What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why was that kid going on about the 90s Detroit Pistons? December 2020 – March 2021


The kid, Vic Doucette, was going on about the 90s Pistons because he researched them. He researched them because Coach Gil Thorp referenced them and he wanted to do his job as game announcer well. Not that anything about the Pistons is likely to come up in a Milford basketball game. But a marker of excellence in a field is enthusiasm for its trivia. Doucette’s decided he wants to be an announcer and he is throwing himself wholeheartedly into the role.

This should catch you up to mid-March 2021 in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. If you’re reading the strip after about June 2021 there should be a more up-to-date plot recap here. There’ll also be any news about the comic strip that I learn from reading The Daily Cartoonist.

Gil Thorp.

14 December 2020 – 6 March 2021.

It happens that last time I checked in was the week the story wrapped up. I often feel like these recaps happen suspiciously close to a new story’s start. That’s an illusion created by “close” feeling like “within two weeks, give or take” and that covers, like, a third of my cycle. Still, the new and current story started the 14th of December, neat as I would hope.

We start basketball season. First major player: Vic Doucette. He’s not an athlete, owing to cerebral palsy. He asks Coach Gil Thorp to be the announcer for boys’ basketball games. Thorp is impressed with Doucette’s knowledge of basketball trivia and also his existence as a living body willing to do this job.

Next major player: Shooting guard Doug Guthrie. He has a 1966 Pontiac GTO, which I am informed is an impressive car to have. He’d found and rebuilt it with his dad. And he keeps ducking out for thinks like go-kart races in Florida. Like, real kart racing at 70 mph and so on.

Third major player: Tessi Milton, forward for the girls’ basketball team. And teammate to Corina Karenna, who’s transferred over from volleyball. The girls’ team feels disrespected, relative to the boys’ team. She comes into significance later in the proceedings.

Narrator: 'Milford gets hot, the crowd combusts --- and Vic Doucette fans the flames.' Doucette, announcing: 'Three-pointer by Mark 'Fear Of' Godleski!' Narrator: 'Late 4th Quater, Milford by 1 --- and a collision!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 6th of January, 2021. To get a handle on Doucette’s character: we see him working on these nicknames before the game starts, including things like asking Tessi Milton if “Tessi” is short for anything, so that he can look more spontaneous. That’s a level of professionalism I hope to someday achieve.

Doucette got the job of announcer because he was willing. It turns out he’s eager, though. Enthusiastic even. He works out catchy nicknames for everyone, he rallies the crowd, he shows open and unbridled delight in a high school thing. He goes to away games — where he’s not an announcer — to take notes about the team. He follows Gil Thorp’s mention of the 90s Pistons to study how Ken Calvert announced players, and pick up moves from that work. In short, he shows unbridled interest in a thing. In high school. Vic Doucette is braver than the troops.

At a postgame dinner at The Bucket, Guthrie talks about Doucette’s car. It’s a modified 2004 GMC Safari. The modifications are to help Doucette when he’s having a harder day. They bond over the car talk, though, Guthrie asking about the MV-1, identified as “the first van designed for wheelchairs from the start”. So you know how deep the car thing interests Guthrie.

The girls’ basketball team, meanwhile, wants for attention. Tessi Milton figures to get Vic Doucette to announce their games, too. It’s not a bad plan. In boys’ basketball he’s advanced to running in-game givewaways and stuff that plays well with the crowd. (He’s giving away the hot dog and soda that are his “pay” for announcing. I mention because the strip made a point of mentioning it. I appreciate the craft of that. You can fault Gil Thorp for many things, but it does justify most everything that appears on screen. It may be the story strip that most improves on rereading twelve weeks’ worth at a go.) Fun enough that Guthrie even skips a car-racing thing to play. Doucette even has some decent sports-psychology, talking Guthrie out of the funk of a lousy game.

Tessi Milton: 'The girls need you, Vic. Can you do the announcing at our games?' Doucette: 'Umm ... Well ... Hmm ... ' Later, Guthrie: 'What did you tell her?' Doucette: 'Mostly, I sputtered. I should study more, not less. And I'm already not seeing my friends enough.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of February, 2021. I don’t know whether we’re to take that last panel as Doucette smoking or just that the air is cold. I suspect the latter, on grounds of dramatic economy: if we were supposed to think Doucette smoked, some panel would make that unambiguous.

So Milton asks Doucette to announce their games. He’s not sure. He needs time to study, after all, and see his friends and do stuff that isn’t basketball announcing. Also, I notice, he uses a crutch reliably from mid-January on; he hadn’t needed one earlier. This may be a signal that he’s getting worse.

He decides to announce girls basketball games, though, saying, “studying is overrated, right?” And he brings the same level of research and hard work to this that he did the boys games. It goes well, and Milton’s grateful, to the point everyone tells Doucette that she’s flirting with him. So he asks her out and she “can’t this weekend”.

Guthrie, with Tom Muench, are late to a practice. They’re pulled over by a traffic cop, who recognizes that they’re popular white athletes and lets them off with a little car talk. But, running laps at practice, Muench sprains his knee and is out for a couple games. And this throws Guthrie way off his game.

Doucette notices all this, and tries to sort out Guthrie’s problem. He observes how Guthrie’s interested in someday driving racecars at 200 mph; it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about running laps. And this bit seems to help.

Tessi Milton: 'Vic asked me out. It's awkward.' Corina Karenna: 'Why? It seemed like you were flirting with him.' Milton: 'A little. ... We needed a PA announcer. But seriously: would you go out in that grandpa van?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 5th of March, 2021. The rest of the team is aghast at describing a 17-year-old Pontiac as a “Grandpa Van”.

After a girls basketball game, Tessi Milton dodges Doucette, whom she points out to her teammates has asked her out twice now. Her teammates point out she was flirting with him. Which she owns up to, yes, but they needed an announcer. And while he’s “a nice guy,” well, “would you go out in that grandpa van?” Which does support Karenna’s earlier assessment that Milton is a deeply shallow person. To be empathetic, though, Milton is in a lousy place herself. Suppose you’ve agreed the team needs Doucette to announce their games; what tools do you have to get him to do it? There’s no pay available, and no glory either. What option does she have but flattery? And — I write before seeing Monday or Tuesday’s strips so may be setting myself up to be a fool — faulting Doucette’s car is less bad than sneering at the idea of dating someone with cerebral palsy.

And that’s the standings as of mid-March. It does feel like Milton’s being set up for some comeuppance. But the story might resolve to something as simple as hurting a guy who’s been quite giving. It does feel to me significant that Doucette’s repeated his worry he’s ignoring friends and school for all this announcing work, though. Also that he’s seen using the crutches more than he was early in the story. Maybe not significant is Guthrie mentioning how his dad teaches driving to the area cops, part of why he and Muench were let off with small talk. I’m not making detailed predictions, though.

Milford Schools Watch

Who’s Milford playing? The past couple months, these teams. If you want the win-loss record, oh, I don’t feel up to tracking that. You have your fun.

Next Week!

Is super-hyper-ultra-duper extra-special spy agent April Parker back in town? I’ll check in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker if things go to my plan.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Why did Coach Thorp care where his players sat? September – December 2020


The football players were attending volleyball games. But they were sitting in mutually hostile cliques. That’s what Gil Thorp cared about and wanted to break up. And this should catch you up on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for mid-December 2020. Plot recaps for 2021 or later, or news about the strip, I should have at a post here.

And on my mathematics blog, this should be the final week for my A-to-Z essays. These have looked at something mathematical through the whole alphabet and that’s fun but also fun to have finished. You may find something interesting there.

Gil Thorp.

21 September – 12 December 2020.

Corina Karenna had just joined Milford, and the girls volleyball team, in September. She was baffled by the team bonfire rally. Will Thayer, quarterback, is interested in Karenna; she shuts him down, asking how many volleyball games he’s been to, which is none.

Coach Thorp: 'That reverse you called? We were saving it for a conference game. Now it's on film.' Terry Rapson: 'Oh.' Thorp: 'And that pass --- ' Rapson: 'Went for a touchdown!' Thorp: 'Because the defender slipped. It would have been incomplete, or worse, when a few first downs would have run out the clock.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2020. I get Rapson’s mistake here, though. It’s hard to internalize that point where you win by beating the clock instead of the other team.

In the game against Ballard, backup quarterback Terry Rapson gets put in, with directions to run the clock out. Rapson decides to run more aggressively, getting a touchdown and securing the game win. But also giving away a play that Thorp was keeping in reserve for a more important game. Now any opponent can prepare for it. This has to count as a failure of Thorp’s coaching. Granted teenagers are going to make dumb mistakes. But you can’t expect people to follow what seem like bad directions — here, to refrain from taking scoring chances — without reason. They have to know the point of this all.

Anyway, Rapson and Thayer compete to be the lead quarterback. Also to get the interest of Karenna, who can’t think of a reason to care. Rapson and Thayer are pretty well-matched in both contests. And get increasingly angry with each other. Rapson particularly when Thayer loses the game against Madison (for which Rapson was benched).

Football player: 'I'm saying Rapp should play more. You want to try to shut me up?' Marty Moon, reporting: '40 seconds left and it looks like there's a scuffle on the Milford sideline. That's a first!' Assistant coach, separating the fighting players: 'What the heck is wrong with you two?' Both players: 'Ask him!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of November, 2020. The story switches to Karenna dealing with Rapson and Thayer’s nonsense. So we don’t get to see what Marty Moon makes of what is, yeah, a ridiculous loss of control on Coach Thorp’s part. This is a shame since we don’t get to see Marty Moon falling on his face with this story too, somehow.

Rapson finally takes Karenna’s hints, and goes to a girls volleyball game. He also gets a bunch of friends to go with him. They don’t understand the game, but are putting in the effort, and Karenna consents to go to a football game. The teams start going to one another’s games and that would be great. Except that the football team divides between Rapson and Thayer for first-string quarterback. (And a couple kids who don’t see why they need to have an opinion on this.) They won’t even sit together in the stands.

Gil Thorp learns about this, and tells Rapson and Thayer to knock it off. Rapson and Thayer figure the other went to the coach so he would make their rival knock it off, so the team remains divided. It gets bad enough that teammates fight on the sidelines at a win.

[ Corina Karenna orchestrates a quarterback summit ] Rapson or Thayer (from inside the depicted house): 'Of course we want to win football games!' Karenna: 'Great. now explain how undercutting each other helps. ... No answers? Excellent. Maybe you're brighter than I thought.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2020. Oh, jeez. Karenna, I hate to dash your optimism, but, speaking as a recovered teenage boy, oh gads no. We are not nearly as bright as you think, and I’m sorry, but we aren’t going to be before about age 28 or so. You and all society would be better off if you stopped giving us attention, or driver’s licenses, or sharp or blunt objects, until this changes.

So Karenna steps in. She invites Rapson and Thayer to her place to fight it out. She explains the problem with the authority of a teenager who’s had to be the functional adult for years. (Her parents divorced. Her mother’s been too depressed to parent.) They’re being selfish, they’re screwing up the team, and they’re not making themselves attractive to her. So what are you going to do? They agree they’ve, at least, had a weird night at Karenna’s place.

Karenna tells the Thorps she’s solved the quarterback problem. Coach Thorp figures he has, too: playing emergency quarterback Leonard Fleming. It works for the first game. At Valley Tech, it’s a bit tougher, and Fleming gets injured. Thorp tells Thayer to step in. But Thayer bows: he’s aware Rapson is reading the defense, should play instead. So, Rapson plays, and the season ends on a win. The girls volleyball players try to congratulate him. He credits Karenna as the most valuable player. She does a shrugging rah.

And that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2020.

Milford Schools Watch

It’s a bunch of familiar teams that Milford’s played, in football and girls volleyball, the last three months. The dates are from the starts or first mentions of a rival school in the storyline; several of the games went on for a week-plus.

Next Week!

Did Toni Bowen win the mayoral race? Is Sophie Spencer going to go to Local College? Is Ronnie Huerta still in the comic strip? And what storylines have gone totally bonkers? You already know if you’ve reading Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Or you can wait a week and catch my Judge Parker recap here. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp just ignoring Covid-19 too? June – September 2020


Yes, it appears that Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is going ahead as though things were normal. It’s a defensible choice. The only sports one could morally play during the pandemic are outdoor sports with physically separated individuals. I don’t know if Milford even has an archery team. There’s a fair chance it’s never come up in the strip before. But that would leave the strip with nothing to write about, which is a heck of a writing challenge.

So. This essay should catch you up to mid-September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or want what news on Gil Thorp there is, a more useful essay should be at this link. And, lest we forget, my mathematics blog continues its weekly glossary entries, at this link. This week we get to O, finally. Not zero.

Gil Thorp.

29 June – 19 September 2020.

Milford’s boys’ softball was playing against Valley Modified, the school for delinquents. Not a formal game. Mike “The Mayor” Knappe, kicked out of Milford for bringing a butter knife to school, organized it because hey, wouldn’t it be fun? What would go wrong with Valley Modified’s ragtag bunch of misfits playing against an actual team? Anyway Milford was ahead 149 to nothing at the top of the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet. Some of the Milford players defect, to give the other kids a chance.

[ Unsurprising: Milford is lots better than Mike Knappe's ragtag team. Unexpected: free pizza! ] Corina Karenna: 'Yo, other catcher. What's your story?' Hiawatha Jones: 'Call me Hiawatha.' Karenna: 'Do I have to?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of June, 2020. Based on the first panel either some people brought their little kids or else Milford freshmen are 40% the size of the seniors.

And then pizza arrives. 20 pizzas, giving everyone a break. The game resumes and Valley Modified stumbles on until Phoebe Keener, from the Milford Girls Softball team, calls time. She gives Valley’s shortstop some tips. Things resume, less competitive and more collegial, until a someone delivers subs. And, later, ice cream. What would have been a shellacking turns into a picnic and everybody kind of forgets about finishing things.

The adults wrap things up, with Gil Thorp not-denying having a hand in sending the pizza order. Assistant Coach Kaz not-denying sending in the subs. The coolers with pop? Why, that’s Knappe’s English teacher, the one who reported his having a butter knife in school. And so on. And, hey, Generic State University decided not to rescind its acceptance of Knappe. Coach Thorp’s report about Knappe organizing the event convinced them of his good character. Their admission letter even jokes about leaving knives in the dining hall, like the tag of a 70s cop show. Uhm. Right.


That, the 11th of July, finally wrapped up the spring storyline. The summer story began the 13th of July.

It starts with a follow-up to the softball game. Phoebe Keener recognizes Valley Modified’s catcher, Corina Karenna. She got introduced as a nice snarky type who has “problems with authority”, like you want on a sports team. They share a lunch and go shopping, Karenna amazed that Keener is looking for buttons, and sews and such. And Keener … wonders what Karenna is doing in town, actually.

Corina Karenna: 'Our shortstop was Ardis Carhee, not Carver.' Phoebe Keener: 'Right! You passed the test! So, Corina Karenna, what brings you to bustling downtown Milford?' Karenna: 'I'm thinking of committing a series of unspeakable crimes.' Keener: 'Wow, me too!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 17th of July, 2020. I literally can not imagine being even slightly irked that someone remembered the name of someone she met once as “Carhee” rather than “Carver”. Mind, I have also given up on the cashier at Burger King typing in my name as anything but “Joeseph”. Also given up: going to Burger King.

Also, True Standish is back in Milford. Years ago he’d been the star quarterback and brought Milford to the state championship. He went off to college and now he’s … a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. He kept getting injured in football. He’s getting injured in baseball too. But he’s a low enough draft choice that the Rays figure, eh, let him wander around, he’ll probably be all right.

Another lunch hangout. Karenna admits she’s looking for a new direction. Also to return a catcher’s mitt from the ball game. The waitress at the diner shares the bad news; the guy she’s returning the mitt to is out of town for the week. Did you see the plot point dropped there? Because I’ll admit, I didn’t, not until writing this up. And after that we see the two obvious threads come together. Standish needs a catcher for pitching practice. So they set up pitching camp.

True Standish: 'Coach Thorp! Thanks for coming. Meet Corina Karenna.' Karenna: 'Charmed.' Standish: 'I'm ready to roll. Oh --- if I brush my chest, it's a slider.' Gil Thorp: 'You've probably never caught one of hose, Corina. It'll --- ' Karenna: 'I'll figure it out after the first one.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 5th of August, 2020. You might think it obnoxious that Gil Thorp is giving advice to a girl who has not asked for his advice, whom he has no supervisory role over, and whom he has no established relationship of any significance. But remember that Coach Gil Thorp is a white guy.

Coach Thorp watches a session. He notices how Karenna has no trouble handling professional-grade pitching. And Karenna admits to Keener that “I’m thinking of moving to Milford”. Keener asks the obvious: isn’t there a “we”, what with her having a mom and all? And the thing is her mother is depressed, bad enough that Corina has to lead the family. (Her father left long ago.) She mentions how she and her mother could live anywhere there’s support. She mentions this in the diner, where the waitress from earlier happens to be. The waitress drops the advice to ask True Standish about his mom. Standish does more, bringing her to meet her mom.

So, Standish’s mother has similar depression problems, though not as severe. She’s got good support, though I’m not sure how this would transfer to Karenna’s mother. Also, Mimi Thorp watches Karenna at a pitching workout and offers her business card in case Karenna has questions. Also high school girls coaches have business cards. After some prodding about mysteries of the softball game, she decides. Orientation day comes and she’s signed up to Milford. Even to try out for volleyball. The story resolves, more or less, the 4th of September.

I will lose standing in the comics snarker ranks for this: I think this story was pretty well-done. Karenna’s problem gets laid out naturalistically, for the story strips. Her situation, having to be the functioning adult in a broken home, is realistic enough. That she wears a protective layer of sarcasm makes sense. How a resolution will happen gets laid out in the open where it’s easy to miss. The only piece that comes from nowhere is True Standish’s mother also coping with depression. But there’s little reason for him to have discussed that. It’s possible this was established when Standish was a regular character. If it was, then I sincerely bow to Neal Rubin. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a slick move to have introduced a supporting character last story to be the main for this one. And then she seems to be inspiring significant action for the current story. There’s some good crafting here.


With the 5th starts the current story. And yeah, that’s a midweek transition. The heart of this, like many fall storylines, is the boys’ football team. Will Thayer’s bulked up over the summer. This could challenge Charlie Rapson for the quarterback’s position. Radio sports reporter Marty Moon is interested in this quarterback controversy. Coach Thorp isn’t worried by the rivalry, nor by Marty Moon attempting to be clever, since Marty Moon is not a clever man.

Rebecca Ramirez, explaining the Bonfire: 'It's a tradition. We build a bonfire, and the next night, the football team clobbers Oakwood.' Corina Karenna: 'Super. And what does everyone do for the volleyball team?' From a distance, one boy asks, 'Hey, who's that?' and his friend answers, 'Becca Ramierez. You've known her since first grade.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2020. I went through high school making almost no impression on anyone besides my friends. And the experience wasn’t bad. So were I on the volleyball team, I’d be happy with “everyone carries on as if we did not exist”.

And her new teammates bring Karenna to that most ominous of Milford athletic community events: the Bonfire. So, I never went to a school that had any self-esteem. Occasionally high school would have a pep rally, where we sat in the gym bleachers while people tried to get us excited about … the school, I guess. All it did for me was reinforce my suspicion of mass emotion. I could not imagine participating in a bonfire. So I am very much on Karenna’s side in looking at this as a borderline terrifying activity from a whole other universe.

And that’s our story, so far.

Milford Schools Watch

This may have been the slowest three months on record for Milford’s sports. If I haven’t missed anything there were only two other schools named on-screen. They were:

Next Week!

Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker was the first story strip to incorporate Covid-19 into the story. What’s happening in it now? If all goes well, we’ll see in a week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp really not doing a pandemic story? April – June 2020


Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.

If you’re reading this after about October 2020, I should have another Gil Thorp plot recap at this link. It shall also have any news about the comic strip that I don’t want you to miss.

Gil Thorp.

6 April – 27 June 2020.

The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.

Knappe, holding up bagels: 'Today's breakfast a la bus: sesame bagels!' Girl: 'That sounds surprisingly normal.' Knappe, holding up peanut butter and a smooth knife: 'With peanut butter!' Girl, hiding her face: 'I stand corrected.' English Teacher: 'Can we start class now, please?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of April, 2020. I understand that many people come from food microecosystems for one reason or other, but … I mean, if she’s cover-her-face embarrassed by bagels with peanut butter? She’s going to literally melt when exposed to Cincinatti chili. Anyway I stand by my assertion that cottage-cheese-with-sour-cream is NOT a freak combination of fridge dairy.

This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.

What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.

Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.

Knappe, at the Conference: 'I'm being suspended for bringing a knife to spread my peanut butter? How long?' Gil Thorp: 'District policy doesn't call for suspension, Mike.' Dr Pearl: 'It's mandator, young man. You're expelled.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of May, 2020. I’m … not clear why Gil Thorp is here, as opposed to (say) Knappe’s homeroom teacher or whoever’s on record as his guidance counsellor if that’s not Dr Pearl there already. I get Thorp would be in the loop on the results but he’s not the teacher who ratted on Knappe or anything that gives him a need-to-know.

Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.

The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.

Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.

Ardis Carhee, student at the Alternate School: 'Never ask why someone is here.' Knappe: 'Um ... OK. Sorry.' Carhee: 'No worries. You always find out. But the tradition is that you don't ask. I was what they call 'chronically truant'.' Knappe: 'You should probably make up a better story.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of May, 2020. Carhee: “That … that was my better story.”

Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?

OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.

[ The ballpark ] As friends, families, sun-seekers and the idle curious gather at town park ... Knappe, holding up a T-shirt to his fellow players: 'Check it out, everyone - team T-shirts!' Milford pitcher, to his catcher: 'What do you think ... should I go hard at these guys?' Catcher: 'Until they prove they can't hit ... yes.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 24th of June, 2020. So, this might seem patronizing or even just mean-spirited, but it is the high school varsity team against a team that’s played together for like two weeks total and isn’t even sure why it’s there. And it’s not like choosing to take it easy on them would be any less patronizing. It’s hard competing against someone you have good reason to think you outclass. Anyway that time I needed 90 minutes to beat that vague relative who was seven years old and really wanted a chess set and didn’t know that castling was not some weird thing I made up was for good reasons: I’m not very good at chess.

A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.

Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.

Milford Schools Watch

Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:

Next Week!

OK, this is an easy one. I know Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker is addressing the pandemic and how it affects the race for mayor of Cavelton. See you in a week to discuss that, barring something urgent happening.

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 Judge Parker? Is Sophie Parker running away from home? October 2019 – January 2020


So first, the most astounding news about Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker: Norton has not appeared in the past three months. Almost four months, now, unless there’s a surprise coming in Sunday’s strip. Anyway, all my Judge Parker essays should be at this link, including whatever plot recaps I write after (likely) April 2020. If it’s much past mid-January 2020 when you read this, you might get a more useful plot recap there. Also, Sophie has not yet run away, and has made statements to imply she’s not. But the groundwork is there.

Judge Parker.

27 October 2019 – 19 January 2020.

Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta finally got a call back on their screenplay, last I checked in. It’s based on the super-hyper-ultra-duper-spy nonsense of April Parker, who helped them out, at the point of a gun. This seems harsh, but it is the most efficient way to get someone to actually write. Ellen Nielson, tech-billionaire-daughter with an indie movie studio, wants a meeting.

Neddy: 'I don't believe this is happening!' Ronnie: 'Is this the life of a rich white person? Just when you hit an obstacle someone comes in to possibly offer you even more money?' Neddy: 'I ... I wouldn't put it like that!' Ronnie: 'Don't get me wrong! This is one time I'm happy for all your advantages because we're in it together!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 1st of November, 2019. Among the traits of Marciuliano’s tenure on Judge Parker is self-awareness of his writing styles and of the assumptions built into the strip. Under Woody Wilson people were going crazy throwing money at the Parker-Spencer clan, to the point that I am not sure if it wasn’t a running joke.

Back in Cavelton, Sophie Parker finally talks some with Honey Ballinger. She’s one of the classmates and bandmates from that bizarre kidnapping by Sophie’s mother’s half-sister. Honey had escaped the kidnappers who got Sophie and the rest of the band. They’re both having trouble thinking college or anything makes any sense. But they’re able to start trying to be friends. They had not got along so well before the kidnapping and can’t think of a reason why, now.

Also in Cavelton: Abbey’s notion of running a little bed-and-breakfast has proved unworkable. A practical one involves renovating the horse barns into a small hotel. I have not been able to figure what they’re doing with the horses. (Also I have recently seen a bed-and-breakfast which was not made of someone’s oversized home, or made to look like one. So while I don’t get a bed-and-breakfast that seems like it’s just a hotel, I can’t say it’s wrong.) This forces Sam Driver out of his barn office. But he thinks it might be good for him to have an office somewhere near the people who have law work that needs doing off-panel. Rents are steep; turns out Cavelton is gentrifying out from under everyone. Anyway, the barn renovations get under way, then stop, then cost more. It’s a process that makes you wonder if Francesco Marciuliano has been dealing with home renovations himself lately. Then you remember home renovations was a storyline in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth last year. So you stop wondering. Then you remember in the Sally Forth story the work was done as scheduled and without surprise charges or anything. So you wonder again. Look, if you’re not using your creative expression to vent about stuff that bothers you, what are you doing?

Neddy: 'So you want to hire us as story consultants for the series?' Nielson: 'You know the relationships between the character. For example, what would April say about our take on all this?' Neddy: 'She'd kill us for straying from her intended goal for this script.' Ronnie :''Us'? I barely know her! I mean I know a lot about her! I have valuable insight into her character, too!' Nielson: 'See, it's that friendship/fear angle that will sell this!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 29th of November, 2019. Thing is, Nielson is not wrong. … So, in the early 50s Isaac Asimov wrote a couple novels set in the Galactic Empire. And in each of them, there’s a moment in which the Antagonist reviews what he knows about what the Protagonists are doing and concludes, it doesn’t make sense. He goes on to construct an alternate plot, one that fits the facts, and one that does make sense by his lights. And the thing is, it makes more sense by the reader’s lights too. It’s a curious bit of self-commentary and premise deconstruction there, as here.

Sophie and Honey get together and start playing a little music. Sophie talks of Neddy’s screenwriting dream and how great that’s going. And how is it going? Ellen Nielson thinks their screenplay is a disaster, but there’s a good idea in it. Nielson sees it as a miniseries, with them as story consultants. Neddy and Ronnie see themselves getting murdered by April for straying from their directions. So that’s a downside. But, hey, it’s a sold credit. It’ll be something great for them to talk about over Christmas with the rest of the Parker-Spencer-etc family.

[ Ronnie and Neddy bring their luggage to the guest cottage. ] Ronnie: 'Meant to ask. Marie, back at the main house, isn't she ... ' Neddy: 'Yeah, the one who was accused of murdering her husband after their wedding until they found out he had faked his own death, joined the mob, had his old business partner murdered, and tried to stalk Marie.' Ronnie: 'I was going to say isn't she the one who helped look after you when you were younger, but wow.' Neddy: 'Ask me about anyone in this house and you'll probably wind up with the same reaction.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of December, 2019. “I mean, especially since Marciuliano took over the writing but, yeah, this strip has been going on since, like, Alben Barkley was vice president so there’s a lot of backstory here.”

As the barn renovations embody the sunk-cost fallacy everyone gathers for Christmas. Neddy’s happy to introduce Ronnie to everyone. And to see everyone. Sophie is the happiest that any human being has ever been that Neddy’s back. Sophie spills her plan to skip college for a year or two and figure stuff out. Ronnie had done something similar, leaving college after a few semesters. Sophie latches onto this with an eagerness that Ronnie wisely tries to temper.

With Neddy’s support, Sophie explains to her parents that she won’t be going to college right after high school. This goes well, for soap-strip readers, because it’s a nice messy disaster. While Abbey fumes about Sophie’s irrationality, Sophie packs to run away to Los Angeles and live with Neddy. Neddy tries to talk her way, way back from this. She explains Abbey’s fears and needs, and also that Neddy’s actually only using Ronnie’s apartment so there’s not really a place for her.

Meanwhile, Judge (ret) Alan Parker is thinking of running for mayor. Being in prison has let him recognize the carceral state as the great threat to society it is. And yes, the mayor of Cavelton has limited ability to effect the prison abolition we need. But he can do something. And he’s noticed the failings in the social support network. He’s recognized how the gentrification of Cavelton is hurting the people who made their lives in the town. He’s got a flipping account on Mastodon. There’s a 35% chance the words “fully-automated luxury gay space communism” have passed his lips within the past four weeks. The plan is daft, and everyone tells Parker it is. Among other things, he was in jail to about three months ago for helping his son-in-law fake his death. He only got out because said son-in-law blackmailed-or-worse a judge. He promises to at least not run for public office without talking with his son.

Alan Parker: 'My time in prison changed me. And now that I'm out I can see how our town is changing, not for the better. Rents are going up. People are being forced out by expensive condos and specialty shops. Social programs are being cut. This town is making its money and losing the people who made it.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of January, 2020. Alan, you were in jail for like eight days, relax a little. … Also, jeez, that line about Alben Barkley really shows why I am such a niche writer, doesn’t it? You know, Barkley was the vice-president for whom the nickname “Veep” was coined. When Nixon took his office he didn’t want to appropriate his predecessor’s nickname. Also, Nixon lived his entire life without ever having a moment of whimsy or joy. I CAN’T STOP MYSELF FROM WRITING LIKE THIS. SEND HELP.

And this is where we are. It’s been three months of developing the running stories, without any major crazy new developments. It’s been almost tranquil, compared to the cycles of blowing things up and then retrenching. It’s still daft that Alan Parker thinks running for mayor would be a good idea.

Next Week!

Has The Amazing Spider-Man “returned” with some “great new stories and art” yet?’ Well, as of today it’s still reruns of Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s stories from a couple years back, but I’ll recap that if there’s no breaking news there. Also, I’ve got comic strips to discuss on my mathematics blog. You might like that too. I do.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Did Chet Ballard get his comeuppance yet? October 2019 – January 2020


If you’re reading this after about April 2020 there’s probably a more current plot recap for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link. If you’re reading this in about January 2020, please carry on.

Gil Thorp.

21 October 2019 – 12 January 2020.

The standings at the end of last quarter, back in football season. Chet Ballard doesn’t see why his stepson Charlie Roh isn’t getting more play time. He’s also overheard Chance Macy, who is getting more play time, talk with his grandparents about whether he’s “blowtop mad”. He wants to know what the heck that means, but heck if my essay helped him much. It means uncontrollably mad, the kind of mad that makes you a danger. And why it is Coach Gil Thorp favors the guy who doesn’t fumble so much. Luckily, though, Chet Ballard is also head of the Milford school board, so he can look up Chance Macy’s Permanent Record.

Macy’s Permanent Record reveals a lot of behavior issues, and time at a “special school for problem kids”. Ballard’s wife points out, how is this his business again? Carol Other School Board Person points out there are privacy laws in this state. Ballard agrees to give it a rest. By “a rest” he means “a call to Milford Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey”. Ducey doesn’t see where Macy’s history belongs in the newspaper. Local Newspaper hasn’t carried Gil Thorp since that Left Behind guy stopped writing it. But she wonders about the strange voice mail.

Gil Thorp: 'Legally, I probably shouldn't be telling you all this, so don't turn me in. Poor Chance said, 'I'm sorry I'm a bad teammate, but who'd want to hurt me?'' Mimi Thorp: 'That sad, sweet child.' Gil: 'And the fact is, he's a great teammate. But he doesn't believe it.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2019. I choose to believe Neal Rubin is making a wry and self-aware comment in a story that’s built entirely on professionals disregarding a student’s privacy.

Thorp goes to Macy’s home to share what he knows about this leak. Macy takes the news well, but worries about who would want to harass him like this. At the game against Madison, Macy steps aside with an ankle injury, giving Charlie Roh a touchdown. Gil Thorp overheard Ballard saying “all the yards, none of the baggage”, and has his idea who called in the Chance Macy story. Marjie Ducey and Education reporter Niah Peters try to figure out who made the call, but there’s few good leads to follow.

So Chet Ballard, needing to do something dumb, goes to the dumb expert, sports radio broadcaster Marty Moon. He shares his concerns about “irregularities” with one of Thorp’s players. While he does this, Marjie Ducey visits Carol Other School Board Person and learns her last name is Forsman. Also that Chet Ballard was telling people about Chance Macy’s Permanent Record. The reporters ask Superintendent Howard Elston to check this out. The Superintendant asks the IT guy to check if Ballard accessed Chance Macy’s records. The IT guy points out Ballard didn’t delete his browser history and there you are.

To Ducey, Ballard declares that he didn’t do it, and besides he had to do it. So the story comes out: a Milford school board member inappropriately accessed a Permanent Record. And left a weird throaty voice message at the paper. And this anonymized version is the hit scandal of the season. Superintendent Elston is not amused by any of this, especially when he works out that Ballard wanted his stepson more play time. Roh figures out that the unnamed board member was his stepfather. Marty Moon figures out that Ballard’s “concerns” were concern-trolling. And when Marty Moon sees through your scheme, you’re through. Ballard resigns from the school board.

Mrs Roh-Ballard: 'Next time I tell you not to do something stupid, you're going to listen. Right? Good. And you're going to apologize to Chance Macy *and* your stepson.' Chet Ballard: 'But I was only trying to --- ' Mrs Roe-Ballard: 'Catch up, pal. No one cares.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of December, 2019. Ballard does listen, and apologizes to the people he’s hurt with his selfishness. So this puts a Gil Thorp character one up on four real-life people I had counted as close friends for twenty years.

Roh apologizes to Macy. And Macy accepts, because he knew nobody in high school could care about the school board. Roh offers to treat him to a celebration of the season at local teen hangout The Bucket. (This on Ballard’s credit card, which he really had no choice but to lend.) Macy points out he’s not good with loud and packed places. Roh suggests, you know, a quiet celebration at Ricozzi’s. So all ends well enough, except for Chet Ballard.


The new and current story started the 9th of December, with the trials of Alexa Watson. She had a perfectly good name when she was born seventeen(?) years ago. Now it’s a menace. She’d use her middle name except that’s “Siri”. And her mother’s maiden name is “OK Google” so she’s got nowhere to go.

Chris: 'Yeah, Teddy Demarco is a pain, but why add to his problems?' Friend: 'That's a very mature attitude, Chris.' Other friend: 'But I'd still stuff him in a trash can.' [ On the court, conversely ] Thorp: 'One good thing we've seen is more aggression from Chris Schuring.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of December, 2019. Also, like, Teddy’s harassment this time was pointing out how Chris could have averaged four points per game, like he did last season, without even showing up. So Chris probably realizes that Teddy will spend his adult life realizing he was a fantastically incompetent school bully.

Anyway, she has a sympathetic friend, Phoebe Keener, who’s outgrown that unicorn and joined the girls basketball team. Phoebe’s rebuffing the greetings of Chris Schuring, her rival for valedictorian. Schuring, a slight member of the boys basketball team, gets mocked by Teddy Demarco and his friends, but won’t take that bait. Instead he puts it all into being aggressive enough on the basketball court that Coach Thorp notices. He misses a last-second shot against Springfield, but it’s close. In parallel, Watson is playing well but not quite well enough. So both Thorps have been thinking about how to coach their players.

And that’s where the story is: Schuring and Keener are academic rivals. She takes it more seriously than he does. Demarco is mocking Schuring. Schuring’s putting his response into his practice games instead. And Alexa Watson sometimes goes half a day without getting a joke about her names. How will all this tie together? Too soon to say. Come back around April, most likely, and we’ll have a better idea.

Milford Schools Watch

Of course, Milford is not anywhere; it is every high school, everywhere, except that they say “playdowns” there. But we do know there are other schools around it. Here’s the ones that have recently been named, usually in the course of competition:

Next Week!

How much of everything has happened in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker since October? I’ll try and reveal how much next week. And if you’re just interested in comic strips mentioning mathematical topics, please try my other blog even this week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What does “blowtop mad” mean? July – October 2019


Thanks for coming in, soapy sports fans. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link.
If you’re just trying to figure out where the strip was as of mid-October 2019, you’re in a good place. And if you’d like to see me using comic strips to talk about mathematical topics, please try my other blog, here. Now to the story.

Gil Thorp.

20 July – 19 October 2019.

As a Milford student Hadley V Baxendale won the girls’ teams some dignity and larger lockers. She’s since become a star attorney for her Chicagoland firm. She’s also engaged to Jaquan Case, former Milford basketball player turned NBA star. She’s visiting her parents. Her father is all weird about how they don’t even live in the same city, and in ten years he’ll be retired and she won’t. How will they survive these quite survivable problems?

She’s got side projects, though. She’s gotten involved in Tiki Jansen’s story. Jansen was fleeing harassment at New Thayer by his family renting an apartment in Milford that they don’t actually live in. But the school board has reconsidered the matter and concluded that since he doesn’t live in Milford he shouldn’t be going to Milford High. And Baxendale is happy for a chance to fight with the school board again.

Baxendale: 'I'm here about Thomas Jansen, Mr Ballard.' Ballard: 'Are you a lawyer?' Baxendale: 'Right now, I'm just a family friend ... but I *could* be.' Later, Baxendale, on the phone: 'She said she didn't want to sue us, Carol. But she didn't say she wouldn't!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of July, 2019. I don’t intend to be snarky when I say I don’t know who Carol is, other than, someone connected to the school board. I haven’t caught her last name or what her exact connection is.

If she needs to. Jansen’s family can’t afford an empty apartment anymore. But teammate Leonard Fleming’s family is willing to put Jansen up. With that fact she goes to work. She talks with the Flemings, who say they’re trying to do a favor to someone who needs a favor, and keep the team from losing Jansen. She gets the video that High School Cinema Weenie Joe Bolek made of Jansen’s former schoolmates chasing him down. And she talks with Chet Ballard, head of the school board.

They don’t put Tiki Jansen’s case on the school board agenda. Carol Other School Board Person doesn’t want to do stuff that establishes a precedent. Baxendale is warm to this too, on the grounds that a private deal is more likely to go her way. The strip doesn’t mention but this is an interesting development for Baxendale. She’s arguing for special treatment for someone, not because of the facts of his case, but because of who happens to be Mary Worthing his life. But there is no such thing as not creating a precedent. Getting the school board to agree to this for Jansen means they can be made to agree to this again later.

At the school board. Ballard: 'How do we know Thomas will actually stay with the Flemings, or how often?' Baxendale: 'How do we know what roof anyone is under? You? Me? A child whose parents are divorced? Maybe we can have sign-in sheets for everybody. How many new hires will it take to verify them?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of August, 2019. “I mean, if we can’t trust the residency of someone whom we know to have lied about his residency within the last six months, who can we trust?”

So, meeting with school board members, Baxendale lays out her case. Jansen’s in physical danger at New Thayer. Reduced (most of his tormentors have graduated), but still credible. And while the old apartment was nonsense, he now has a real verifiable host family in town. To the reasonable question of how do they know he actually lives there, she points out they don’t know where any of their students live. Which is true but not a case I’d want to argue to a judge. Ballard isn’t a judge; he sells insurance. The school board accepts Jansen as student.

Hadley had invited her father Ed to watch her work. He’s impressed. And he’s worked out what his deal with Jaquan Case was. It wasn’t anything do to with Case. It was his longing to have his daughter move home and join his law firm. Seeing her at work, he’s content that she’s living a great life and he doesn’t need to wish her back home.


That, the 17th of August, wrapped up the Baxendale and the Jansen II stories. The current storyline started with football practice the 19th of August. Its star: sophomore Chance Macy, who’s looking to be a good halfback. Supporting player: Charlie Roh, stepson to Chet Ballard, head of the school board. I didn’t make the connection until writing up this summary. Ballard wishes that Charlie accepted him as “dad”, but, you know. That comes, or it doesn’t come. I don’t know if that’s going to end up important to the story.

In the opener Macy does great, getting the ball to the 2-yard line. Charlie Roh, put in to carry it over, fumbles. Ballard blames Coach Thorp for not giving his stepson more time carrying when it wasn’t critical. Macy’s forgiving of the mistake, though. And does a lot to bring Milford its win, too. He’s invited of course to the victory celebration, but declines, claiming fatigue.

Ballard: 'I didn't see Chance Macy out there. I wonder where their star running back is.' Chris Schuring: 'Probably fending off girls. A 180-yard game can upgrade your popularity factor!' Cut to Chance Macy, who's sitting in a chair at home, reading.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2019. Oh, wow. I remember when I had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I’m lying. I have never had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I barely have the hamstrings to lie down.

Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey wants to interview Macy. Thorp declines for him. And now we have a story hook. Macy doesn’t want to hang out with anyone or be in the paper or anything. And we have a secondary story. Ballard worries his stepson isn’t getting the time or attention or coaching that he needs. Charlie wants his stepfather to relax already. And a third point: Macy is old for a sophomore. His grades are fine; so why is he a year behind? We readers also see Macy eating dinner with his grandparents, with no parents in view.

In a game against Tilden one of the guards cheap-shots Macy. It escalates, Milford’s guard retaliating against a Tilden linebacker. For once it’s not me losing track of names; that’s all we the readers get told. The tit-for-tat continues until Macy loses his temper. He gets a penalty and a sprained ankle. Bad for Macy, although it does give Charlie Roh the chance to play.

[ Tilden 19, Milford 14 ] Ballard: 'Almost a 5-yard average every time you touched the ball. Good work!' Roh: 'Thanks, Chet. But I didn't get that lats foot when we needed it.' [ While nearby ] Macy's Grandfather: 'I have to ask: were you situationally mad out there, or blowtop mad?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2019. “Almost a five-yard average” … oh no, this is going to end with Ballard turning into a hardcore sports stats nerd, isn’t it? Get out of there, Charlie! Go somewhere they just play!

Macy’s grandfather asks Chance whether he was “situationally mad” or “blowtop mad”. He says he was “cheap-shot-from-loudmouth mad”. Ballard, overhearing, wonders what the heck “blowtop mad” means. I share his confusion. There’s an obvious inference, at least. But Gil Thorp just did an “uncontrollable temper” story with the Barry Bader story in spring 2018. They couldn’t be doing that again right away, right? And where are Macy’s parents? Both Tiki Jansen stories were about him not living where he “should”; the strip can’t be doing a third iteration of that, can they?

Ballard asks Charlie what he knows about Macy. He knows only what we readers do. Macy’s fast. Didn’t go to the party. Oh, one more thing. Charlie would swear they were in second grade together but now he’s a grade behind. Ballard suspects Coach Thorp is up to something. And, worse, cheating his stepson of playing time to do it. That Charlie’s developing quite well now that he has some playing time helps Ballard feel suspicious. Finally, Ballard concludes, he’s on the school board. Therefore he has the right to hack into Neal Rubin’s writing notes and figure out what everybody’s deal is.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. There’s probably around a month left before we get out of football season and into basketball. I’ll give you updates as events warrant.

Milford Schools Watch

Here’s the towns or schools that Milford’s been named as playing the last several months.

Next Week!

Has yet another time jump gotten us out of having to deal with Norton? surely not, but we’ll check in on
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker anyway, in one week,
unless something commands my attention more. You know, like how in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth their house has demons and stuff. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Who’s Provoking People Into Offensive Outbursts Now? March – June 2018.


Thanks for wondering what might be happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I’m writing this when the Summer 2018 storyline has barely begun. So if you’re reading this too late into summer, or after Fall 2018, sorry, this won’t help. If I’ve got a more recent summary it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for checking. And, you know, if you want to just subscribe to Another Blog, Meanwhile, and get these updates in your WordPress Reader, there’s the blue strip to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on the right side of this page. At least until I change the theme as if I could find a theme that will make me happy.

My other content-generation scheme is my mathematics blog. Which comics from last week brought up mathematical themes, and what can I make of those themes? Good question, since one of those comics was published in 1971. But you maybe saw it again more recently.

Gil Thorp.

12 March – 2 June 2018.

[ Marty Moon signs on again ] Marty: '... Bringing you the third quarter. We hope.' [ And finds an even larger chorus. ] Protesters: 'No more Moon! No more Moon!' Marty: 'Fine. I'm leaving. But you'll regret this!' Paloma: 'See you later, Mar-TEEN Moon!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of March, 2018. So this is nitpicking. The correct answer is “you do know this is just a story, right?”. But: after Marty Moon got chased off here, what did the radio station broadcast? Later on in the story another broadcast gets interrupted and the station has no idea what to do, which, fair enough. Nobody actually has contingency plans for something before it happens. But here it’s happened; what did they do, and why wasn’t that ready in case of another broadcast interruption?

[ Record scratch. MARTY MOON, in voice-over. ] “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”

Yes. But nobody wants to hear what passes for introspection in Marty Moon’s mind. I’ll do it instead. It started with Jorge and Paloma Padilla, transfer students fleeing Donald Trump’s enthusiastic drowning of Puerto Rico by joining Milford’s basketball teams. Marty Moon, covering a game, says Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Milford basketball team and also to “Georgie”. And talks how Georgie “earned his burritos” with that great play. How he’s a regular “Mexican jumping bean”. He figures this weird, faintly-racist-in-that-way-60s-food-mascots-could-be stuff might help the radio station land a big advertising deal from a Mexican restaurant. Paloma’s Disgruntled Students Group comes to the station to ask what the deal is. Moon mansplains that they need to remember the one key thing in the world of high-school-sports radio-journalism: shut up. So they take seats right behind Moon’s broadcast table and heckle him. He runs off.

Moon recuperates in the time-honored fashion of white guys. He whines about political correctness gone mad and determines that it’s someone else’s fault (“or I’ll eat my sombrero”). Moon identifies coach Gil Thorp as the problem. It is a common thought in Gil Thorp commenting communities that Gil Thorp doesn’t really care about what’s going on. But in this case, well, yeah. He wouldn’t intermediate between Moon and the Disgruntled Students Group. But how is students protesting Marty Moon’s racist on-air jokes any of Thorp’s responsibility? But he rallies to action, and in a way I thought crafty. He tells the Disgruntled Students Group that they shouldn’t be drowning Moon out. But also there’s no reason Marty Moon should be the only coverage of sports games.

Moon: 'Get lost, you morons!' Levin: 'And that's our grumpy competitor as we broadcast here on the Milford Pirate Network! By the way, faithful camera guy Jarell Atkins --- who's winning?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of March, 2018. Stepping back from the plot a moment, isn’t it just adorable how Marty Moon thinks he can win a snarky insult fight against teenagers?

The Disgruntled Students Group sets up the “Milford Pirate Network” on YouTube. Cute nerd Duncan Levin, wearing a pirate hat and fake parrot, narrates the game. He has the condescending nerd attitude that calls “sportsball” any game that doesn’t involve miniatures and weird-marked dice. No matter; the Milford Pirate Network’s real game is bear-baiting, and Marty Moon hopes to someday be sharp as a bear. Levin’s a hit, which, yeah, I can see. I don’t buy the strip’s claim that this would draw away people who would like to hear coverage of a high school basketball game. But I accept there’s people who don’t care about basketball who would like to watch a nerd heckling a clownish local-media personality. I’m going ahead and assuming he pads his reporting with Monty Python quotes and lines from the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.

But there’s still the hecklers, taking Gil Thorp at his word that the occasional outburst is normal. And Levin, poking his head in to ask if Marty Moon’s wife is a goer, knowwhudImean. And his boss complaining that this whole mess is Marty Moon’s own fault. Even Jorge has limited sympathy. It’s not that anyone threw Moon under the bus. It’s that he dug a pit for himself in the asphalt and then hugged a bus over top of himself. And then hired another bus to come and run over that bus. And then hired a third, bigger bus company to run a bus over that buspile. Then he got back to the first bus company and had them put monster truck tires on top of their tallest bus and drive it over them.

On to an away game. The Milford Pirate Network is there. Levin asks how Moon can possibly transmit without a fake parrot attached to his shirt. Moon curses out Levin live and on air, using even the # word, and gets an indefinite suspension for his troubles. Even though he totally sent an e-mail saying he apologized if there were any fragile snowflakes out there who were too sheltered in their safe spaces to able to tolerate his honest truth-telling.

[ Marty Moon loses control, cursing out Levin on-air. ] Levin: 'I don't think he can SAY those words on the radio!' [ And at WDIG, the engineer loses his MIND. ] Engineer: 'We're having, um, technical difficulties at the game. So --- ' [ Later ] Gil Thorp's Assistant: 'Kelly said they went to about 10 straight commercials --- and then a replay of some '60s show.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of April, 2018. I’m like 85% sure that Gil Thorp’s assistant in the last panel there has a name but I don’t know what it is. Sorry. There’s not a cast list on the GoComics site or on Wikipedia. This Week In Milford offers a helpful if outdated “Pantheon of Hair”. But especially given that this strip does like to have major characters from one story become supporting characters in another it would be good to have a list of just which guy is which.

The suspension has its downsides. It turns out that without Moon to heckle, Levin isn’t much of a sports commentator. I know, weird that someone who’d talk about how their big sweaty guy is better than our big sweaty guy doesn’t know how to craft a good sports narrative. But likely it would have petered out in any case. It’s easy enough to make fun of something once, maybe twice. Keeping at it after that requires work. You have to have writing skills. You have to run out of stuff to say and care about the subject enough to think of new stuff to say. And deep down, Levin doesn’t really care about basketball.

The YouTube coverage winds down. And there’s no radio coverage either, which I guess is a bad thing for the basketball team for some reason? I don’t know. This may be my background showing. I grew up in central New Jersey. A high school basketball game would not make the evening news unless something noteworthy happened, such as the Governor accidentally crashing a light aircraft into the gymnasium and transforming the six people nearest the crash site into superhero tiger-sharks, as happened in Egg Harbor City the 22nd of July, 1986.

So coach Gil Thorp puts aside his not really caring and intervenes again. Moon’s boss confirms that if they can do something that gets the Disgruntled Students Group off their backs they’ll put Moon back on the air. So Thorp goes to Paloma. He explains how this has all been jolly good fun, but now a white man is suffering a consequence. Surely she doesn’t want to be responsible for that? Which is where in this storyline I started yelling back at the comic. I may need to take a break.

But they work out a deal. The Disgruntled Students Group will drop their protest, if Marty Moon apologizes, takes an online course about Latin American history, and covers at least one girls game each season. I’m not clear if this is only girls basketball, or all the major sports. But the lack of media coverage of girls sports was mentioned, early in the story, and was one of the injustices Paloma noticed. Moon’s boss buys the deal for him. Moon says “I can’t believe you let those kids get away with this.” Thorp answers, “You sound like the villain on Scooby-Doo”. This moment endeared Thorp to me. It got the Scooby-Doo quote wrong in the way that a middle-aged guy who really doesn’t care about Scooby-Doo would. And that, with the 21st of April, ends the Marty Moon/Jorge Paloma story.


The current story, softball season, started the 23rd of April. Senior Kevin Pelwecki has got obsessive in that endearing teenager way about batting just right. And lecturing his teammates on the proper swing. Gil Thorp, spotting trouble early this time, steps in. He drills Pelwecki on batting, keeping him too busy to instruct his teammates, and away from where his teammates can flush him down a toilet. That’s all right; Pelwecki will find the time to teach his teammates about his new batting stance. In fairness, he is getting better pretty fast.

Meanwhile at school newspaper The Milford Trumpet, they have a plotline. Dafne, spunky young reporter who probably has a last name, has noticed Barry Bader. Bader’s a weirdly intense player on the team. She digs around and what she can find is interesting but incomplete. She learns that Bader’s father is in jail for killing a student while driving drunk. The story’s more complicated than that [*], but she can’t get much, since it happened the summer before I started doing these plot recaps. She figures: well, why not ask him about it? And in case of the one-in-a-million chance he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not ask him again and again until he says something newsworthy?

[*]: While driving home drunk Bader’s father crashed his car into Milford girls’ softball star pitcher “Boo” Radley’s. Both were okay at first, but a truck that didn’t stop in time hit Radley’s car, killing her. The salient part starts here, the 2nd of June, 2016 and goes about a week. Also relevant: Bader’s father was already standing trial for driving drunk when this happened.

Dafne: 'I'm so full of confidence after our big win, I'm going to track down Barry Bader.' Friend: 'Great. Can I watch?' (Later) Dafne: 'I know your family's hurting, but it could have been any of us.' Bader: 'If their dads drove drunk, you mean?' Dafne: 'Right. And a story could ... humanize him.' Bader: 'He's already human --- and we don't need your pity!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of May, 2018. I mean, you hate to watch train wrecks, but when the trains keep refusing every chance to do anything in the world except wreck what are you going to do?

This goes well. A provoked Bader argues with an umpire until Thorp carries him back to the dugout. Later in the game Bader takes a runner’s slide into second as a personal affront, slugs him, and gets suspended for two games. His teammates laugh through his anger, because remember, guys are awful. Bader figures to channel his anger into interviews with Dafne. He says, “it can’t make things any worse”, apparently forgetting that he was calling his father’s judge in the first trial an “ugly cow” that someone ought to “smack” and that things said to reporters sometimes get reported. No matter; he’s busy this weekend. He’d told a bunch of Greek gods how he could perform a more beautiful melody on the lute than any of them. Now they’re going to have a little contest to see who’s right.

So we’re ready to see the interview happen. There are all sorts of ways this can go well; which will it be? I’ll know tomorrow; you’ll know, I don’t know. Next essay, probably.

Next Week!

When will the storyline-to-pop-culture-riff ratio in Judge Parker cross that of Sally Forth? Has it already? Tune in next week, same bat-channel, and find out how Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley are getting through this one!

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? September – December 2017


Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.

Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.

Gil Thorp.

25 September – 16 December 2017.

My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?

Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.

Rick's Mom: 'If it's NOTHING, why did you tell Rick his eyes looked cloudy?' Gary: 'Ease up. He barely heard me.' [At lunch.] Rick: 'Hey, Pelwecki, do my eyes look weird?' Pelwecki: 'Vacant, empty ... nope, same as always!' Somebody: 'Yo, Soto! Get up here and sing the Milford fight song!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of October, 2017. There is no Milford fight song that anybody knows, which is fine by me. Rick Soto goes on to sing something or other that my research indicates is a correctly-formed tune that’s popular with the kids and so we shall accept this as correctly formed. Also, wow but it’s annoying how teenage boys can only talk to one another in insults, but that’s not the comic strip’s fault.

The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:

  1. Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
  2. Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
  3. Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.

After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.

Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.

Rick, watching his video on a phone: 'What IS this?' Friend: 'Some website that my grandpa goes to with his old Marine buddies. Check it out --- Rick's singing at the homecoming game!' Someone: 'You sound even better than you did on the field. But what are you doing online?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of November, 2017. That last panel is also my face when my father tells me how he read the thing I posted last week, the one that included my annual kind-of-racy slightly off-color joke, and he’s making sure all his friends and all my aunts and uncles see it.

But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.

As Rick Soto watches the last four minutes, Milford holds off New Thayer, 30-20. Rick's Mom: 'You can ride home with us.' Rick: 'Thanks, but I'd rather ride the bus an act stupid with my friends.' Rick's Mom: 'We just want you to be with us, in case you ... you ... ' Gary: 'Have to go to the hospital!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of December, 2017. “You know, my dead wife Dead Lisa had a videotape about how great it would be to have her football surgically removed before it could kill her! Would you like to read my three-volume graphic novel collection about that?”

In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.

And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.

But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.

Next Week!

Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? July – September 2017


Last week I was all set to talk Gil Thorp when I realized it was Rex Morgan, M.D.‘s turn. I won’t make that mistake again! … But I’m writing this in late September, 2017. If it’s much later than September 2017 for you, the stories might have moved on. At or near the top of this link should be my most recent talk about the high school sports comic strip of high school sports comic strips. I hope something here is what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in other comics, my mathematics blog discusses some from the past week. I don’t think I explain any of the jokes, but I do talk about what the jokes make me think about. Might like it.

Gil Thorp.

10 July – 23 September 2017

I last discussed Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp near the end of a storyline. Spunky young reporter Dafne had discovered the Milford Mudlarks’ new pitching star was kicked out of private school for hitting his girlfriend. The secrecy that protects young, athletically skilled students makes it hard to be sure exactly what did happen. Dafne, shoving a friend into a door so hard he gets a black eye, comes to learn that sometimes battery just happens and it isn’t an open-and-shut case. She confesses her prior narrow-mindedness to the newspaper editor and is welcomed back onto the staff for a happy ending.

The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.

Heather Burns: 'We'll be out here [at the training field] most days.' Trey Davis: 'Us, too. But do me a favor ... keep it on the down-low. We should check in with Coach Thorp, though.' Jaquan Case: 'Absolutely. When I was fighting to be a normal student ... ' Davis: 'Or as normal as the next superstar could be.' Case: 'He was a big help.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 25th of July, 2017. I didn’t do athletics in high school, so I don’t know whether it’s authentic that stars of a decade past get to just come in and train when they feel like even before talking to the coach. I was for a while on the Physics Team, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean I can just pop in to the science classrooms and do that thing where you sit on a barstool chair while turning a spinning bicycle tire around.

And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.

So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.

Gil Thorp: 'I'm due at Milford CC. Can you give him a lift?' Burns: 'Sure. Jaquan, mind doing some running first?' Jaquan Case: 'Might as well, since my trainer bolted. Say, you're Switzerland in all this --- am I crazy to consider the NFL?' Burns: 'Sure. But that doesn't make it a BAD thing.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2017. I know that highlighting this comic out of a month’s worth of storyline will make it look like Coach Thorp had almost nothing to do with the characters doing things and making decisions, and when he was roped into the story got out as fast and with as little responsibility as possible.

And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.

Gil Thorp: 'Everybody sign up for baseline testing?' Assistant coach guy: 'Yup. By the first game, we'll have basic info on every kid. Measuring brain function with tests ... do you believe in it?' Thorp: 'I believe in anything that might keep these kids healthy --- and keep their parents from worrying.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2017. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the assistant-y coach-y guy is, but I do like that the second panel is something like one-fifth of all album covers from 1978 through 1985.

OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.

Next Week!

International espionage, secret government jink-enhighening, and a reporter’s last-ditch effort to save her career as we go back to Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Unanswerable: will we have any judge-work going on?

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? April – July 2017


Greetings, high school-ish sports-like fans. If you’re looking for a recap of what’s happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp good news! You’re in a reasonably right spot. If you’re reading this much later than July 2017, then there’s a good chance they’re on to a new story and one that I might have recapped yet. The most recent essay describing plot developments should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you not in the playdowns.

Gil Thorp

17 April – 8 July 2017

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp typically runs in seasons, matching the major sports seasons. In April it began the softball-season storyline. This featured two plot threads: transfer student Ryan van Auken, who’s overcome his anger issues and large face to pitch rather well, and Dafne, reporter at the school’s Milford Trumpet, uncovering a school board official padding his expense accounts. Now on to the action.

Ryan pitches pretty well, closing out one win. Guys from the track and field team meet up with girls from Central High, who after some trash-talking their sport get into some light dating. And then action heats up when Dafne gets the anonymous tip to ask why it was Ryan transferred from a private high school to the public Milford.

Dafne: 'Sorry, guys. To me, the only thing more boring than Track is Field.' Track and Field Guy 1: 'Hey ... I resemble that remark!' Track and Field Guy 2: 'Can you believe she trashed our sport to our faces?' Track and Field Guy 1: 'Pretty cold. But give her credit --- it's a funny line!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 28th of April, 2017. While I don’t think it’s a funny line, I agree it’s the sort of line that high schoolers will think is funny, so I give it a pass. I will say the comic does, to me, a credible job in making high schoolers sound like high schoolers. Or at least people who could be high schoolers.

She finds the answer: he hit a girl, during an argument, and by the time the scandal shook out he had to transfer. Her editor is interested, but doesn’t think it’s a story they can run, what with Ryan being a high-profile athlete and his victim only being a girl or something. Well, her editor puts it in a better-sounding way: there’s no police report, there’s no charges, their whole idea of what happened comes from social media gossip at his old high school, and that’s not a lot to hang a story that could trash Ryan’s life on. I’m skeptical of the “won’t someone please think of the star athlete’s career prospects?” line of reasoning. I am open to the argument that it’s not obvious that whatever did happen between two underage people should necessarily be broadcast to the world.

Word of the story leaks out when she leaks the story out to friends who promise not to spread gossip. Protesters start popping up with banners showing the girl he’d hit and signs like “Remember Me?” When this rattles Ryan into completely blowing a game Gil Thorp sighs mightily and decides he has to ask what the heck’s going on and why it should involve him. Ryan’s parents explain: the pictured girl, Alyssa, was Ryan’s girlfriend at the private school. In a fight, according to his parents, Ryan tried to push her out of the way and caught her cheek instead. Ryan admitted he shouldn’t have done that; Alyssa agreed it wasn’t hitting, but by the time the story got around school it was battery.

Ryan Van Auken's parents catch Gil up on their son's troubles at his former school. Auken Mom: 'He and Alyssa were squabbling. He tried to push her out of his way ---' Auken Dad: 'Which he shouldn't have.' Auken Mom: 'And the heel of his hand caught her on the cheekbone.' Auken Dad: 'But he DIDN'T hit her.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of June, 2017. I have never been in a situation anything remotely like Gil Thorp’s here. So how is it that I know exactly the tone of Auken Dad’s voice here? … Also, I note that we the readers only know the story from Auken Dad and Auken Mom’s summary of it here. Ryan doesn’t say anything on-camera, and Alyssa hasn’t appeared in the story except as a picture on a protest sign. So far, anyway.

So, they moved to a new neighborhood, new school, and Ryan went to anger management classes and to counseling. Meanwhile, Dafne argues that the protests make Ryan’s past a legitimate story. When the editor quashes the story, Dafne quits the paper, which is the sort of principled stand I’m sorry I didn’t take when the editor of my middle-school newspaper wouldn’t run my detailed report of the student walkout that year. Well, it was the last month of eighth grade anyway; quitting wouldn’t even have had a symbolic effect. Still …

Student newspaper editor: 'If Ryan hit a girl and there's no police report ... how do you know he hit a girl?' Dafne: 'Social media. I know some people who know some people who go to Kingsbrook. It was big news there last year.' Editor: 'I bet. But does that make it news for us?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 22nd of May, 2017. I do appreciate that Mrs Student Newspaper Editor is asking serious, good questions that teach journalism even as she’s warning Dafne off the story. Dafne may not realize how slender the evidence is for what she knows, and doesn’t seem to have an answer to whether something being salacious (and maybe true) necessarily makes it news.

Anyway, Gil Thorp calls on Central High School’s Coach Skip Farrow to figure out who the protest ringleaders are, and since they’re all seniors they can rest assured the problem will cure itself and Ryan can have at least one trouble-free year. And then he calls the protest leaders to explain that they’re all quite sure Ryan made a mistake and is incredibly sorry about it, which is sure to clear up the whole sorry mess.

Dafne: 'You humiliated my BEST FRIEND so you could get next to ME? I'll tell you what you can GET. Get out of my way!' She shoves Jimmy. In a diner, Dafne consoles Carrie: 'See? I told you Gary Meola was out of my league.' Dafne: 'Trust me: you have that exactly backwards.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of July, 2017. Jimmy comes in later with a black eye and from this panel I don’t really know how he got it. Maybe he really did happen to run into a door like he says and all of this is just coincidence.

Or perhaps dramatic irony will: while hanging out Milford’s Gary Meola admits to Central’s Carrie Hobson that he’s only there so Jimmy can get some time with Dafne. Dafne’s furious that Gary was putting her on, and shoves Jimmy out of the way in order to comfort her best friend. This … somehow … results in Jimmy getting a black eye, which he excuses as “I ran into a door and shut up”. He passes along as many apologies as he can to Dafne and now we understand why the track-and-field guys are even in this story. And that’s about where events rest today.

Next week: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man in its first post-Rocket-Raccoon review.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point as trading spirits were raised by a series of videos of hamsters putting things in their mouths successfully.

209

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? January – April 2017


Hi! Thanks for coming here trying to understand what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. The most recent of my posts tracking the stories should be at the top of this link, until I forget to tag some of these installments. Thank you.

Gil Thorp

16 January 2017 – 15 April 2017

When last I checked in on the goings-on of Milford school coach Gil Thorp and his band of students it was basketball season. The story was about Aaron Aagard, who’s 46% punchable, 51% charming for a teenager and 3% basketball phenomenon or something. It’s a good enough mix. His problem was he was really good some days, really bad some others, and he’s known to go to raves even in whole other towns. Some teammates overheard he was “taking Molly”. My “hep” “cat” informants assure me this is how “the kids” refer to the ecstasy when they “rap” about drug habits. Aagard had promised Coach Thorp he’d clear up their misunderstanding. I predicted it would turn out he was taking his “generically-disabled niece or something” Molly to the raves.

'Let's pretend I remember 6th-grade Career Day. What about it?' 'Aaron's Mom gave a presentation. She was a -- what do you call it? Actuarily?' 'An actuary.' 'Right. Making solid coin. So why are they living in a dumpy apartment?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 6th of February, 2017. On the one hand I admire the kids for remembering Career Day from like four years ago and that one of their classmates had the job of actuary. On the other hand, what are they doing remembering Career Day from like four years ago and that one of their classmates was an actuary? I don’t even remember if we ever had a Career Day, and if we did, all I could say about it is that one year my Dad played Santa Claus for the Winter Concert. Not really his career, though.

Shows what I know; Molly O’Herlihy is his girlfriend who totally exists and all, he just doesn’t want to show her off because you know how teenage boys are. There’s no group less prone to ostentatious displays of deployed heterosexuality. Thorp tells Aagard’s teammates to stop trying to figure out his deal, so they continue trying to figure out his deal. They have a breakthrough when they realize Aagard lives in an apartment far below his mother’s standing as an actuary. It’s good thinking on their part. Any mathematics major who’s bought his department’s propaganda will tell you how actuaries are just rolling in cash. If I ever need a quick 25 grand I just have to walk down to the business district and mutter about how I’ve got an advanced degree in mathematics and then, like, Jackson Life Insurance supposes I might be an actuary and they should pay me something just to be safe.

'My Mom had a drug problem before. That's when we lost the house. Now it's the same deal. She'll buy a few groceries on payday, and then the rest of the paycheck disappears. It's funny how being hungry can get in your head!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of March, 2017. I do like Aagard’s body language here and the way he’s moving. He’s showing that he does believe himself to be the lead actor on a sitcom in his head, yes. But he’s also showing how he’s the sort of outgoing, open, inviting person whom I like being around for maybe three minutes before I start thinking, “oh no, I think he likes me, how do I get out of here?” and have to set a tablecloth on fire to escape.

Coach Thorp, roused into something like action, checks in on Aagard’s mother. She’s not even actuarying, just doing bookkeeping for a couple small businesses. Aaron Aagard, deploying the sort of pacing that indicates he thinks he’s the charming star of an occasionally-serious three-camera sitcom, explains that the problem is not drugs. It’s drugs. His mother’s opioid habit. So he does well when there’s enough money in the house for, like, food and all. This leaves Thorp some unpleasant responsibilities. Thorp tries to figure out what he can do without screwing up Aagard’s life all the more. It’s not like he can even just pass Aagard some money to get groceries without inviting a world of scandal. So he covers where he can, inviting his student for one-on-one dinners in public areas.

An extra push at practice. 'Oxygen! Plasma! Something!' And a standard meal for Aaron. '*Another* piece of pie?' Another scene. Thorp. 'I'm coming in. It's time for a heart-to-heart with your mom.' 'Good luck with that.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of March, 2017. Moments before the big climax, and Aagard’s mother realizing that she has failed Actuary Law and shall be hauled off for “rehab” that consists of her being stripped down to her basic demographic elements.

After being fed enough pie and I’m going to go ahead and assume cheese fries, Aagard consents to turning his mom in to the Actuary Police. Before she’s taken off to answer sumptuary charges of living beneath her actuarial station she gets to see one last, and first, basketball game starring Aaron. Pressured, he has a lousy game, at least until Thorp points out that as a person with advanced mathematical skills and training, Tina Aagard completely lacks the ability to tell whether a basketball player is doing well or badly. I agree, although the boo-ing from the rest of the audience might clue her in. Anyway, with that reassurance Aagard finishes up decently and goes into foster care with one of the teammates who did so much to change the set of hassles he’s dealing with.

Got to say, honestly, I did enjoy the story. I’m snarking about it because it’s more fun to recap stuff with a little silliness. The pacing was decent, the star was appealing, and Thorp got to be charmingly exasperated with the kids who insisted on figuring out what Aagard’s deal was. And the underlying problem was credible, and that the characters were stuck in their situation made sense too. It wasn’t anybody being stupid, just, stuck over their heads in a situation that just grew bad.

April started softball season. Its plot starts with student reporters for the Milford Journal discovering the school board’s vice-president way padding his expense accounts and he gets all angry at them for doing this. I understand. When I travel for work I live in fear the company’s going to decide I’m indulging my hedonism at their expense. And I fly United. Meanwhile in sports, transfer-student pitcher Ryan van Auken reveals that he’s handled his anger issues by putting that energy into having a large face. That’s been about all the time we’ve had for this story so far, so I don’t figure to predict where it might be going. When there’s updates, I’ll pass them along. Thank you.

'Yeah. Like I *said*. I used to have a temper, but it's *handled*. Got it?' 'Sorry, dude. I didn't mean anything by it.' 'Me, either. I was just messing with you.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of April, 2017. This is more nostril than I’m used to getting this early in a story. But it does make me excited to think of just how much eye-rolling Coach Thorp is going to have to do in dealing with this.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell two points over wait Princess Lolly of Candy-Land was removed from office when Queen Frostine became a Princess herself ? Also there was a Princess Lolly? Also wait, since when are there even characters in Candy-Land? What do you mean since 1984? What is with reality anymore? What?

133

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp?


With Judge Parker last week I’ve wrapped up all the syndicated story comics that have had major changes in the writing or art staff recently, by which I mean within like the last five years. But there are more story strips out there, and chatting with my Twitter friends suggest people find them baffling. Plus, what the heck, these pieces are popular.

Gil Thorp

I want to share a bit about a piece of art that did that most precious of things: make a lifelong (so far) change in my attitude about something. It wasn’t Gil Thorp. It was this high school comedy/drama called Ed. One episode Ed was trying to help a bright student get a scholarship, and needed just a slightly higher grade in gym. Surely his colleague would help him help out a bright kid who just didn’t care about phys ed, right? “Yeah,” said the coach, “because it’s not like I’m a real teacher or anything.” (Something like that, anyway.) It stung Ed, and it stung me, because the coach was right. I’d sneered at gym class, mostly because it seemed to be 86 weeks per year of Jumping Jacks Only More Boring and twelve minutes of things someone might actually do, like softball or volleyball or archery or stuff. And because even as a kid I had the dynamic physique of a medieval cathedral, only with tighter hamstrings.

But the coach was right. If school has a point it’s to make people familiar at least with all the major fields of human endeavor. And being able to be healthy and active is part of that. It’s as real and serious a subject as the mathematics or English or arts or science or music classes are. (In the episode, Ed came back humbled, and the gym teacher allowed the student to earn the “needed” grade by doing extra work.) And that’s stuck with me. I may not much care for sports, but that’s my taste. I should extend to it, and its enthusiasts, the same respect I give enthusiasts for other stuff I’m just not into.

Gil Thorp has not changed my attitudes on anything important nearly like that. The comic strip — which dates back to 1958 — has been written by Neal Rubin since 2004 Wikipedia tells me. It’s been drawn by Rod Whigham since 2008. So they’ve got the hang of what they want to do. There are other comic strips set in schools, such as Jef Mallet’s nearly joke-a-day Frazz and Tom Batiuk’s continuity-comedy-bathos Funky Winkerbean. But this is the only story strip that I guess gets into newspapers that’s set in high school. It’s also the only sports-themed story strip, and one of only a few remaining sports-themed comics at all. Why this should have survived and, say, Flash Gordon didn’t I don’t know, but what the heck.

Rubin and Whigham have a pretty clear idea what they want to do. Pretty much every season of the year has a story about the season’s appropriate sporting activity. One or two student-athletes, often new people but sometimes characters who were supporting players previous years, dominate the storyline. They go through some shenanigans trying to be students, or athletes, or teens. The important thing here is that they are teens, and even smart teenagers are kind of dumb. Eventually they’re dumb enough that Coach Gil Thorp has to call him in to their office and explain to them to knock it off, which they mostly do. On to the next season. Often the starts of one storyline reappear as supporting players in later storylines, for a year or two. This implies Rubin and Whigham keep careful continuity records so they know when each student entered the school, what they played, how they were doing, when they left and under what circumstances. I admire the craftsmanship involved.

(A Brief Juggling Exhibition By Aaron Aagard.) 'Dude, you are the worst juggler in the valley!' 'Yeah --- but now I've got three apples.' (Later) 'I see what you mean, Ken. Even when you want to be stamed at the guy ... you can't.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of December, 2016. Aagard had walked up to the lunch table and asked if anyone wanted to see him juggle; “prepare to be amazed!” I do like how the sequence establishes a lot about Aagard’s personality and how he’s just likable enough to overcome what’s annoying about him.

Dumbness is important. The Gil Thorp kids don’t tend to be stupid in malicious or obnoxious ways. Just dumb in the way that people who aren’t used to thinking through the situation are. For example, a few storylines ago the problem was one of the athletes getting the idea in his head that ADHD medicine would help his performance. So he pressured one of the kids who has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to share his medicine. After resisting a while, the pressured student starts passing along … aspirins with the name filed off. The kid buys it. It’s the sort of thing that you do when you grow up thinking you’re in a sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and this is the sort of thing that makes the tense audience gasp and then applaud. When Thorp finally found out, he suspended both, on the correct grounds that they were being dumb. Well, that one was trying to get drugs off another student, and that student was passing him drugs, even if harmless ones.

That’s pretty much the way things go, though. There’s kids puttering along into mostly minor scrapes, as followed by updates in-between sporting events. There’s a developing crisis in which Gil Thorp is finally pulled into the storylines of his own strip to tell everyone to knock it off. And there’s the steady beat of how the team finishes the season in football (in the autumn), basketball (in the winter), softball (in the summer), and whatever sport catches Rubin’s fancy (in the summer). Sometimes it’s the boys’ team that gets the focus, sometimes the girls’. Sometimes the story involves trading off the focus. Now and then the teams get into the playoffs, or as the dialect of wherever the school is has it, “playdowns”, sometimes they fall short. They do well enough that nobody really calls for Thorp to resign. Perhaps they know that would end the comic. Or end their part in it, since he’d presumably go on to some other high school to sort of coach.

There will be surprises. 2016’s spring storyline grew to encompass all summer when one of the students was hit and killed in a messy, stupid car accident. Given the genially dopey nature of what had been going on before, a dose of actual blood was shocking. It scrambled my expectations. Good that I could have expectations and that they could break them in a credible way.

So, the current storyline. It’s about new basketball team star Aaron Aagard. He’s a solid player, a good student, charming in a weird way. At least he’s trying to be. I don’t know how you feel about 17-year-olds who make excuses to juggle. Anyway, that’s all on his good days. On his bad days he’s distracted, unconnected, and maybe falling asleep. Perhaps he’s just exhausted. He goes to raves, even on school nights, which is the sort of low-key scandalous behavior that fits the Gil Thorp worldview.

(Ken Brown and Mike Granger pop back into the locker room and ...) 'Molly? You bet! I can't do Kill The Noise without Molly. And that goes for Saturday, too!' 'Did we just hear what we think we heard?' 'Yeah. And I still didn't get my wallet.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of January, 2017. Kill The Noise is a band for the show Aagard was going to. I don’t know whether it’s an actual band. The name’s plausible enough. The strip does toss in real stuff sometimes. A few years ago the star of that season’s storyline was Lucky Haskins, named for a notable Ohio highway sign. (As “Luckey Haskins”.)

Maybe a bigger problem is some of his teammates overheard him talking about “taking Molly”. They believe that’s slang for ecstasy. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m what the hep kids call “a square”. So while I don’t know I’m willing to accept that any otherwise unaccounted-for word is slang for ecstasy. The kids think it over and after Aagard has a couple more unreliable days they pull the coach in. This seems early. The story only started the 12th of December. Maybe the story’s going to spin out in stranger ways. Maybe they want to start softball season early.

Aagard said if he could just have a few days he’d clear up this whole “taking Molly” thing. That’s again the sort of dumb thing you do if you think you’re living in a three-camera sitcom and setting up a big reveal that Molly is your generically-disabled niece or something. Thorp seems to have gone along with that, which is dumb. Unless Aagard explained stuff off-panel and clearing this up is about explaining it to his teammates. Which I expect, but could be wrong about.

'Someone heard me say I was taking Molly? Tell you what, Coach, we're playing at Tilden this Friday. If you give me until then, I can clear this up.' (Friday night --- and Aaron Aagard announces his presence early.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 14th of January, 2017. A cherished motif of the devoted Gil Thorp reader is to work out exactly how annoyed Thorp is that he’s got to deal with these student athletes. So, look at him in that first panel and ponder: is he getting ready to strange Aaron Aagard, or is he merely a shade-less Roy Orbison circa 1964?

Someone on, I think, the Comics Curmudgeon blog found there actually is a region of the United States where the high school sports postseason is called the “playdowns”. I forget what the region is. But, hey, I’ve been places where they label water fountains “bubblers”. I can take “playdowns”. It says something about Rubin’s determination to stick to a specific kind of craft that he’s holding on to the term “playdown”. Nobody would complain if they switched to “playoff” like everybody else says. People would stop making jokes about the comic’s little weirdness in saying “playdown”. Rubin’s decided the comic strip will be what it is, even if they’re made fun of for it. That’s an important thing to take out of high school too.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped five points as traders reported a night of unsteady, broken sleep, constantly interrupted by thoughts of Donald Trump and the theme song to Vacation being stuck in their heads. The editorial staff extends their deepest condolences.

98

Don’t Go Back To High School


Don’t go back to high school.

Maybe you weren’t tempted anyway since high school contains so many high school memories. But based on a leading dream I just had, high school has gotten more worse than you imagined. For one, everyone insists on doing these interactive exercises instead of just letting you sit quietly in your seat and wait for college, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for grad school, where you can sit quietly in your seat and wait for student loans to come due, where you can sit quietly in your seat and weep. No, now you have to go up to the board instead of sinking underneath your desk.

Second, your physics teacher isn’t that kind but slightly odd Mister Gregor, with the huge backlog of Starlog magazines he’s trying to get someone, anyone, to take for the eighth year running. Instead he’s comedian and voice acting legend Stan Freberg, who remembers you very well, possibly from that time you had a report due on space. He’s just going to introduce you to the entire class, you know, and point out what an outstanding student you were and how glad he is to see you back, and you’re going to face the collective scorn of dozens of 16-year-olds who don’t want to hear about masses on springs and certainly don’t want to hear about how good you were with them.

Third, after you get back from the bathroom — now one of those annoying fancy hands-free ones where the toilets don’t work until you awkwardly shuffle back and forth, and then they don’t quite really flush, and the faucets don’t notice you at all until you punch them, which your middle school principal for crying out loud watches without comment — you’re going to get called right back into the classroom experience which is not about the masses on springs you thought Mister Gregor Stan Freberg liked you doing.

No, what this project is all about is going up to the board, one of those agonizing super-incredible touch-screen thingies that responds and draws stuff far beyond your ability level, the kind cable news channels keep buying instead of paying for reporting. And Mister Gregor Stan Freberg wants you to draw a cover for an impossibly complicated science fiction/fantasy novel and won’t take your excuses that you missed the entire description of the novel and you can’t even draw a tree without your drawing pointing at you and laughing as excuses. “You’ll be fine,” he says, “You’ll inspire the students,” one-seventh of whom agree in a shrugging groan.

Fifth (fourth was that you’re picked as inspirational) when you do try drawing, sure, the magic cable news screen takes your little scribbly Y thing and turns it into a great rendition of a tree, and turns your little scribbled Ewok-y figures into fur-perfect renditions of the ranwor-level hunters of the Culakly tribe from Ageli, the fourth planet orbiting Iota Librae, but your efforts to catch the moment before the klent-lead conspiracy sets ablaze the ceremonial dousti tower leading up to the top of the sacred grove is foiled when the picture springs to life and the entire dousti burns before your eyes, though not those of the class. At least, you think that’s what he wants you to show because Mister Gregor Stan Freberg insists on mumbling the plot to you no matter how many times you tell him you can’t hear what he’s saying.

Worse, while the fire and panic wouldn’t be a bad idea, the scene catches almost dead-center the 1988 silver Chevy Celebrity of one of the production assistants from the movie based on the book, which just ruins the scene because a Celebrity looks like what you put in the scene to later be replaced with an actual car, and you can’t get the monitor to take a reverse angle. In fact you look foolish ordering the screen to reverse view, and one of the xiple-beasts clearly snorts at you before running off to the trumia-bushes.

All Mister Gregor Stan Freberg offers as advice is to whisper to you that the name of the novel is something like “Cumumburumbubmlemun” and that you should figure where to set the title for best aesthetic value.

Overall, the lesson is: don’t go back to high school. You’ll look like a total drell.

Why I Missed So Many 80’s Movies


It isn’t that I was deliberately avoiding them, or that I was particularly avoiding social gatherings where they might be shown. It’s just that it was very, very important that I watch a videotape of The Wrath Of Khan 316 times while I was still in high school, just in case it changed on us all or something. Sometimes I’d have to watch it two or three times in a night, but I think you’ll agree the effort was worthwhile.