Uncanny Places

I grew up in Kalamazoo, and seeing it "represented" in today's Gil Thorp strip (h/t to the fantastic Comics Curmudgeon) was a surreal experience. I suppose if you grew up in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or Paris or some other major metropolis, you experience this feeling all the time-- a strange combination of "I've been there!" and "It's nothing like that!" as popular culture sets itself in your hometown. Kalamazoo has two major colleges, a major pharmaceuticals company, and world-famous tennis tournaments and piano festivals every year; it was also the home of the Gibson Guitar company and Checker Cab factories for decades. But aside from one catchy pop tune, it's hard for me to think of many references to the city in daily pop culture. And to the minor-league baseball team, even!

That said, the oddest part of the Gil Thorp look at my fair city (and believe me, there's a lot of "odd" to work through in Gil Thorp) is how "other" it seems. Even from the air, and even allowing artistic license, Kalamazoo doesn't really look like that. Other Thorp strips set in the city also fail to capture its appearance, its culture or its vibrant downtown life. It makes the character's thought balloon in the final panel--At least from here, Kalamazoo hasn't changed a bit-- all the more ironic. Which begs the question-- why Kalamazoo? Did the artists just look around for a name that might signify "small town" (although, with a population of more than 320,000, Kalamazoo ain't really that)? What signifies "minor league baseball" in comic strip terms? Does "Kalamazoo" then become a place-holder for a certain slice of "American" culture, in the same way that those aforementioned big cities signify "the urban," no matter how off their presentation in movies and TV?

And finally, do Gil Thorp artists Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know that Kalamazoo's airport can actually handle modern jetliners? That NCC 117 in the final panel makes the Kings baseball team look like they're flying in from the world of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.


Anonymous said…
Whoa, David Boreanaz is great on sax and lead vocal!

That damn song is so catchy that I find myself singing it all the time while doing the most mundane things. Zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo.

You oughta tell your readers about your little bit of a family connection to the Gal herself.
Anonymous said…
Hello, and thanks for the link and kind words!

I'm afraid the answers to several of your questions are fairly pedestrian. Neal Rubin, the strip's current writer, lives in Michagin (he's a sportswriter and columnist for the Detroit News) and so whenever he wants any kind of "local color" he always goes for Michagin. This is kind of weird in and of itself, because the strip's original writer was from Connecticut, so there are also lots of geographic clues embedded in the strip pointing to New England. Characters in the strip are also often named after real people in the Michagin area that I have to assume that Rubin knows, so my guess is that Rubin in his professional or personal life has come into contact with some folks from the Kings and decided to integrate them into the plot. Plus, you have to admit that "Kalamazoo" is just awesomely fun to say.

And ol' NCC 117 is in fact Coach Gil's private plane, thus demonstrating how superstudly he is by showing him flying in himself; it's not some commentary on Kalamazoo having a Hoover-era aerodrome or anything. I do find the dialog and art in the final panel particularly hilarious -- "It hasn't changed a bit! It's still a series of bland, generic, low-slung light industrial buildings!" Keep in mind that Rubin only does the writing and Whigham only does the art, which results in fascinating mismatches like this.
Brian Doan said…
Oh, sure-- come back at me with facts and research and stuff! You Jeopardy contestants never stop with that, do you? (:

Seriously, thanks for the post, and the fascinating information! I didn't realize the writer was from Michigan. And who knew Gil Thorp had his own plane (which, of course, is part of the contract rider for any high school coach)? Personally, though, I can't wait to get back to storylines about athletes hitting themselves on the head with sticks (a storyline I wouldn't know about if it wasn't for your excellent site and hilarious commentary).
Brian Doan said…
Yes, but when will Boreanez sing "Mandy" again??

My family secret, eh? Well, I think what happens in Kalamazoo stays in Kalamazoo...(:

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