So, no, Gil Thorp hasn’t mentioned Covid-19 yet. Comic strip lead times vary. Some artists work very close to deadline. Some work a long time ahead. The story goes that Tom Batiuk is more than a year ahead of publication on Funky Winkerbean. Some will jump in for an opportunity. Stephen Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine, everyone says is like a year ahead of publication, but this week’s strips are a Covid-19 theme. Anyway this disaster is, at least, a chance for us to learn how far ahead comic strips are being made.
Sunday strips have a greater lead time, usually something like an extra month. It takes time to get comic strips colored on purpose by people who know what the characters are supposed to look like. Story comics that have both the daily and Sunday continuity tied together will have to work to that deadline. (These are Gil Thorp, which has no Sunday strip, and Alley Oop and The Phantom, which have separate Sunday stories.)
Anyway, I can’t imagine this news not coming to the story strips, especially one set in high school, about athletes. When it happens it’ll surely interrupt the storyline as much as it interrupted our lives. I’m as curious to see what that’ll do.
But it hasn’t yet. So this essay will get you up to speed on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, as it was in early April, 2020. It’s right after the conclusion of a story, which is neat for my purposes. If you’re reading this after summer 2020, and there is a summer 2020, I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. And if you want to follow any story comics at all, all those essays are gathered at this link. Now back to sports.
13 January – 4 April 2020
The story, as it had developed from its start the 9th of December? Alexa Watson is a bright young basketball potential star whose life got annoying in 2011, and then incredibly annoying in 2014. She’s decent but not as good an athlete as everyone agrees she could be. She and Chris Schuring, on the boys basketball team, are hundredths of a point away from each other to be valedictorian. And Teddy Demarco and his posse are mocking Schuring at every chance. So! Who will valedictate? That’s the setup.
Also a lot of the plot. A lot of the fun in Gil Thorp, or any story strip, is stuff getting weird. Or at least operatic, which the core ridiculousness of high school encourages. That never quite came together this plot. It’s not that anything was bad. But if you wanted to see Marty Moon humiliated? And who reads Gil Thorp who doesn’t? It wasn’t happening.
Demarco figures to keep messing with Schuring. His idea: a cheap sound effects machine from a tiresome novelty store. As Schuring tries to present something in Something Class, Demarco buzzing and wah-wah noises. This doesn’t come close to throwing Schuring, or anyone else. But it leaves us wondering why Demarco wants to bully Schuring, and why he’s so god-awful at it.
Coach Mimi Thorp tries to get Watson to play more offensively. But she’s got no interest in trying. Schuring identifies her problem as wanting to be invisible. At least in situations she can’t control. Watson, talking this over with her friend Phoebe Keener, grants that Schuring may have a point. But, back in third grade, he was the first person to make a Watson the Supercomputer joke at her. I empathize deeply with the anger at the person who gives you The Joke that’ll harass you through school. In this case, though, I think she’s not being fair to inevitable discovery. Of course, if they were always fair, they wouldn’t be our feelings.
Schuring offers Keener advice, to get Watson to play better basketball. Act more aggressive off the court, and she’ll play more offensively. And it’ll get people to think about her athletics instead of that her name is Alexa Watson. You may protest that this reasoning is dumb, but please remember that it comes from a teenage boy, and so is dumb. Watson tries it, to the point that Coach Mimi Thorp has to get involved, because she’s being a jerk. And getting fouled out of games.
Back to Demarco, who needs to try something dumb. He gets a copy of last year’s AP Chemistry midterm. He offers it to Alexa Watson, who refuses. It’s the mark of a good student, after all, to … not use previous years’ tests, where available, as study guides. This is a point where I felt completely lost. Demarco got the test from “a guy who took it last year”. If it wasn’t a test he was supposed to return to the instructor, then I have no idea what the problem is. But we have to read it as an illicit copy or the whole story falls apart.
With Watson refusing to be valedictorian “by cheating”, Demarco goes to Schuring. He claims that, to make amends for all the pranks, he’s giving this present of last year’s midterm. Schuring tosses it without looking. Doesn’t matter: after the midterm, Demarco goes to Mr Rollins and says he gave Schuring the midterm.
None of the teachers, nor the coaches, believe Schuring cheated. But they have to investigate. Schuring says he doesn’t even know what he got; he tossed it. Watson vouches for him. Mr Rollins changes out at least some of the questions each year, and Schuring did as well on those as he did on the rest. And they’ve noticed Demarco has been incompetently sniping Schuring for years, so why the change? And then they remember that teenage boys are dumb, and suspend Demarco for, jeez, seriously.
Schuring goes to Demarco to ask what his deal is. As with all high school, it’s dumb. In 9th grade, Schuring’s jock friends picked on Demarco, and Schuring doesn’t do anything about it. Schuring apologizes. He doesn’t remember it at all and admits that he should have stopped it. It doesn’t fix Schuring letting Demarco get bullied years ago, but it’s something. Good thought for everyone who’s callously hurt someone else. It’s never wrong to own up to your mistakes and apologize.
On to valedictation. The guidance counselor asks Watson what she thinks of Schuring’s plan to be co-valedictorians. She doesn’t want a reward for backing up Schuring against Demarco’s failed scam. Schuring says it’s not: he proposed co-valedictorian months ago. All right, then. All’s well. Oh, and he introduces her to his girlfriend, Siri Conti.
And that, the 28th of March, wrapped up the story, which was not the most tense or action-packed one.
The current story started the 30th of March, introducing a bunch of kids And Gil Thorp saying how his favorite opening day is baseball, which is right up. And that’s about all we have. Check back around here in early July, by which time whatever plan Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham had will have been blown apart.
Milford Schools Watch
Who plays Milford? Who are their big rivals? Here’s some other schools mentioned in the strip over the last few months.
- Madison (15-17 January)
- Central (22 January)
- Oakwood (23 January)
- Jefferson (31 January)
- Valley Tech (1-4 February)
- Jefferson (21-24 February)
- Tilden (25-27 February)
- Goshen (28 February)
Wealth! Prestige! Power! A sullen teenager! Television production schedules! And — if things hold out a few more days — no Norton! It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker, in a week, if things start going well. Thanks for reading.