With his square jaw, his colorless demeanor, and a grooming style straight out of a 1940s Boy Scout Handbook, the long-running comic strip hero Mark Trail (official spokescharacter for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) isn’t someone you’d expect to find rebelling against government authority. Indeed, the fictive nature journalist spends much of his time literally punching out poachers and other despoilers of the nation’s forests and wetlands, and turning them over to state and local game wardens.
Yet here he is getting ready to deliver his trademark right hook to eminent domain abuse in the strip’s mythical “Lost Forest,” where local developers are trying to use the government to seize ecologically valuable land in order to build a road. Mark Trail writer and artist Jack Elrod says the storyline was inspired by several high-profile property battles, among them a plan to seize land on the site of the Civil War Battle of Lovejoy Station, near Elrod’s hometown of Atlanta.
Mark Trail, which appears in 175 papers, is hardly a trendsetter even in the funny pages. But in this case it’s an indicator of how property condemnation captured the nation’s attention and provoked a serious backlash after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision. As that unfortunate ruling marks its first grim birthday this month, it’s worth remembering, with Mark Trail, that the government’s unlimited condemnation authority goes against nature.