I first realized the popularity of "Mark Trail," the outdoors comic strip, a little more than a decade ago. The series has appeared within the pages of the Times Free Press for decades — one of around 150 newspapers and digital outlets the strip is syndicated to — so it's only natural that many of our readers have become loyal followers of the main character's adventures.
Shortly after Chattanooga's two newspapers merged in the late 1990s, a former news editor made the call to discontinue the strip from the sports pages. The reaction was immediate and overwhelming as readers flooded our office with calls, letters and emails demanding its return.
Since then, it has continued running daily without incident. Until the past couple of months, that is.
For those who haven't followed closely, since its beginning in 1946, the title character — a photojournalist and outdoors magazine writer whose assignments lead to adventure and sometimes danger — has focused on environmental themes. "Mark Trail" was created by Ed Dodd, a national parks guide who was later joined by Jack Elrod in using the comic to raise awareness for issues involving wilderness, waterways and wildlife.
A new artist took over the cartoon late last fall, though, immediately giving the characters an updated look as well as taking the storyline in a new direction. In a statement announcing Jules Rivera as the new cartoonist, she admitted her plan was to update the strip with a more contemporary storyline and to make it more "cutting edge".
Said Rivera: "I am excited to take up the Mark Trail mantle to reimagine Mark for a new generation and honored to join a pantheon of such talented artists. Dare to witness humor, action, environmental justice, women with strong personalities, mystical talking animals, gardening tips, and Mark like you've never seen him before. The new Mark Trail promises to be a real trailblazer."
In the months that have followed the new artist's vision for the strip, once again our readers' response has been swift and overwhelming. But this time the numerous calls, emails and hand-written letters flooding our office have been overwhelmingly asking that we discontinue "Mark Trail" in its current form.
My initial thought was to just give it time to allow the readers who were voicing their opinion most strongly the chance to either adjust to the new vision for the beloved strip or simply skip past it and stop reading it.
But the volume of readers who continued to voice their displeasure and request that we pull the comic from our pages altogether has become too much to ignore. After all, this sports section belongs to you, our readers, and my job as sports editor is to try to be in tune with what the majority of you want to see in its pages.
Out of respect to the comic's popularity for so many decades, we want to give our readers the chance to weigh in and make sure we follow what the majority want.
So we are asking for your input. Please feel free to reach me by any of these means: Call my direct office line (423) 757-6293 (and leave a message if I don't answer), email me at email@example.com or send a letter to: Times Free Press sports department, 400 East 11th St., Chattanooga TN 37403.
Let me know if you'd like to see us continue running "Mark Trail" in our section, or if you feel it's time to discontinue it.
Our editors will wait a few weeks to allow everyone a chance to submit their opinions before making a decision. Once enough time has passed to gauge your responses, we will update the results.
5-at-10: Alabama dominates signing day, UT not so much, Golf stars hate rule changes, Super Bowl contest