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Does it take a man to analyze the gender politics of the funny pages? Maybe it would be more accurate to say that only a man — a cranky, obsessive, underemployed man — would bother. This weekend, Gil Thorp made the political personal (or is it the other way around?), while Mary Worth subtly buttressed the patriarchy.

Gil Thorp, 8/5-6/05

You know, I wondered earlier what those kookie Gil Thorp kids would get up to with no high school sports to distract them. Well, the strip’s A-plot, involving the buying and selling of promising athletes like so much cattle, is par for the course. But I don’t think any of us expected freakishly square-headed Von to be cheerily taunting his thirty-year-old not-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend/stalker come early August. You can tell the villain aims only to persecute his ex because, while her cart is full of flat cardboard boxes, his is empty — so what else could he be doing at the supermarket? Our pushbroom-mustached copper in the middle panel of the second strip, with his aviator glasses and jaunty grin, serves to show how broken the system is when it comes to protecting women from stalking threats. And our Mrs. Robinson-esque heroine, who goes from anger (strip one, panel one) to near-panic (strip one, panel two) to withering contempt (strip one, panel three) to, um, poorly drawn blankness (strip two, panel one) clearly illustrates the roller-coaster ride that is the life of the stalkee.

Seriously, though, there’s all sorts of intriguing questions on how this one will play out. Will the thuggish, hairy-armed stalker manage to do violence to our star-crossed non-lovers? This being Gil Thorp, where off-the-field action tends to be fairly low stakes, I kind of doubt it. Hopefully Officer Delaney Bebow will step in and start taking these threats seriously. Still, kudos to Gil Thorp for at least taking this issue seriously.

If we can not take this issue seriously for a moment, though, I think we need to pause for a moment and ask: Just what did Gary spray-paint on that window? The only naughty word I can think of that ends with “le” refers to the human body’s more important and yet unpleasant orifices, but the only way I can think of that the name of said orifice might reasonably be misspelled would involve switching the “l” and the “e” around. Unless he had too many “s”s? Or not enough of them? The mind boggles. It’s too bad it’s a “word,” and not a phrase, because it might be amusing to imagine that it was something like I WIL STUF MY FIST DOWN YER BOYFREINDS PIE HOLE.

Mary Worth, 8/7-8/05

Meanwhile, here’s Mary Worth’s advice to women in trouble: no matter how bad your situation, no matter how badly your husband or your parents beat you, no matter how intolerable your life behind the graciously weathered walls of your suburban condo may be, for God’s sake, don’t go to the Women’s Shelter! Mary seems to be under the impression that a women’s shelter is meant to shelter us from the thieving, violent, criminal women who no doubt use it as their lair. Like Dante, Mary passes through the gates of her everyday life to descend into the brutal slum that is “downtown,” where, in rapid succession, she comes face to face with:

  • A beatnik
  • A jaundiced man with a tattoo
  • A muscle-bound man wearing a powder-blue tank top, possibly homosexual
  • Slightly cracked plaster
  • Garbage protruding from the top of a trash can

Apparently Mary believes that a merciful death, drunk and face-down in Charterstone’s beautifully landscaped pool, would be preferable to this degradation.

On the other hand, in today’s strip, residents of the Women’s Shelter seem engaged in nonspecific, but definitely non-robbery-and-violence-related behavior. Maybe it’s Mary who’s going to learn a Valuable Lesson this time around — and she’ll find out who the real sheltered woman is.