SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. -- In a Sandy Springs house, in the basement is a portal, a doorway to childhood for the millions of us who grew up reading the funny papers -- learning about wildlife from a photographer and writer named Mark Trail.
"I guess I really feel like I was Mark Trail myself," Jack Elrod said.
It's no wonder Elrod feels like his title character. He has worked on the nationally syndicated strip for 64 of its 68 years -- most of those years from his basement office decorated with national awards.
We followed Mark Trail on his sometimes dangerous adventures in Lost Forest National Forest with his dog Andy and his girlfriend Cherry, who finally became his wife after more than 40 years of dating. Elrod reads from the strip where Mark and Cherry get engaged. It's one of his favorites: "Will you say what you just said again? He says 'Will you marry me?' She says 'Oh Mark, you know I will. I love you.' Of course they're outdoors with the moon shining."
While Mark Trail never aged, the cartoon changed with the times. Mark lost his trademark pipe. "I got a letter from a kid who said 'Why do you let Mark smoke?'" Elrod said.
He has tackled topics like global warming, has educated us on every creature -- his animal Rolodex across the room. And he never forgot -- it's about getting readers. One of the strips features cute girls in bikinis on the beach, "to make it more attractive, so people will read it."
Elrod's fans call themselves Trailheads and they send him elaborate birthday cards.
Unlike Mark Trail, Elrod did age. "My hands just get so shaky I can't make a straight line anymore," he said.
He stopped drawing the cartoon last year; artist James Allen took over, but Elrod still wrote it.
Elrod lost his wife of 60 years a few years ago. A father to four children, he's a great-grandfather now.
At 90 years old, Elrod is retiring. We point out to Elrod that most people retire before 90.
"Well I've been lucky doing what I like to do," he said. And former and current kids everywhere liked what he did too.
The basement portal is closing, but Elrod's passion for conservation, his reverence for all God's creatures will go on, without him.
"I hope the readers have gotten something from Mark Trail. I know I'll miss it," he said.