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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Valley Tech. (27, 30 July)
- Valley Tech. (11 – 12 August)
- Central. (9 – 12 September)
- Valley Tech. (28 September)
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.