In the years since his 1946 debut, Mark Trail has spent his time outdoors fishing, exploring the woods and being romanced by beautiful women.
Not bad for a self-styled everyman and roving editor for Woods and Wildlife magazine.
Created by artist and naturalist Ed Dodd, Trail was an environmentalist before it was fashionable to be one. His mission has always been that of preserving the vanishing American wilderness for future generations.
Written and drawn today by Jack Elrod, Mark Trail is distributed by King Features Syndicate and appears some 175 newspapers worldwide.
Readers have responded strongly to Trail and his adventures. After an episode involving white-water rafting, Elrod received letters from outdoorsmen around the country reminding him to include life jackets. And upon receiving a letter from a youthful reader in 1983, Elrod eliminated Trail's trademark pipe. (There is still a sign over the artist's desk that reads: "Remember, No Pipe!")
Elrod was born March 29, 1924, in Gainesville, Ga. After graduating high school, he joined the Navy in 1942 and during the next three and a half years participated in various engagements in the Pacific and in the occupation of Japan.
He studied advertising design and layout for two years at the Harris Advertising Art School in Nashville, Tenn., then graduated from the Atlanta Art Institute in 1949.
Elrod has been with Mark Trail almost from the beginning. The strip had enjoyed only four years of syndication when Elrod, fresh from school, joined Dodd and another artist-naturalist, Tom Hill, in a studio on Atlanta's Penn Avenue in 1950.
Dodd and Elrod met while they were in the Boy Scouts — Dodd as a scout leader, and Elrod a young scout. Dodd was doing advertising work at the time and had created a modestly successful one-panel "hillbilly" feature called "Back Home Again" in the 1930s.
Elrod copied such classic strips as "Flash Gordon" during his boyhood to hone his drawing skills. He initially thought of his job with Dodd as an apprenticeship.
"Ed just happened to need somebody," he recalls. "I had no idea I would stick with him for the rest of my life."
Elrod married the former Mary Anne Candee the same year that he started work on Mark Trail.
Never one to stay tied to the drawing board, he joined Dodd on outdoors activities of all kinds. During one memorable fishing trip, the naturalists got lost in the Okefenokee Swamp.
"We had to get out and push the boat through," Elrod says. "The fleas were more of a problem than the alligators."
Elrod took over Mark Trail in 1978, when Hill, who was responsible for the Sunday pages, died and Dodd retired. Elrod now draws and writes both the daily and Sunday pages.
During his years on the strip, Elrod has added new characters, including the boy Rusty; his dog, Sassy; and Kelly, another woman in Trail's life, and one-time competition for the devoted Cherry. Mark and Cherry would eventually marry.
Elrod was honored by President Reagan at a White House awards ceremony for his efforts to develop more pride in America. Among his 30 conservation awards, he has received recognition from the U.S. secretary of agriculture, the secretary of the interior, the secretary of commerce, the governor of Georgia and the National Weather Service.
The famous Mark Trail wilderness trail, a 16,500-acre enclave in northern Georgia, is the only wilderness area in the world named after a comic-strip hero.
Elrod has produced a variety of materials for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help teach schoolchildren respect for the country's environment and Mark Trail has recently been named the spokesman for the National Weather Service's emergency weather radio.
Elrod and his wife live in Georgia. They have four children and 11 grandchildren.