Deezil’s not here for a deeper exploration of her character. She’s here because if Swee’Pea were throwing baseballs through the window on his own, he’d be a jerk. Instead they can just be kids playing. Popeye steps in to show the kids how to play properly, and Brutus interferes because he’s Brutus. The resulting cartoon is a weird one. The story feels developed well enough. But there’s also a lot of dead air between things happening. Maybe Jack Kinney was leaving space for the kids to finish laughing. I don’t think of other Kinney-produced cartoons having quite so much space between events, though.
I’ve been trying to figure what feels off about Popeye’s and Brutus’s dialogue. It feels, to me, written to be a bunch of wordplay jokes, whether or not they make sense. Like, consider the exchange where Brutus declares “I can do better’n that!”. Popeye answers, “Ya can’t, cause you’re a bully!” Brutus answers, “Bully for you too!” There’s no logic there, but I can absolutely imagine being seven and delighted by the shifting uses of “bully”. Brutus and Popeye then get into a back-and-forth of “Can!” “Can’t!” and I go back-and-forth on that myself. On one watching of this cartoon it struck me as what writers put in when they want a fight but haven’t got anything to fight about. On another watching, the rhythm and pointlessness of it was funny. So I’ll suppose Jack Kinney knew what he was doing and did it.
A slightly odd moment is Popeye declaring, “Kids, this is the wrong way, but I gots to teach him a lesson” before eating his spinach. Popeye’s always held up spinach as a good thing everyone should eat more of. With that setup, though, it plays into treating spinach as an illicit advantage. I suppose that attitude was in the air. In the 60s we’d still get Underdog having his Proton Energy Pills and SuperChicken havin his super-sauce. But we’d be taking that sort of power-up out of children’s entertainment soon enough.
An unreservedly good bit here: Brutus declaring to the camera, “Gee! I didn’t count on this!” after Popeye eats his spinach. It’s the sort of absurd, facetious touch that I liked as a kid and still like today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
I don’t mean to suggest we don’t have bigger problems. Also I agree we have smaller problems. The medium-size problem I’m looking at here is: do we have enough seasons? I mean in the year. I mean weather seasons. I know we’ve got all sorts of sports seasons, like baseball and football and preseason baseball and basketball and postseason baseball and hockey playoffs. I mean seasons like spring and summer and stuff. We’ve got four of them, and been trusting that to cover the whole year, and I’m just asking if that’s enough to cover the year as we’ve got it these days.
Take spring, for example. We know it as a time for spring cleaning, which we get around to once we’ve run out of other things to do in spring. And yet for all that cleaning, we never get around to anything else with spring. We never set aside a season for spring curating, for setting our springs out in a thoughtful manner that lets us appreciate them. Or just see their development. Maybe come to understand how new spring technologies have come and changed the way things spring. This paragraph belongs in a different essay written on the same starting point, and doesn’t fit the mood of the one I’m writing at all. But I like it as it is, and so I’m sticking with it. You can go ahead and imagine the essay that goes off in this paragraph’s direction.
The big old blocky names for seasons works fine for some period during them. But when they get a little changing the categories break down. Like, right now we in lower Michigan are in early autumn, or fall, depending on whether you’re east of US 127. That is, we’re in the time of year where it’s autumn, or fall, between 9 pm and 10 am every day, but then it’s summer between 10 am and 2 pm, and again from 5 to 7 pm. Between 7 and 9 pm it’s free pick, the days alternately sunny or ice-monsoon. There is no weather between 3 and 5 pm, as that’s too late in the day to finish anything before rush hour.
The period lasts a while and it’s not fair to call that ‘autumn’ because so much of it is not. All it really has to call it autumn is that we buy more cider than we’ll have time to drink. It’s not like late October, which is some of the most autumn-nest weather you’ll find. That’s when the sun emerging from the clouds somehow makes your skin feel colder. We handle that by around the 24th of October putting the sun behind a cloud, from which it doesn’t emerge until March. Which is another seasonally-elusive time of year, when the cloud-covered sky feels warm on your face, but touching the ground causes a sleeve of ice to run up your boots and cover your legs.
Granting these kinds of periods have enough identity we need to give them names, what names? The early one in the year seems easy enough, since we could go with ‘sprinter’ or ‘wing’, depending on what fits the sentence. The one this time of year is tougher to make the syllables match. ‘Sumtumn’ sounds like the year is a fat baby we’re teasing, and maybe some years are like that but I’m through with teasing 2020 for anything ever.
And I know giving these parts of the year names are going to inspire other problems. Like, there’ll be a part of the year that’s not really summer yet but still not sumtumn. What do we call that, summer-sumtumn? Keep this up and we’re going to end up with seasons given names like summer-sumtumn-summer by half-winter, or something. I didn’t mean ‘something’ as a season name, but maybe that’s where we’ll end up.
You know maybe I should have written that other essay instead, the one where I come up with like four zany seasons of doing mildly quirky behavior. Too late to rewrite it now. All I can do is think back about it during the season of regrets, which is all of them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.
If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.
The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.
It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?
If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.
So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.
I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
We’ve finally got a break from Jack Kinney-directed episodes. This one’s … oh. Larry Harmon. You know, the with the crew that would go on to be Filmation. I mean, I like Filmation. They made a lot of the cartoons so deeply weird that they appealed to the young me. Who else would think to do a cartoon refresh of Gilligan’s Island by just moving everyone to a new planet? I don’t expect great animation. I’m happy if I can get a weird cartoon, though. So here’s Ski-Jump Champ, another 1960 piece.
This isn’t the first skiing cartoon from Popeye. It’s also not the first one where Jackson Beck plays Bluto as some wholly new character with a French accent. Maybe French-Canadian. Beck was apparently comfortable with that accent; he has it on a fair number of old-time radio characters too. Here he’s Gorgeous Pierre, greatest ski jumper in the world. I too wonder if that’s a riff on Gorgeous George, the 50s pro wrestler who’s the guy being riffed on in those cartoons where a pro wrestler has curly blond hair and a perfume bottle.
And it’s not even the first cartoon this month where the story is Popeye and BlutoBrutus Gorgeous Pierre doing stunts to win Olive Oyl’s affections. What makes this stand out mostly is the animation getting weird. Like, in the first scene Popeye’s right eye keeps doing this little fluttering that made me think they were accidentally opening it. No; it’s just that his eyebrow jumps between spots. Which is a mistake that curiously makes his face look much more alive and real than the animators wanted. So that’s worth talking about because it’s an animation error that makes the cartoon kind of better, somehow. It’s superior to BlutoBrutus Gorgeous Pierre using a jack to lift the end of a ski jump, which my eye keeps trying to parse as an optical illusion. And I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening about 3:04, when Popeye skis into the rope.
This all comes to a ski race because I guess they needed some structure for the back half of the cartoon. We see BlutoBrutus Gorgeous Pierre being all devious by going right after the race starter says to “go”, while Popeye stands around blinking. And here I realized I have mixed feelings about the character designs here. They’re very simple ones. Like, I look at them and think, “I could draw that,” which is a sign of a very simple character design. But simple isn’t the same as bad. I admire how they’re able to get Popeye and Olive Oyl and You-Know-Who drawn and recognizable with so few lines and as many as five colors.
We do get that cartoon-race motif where the villain would win easily if he didn’t keep stopping to sabotage the hero. In the last minute and a half the cartoon finally gets weird for weirdness’s sake. Gorgeous Pierre paints a tunnel into a tree. It’s a Coyote and Road Runner gag, except for being senseless. There’s a reason to take a tunnel through the mountain; why aim for the one tree on the hill because you think you can pass through it? That said, I apparently like this sort of nonsense because I didn’t think about that until the third time through. Another bit of nonsense I like is Popeye drinking spinach juice for whatever reason. I wonder if this is riffing on some commercial people in 1960 would remember. The cartoon ends with a fight cloud, and a small-pawed bear being roped into things. The bear gets to win the ski race. And Popeye declares “like Napoleon said, you can’t win them all” and spontaneously dons a Napoleon costume. Why? I have no idea.
By now, you know me. I found this a dull but okay cartoon through most of its length. I got more interested as the cartoon got more ridiculous. Also that bear was adorable and I reliably like the comic premise of the character who’s important but asleep through the whole thing. I will not call this a great one, since it isn’t. Popeye turning into Napoleon is a nice surprise, but it’s not the sort of joke which won’t wear out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Thayer (named on 8 August but lurking in the background of the entire Jansen II story)
Wikipedia lists the team as, in 1921, having played two other games that season. One was the 9th of October against the Syracuse team, which had no known name, and which people used to think was a member of the National Football League because the Syracuse team claimed they were. The National Football League doesn’t think they were, but maybe all the paperwork saying they joined or were in the league or left got lost? It was a scoreless tie when, seventeen minutes in, the rain was too bad to continue. Their other game was scheduled for the 30th of October, against the Rochester Scalpers, but got cancelled.
Also the article says that professional football was played in Tonawanda by no later than 1913, saying, “this terminus ad quem comes from records that show the team lost to the Lancaster Malleables”. And I am lost in admiration of whatever Wikipedia editor jammed the term “terminus ad quem” in to a paragraph about when we know professional football was played in Tonawanda, New York. So, anyway, you can see why there’s no hope of my doing anything when I have information like this on my plate.
Can’t lie, I kind of miss this era of professional sports.
So here’s the standings from last time I checked in on Milford Sports. The girls’ softball team was uniting under the “Too Cool For School” motto. This after everyone realized they did stuff that wasn’t softball that they liked. Linda Carr, student, has a volleyball scholarship to college but doesn’t think she likes volleyball that much anymore. You might ask how we can get a story out of this.
That’s answered early on: a friend of the softball girls asks if his being the school’s second-best bowler makes him Too Cool For School. And, they gotta say. Asking if you’re too cool? Also, second-best? Also, he plays clarinet rather than sax? Nah. But since people want to be branded Too Cool For School? They get some badges made. And now we’ve deployed a full, proper high school hellscape.
I mean, some of it is okay. They follow leads that, like, a kid in World History raised like $5,000 for the food bank, and recognize that. A couple who both got National Merit Scholarships. Ruled out: a couple, including someone else on the girls softball team, who just had good games the same day. Or a kid who says he wrote a screenplay and hopes to get a Too Cool For School badge. This causes hard feelings, including between the girls who started the Too Cool For School thing.
Coach Mimi Thorp has enough of this. She gives Nancy and Molly, the head of the Too Cool ratification committee, George Orwell’s Animal Farm to read. Nancy reads it. Molly read it in 9th grade so just does some reading about it, which, yeah, sounds right. But both take Coach Thorp’s point: let’s put less judgemental energy into places that are already toxic pits of cliques, please? Once again I feel like the story comics are nudging me. To this I say, I’m trying to be a good reader of these stories. If I sour on a comic I hope it to be for reasons I could articulate, and form part of an earnest discussion of the comic strip’s artistic value.
Back to the comic. Nancy and Molly go trying to make amends, giving in Too Cool For School badges to all the people they’d turned down. The new standard is showing that even though you’re in high school you still have a personality. This even if your thing is stamp collecting in 2019 somehow. Did I mention last month I finally updated my ham radio license from when I moved to Michigan seven years ago?
Last thread needing cleanup. Linda Carr still feels burned out on volleyball. Mimi Thorp talks with her, starting by talking about how the Local College Team is going to get crushed next year. Linda rallies to the defense of her future team, and that’s the opening to argue that she still cares about volleyball. What’s bothering her is that she’s not playing for fun anymore; she’ll spend the summer doing that, instead. It’s not bad advice for anyone who’s burned out. Girls softball wins the Valley championship, but loses to Wellington in the playoffs (sic). That’s all right; they’re all still proud of their team-ness.
That finishes the girls softball story for spring. The summer story began the 24th of June. It started with the return of Jaquan Case, and is fiancée Hadley V Baxendale. Their stories were from before I started doing What’s Going On In recaps. But Case had been on the basketball team, and felt conflicted between his skills as a student athlete and that he liked, you know, learning. Baxendale had helped him through this struggle, pointing out that you could go to college and then the NBA. Also Baxendale had her own life, pushing for the girls teams to get full-size lockers and cheerleaders and all that just like the boys teams did. (I do not remember any of this and am cribbing from the Comics Curmudgeon, which has deeper archives, instead.)
They went their separate ways after high school, the way actual people do. Case eventually did get into pro basketball. Baxendale went to law school and made partner early. One game in Chicago, Case failed to connect with the ball, while Baxendale did, and they connected over that. Nice.
Case and Baxendale have some problems, sure. They have separate hometowns, particularly, and neither of them has a job that relocates well. Hadley’s father worries about this, since, like, how can you have a long-distance relationship? (As one who had a long-distance relationship for years, I have to say: tolerably well. It takes different work than an in-person relationship does. And there’s true pain when your partner needs to be held and you’re a thousand miles away. But a good partner is worth it.) Her father’s really worked up on the impracticalities of a two-city household. And that, like, in a decade Case will be retired and Baxendale won’t. Won’t that be weird? So the question is what’s his real problem here.
Gil Thorp mentions this problem to Baxendale. She’s interested in the legal challenge here. And the chance to annoy her old school board, which, yeah, I buy as motivation. She’s got some plan in mind. We haven’t yet heard what that is, either.
And that’s a summer in Milford. There’s probably about a month to go in these storylines and then the fall season should take back over.
Milford Schools Watch
Here’s the towns or other schools that Milford was named as playing the last several months.
Southern (possibly; the reference might also be to a series of games played in the southern region of the conference, 11 May)
Well, I’ve got a packed week ahead of me. It looks to be great, mind you, and one I’ll be glad to go through. But I just do not have the time to summarize any complicated or intensely packed comics. So I’m looking forward to some nice easy reading, and summarizing, whatever’s next on my big wheel of story strips. Let me just take a nice long sip of hot tea and look up what’s next weekend’s adventure.
I wasn’t listening very closely to the teaser for the Mister Food segment on the noon news Friday. I thought the guy said he was going to show off a “dessert that would be worthy of the Renaissance”. So that kept me hanging on for the whole commercial break. What would this be? My best guess: a slab of honeycomb on top of marzipan, covered in nut-megg and tobacco leaves, bludgeoned the one tymme with a sugar-cayne.
Anyway it turns out they were doing a Kentucky Derby tie in. They had said a “dessert that would be worthy of the Winner’s Circle”. You can see how “Winner’s Circle” and “Renaissance” sound similar, what with both things being made up of words composed of syllables and all. Anyway I’m annoyed because I wanted Mister Food to tell me I was right.
Hey, are they going to have a Kentucky Derby this year? I should look that up. They hold those in prime-numbered years, and also some of the others.
Gil Thorp was in the fight of his life when I last checked in. The fight for his professional life, anyway. Former student-assistant-coach Robby Howry was blogging mean stuff about his coaching. And teaming up with radio sports reporter Marty Moon to say mean stuff about his coaching, but on the radio. And Gil wasn’t fighting. He was waiting for all this to get done. It’s as if Gil Thorp, deep down, didn’t really care.
Coming back into the strip was Maxwell Bacon. He was part of the storyline that set off Robby Howry’s quest for revenge. As senior, Bacon had wanted adderall, the better to manage whatever. Howry gave him baby aspirin, filed off, and told him it was adderall. Thorp found out about this, suspended Bacon, and threw Howry off the team-management thing. Bacon’s back from State University to see his mom. But he’s glad to break the silence about Howry’s motivations. Thorp refuses his help. He argues Howry isn’t worth Bacon making a dumb scandal public right as he’s looking for, you know, a job. Bacon leaves, without affecting the plot further.
It’s a neat development, I thought. It seems obvious that Bacon could deflate the Howry bubble. That Thorp won’t do that says something about his character. First, that he won’t screw up even a former student’s life, not on purpose. Second, that he’s confident he’s not going to lose his job to Robby Howry.
Because Howry isn’t after Thorp’s job. Mimi Thorp lays it out for Marty Moon, and everybody else. Howry wants that sweet local-sports-reporter job. And he’s going about it by saying interesting things in a forceful way about local sports.
The Gil Thorp snark-reading community has a consensus opinion about Marty Moon. He’s a hilarious, bumbling fool. He has the ill grace to be kinda right that Thorp’s teams never do great in their divisions. He’s somehow always finding new little ways to be a jerk. (I mean, dropping in Gil Thorp’s wife when she’s hanging with friends? And to say “nothing personal about my daily guest wanting your husband fired”?) But still. He’s kind of a dope.
Ah, but, swiping his job? Doing something about that is within Marty Moon’s set of powers. He and Howry settle in for their next broadcast. Marty casually turns eighty-four microphones over Howry’s way and asks, “So, how much do, Robby Howry of RobbyReport, declare that Milford sucks? As a town, that is. But also as a collection of super-sucktacular individuals? Please freely express your honest opinion while you’re here under no compulsion or duress of any kind.” And Howry must admit, he’s run some metrics and has rarely seen a town better living up to its potential suckitude than Milford. Then learns he was on the air.
Now, I’m from New Jersey. I went to grad school in Troy, New York. I currently live in Lansing, Michigan. What I mean by all this is I have never lived in a place that had self-esteem. The closest I ever have is when I lived in Singapore, a city-state that takes considerable pride in itself. But it’s also aware that, jeez, it’s only as important as it is so long as it does containerized cargo and hosting a US Navy base well. So I don’t feel the Milford community’s outrage at being called a “Podunk town” he figures to use as a “launching pad”. I’m more inclined to expect people to say hey, but we’re a great “dump”. And were only better before the gentrifiers tore down the abandoned dance studio that used to be a gas station.
Marty Moon expects thanks from Gil Thorp for bursting the Howry bubble. Thorp won’t give it. Robby Howry himself thinks, he guesses he’ll finish school. But he knows, he’s got talents and this town will never forget him. As he says this, the strip shows his billboards papered over. It’s a funny end.
Will Milford forget him? I don’t know. It’ll be a while before I do. He’s got a great story-comic personality, that of being far too involved over a petty issue. And students do return for new storylines, sometimes. It wouldn’t be absurd for Howry to make some new attack on the Milford high-school sports ecological balance. But, yeah, nobody in town would remember him three months after this.
The new, and current, storyline started the 11th of March. And it’s focused on the girls’ sports. It’s softball season. The centerpoint student seems to be Linda Carr, who’s playing softball and volleyball. And is very busy. She has to beg off a Saturday scrimmage, for softball, on the grounds she already has a volleyball tournament. This causes one of Linda’s teammates to snap at her for some reason. In all four girls say they can’t make Saturday. Three of them beg off for “family stuff”. It’s a lie.
Molly Hatcher, for example, was performing in a synchronized ice skating team. She didn’t want to talk about it because whenever she talks about it people make fun of her. Nancy Kaffer’s “family stuff” was that she was going to a comic convention. She says it’s because she writes a blog about female superheroes. I’m not sure if she was running a panel or if it’s just that she’s interested in comic books. She gets about 30,000 visitors a month so excuse me. I need to step over into the breakfast nook and fume about being one-tenth as popular as a fictional high school girl. All right. I’m back.
Anyway, Linda feels the softball team is lacking a needed unity. It’s a good diagnosis. Everybody has other things they like doing, which is fine. Everybody’s getting snippy at other people for their things, though, which isn’t.
At the season opener, Jocelynn Brown takes a moment to rally the team’s spirits. She gets the team through a tough spot and into a win. And her teammates admire her neat hat, which she knitted herself. She had missed the scrimmage because she and her mother had a booth at a craft show. In admiring the hat Molly Hatcher says everyone on the team is “too cool for school”, and for a moment her entire life hangs in the balance.
But the other teens decide this is such an uncool thing to say that it falls over the edge and comes back around to being cool. It becomes their rallying cry for the next month. Jocelynn and her mom knit matching hats for everyone, which Molly declares they’ll wear on game days.
After a close loss to Tilden, Jamila brings out a Rally Hippo, a plush doll from her collection. She declares that to be her contribution to being too-cool-for-school. And, you know? These things can work. Weird thing about sports psychology is that having anything you can do for luck works, even if you don’t believe in luck. Having a thing in your control helps you get bigger control. The Rally Hippo’s only had one outing, but the girls did come back from being down 3-1 to win.
Less sure, and what seems to be the actual problem this story: Linda has gotten bored with volleyball. But it’s the sport that she has a scholarship for. So, what to do about that?
Fair question. Won’t know until the next few weeks of Gil Thorp transpire. We’ll have to see.
There was no secret volleyball. It was synchronized ice skating being kept secret. Also disenchantment with volleyball kept secret. Volleyball itself was always known to all interested parties.
Milford Schools Watch
So here’s the towns or other schools named as competitors to Milford the last several months. Tilden and Oakwood have turned up twice, and in that order, for basketball and for softball.
Burke (the Bulldogs)
Benson (the Mighty Bunnies)
And again, of course, Milford isn’t anywhere real. But if “Nebraska City” isn’t the name of someplace in Pennsylvania, it should be.
And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.
Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?
Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.
Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.
It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.
The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”
Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.
Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”
And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.
And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.
So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.
Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.
Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.
My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.
Milford Schools Watch
People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.
Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.
I was cleaning my car. It was at that point where it looked like there was more stuff in the back seat than could be justified. Like, why would I need jumper cables? Or a first-aid kit? Or the receipt for two sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes plus a medium-size pop from Wendy’s from 2017? Or a bright reflective orange safety vest?
Along the way I dug out a summertime issue of the Lansing City Community News. This is a six-page ‘special edition’ of the Lansing State Journal that’s tossed for free once a week onto everyone’s driveways. It’s part of a service to the community, so we know which of our neighbors haven’t been home since Saturday. I must have picked up this one and forgot it existed until now. It usually features about two and a half of the human-interest stories from that week’s State Journal, plus a third of a page of classified ads to meet singles having yard sales to sell old beds and masonry repair. Sometimes they forget to include the ends of articles, the way the mothership State Journal does. But they included all of this one, and the headline should have caught my attention sooner:
Ax-Throwing Business Opens In Lansing
So it explains that this is the source of the dull thuds from behind the headquarters of Quality Dairy. That’s a local convenience store chain, the place where all metro Lansing comes together to obtain qualities. Some of their popular ones, year after year, include ‘peppermint’, ‘cream-filled’, ‘mooshy’, and ‘evocative of ducks’. I hadn’t heard a thing, but I don’t claim to be on top of all the mysterious dull thuds behind Quality Dairy headquarters and I would like people to stop pretending I do.
But the opening of this axe place has got me wondering where on the gentrification path “Axe-Throwing Businesses” are. It’s got to be somewhere after “person on recumbent bicycle pedals east every day at 2:35”. I’m pretty sure it’s before “can’t get across town through all the ukelele festivals”, but that might just be because we’re close enough to the Interstate I don’t have to deal with the street traffic. I think I have to place it between “coffee shop menus talk about geography”, but before “everything on the block is a restaurant or a knick-knackery”.
The people running this axe-throwing business got into it like you expect. They were having fun one day, throwing axes at things. Then someone piped up with “you know what would make this even better? If we had to satisfy building inspectors and file 1099 forms!” So they made it into a business and I guess that’s working out for everyone. They still get to throw axes, and now there’s safety regulations they have to follow, and they’re getting two-thirds of the front page of a summer issue of the Lansing City Community News. Really no downside.
Still, it’s not a fulltime job because, I mean, why would you expect running an axe-throwing center, or “axeterium” as they say in the trade, to be enough business to live on? No, this is just a side job. They really run a blacksmith supply shop, it says in the article. This makes me want to know more about the challenges of blacksmith supply operations, especially in an area like Lansing, where we just don’t have that many animated coyotes hoping to drop an anvil from a cliff face. Also not that many cliff faces. Cliffs can’t be counted as blacksmith supplies anyway.
If we can believe the article — well, a lot of things follow. Among them, that “[Baker] spends his weekdays making Lord of the Rings-inspired metal helmets and custom cornhole sets”, at least until his boss finds out. But also that axe-throwing is a competitive sport. Apparently there are “more than 4,000 leagues in 50 cities across five contries, according to the Toronto-based National Axe Throwing Federation”. You could go to some axe-throwing event, and take home a trophy. You don’t even need to be big or muscular. You just need to have good form. Or to refuse to put your axe down until someone gives you a trophy.
Yes, I am bothered beyond all reason that the newspaper spells it “ax” in the headline and body of the article, but “axe” in the photo captions. And that the place and the National Axe Throwing Federation spell it “axe”. Sheesh.
Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.
Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.
Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.
The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.
This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.
Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.
Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.
His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.
Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.
Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.
Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.
Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.
Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.
This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.
I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.
The eruption of the smallcano was a surprise. There were rumblings, yes. But they were tiny ones. Even those nearest the eruption site just thought maybe they were hungry. Or there was a truck on some street nearby. Or the truck was hungry. Anyone would need great foresight to realize what was coming.
But then once it surfaced! People who found themselves in the active caldera-minima zone couldn’t help it. They would shrink to as much as one-tenth their ordinary size, if they found themselves somehow unable to escape the microclastic flow. Which, since the flow never got faster than a quarter-of-an-inch per day, you’d really think they would be able to. Heck, at its maximum the whole effect zone was maybe eight feet across, and that the long way.
You hate to say it. But you have to suspect at least some of the affected wanted to be caught up by the smallcano. You can see some of the appeal. Be small enough and you can have bunnies push you around. Be smaller still and you can see whether it’s possible to ride on a fly, like in a cartoon. Be just the right size and your liverwurst-and-onion sandwich can last you months, even years. The only other way to get an effect like that is to not like liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches very much but feel like you shouldn’t let that go to waste. So apart from people trying to make these sandwiches last, it’s hard to explain the people rushing toward the scene except those hoping for a little more smallness in their lives.
Now, when the tallcano erupted, that was a different story. You can’t blame anyone not being able to outrun its effect zone. Not unless they were already gigantified enough. And if they were, well, there’s only so many ways to explain how they got that way. And sure, the caldera-maxima got pretty crowded but that’s what everybody expected so what’s one more person making the joke about how the average person was now 2.3 persons? (This was a funny joke because the average was actually closer to 2.2 persons, but 2.3 is a funnier number, according to a study that compared it to 2.2, 1.75, and 1.0625, but did not test it against 3.7.)
The ballcano, well, that was different. Just this fount of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, beach balls, medicine balls, pouring out of the mountain’s top? Balls bouncing and rolling for miles? Many even landing in the sea? That was just great for everybody except the sporting-goods manufacturers. Oh, they weren’t all regulation size or stitching, yes. But they were good enough for casual play. Or to fill the need people didn’t realize they had for spherical toys. It wasn’t even thought of as a hazard until it started shooting hockey pucks. This was seen as an unforgivable variation from its brand. But the ballcano insisted that it had to follow its creative energies where they lead and that it didn’t have time for the haters. We all agreed we could learn something from it, except we didn’t want to be anywhere a hockey puck could bonk us on the head. People who came in hoping to be turned into volleyballs were disappointed yes. Worse, when people asked them what they were expecting, and told honestly, got looked at like they were the weird ones. Kind of tragic, really.
The mallcano should have been seen as a greater threat than it was. The hillside just spewing out Foot Locker Juniors and Spencer Gifts and shuttered Radio Shack storefronts and kiosks demonstrating toy drones wasn’t at all economically sustainable. The flow just didn’t have enough anchor stores. And the flow was steady enough to keep a proper food court from congealing. Signs that there might be somewhere to get a pita, or burrito, or something else that’s food wrapped inside dough never panned out. Even so, people flocked to the epicenter, since “Epicenter” sounded so much like the kind of name a mall ought to have.
All things considered, it was kind of a strange week in town. And all that before the open-floor houseplans of a whole subdivision were ruined by the wallcano.
Last time Gil Thorp was starting up a sequel to a story from before I did plot recaps. So let me recap that one from the distant, relatively happy times of 2016: Milford boys’ softball star Barry Bader’s father Del was on trial for drunk driving. While that trial was underway, he’d had a liquid lunch and got into a minor accident with beloved Milford girls’ softball star “Boo” Radley. She wasn’t hurt by that. She died when another car crashed into Radley’s stopped car. Del Bader has been in jail since. Barry Bader has been angry, pretty intensely so.
Two years later. Milford Trumpet reporter Dafne Dafonte nags Barry Bader into an interview about how everybody hates his Dad and doesn’t much like him. She mentions him being short-tempered, and he complains about how society casually spits on short guys. To that point I honestly didn’t realize he was supposed to be conspicuously short. Rod Whigham’s art has always avoided straight-on shots, and casually varies the angle. I didn’t attach any particular importance to apparent size.
Eventually Dafne nags the elder Bader into an interview, too. This promises to be a glorious fiasco. Mr Bader was a ball of rage even before his drunk-driving convictions. He was also a bundle of sexist rage, offended by the discovery that a mere woman could be in charge of a courtroom. And now some teenage girl he never heard of wants him to talk about all this. I wouldn’t blame Bader for refusing to have anything to do with her. If any character ever asked Dafne what precise public service was being done by poking the Baders I never saw a good answer. It’d be interesting? I guess, but that’s not by itself journalism.
Del Bader starts off all right: his wife and son are struggling without him, and he’s treated as an awful person, for an accident. He points out how “Boo” Radley being an attractive, popular teenage sports star makes people view him more harshly than they would “if I’d hit a 50-year-old named Joe Smith”. But he also tries arguing, like, he was not a repeat drunk driver. He hadn’t been convicted for his first arrest yet. “I got railroaded”. Sometimes the literal truth does not make your case better.
Dafne writes a story leading off, “three hours from his comfortable home in Milford, Del Bader is in prison — and in denial.” It’s a catchy start and I hope someone ran it past the school paper’s attorneys. Barry Bader is furious. But his mother — she asks Dafne to come over. She wants to do an intervention. Mrs Bader has Barry sit down and hear about how his father really screwed up, and is screwing up Barry. And Barry needs to think seriously about being something besides a weirdly intensely angry high school athlete.
I’m not sure the exact role Dafne serves by being there. I suppose just that having an outside yet semi-involved party can keep a family dispute from growing too intense. Anyway it all seems to have a good effect. Bader returns to the team apologizing for being such a jerk. And he gets to close out his senior year hitting a three-run inside-the-park home run. Not bad, yeah.
There is — well, not really a subplot. Subplot, to me, suggests something that highlights the main plot, either by contrast or by reinforcement. This is just other stuff going on along the side. Senior Kevin Pelwecki got crazily obsessed with setting records and getting a college baseball scholarship. Coach Gil Thorp, rising above the cliche that he doesn’t really care, helps Pelwecki get his play up to form. But he’s not that serious about finding a college team that’ll offer Pelwecki a spot. He’s able to get Pelwecki a tryout, although as best I can tell the same tryout anyone would. That’s all right, though. Pelwecki finishes the season with 11 home runs, third-highest for the team, and comes to realize that he didn’t really want to play college ball. He wanted to be good enough that he could. I can understand that.
So Bader’s and Pelwicki’s storyline finished off, the 28th of July. with the 30th of July started the new, current storyline. It features the Official Sport of Comic Strip Artists For Some Reason: golf. (I think the reason is that golf was The Sport for Army officers in World War I. So Army enlisted men tried it in World War II. And since every comic strip from 1946 through 1969 was started by someone who’d been enlisted in World War II they carried their interest over.)
Wilson Casey and Tony Paul are really interested in golf. And seriously interested too: they’ll play in the rain, because hey, they get course time nobody else wants. They’re not Milford students; they attend St Fabian, and there’s mention that Gil Thorp is coaching them as part of his summer job. All right. Casey and Paul are really into the game. They just wish those snobs from Pine Ridge weren’t so obnoxious. And this sets off my Jim Scancarelli alarm. “Pine Ridge, Arkansas” was the setting for long-running old-time-radio serial comedy Lum and Abner. Probably just coincidence, though. The defining traits of both Lum and Abner — and most characters from Pine Ridge, Arkansas — was their complete lack of guile. This is not an accurate characterization of these kids.
In qualifications for the Valley Juniors golf tournament the Pine Ridge kids are teamed up with Blackthorne Country Club kids. And they together start cheating, cutting a few strokes off their holes. The St Fabian kids are ruthlessly honest about their play. In an earlier game one had counted a bunker as two strokes because he believed he felt his club strike the ball twice. Paul hits for 83; Casey for 82, scores Gil Thorp said should qualify them easily. The cheaters turn in scores in the 70s, and bump Paul and Casey out.
They’re stunned. They know the guys were playing in the 90s the previous week. I admit I’m stunned too; I had just assumed in this sort of contest some tournament official would follow each group. Shows what I know. Well, there’s stuff at pinball tournaments you probably wouldn’t guess happened either.
Thorp goes to the Pine Ridge Country Club pro with the question: come on, srsly? The Pine Ridge guy shrugs, saying, hey, golf is a streaky game. Sometimes a group of eight teens will all happen to play fifteen strokes better than their average all at once. Thorp tries to honor-shame the Pine Ridge guy, and goes back to his players with talk about how good their performance truly was.
And that’s the current standings: a summer storyline about cheating in golf. I realize it’s easy to snark about the insignificance of the subject. But it’s resolutely the sort of thing Gil Thorp is the right comic strip to write about. Really I’m still getting over learning that cheating in tournament golf play is apparently just that easy.
Keeping a scorecard is a time-honored tradition of attending baseball games. It’s slightly newer than attending baseball games. But then attending baseball games is only slightly newer than playing baseball at all. This is a statement that can get you into a good fight about what people mean by “attending”. Consider this for sometime when you’re at a party and everyone has run out of things to talk about.
Still, it is a tradition. It lets participants combine their love of a game predicated on suspense and anticipation with the natural thrills of multiple-entry bookkeeping. An experienced scorecard-keeper can reconstruct, pitch-by-pitch, a whole game from 139 years ago simply by glancing at the card, working at it for 138 years, and then reading how the newspaper reported the game. Now and then I try. Here’s how it usually goes.
I get a pre-printed scorecard blank. This can be had for under four dollars if you have the special scorecard endorsement on your vehicle registration. There are people who create their own scorecards, using notebooks or such. But such people are wildly unpredictable in their ways and I don’t need that sort of trouble. At the top I would write the teams, the date, the weather conditions, the time of play, my own name in case I forget, my homeroom section, and my name again so that the columns even out. My pen runs dry.
The first batter comes up and I write out his name, letting me discover that the column assumed people had shorter names. So in the next box over I write the number from his shirt, and the number from his position. This I use interchangeably, because I forget which way I started and it’s too late to fix that all now. Each at-bat, real or potential, has a lovely little greyscale diamond, there to record the action. By the time I come out of the hypnotic trance these engender he’s already out. I guess he struck out, since it didn’t seem like all that many people were moving around, and write in a K in the column for his position number.
The second batter comes up. I write five letters that I incorrectly think are in his name. I thought I was looking at the scoreboard. It’s an advertisement for one of the metro area’s leading motorcycle attorneys, insisting they’re one of the area’s best. While I imagine attorneys motorcycling through the courtroom, scattering writs and stuff, he makes a base hit. I darken the diamond line from home to first base. It’s not dark enough, so I run the pen over several more times and break through the paper.
I’m distracted trying to figure if I can somehow make the napkins I swiped from the soda stand into a desk. There is not. But while trying, something happens that I miss. The runner leaves the field, though. So I write down that this was a Fielder’s Choice, off in a little box by itself where the graphic design is well-composed. I’ve always liked the name of the “Fielder’s Choice” as a thing that might happen in baseball. And I’ve never known anyone who knew exactly what constituted one, so perhaps this was one.
The third batter. I listen carefully to the loudspeaker to get his first name (Thorny). The echo makes me think this is his last name too. It would be odd to have a name like “Thorny Thorny”. But if he’s come to peace with it, then who am I to argue? I like my name, and nobody knows what to make of it except a nervous pause before pronouncing it wrong. He hits a foul ball that goes off to a fairly empty part of the stands. A young child 35 feet away from this screams and covers his head. This doesn’t need my scoring, so I write in an ‘X’. Thorny Thorny gets hit by a pitch and takes his base; I record this as ‘F’ as my backup pen dies. I don’t have a better idea for a letter to use in this context.
I try making little spirals to get the dead pen to write again while the next guy hits a grounder that makes shortstop, second base, center field, and right field converge. None of them bonk their heads into each other, a disappointment, and someone tosses a ball to first, where the runner’s tagged out. But Thorny’s on second.
My calculations say this should end the inning, but everybody’s staying where they are. They seem like reasonable professionals and like they know what they’re doing. On my card I draw a line from first to second, jot down the batter’s jersey number, and draw a circle around a 9 that I think is a position number, but has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever just happened. The next batter hits a fly to center field. I write down nothing, as I try to ponder how this has all gone wrong.
I have fun, in my way. But also don’t feel like I need to do this often.
Baseball! Say the word (baseball) and right away you’ve conjured thousands of rhapsodic essays about baseball that you won’t read. The sport attracts a lot of writing. To write you only have to be awake and have run out of everything to do except writing. To play it as a sport you need a bat and a ball and maybe like eighteen friends and crowds of tens of thousands of fans. Getting enough people together to supply concessions alone is a chore. Far easier to just write essays about how awesome it would be to play, or maybe watch, or maybe just not worry about.
Still, baseball puts up some good statistics here. Baseball enthusiasts create an average of 49.5 pretentious essays about its inherent greatness for every 12.1 that football enthusiasts create. There’s alo 62.7 essays about baseball for every 25.3 about basketball. There’s 88.5 pro-baseball essays for each 56.2 about cricket. There’s nearly two baseball essays for every one about some silly made-up sport that appears in science fiction shows. That’s a pretty good ratio for the made-up sports. But remember that lots of those essays are snarky. Their major thesis is how the games never look like anything anyone would ever plausibly do for fun, unlike real sports, a category which includes “competitive shin-kicking”.
But just that paragraph gets at some of the joy of baseball. You see even a mystical aura given to its numbers and how easily they can start arguments. Try out 61, for example, or 2632. Toss in a 755, or an 1981 if you’ve got it. If these don’t start an argument, you’re not being persistent enough. Try them again, with greater emphasis. Some numbers get so contentious that there’s nothing sensible to do except retire them. Usually only baseball teams will retire a number. But if you want to do it, go ahead and retire one yourself. If you pick some number that doesn’t get called on much, like 441, they might never catch you. The National League discovered in 1994 how someone had retired 2538 on them over five decades before and they never noticed.
Baseball enthusiasts like to embrace the sport’s mythic origins. According to those, the rules were the creation of Paul Bunyan, who wrestled John Henry’s locomotive. This dug out the finger lakes and uncovering Cooperstown. There Johnny Appleseed emerged from the ground. From this first Home Plate he would walk the Old Northwest, planting Cardiff Giants everywhere. And from these steps small semi-professional teams would grow. Then Mike Fink would come along and punch them. The legend may have grown confused in the retelling.
More serious baseball enthusiasts like to point out the game actually derives from the British game of rounders. This turns out to be fictional too. It all comes from one guy reasoning that he liked baseball now, and when he was a kid he liked rounders. So they must be the same sport at different stages in his life cycle. When he wrote it down this seemed to make sense to everybody, which shows what the standards for making sense were like back then. Please remember that “back then” was generations before baseball was so well-organized that its players could be poisoned by socks. But it inspires questions. Like, what if he had written about this rounders-baseball thing later in life, when his interests had moved on still farther?
What if we saw baseball as merely a transitional sport between baseball and holding a cane while disapproving of the young? How different would the sport be? Would it earn publicly-funded stadiums in all the major cities? Would we have teams of nine scowling old men competing to see who can most be disgusted by some youthful frivolity? Would we be tracking the range and performance of the nation’s greatest complainers? Would the 60s have seen carefully-reasoned critiques about what makes a good crack about how with their long hair you can’t tell boys from girls anymore? Would the American League in 1973 have introduced a Designated Grumbler? I don’t know, but isn’t that an experiment worth running?
My point has gotten away from me, leapt over the back fence, and is running off toward the bridge over the highway. If found please return to this address, or any other needy place which you believe will provide a good home.
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.
[ 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.
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.
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.
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.
Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.
Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.
And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.
This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.
The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.
Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.
Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.
A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.
Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.
In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.
Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.
Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”
So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.
And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.
Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.
The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.
So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.
So, first, no, I still haven’t seen hint of my Peanuts calendar and I haven’t heard anything from Amazon and I’m starting to think this whole “calendar” thing is a hoax anyway. Just saying.
Also, regarding Kieran Meehan’s syndicated comic strip Pros and Cons from this Tuesday: uhm. Kieran Meehan’s Pros and Cons is definitely a syndicated comic strip that exists and is not something that I make up in one of my bouts of challenging my friends to figure whether a comic strip is real or just something I’ve made up. It was originally titled A Lawyer, a Doctor, and a Cop and that should clear up any questions about it except for question about it:
Yeah, I don’t know whether the comic is in reruns or if it’s just that comic strip writers sometimes get really weird, vague ideas about when the heck their strips are going to run, especially if they’ve got a couple months ahead of deadline.
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.
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.
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:
Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
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.
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.
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.