What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Tiki Jansen Academically Eligible or What? August – November 2018.


Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.

If you’re reading this essay after about February 2019 it’s probably been superseded. A more recent plot summary should be at my Gil Thorp plot summary page here.

Gil Thorp.

27 August – 24 November 2018.

Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.

Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.


The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.

Teen: 'Bolek's into movies. Last year, he and his buddies borrowed a barricade.' Other teen: 'Borrowed?' Teen: 'A technicality. Anyway, they bought these little bitty paint brushes, blocked off a side street downtown, and Joe filmed them repainting a crosswalk.' (It flashes back to show this. The car in the central frame has license plate 'MST 3K'.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2018. I admit I don’t quite get the point of this video, but I also know teenagers who want to make films are going to make all sorts of strange, slightly Dadaist projects. So, all right. Yes, I see the license plate there, and so does Ray Kassinger.

This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.

Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.

Thorp's Assistant: 'We might get a punter because you watched a French movie?' Thorp: 'C'est la vie.' [ Next Morning, a classroom. ] Teacher: 'Late again, Mr Jansen?' Jansen: 'Sorry, Mr Stoddard. Car troubles.' (Thinking: 'And a slow sister problem.')
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of October, 2018. So I suppose Jansen thinking about his sister implies she must be a real person who has some real problem. But she hasn’t been seen on-screen and for a while I supposed she was just this convenient excuse to pin problems on. If she really is having trouble doing things, then, Jansen’s lateness is more understandable. And I suppose sometime in the next month or so of the story’s run they’ll try to remember to say what the issue is exactly.

Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.

Jansen: 'We're just renting for now, at the Pinetree Apartments.' Teen: 'The ones off 5th Street? You guys like it over there?' Jansen: 'Oh, yeah. It's nice.' [ Later ] Teen: 'That was helpful --- except the apartments are called Pine *Trace*.' Other Teen: 'And they're not off 5th, and they're kind of dumpy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of October, 2018. I would like to help you with character names but I’m just not sure, I’m sorry. Gil Thorp is pretty good about showing characters wearing varieties of clothing, which, good, but it means there’s fewer visual hooks to be sure of who’s who. That Rod Whigham tends to draw extreme angles and extreme variations in composition, panel to panel, doesn’t help me either. I’m not going to tell him to draw more boring, though, because that’s just stupid.

His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.

Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.

[ In Thorp's office. ] Jansen: 'I know it's a lame excuse for showing up 20 minutes before kickoff, but my car died.' Thorp: 'Mmm. Then why didn't you take the subway, or the bullet train? Oh, that's right. Because this is just *Milford*, where you can bike or jog or ride a unicycle!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2018. Fine, yes, Thorp has a point about Milford being a small town. But I’m sympathetic to the supposition that Jansen would get so absorbed in trying to get his car working that he wouldn’t accept that it didn’t make sense and he should just walk there instead. There’s a reason everybody knows the sunken cost fallacy.

Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.

Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.

Thorp: 'Your family rented an apartment no one is living in?' Jansen: 'Right. And officially, that's my address. So I'm totally legit for school --- and football.' [ Later ] Thorp's Assistant: 'School: probably. Football: problematic.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of November, 2018. And yes, this Gil Thorp plot is now focused on the issue of what student-athlete eligibility rules are. So yeah, they’re now writing the strip entirely to appeal to me, a person who likes to play grand strategy games with lots of fine-grain micromanagement, so that my free time is bureaucracy sims.

Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.

Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.

[ Outside New Thayer High, Tiki Jansen's old friends renew acquaintances. A fist cocks ( to punch Jansen ) and --- ] Bolek, calling out: 'Hey, idiots! Over here!' (We see Bolek with a camera set up on a tripod.) 'Wave to the camera, fellas!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of November, 2018. The good part about Bolek’s plan is how there’s no way it can possibly go wrong! Also by the way see what I was saying earlier about the art. I grant it’s a little hard to read that last panel — too uniform a line weight, I think — but to have a fist in the extreme foreground and a tiny Bolek standing behind it is a good bit of staging.

This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.

Next Week!

I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.

If you don’t want to wait for more me-content, why not watch me Reading the Comics for the Mathematics Stuff, on my other blog? Or, now through the end of 2018, see me defining mathematics words, two per week. I’m looking at nominations for the last letters in the alphabet now, and you might make it.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

5 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Tiki Jansen Academically Eligible or What? August – November 2018.”

    1. Kaz & Gill met cute about 10 years ago when Kaz was umpiring summer baseball. Gil got him in as assistant coach & geography teacher. They occasionally have dinner out with Mimi & Kaz’s girlfriend, but the real heat is in the weight room.

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      1. I appreciate the backstory! Also I’m surprised that his assistant-coach is such a relatively new addition to the cast of characters. I suppose I’d just assumed that an assistant would be so useful to have around for plot purposes, if Gil Thorp did much coaching, that he’d have always had one.

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    2. Thank you. I somehow couldn’t work up the energy to track down his name. Honestly I should have a little file for the regular cast of the story strips, especially the ones like Gil Thorp that aren’t reliable about naming characters every couple days. On the other hand then I’ be a person who had a file that kept track of Gil Thorp characters and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

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