I was writing about Gil Thorp for yesterday and remembered that Cow and Boy character I mentioned. One of the enormously many running gags was a giant panda who wanted to destroy the Moon and ultimately succeeded. And that would have been a great side joke to include in a story about kids protesting local radio jerkface Marty Moon. Trouble is I didn’t remember any particular date when Cow and Boy featured its Moon-hating giant panda. Couldn’t find it by searching gocomics.com either. None of the keywords that made any sense got me anything relevant. So I turned to DuckDuckGo because shut up I just do. And then I got this.
While I’m soft-spoken, I am not a timid soul. I have seen, and coped with, stuff on the Internet that I will not be able to talk with my parents about even after we are all dead. But this? This shakes me.
Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.
Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.
And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.
This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.
The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.
Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.
Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.
A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.
Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.
In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.
Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.
Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”
So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.
And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.
Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.
The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.
So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.