GIL THORPMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1958
Creator: Jack Berrill
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Gil Thorp is a comic strip that will never be an international sensation like Garfield or Peanuts. Nor will it ever win great critical acclaim, like Calvin & Hobbes or King Aroo. In this, it resembles its protagonist, whose career is in sports but who will never be a star like Joe Palooka or Ozark Ike. But both the strip and its hero
are competent and dependable, doing what they do quite well, on a steady basis, year after year.
Like Tank McNamara, Gil is retired from active athletics, but still works in that industry. He coaches young athletes in football, baseball or basketball, depending on the season. He's been the athletic director at Milford High School since his daily comic strip began, September 8, 1958. It's been distributed all these years by The Chicago Tribune Syndicate, whose other offerings include Dick Tracy, Broom Hilda and a lot of things in between.
Of course, in a series full of teens and school officials, sporting concerns aren't the only sources of stories. There's also dating, office politics, parent-teacher conflicts, kids in trouble and that sort of stuff. In more recent years, like most modern comics that tell continued stories, it's tackled problems like teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc. Outside the school, Gil began a personal relationship with the girls' phys-ed teacher, Mimi Clover, in the mid-1970s. They were married on July 10, 1985. They now have two kids, Keri and Jami.
The strip never became a TV show or a movie, but Dell Comics adapted it into a oneshot comic book in 1963. Also, there have been several collections of the strip, mostly limited editions published by fans.
The strip was created by cartoonist Jack Berrill, who named his character after Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Olympic star Jim Thorpe. Berrill's career in comics started in 1942, when he began writing stories for Martin Branner's Winnie Winkle, also a Tribune Syndicate offering. When he pitched a strip of his own, he wanted to do one about sports and the syndicate wanted one about teens, and Gil Thorp was the result. Berrill spent his entire career at the Trib, most of it on Thorp. In fact, he continued to write and draw his strip until the day he died, March 14, 1996.
After his death, the art on the strip was taken over by his long-time friend and assistant, Ray Burns (also a former assistant to Alex Raymond on Rip Kirby and an occasional ghost illustrator on The Berenstain Bears). The writer, chosen by Berrill himself, was Jerry Jenkins, whose other work includes biographies of several sports stars and the controversial Left Behind series of novels. His association with the strip began when Berrill was considering novelizations of it, but that project never quite gelled. Jenkins (and his son, Chad, who wrote much of it without credit) took the strip a bit farther in the direction of religious right-wing politics than some readers are comfortable with, and it began losing papers — including the Tribune itself (tho the Trib's sports site does link to it online).
Burns died in 2000. Gil Thorp is currently written by former Detroit Free Press (and current Detroit News) columnist Neal Rubin and drawn by comic book veteran Frank McLaughlin, who, among other things, created Judomaster for Charlton Comics. Tho the Tribune no longer carries the strip, its syndicate continues to distribute it to about 65 papers.