What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Milford shut down for Covid-19 yet? January – April 2020


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.

Gil Thorp.

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.

[ Oral report day for Chris Schuring ] Schuring: 'So what's important to remember is --- ' [ 'Waaah-waaah sound effect ] Schuring: 'Y'know, that's exactly what I was going to say!' Later, Demarco's friend: 'Great job, Teddy. Schuring laughed at us, Miss Perrine took your noisemakers, and we got detention!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of January, 2020. “Also, having seen your plan play out, I’m still stuck on how we thought it was going to make Schuring look bad? What was the line of reasoning here, Teddy?”

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.

Watson: 'There's something weird going on with Teddy and that AP test.' Keener: 'Weirder than it already was?' [ Coach Thorp's office ] Assistant Coach Kaz: 'Chris? Cheating? C'mon, that's way out of character.' Thorp: 'Completely, but I have to ask him.' [ Later ] Thorp: 'Did Teddy Demarco give you an advance copy of the test?' Schuring: 'I don't know.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of March, 2020. We joke about the one way to make Gil Thorp mad is to force him to do some work for school, but if it weren’t for this he wouldn’t even be IN this story. So he should be grateful for Demarco’s bizarre stunt here.

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.

Demarco: 'Remember? 9th grade? I'm this tall. A bunch of your jock friends are picking on me. I'm almost crying, and you just sail on by.' Schuring: 'Sheesh, Teddy, I don't remember that at all. But I'm sorry. Truly. If I noticed it, I should have stepped in.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of March, 2020. Unanswered through this whole saga: Why is 17-year-old Chris Schuring more emotionally mature than I am, today? Is this kid really a 67-year-old who made a wish at a magic fountain to correct the mistakes of his high school senior year and once he fixes things up with Demarco and Watson he gets to go back to the Good Future? If my take on it is wrong, find me the evidence in-text that I am mistaken.

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.

Next Week!

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.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why did Comics Kingdom screw up its web site? January – April 2019.


I have no idea why Comics Kingdom decided to screw up its web site. But they went and redesigned it, so now it works worse by every measure. It’s that thing where a web site decides to see what it can do to annoy its regular customers. For me, that’s by two approaches: I can’t load all my comics in one go anymore. You know, the way you’d think a comics page on a comics-page site would do. I have to keep hitting ‘load six more comics’, and hoping that the site doesn’t hang, so that I have to reload the entire thing from scratch. Since the site redesign I have gotten through the day’s comics without a glitch exactly zero times. Also for me, that’s the trashing of archives. Comics Kingdom used to let me look at seven comics on a single page, which is invaluable for following a story comic. They’ve forgotten to include that in the redesign. So I’ll be sending them notes about this lost functionality until they stop reading complaints about things they broke. That would be when I first sent any complaint at all.

Anyway. If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Or I’ve given up on comics altogether as a bad job. If I haven’t, though, my newer plot recaps should be at this link. Thanks for sticking with me through this mess.

Mark Trail.

13 January – 7 April 2019.

Mark Trail’s long journey in Mexico seemed ready to end, last time I checked in. Mark and responsible-ish authority-like figures found Rusty Trail and Mara. They, in turn, had found Boss and Jefe, who were smuggling archeological finds out of Professor Carter’s dig site. And Mark Trail knew them: in early 2016 they were smuggling people into the United States. Along the way Boss and Jefe left Mark and company for dead, in an enormous and amazing cavern system. Now, finally, Mark Trail has someone to punch.

Juanito, watching Mark Trail punching guys, thinks: 'Boy! That guy made quick work of Jose and Jefe --- I'm running for it!' He runs for it. Jose the cop sees this and thinks: 'Uh-oh ... that third guy is getting away! I've got to stop him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2019. So this gets a bit confusing because José is also the name of the cop in the second and third panels, and he was finally established as being on the good side in the weeks before this strip ran. The guy that Juanito thinks of as Jose was being called Boss before. I’m not sure if this was a slip of James Allen’s pen or if they were just both named José. It would be one of those coincidences that happens all the time in real life. In fiction, though, it’s supposed to mean something or else just confuse people. But this storyline went a long time without naming any of the Mexican characters.

Mark and Jose are able to punch, and catch, Boss, Jefe, and their underling Juanito. They don’t find Rusty and Mara right away, though. The last they saw, the kids were heading towards the old library Boss and Jefe had been using. Rusty and Mara are there, playing Go Fish with Raul. You remember Raul: he’s the slightly bearded motorcycle … agent … who was part of the ring trying to catch the smugglers. So everyone’s reunited, the bad guys are foiled, and it’s been a productive day that’s run since, like, July of last year.

The rest of the Mexico visit is quiet. The Trails spend time on the beach watching nature. Rusty and Mara agree to swap e-mail addresses, in case either of them ever sends an e-mail. And there’s a lot of pictures of toucans, a running joke this storyline that I don’t understand. While flying home, Mark Trail takes time to explain how he loves the great adventure comics of the past. He cites particularly Jungle Jim, which ran from 1934 to 1954. This seems a little old for Mark Trail, if he’s not supposed to be a timeless, unageing spirit. Maybe he encountered it in reprints. Jungle Jim, written by Don Moore and illustrated by Alex Raymond, is a Vintage reprint on Comics Kingdom. Good luck reading it.

Jose, entering the library, seeing Raul, Mara, and Rusty: 'Raul ... ' Jose and Mark Trail: 'You're playing cards?' Raul: 'I told you I would deal with the kids!' Mara: 'Raul has been cheating!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2019. Oh, yes, you see, “deal” with the kids. It’s part of how Raul talks like he’s in a genially dopey mid-80s action comedy. Also, they’re playing Go Fish, which is a game you can’t cheat in without the other party knowing you’re cheating. Now, one time I was playing chess with this like seven-year-old who loved the idea of becoming a chess player, but didn’t know enough to realize that, like, I wasn’t making up castling. But I’m not going to go crushing young enthusiasm. Somewhere around five moves in, he left the king incredibly open, and I had to shuffle around for three or four moves before he finally noticed, or maybe just moved by accident to close the vulnerability. And that was the last game of chess I ever won.

The close to the Mexico storyline came the 9th of March. Rusty Trail got a package. After a couple days spent talking about how good it is to read the comics, Rusty opened it: it’s the Zuni fetish doll. The one that turned up without explanation at the archeologists’ camp. The one that revealed Mark Trail knew of the word “fetish”. Even though it’s not that kind of fetish. Anyway, with that note, something that surely refers to something I don’t know, we could leave Mexico in the past.


But before that was another “Dirty” Dyer interlude. We hadn’t seen him since April 2018. He’s still figuring to kill Mark Trail. We meet him testing out a flamethrower in the Bahamas. He’s trying out that and a rocket launcher supplied by a Mister Smith. Smith is surprisingly curious about why Dyer wants to buy stuff that can kill someone so much. Dyer is surprisingly upfront about it: he wants to kill someone so much.

Smith: 'Using the rocket launcher to kill someone, however, might be a bit of overkill!' Dyer: 'Well, you haven't met Mark Trail yet!' Smith, astounded: 'Mark Trail? You mean the famous writer!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 22nd of February, 2019. Wait a minute, a fez-wearing guy who asks us to call him ‘Mr Smith’? Is this some slightly baffling reference to the Eleventh Doctor? … Eh, probably just coincidence. But … eh. We’ll see when “Dirty” Dyer’s story picks up next.

And Smith is surprised who Dyer wants to kill. He knows of Mark Trail, and loves his articles. He’s glad to help kill Mark Trail. He’d like to get an autograph first, but it’s not like he’s going to run out of Mark Trail archives. Also surprisingly interested in joining the fun: Semo, the cabana boy. He’s good at forging passports and other legal documents. And he knows Microsoft Office, so that’s useful. Also he’s tired of being a cabana boy and getting, like, crazy demands from guests such as David Hasselhoff. (Yes, the text in that strip is written in an odd, evasive style. But on the 4th of March Dyer names “The Hoff”.)


The new story got started the 11th of March. Doc had sad news: his old buddy Amos died. And he tells a story of when he and Amos were working a dude ranch. One day a bearded stranger came to them with the map of a vanished gold mine. He’d said the Native Americans who worked the strange mine with an entrance that moved around had left a rich cache of gold. They’d gone with him, and followed the map. The stranger dug underneath a pile of rocks, going into the opening alone, and emerged hours later with bags of gold. The stranger left town, saying he had all the gold he needed. Doc and Amos and other boys from town searched the area the next day, but the land seemed to have changed.

Doc, recounting an illustrated memory: 'As we removed the pile of rocks, the skies grew dark as clouds rolled in, bringing thunder and lightning with them! The stranger descended to the unearthed opening alone! Hours later he came back --- his arms weighed down with bags of gold!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of March, 2019. Yeah, I’m really not sure I’m into Disney’s CGI remake of Aladdin.

So that’s the story. Amos had the stranger’s map. His widow is giving it to Doc. He wonders what became of the mine that he swears he saw. So, let’s put on a mining expedition! Besides, Mark can probably photograph some Sonoran desert creatures and make a story about it and maybe blow up a jeep or something. They fly to Phoenix, a city where I know surprisingly many people considering I’ve never been in Arizona. And set out to get gold-prospecting equipment while trading facts about the Sonoran Desert. This has offered a lot of chances to show animals in the foreground and large vehicles driving in the mid-background. They meet up with J J Looper, who owns a supply store, and acts friendly even though he’s got a stubbly beard. But Looper offers his expertise in gold-prospecting and in gold-prospecting lore. The folklore might be handy this adventure.

Cherry Trail, picking up satchels of things in the prospecting supply store: 'There are two types of gold deposits --- lode and tracer.' Looper: 'That's correct! Pardon me for interrupting ... I'm J J Looper, and this is my shop!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2019. So is anyone else wondering why Mark Trail has clearly vowed to revenge himself by all methods possible on J J Looper for how he just went and confirmed Cherry’s knowledge of the principal types of gold deposit?

So they’re ready to set off. I should be ready to check back in on them around late June or early July of this year. Whatever I have to report should appear at this link.

Also, hey, I read comic strips for their mathematical content too. Here’s some discussion of five comic strips, which you might like to read.

Sunday Animals Watch

What wonders of the natural world — animals, plants, phenomena — have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? And how much have we specifically doomed them? Here’s your roundup.

  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened. Yet.
  • Tanzanite, 20 January 2019. It was discovered only in 1967, and there’s one spot where it’s known to occur, but don’t worry: the American Gem Trade Association has named it a birthstone so we’ll be doing something terrible to people to get it now.
  • Spotted Lanternflies, 27 January 2019. They’re doing very well, now that they’re an invasive species in the United States Northeast.
  • Redback Spider, 3 February 2019. It’s in Australia so I assume any one of them is able to poison over one-quarter of the world’s human population.
  • The United States Forest Service, 10 February 2019. Incredibly endangered.
  • Albatrosses, 17 February 2019. Threatened or endangered, plus, you start talking about them and some nerd does Monty Python at you.
  • Tortugas National Park, Florida, 24 February 2019. Unbelievably doomed.
  • The Horned Marsupial Frog, 3 March 2019. We’d thought it was extinct the last decade, but it’s turned up in Ecuador, so that’s something.
  • King Vultures, 10 March 2019. Not particularly threatened, although they do live in Brazil, so, mm. That won’t end well.
  • The Deep-Sea Cucumber, Enyphiastes Eximia, 17 March 2019. It’s a deep sea creature. Who even knows?
  • Scorpions, 24 March 2019. They seem safe. The panel gives “Special Thanks to Jude Nelson”. So we may infer that scorpion in your room is Jude’s doing.
  • Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, 31 March 2019. It’s a turtle you never heard of, so, you see where this is going.
  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. There might be as many as fifteen of them left alive.

Next Week!

Am I angry with Karen Moy and June Brigman? As of my writing these words no, I am not. Will that change in seven days? We’ll know in under 169 hours what I think’s going on with Mary Worth.