seeing the

 original Mark Trail…and there are a couple of stories of how the character Mark Trail started…..one was

shown to me by my dad, Tom Hill, who illustrated Mark Trail and the Sunday natural history comic strip for

32 years. My dad showed me an old Life Magazine cover of some actor and Ed Dodd and crew had inked

over the face and made him the first Mark Trail. Realism marked many of the new comic strips that appeared

in the decade following World War II…included were Steve Canyon, Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker

and, of course, Mark Trail.   My dad went to Georgia State College for a while after World War II and then

to the New York Art Students League.  Ed and Dad knew each other from scouting days at Bert Adams Camp

near Atlanta.

 

In 1946 right after Dodd created Mark Trail, Dad starting drawing the strip and Ed Dodd eventually

stopped drawing it by 1950. Jack Elrod joined the artists in 1948 and drew mechanical objects in the strip…cars,

gun, cabins, etc. A Chinese lady, Barbara Chen, was hired to do the lettering and was one of the finest manuscript

artists around Atlanta. . After drawing the Sunday nature strip and the daily episodes of Mark Trail for 32 years,

Dad died in 1978. Ed Dodd then retired, the property sold (Dodd’s house finally burned to the ground in 1996),

 and Jack Elrod took over the strip.

 

left to right: Ed Dodd, Jack Elrod, Tom Hill and Ed’s secretary, Rhett Carmichael, in the Mark Trail studio at Lost Forest.

 

 

Certain topics were banned by Hall Syndicate in Mark Trail….snakes, evolution, and fire. The first two items were,

 I suppose, viewed as "evil", while fire, whether prescribed burning or wildfire, was avoided because the Syndicate

felt that readers might have set forests on fire to help Mark Trail. "The Phantom" comic strip did have snakes appear

 in some of episodes, so the snake ban was inequitable. At one time, Mark Trail appeared in 50 countries and about

175 newspapers in the United States. Ed Dodd’s Mark Trail collection is on display at the Northeast Georgia History

Center at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia.

Art Lithography

The process of printing a full color Mark Trail Sunday page was intensive…first my dad would research the subject matter…I remember going to the Atlanta Zoo to see a Nile Monitor or travel to Black Beard Island off the coast of Georgia to watch Loggerhead Sea Turtle lay eggs. Step one would be penciling in the animal and background such as landscape, trees, etc. ….this was no small feat since you would have to be able to draw an animal from any angle.

He told me the most difficult animal to draw was the horse. I suppose getting the skull shape and body proportions

was not easy.

 

After the drawing was penciled in, he would ink in the figures with a sable brush. Next, the drawings would be hand delivered to Lithoplates company in downtown Atlanta, where they would reduce the original ink work to a smaller size lithograph. I remember riding to downtown Atlanta on weekends with Dad as he delivered the comics for final reproduction…hard to forget the sound of the machinery and smell of different inks and dyes that permeated the place. This lithograph  was then hand painted with a brush and acrylic dyes to give it a final touch prior to final printing to a high quality, genuine low-tech, comic lithograph. This was done by photo-offset printing, a process used in high volume printing where the  original cartoon was mechanically color separated through a series of filters into 4 secondary colors: black,

cyan, magenta and yellow. A halftone screen is used to break the image into a series of dots. Lithography, an art form,

was used over 100 years, and eventually replaced by fast, high-tech reproduction in the 1970s

Memorabilia

Stages of the comic strip:

Here are some full page Sunday Mark Trails that I cut out and saved as a kid when our family lived close to Lost Forest in Sandy Springs, Georgia…they may smell musty. After the printer's proof was produced, it was hand painted with acrylic dyes and reproduced for the Sunday Comics. The photo-mechanical process of combining photography and color separation was the primary printing process until the computer revolutionized the entire printing process in the 1980s. The lithographic reduction measured 11 3/8" by 14 3/8" on heavy stock

The Mark Trail Sunday page was a full page in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s in many newspapers….it has since dwindled down to about 4 small blocks. This was, perhaps, due to a waning interest in natural history or for a newer breed of comic strips which reflected more mindless entertainment (versus post war realism.) Jack Elrod, the present artist of Mark Trail, continues the comic strip, but the quality of Mark Trail, in my opinion, quickly declined after 1978…Mark’s pipe was banned in 1986 after some kid wrote to Elrod that smoking is bad for your health; the animals are no longer drawn with the accuracy and detail that they once were. The Trailheads, a cult of Mark Trail enthusiasts, have remarked that the comic has a "free-floating approach to perspective and sketching still results in panels with squirrels the size of minivans, sleeping bags that resemble igloos and a leg cast that looks like it’s made out of bricks."

Regardless of the quality of the comic strip, Elrod has perpetuated Mark Trail and received Presidential Conservation Awards and endorsements from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA). In 1991, the Forest Service designated the Mark Trail Wilderness on the Chattahoochee National Forest the same year that Ed Dodd died at the age of 88. The Mark Trail Wilderness has over 60 miles of trout streams, waterfalls and 14 miles of the Appalachian Trail. This is the only wilderness area in the world named after a comic-strip hero!

In addition to the daily Mark Trail strip and Sunday nature strip, there were some magazines published under the Mark Trail name (see below) as well as the Kellogg's Mark Trail radio series in the 1950's.  Mark Trail magazine was aimed at millions of boys in the 9-17 year age group to guide them in natural history and conservation.

 

 There were also a few of books published in the 1950’s, one of which was Mammals of North America.

 Jack Hill