What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s this about Coach Thorp telling a kid to get an abortion? July – September 2022


Neal Rubin stepped down as writer for Gil Thorp, with his last strip running as my last recap ran. This is convenient for me; I don’t need to explain deep background lore and … oh. Uhm.

So. Henry Barajas knows much more of the lore of Gil Thorp than I do. As part of his first three months of writing the strip he’s brought back Melissa Gordon, who was a student athlete seen in a story from 2002-03. Back then the strip was written by Jerry Jenkins. Yes, the Left Behind novelist. (And illustrated by Frank McLaughlin.) This Week In Milford dug out the original strips and summarized the story, with examples of the strip. I’ll make the story even shorter. Melissa, pregnant with fellow student Kyle Gordon, took refuge with the Thorps when her parents kicked her out. She and Kyle had decided on an abortion and Coach Thorp talked her out of it.

Melissa recounting her past story: 'We went through some rough times.' In flashback Thorp asks her, 'Can you be swayed?' and Mel answers, 'You can't tell me what to do with my body!' In the present, Thorp says, 'Mel, I shouldn't have told you to get that abortion --- ' Mel, tearing: 'Wow. Really, Gil?'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of September, 2022. In the subsequent strip Melissa says she’s not ready to accept Thorp’s apology and asks him to imagine if that were to happen today: ‘I’d have to fly back to Los Angeles or worse’. I’m not precisely sure what she means, but commenters on GoComics say that in the full 2002-03 story, Gil Thorp pushed his way into Melissa and Kyle’s decision. So while she may well love her child, it also complicated, and changed, her life and can hold Thorp accountable for talking her into it.

Then it got confusing. On the 15th of September (this year) Thorp apologized, saying, “I shouldn’t have told you to get that abortion.” In the comments on GoComics that day it’s explained that this was a lettering error. Barajas had written that Thorp apologized for telling her not to get that abortion. It’s always the critical word that gets dropped, isn’t it?

One can’t fault Thorp for having regrets about advice he gave long ago. One can fault him for saying this to Mel, when he’s having a meal with her and her child. So this makes Mel’s reaction — to someone who had, when she was a vulnerable teen, shown kindness — more understandable. Well, Thorp has been going through a rough time himself. let me try and catch up on all that. Here’s my first attempt at recapping the plot in Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp.

If you’re reading this essay after around December 2022 the most current plot recap should be at this link. Thanks for reading this one, though.

Gil Thorp.

11 July – 24 September 2022.

Barajas opened his writing tenure with Gil Thorp receiving the Jack Berrill Coach of the Year award. (Jack Berrill was, in reader time, the creator of Gil Thorp.) Again. Presenter Emmett Tays introduces Thorp with a quick football story. It’s about how Coach Thorp bonded with him over having abusive parents(!) to help him find the drive to win the big game. It’s a story that makes you ask: wait, isn’t Coach Thorp a mandatory reporter? Even if he wasn’t at the time of the story, is it admirable he saw a kid’s traumatized home life as a chance to complete forward passes? Not that a character has to be admirable to be worth our focus, but Tays is trying to tell a story of Gil Thorp doing something great.

Tays, in flashback: 'Why? I don't need to give [ my mother ] a reason to give me a matching [ black eye ]'. Thorp, in flashback: 'I ain't no snitch.' Tays snickers. Thorp continues: 'My pa was a drinker. He did't know how to communicate any way but with his fists and the belt. But those fellas out thre? You need them as much as they need you. So, let's not send them to the ER?' Tays: 'Heh. Fo sho, Coach.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of July, 2022. By the way, we haven’t heard any mention about whether they’re still ‘playdowns’, although I imagine Barajas wouldn’t lose something that distinctive to the strip.

I hesitate to play the “unreliable narrator” card. But it seems important how in the story Thorp speaks with Tays’s voice. I’m willing to suppose the story was compressed to the point it created confusion. What I don’t know is whether this was an adaptation of an actual story from deep in the Thorp archives. What I can say is what this establishes for Barajas’s writing here. It starts with a quick sports story, a promise that he’s not losing sight of that as we get into some serious family drama.

The drama: Coach Thorp’s family is not there. Mimi’s mother is dying, and Mimi’s taking a leave of absence to deal with her. Also, Mimi has not revealed how bad her mother’s health is to Gil. The subject got buried under how their own marriage is failing. She’s taken to leaving notes about how she thinks she’s worthy of his love, but not answering his phone calls. It’s a frustrating level of conflict-avoidance, one that her own child Keri calls her out on. I’m frustrated because I can’t tell you exactly what they’re struggling with. The reader’s desire to know who’s in the Right is understandable. But I’ve seen where people can fail to recognize one another’s signals of acceptance, so the relationship fails without anyone doing wrong.

Beth, a bartender at wherever it is the ceremony was, hits on Gil Thorp before finding out he’s married. Natural mistake. But they’re seen by Luke Martinez, the new coach of Valley Tech, a bombastic and outgoing and somewhat aggressive man. He declares he’s tired of Thorp winning this trophy every year and offers the deal. If Martinez wins next year, Thorp quits, and if he doesn’t, Martinez gives up coaching. Thorp doesn’t see why this man has decided to be Thorp’s problem.

Marty Moon: 'I've known Gil and his wife Mimi for a long time. He would never cheat on her!' Luke Hernandez: 'Are you callin' me a liar, Moon?' Moon; 'I just find it hard to believe --- ' Hernandez: 'You'll see! Gil is not as brilliant as me. I'm in Mensa. My mind is quick.' Moon: 'Anyway, what plans to you have for Valley Tech?' Hernandez: 'Take a wild guess ... '
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of August, 2022. Does … does it involve setting up a web site with Squarespace?

Martinez goes on Marty Moon’s “Behind the Playbook” podcast to boast to everyone about how good he is, which shows how new Martinez is in town. (Also for some reason he’s introduced as Luke Martinnez. Maybe a middle name.) But he drops a mention of seeing Thorp flirting with the bartender. Moon is skeptical. But Martinez says how he’s in Mensa, so anyone should know never to take a thing he ever says seriously. Moon calls Thorp for his side before publishing. Thorp says what happened. He also opens up to Marty Moon of all people about how Mimi’s avoided him and took the kids to her mother’s while he was away for the awards.

When she learns of this Mimi says of course she doesn’t believe anything went on. She’s not jealous of some random person hitting on Gil Thorp. Also that the trip was not set off by anything; it was the only weekend free before his Pinewood summer camp coaching. But she still wants him to be at home, emotionally, more. This desire seems to contradict scheduling a trip away the last weekend he’s free. But it’s muddled but in a way people are.

On the golf course — I think at Pinewood — Gil and Mimi run into Luke and Francesca Martinez and their son Pedro. They play together, and Luke turns on what he believes is charm. His jolly references to Mimi as the ‘ball and chain’ or ‘your old lady’ sink him somehow even farther in Gil’s eyes. Francesca’s happy to meet the Thorps, though, and mentions how she’s a heart surgeon starting at Milford Medical. This is where we the readers learned Mimi was a “stay at home” mother now, though not yet that it’s to care for her own mother.

Mimi: 'You two look neat! Jami, don't stain your new pants!' Gil Thorp, taking pictures: 'Say cheese!' Jami Thorp: 'Huh? Cheese?!' Caption beside him: 'Jami Thorp. Likes: Anime he's not old enough to watch, cheese sticks, Mom's homemade pot pies. Dislikes: THe dark. Radishes. Keri's zines. Dream job: Being dad's assistant coach.' Gil: 'Nice smile, sweetie!' Keri: 'Thanks, Daddy!' Caption beside them: 'Keri Thorp, Pronouns: they/them. Likes: Kurt Vonnegut, the Linda Lindas. Drawing zines. Dislikes: the patriarchy.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 31st of August, 2022. No argument with Keri about the Patriarchy here, which is only hurting everyone, including the patriarchs.

This gets us to the new school year, though. And the formal reintroduction of the Thorp Children, who’d gone without much (any?) mention in years. It’s also where we learn that Keri Thorp goes by they/them pronouns, the second nonbinary human character I know of in the syndicated strips. (The first would be Kelly Welly, in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail.)

We also meet Melissa Gordon, and her child, born Tabatha but now her son Tobias. I don’t know that this is the first transgender human character in syndicated newspaper comics, but Tobias is at least the first in a long while. (I’m adding the ‘human’ qualifier as I’m not sure how to characterize Rosebud from the 1980s Bloom County. I imagine “aged in awkward ways”. And of course Krazy Kat is a bunch of essays.) Also that, apparently, she and Kyle married, but separated. Melissa asks for Thorp’s hep watching after Tobias, who, yeah, can’t be having a good time in high school. I’m sure it’s better now than it would be in, oh, 1992, but that’s still not great.

And we finally see Mimi Thorp going to Milford Adult Care, spending time with her mother, who says she has six months to live. Also we meet Mimi’s replacement as girls coach, Cami Ochoa, a name that seems familiar but that I haven’t mentioned here at least. (Also the part of my brain that used to do Jumble notes her name is an anagram for ‘I Am Coach O’. This I suppose is coincidence.) The girls volleyball team wins their first game, but Coach Ochoa crops her out of the team photo for some reason.

Keri, seeing Pedro Hernandez: 'Uh, I'm Keri ... ' Fernanda Hernandez: 'The Thorp kids are here? Ay! Nice to meet you, Mija!' Luke: 'Stay for dinner! Fran cooked some arroz con pollo y papas!' Keri: 'If you say so!' Whispering to Jami: 'Why didn't you tell me your friend's brother is super hot?!' Jami, whispering back: 'You're the worst.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 26th of September, 2022. Quite like the sibling dynamic here, by the way.

Meanwhile, Jami Thorp doesn’t have to worry so much about making friends at school. He’s getting along great with this Luke Martinez Junior character, prompting Coach Thorp to eat his glass. Jami and Keri like the Martinez kids, though, as if they have an instinct to drive their father crazy.

And it falls outside the official date range for this recap. But we learned this week that Assistant Coach Kaz is moving to another school after this year. We’ll see whether it’s Valley Tech or someone else.

Milford Sports Watch!

Here’s my attempt at tracking all the schools besides Milford that get a mention or appearance. Summers usually see a lull in team references, but this has been a quite short season. All that time on new drama, I suppose.

Next Week!

This was a lot of work on changed character relationships and settings and newly complicated backstory. I’m looking forward to settling down to a nice easy recap week. I look at Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker next Tuesday, if all goes to plan.

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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.

4 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s this about Coach Thorp telling a kid to get an abortion? July – September 2022”

  1. Luke Hernnadez, to be precise. Even without the typos, miscommunications, or poltergeists it’s been hard to keep up with the truncated dialog, reimagined characters, & disordered speech bubbles.
    Cami Ochoa was a soph last year who got promoted to basketball varsity. Barajas says he’s advanced the timeline about 6 years. So Hadley & Dr. Laquan should have 2 kids by now.

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    1. Yeah, I supposed the double N to just be an ordinary typo, but the name change is a weird one. I appreciate your catching comments from Barajas about things like advancing the timeline or that Cami Ochoa is supposed to be the Cami from the strip. (I foiled myself by not mentioning her by name, it looks like.)

      I occasionally check in on the GoComics comments, but it’s very easy to miss that sort of posting. I’m aware that Barajas opened a Discord channel for talking about the strip, but I haven’t joined; I’m trying to limit just how much I sprawl across social media these days. And am trying not to follow comic strip writers too closely as I don’t want to make it harder than it has to be to say when a story is just gibberish.

      The truncated dialogue took me a bit to adjust to, but I’ve found that it reads aloud rather naturally. Also that the strip reads more smoothly read a week or a month at a time. Doing that for this recap made me realize that for all that’s been reset or reestablished, the actual developments have been reasonably straightforward. July and August’s strips, particularly, were pretty linear pieces; it’s only September that got plot threads really woven together and those have been pretty coherent blocks. I think I’m most thrown by Barajas not relying on Neal Rubin’s style of having the last panel of the day start a new scene.

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  2. Barajas has put a lot of balls in the air, I’m curious to see how he juggles them, or if can juggle the, while also telling a story about the sports season. Rubin really struggled with this and he didn’t start half as many story lines going into the seasons as Barajas has. Jerry B. Jenkins’ tenure had its drawbacks, but he really had a good sense of pacing when it came to weaving storylines into the inherent story of a sports season, a skill he honed in his competently-written mid-80s tween novels about the insufferable Dallas O’Neill and his “Baker Street Sports Club”.

    While I initially resolved to give Barajas the school year before offering a full-throated opinion on how he is doing… I’m going to break that resolution when it comes to the abortion discussion at The Bucket with Melissa Gordon. The missing “not” in Gil’s apology muddled things well enough (though, to Barajas’ credit, it is very clear that he is reworking Gil into a guy who puts his foot in his mouth a lot, which is an effective character trait with both comedic and dramatic potential)… but the next day’s strip muddled things even further, I thought. I expected Melissa’s anger with Gil to come from the inappropriateness and utter tone-deafness of discussing the unrealized abortion of her son who is, based on the 3rd panel, well within range to hear at least part of this conversation. But her anger seems to comes from conflating Gil’s actions 2 decades ago to this summer’s latest developments in abortion law. While I understand Barajas’ desire to have this strip speak to such issues and do not necessarily struggle with the strip tackling this and other topics, in this case Melissa’s are an awkward fit at best with the established and directly-referenced experiences that she went through. Barajas made her a mouthpiece instead of a character, if only for a few panels. I’m comfortable calling that Tom Batiuk-esque writing, which is a bar any comic strip writer should hope to be well clear of.

    That said, I’m still reading every day. Maybe I still will regardless of how these next several months go, but I would prefer them to be well-written.

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    1. I realized, in making notes on all this, that Barajas has fewer balls in the air than I had had; or at least, fewer that really cry out for resolution. All of the Luke Martinez/Hernnandez stuff is setting up a standing rival and someone who can really get under Gil Thorp’s skin, what with their kids becoming friends. Mimi Thorp’s mother dying is a big thread, of course, but nothing that needs resolution anytime soon. And Gil and Mimi trying to restore their relationship adds starts for plots, rather than requiring any particular resolution. It’s a way of restoring a will-they/won’t-they question to a strip about married people. And, as you note, building up Gil Thorp as someone who puts his foot in his mouth offers a nice way to turn any story into a more complicated one.

      I’m, as people have seen, very patient with comic strips (somewhere around here I have a list of strips I won’t read anymore and it’s like four comics plus ‘anyone doing a riff on the Modern Major-General song’). And I appreciate Barajas’s efforts to add some of the ambiguities and contradictions and elisions that real people have in what they say and do. But that is hard to do in a way that reads well in three panels a day. I was surprised how much more clear I was on everything when I read three months in one sitting. (Also a thing that happened with Neal Rubin’s writing, though, given his fondness for cutting to a new scene in the last panel of a strip). I’m still learning how to follow it day-to-day, though.

      Particularly, with Melissa’s anger (even allowing for the lettering mistake), I can’t say it’s inconsistent for her character, but that’s because I don’t have enough of a handle on her character. I’m willing to believe Barajas has thought out her motivation here — I want to give authors the benefit of the doubt — but from what I’ve seen I’m doing a lot of the lifting to work out what it is. I’m hoping he’ll get a better balance on how to handle all this as he gets experience and sees how people understand what he’s trying to do.

      Also I’m already thinking of doing an essay comparing this to Jules Rivera’s era of Mark Trail, as both are taking rather iconically stodgy strips with directly defined characters (who star in weekday-only storylines, come to think of it) and adding multithreaded plotting and character ambiguities and internal thoughts and regrets and wrinkles like that. But I don’t know Barajas’s work nearly well enough to have useful thoughts on that yet.

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