What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp Going To Be Fired? November 2018 – February 2019


No, Gil Thorp is not going to be fired. But I’m happy to provide recaps of the stories in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the indefinite future. If you’re in the definite future of after about April 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at that link.

I don’t just read the story strips for the plots. I also read lots of comic strips for the mathematics, and write about that on my other blog. You might enjoy the results. I do, myself.

Gil Thorp.

26 November 2018 – 9 February 2019.

Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?

Jansen, in the locker room: 'I sent our little Oscar-winner to my ex-friends back in new Thayer. They agreed it was better to call a truce than see it blasted all over the Internet.' On the field, a teammate asks: 'Great. Does that mean you're switching schools again?' Jansen: 'Not any time soon.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2018. Meanwhile, over at New Thayer, at least a third of the gang is asking, so they shouldn’t have Snapchatted chasing down and trying-but-failing to beat up Tiki Jansen, then? Snapchat is a thing that non-old people do, right? Also it’s a thing to do? Please advise. I haven’t understood any social medium since IRC.

Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.


Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.

It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.

Howry, arms spread wide, seen from above: 'First, ask the question --- ' Then a close-up of his fist slamming into his other hand. 'And then knock 'em over with the answer!' Later, in the school, one of Filion's teammates asks: 'Make time for the Bucket after practice. Soto's gonna try to eat three banana splits!' Filion: 'I'd better pass.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of December, 2018. “Are you positive you wanna pass? They’re using the same banana model that Eugene the Jeep uses to cure purple-ness.” “Um. I’m supposed to be an eighteen-year-old in 2019. What do you imagine the syllables `Eugene the Jeep’ mean to me?” And in non-snarky commentary, I like the camera angles in the first two panels. They put a healthy amount of energy into a single character talking to himself about his plans for revenge against his high school basketball coach.

The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”

Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.

Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”

That isn’t how Thorp remembers it. But he keeps his memories to himself, his assistant, and us nosey people in the audience. He remembers Howry as the equipment manager and up-and-coming stats nerd. And, dear lord help us, one of those people who insists that you need to be a brand. Before he could be mercifully kidnapped and terrorized by The Ghost Who Walks, he got dumb. He gave in to Maxwell “Max” Bacon’s pleas for Adderall. Except he didn’t in fact do that. Howry gave Bacon aspirin tablets, figuring that’s all Bacon really needed. And who could get in trouble for taking aspirin on game day? Thorp suspended Bacon and dropped Howry altogether. But feels he can’t explain this in public without humiliating students who didn’t deserve that.

Gil Thorp: 'Bobby Howry --- I mean, Robby --- is attacking me on a billboard?' Assistant: 'And a web site, and a podcast.' Thorp: 'Well ... I guess it's good to see he's well-rounded.' (At a coffee shop.) Reporter: 'Tell me about yourself, Robby.' Howry: 'I'm just a multi-dimensional guy who cares about Milford.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of January, 2019. So what is better: the second panel where Gil Thorp is barely able to believe Robby Howry has decided to make this his life’s goal? Or the implied fourth panel where the Milford Star reporter sighs, puts his pencil and notepad down on the table, and says, “Before I continue you must tell me whether you have ever addressed a woman as ‘milady’ unironically”, resolved that if Howry has then this interview and all interactions with Howry forever are now ended.

And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.

And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.

(I owe gratitude to the Comics Curmudgeon, for posting about the bootleg-DVD story in a way that I could search for the strips. I’d never have dug them up otherwise.)

So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.

Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.

It may earn him loyalty. The basketball team finds people who remember Howry. They work out that as best they can figure, yeah, he needs a swirly. They are correct, but Thorp overhears and tells them: NO. Leave him alone, you idiots. The team, thinking cleverly but stupidly, finds the loophole. They weren’t explicitly told not to go to Howry’s “Fire Gil Thorp” billboard and graffiti it. They’re foiled. Oh, sure, they thought of a great wisecrack about Tiny Tim. But none of them thought to bring a ladder. Which is lucky, since some cops show up. They notice the players look like they’re popular kids, so he lets them go with a warning and a call to the school.

At the billboard. Narrator: 'Two cars, four kids, four cans of spray paint, and ... ' One kid: 'Seriously, Andre? You didn't think to bring a ladder?' Andre: 'I thought there'd be one here.' Kid: 'Right. And maybe a cooler full of snacks marked 'For graffiti artists only'.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of January, 2019. I don’t blame them for not thinking out how you get up onto a billboard. I would have guessed there’d be something built into one of the support pillars, if for no other reason to let someone caught on the sign get down safely. Anyway, the real question is, in that first panel are we looking at the front or the back end of the car with the ‘MILFORD’ license plate?

Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.

My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.

Milford Schools Watch

People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.

  • Arapahoe
  • Central City
  • Danbury
  • Jefferson
  • Madison
  • New Thayer
  • Tilden
  • Valley Tech

Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.

Next Week!

What is reliably my greatest challenge. What’s going on in Judge Parker? Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley know. I’ll try to figure it out.

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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.

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