Henry Barajas, new writer of the Gil Thorp comic strip, was kind enough to have a chat (via email) with The Daily Cartoonist on taking over as offensive coordinator for the long running (sixty-four years) Tribune Contents Agency daily a month ago.
I’m Henry Barajas, and I write Gil Thorp with artist Rod Whigham. I have been reading comics my whole life. I started reading quarter bin comics and Sunday funnies. Now, I’m in the funny papers—and I live to tell the day!
I took over after Neal Rubin on Monday, July 11th. Please click here if you want to start from the beginning of this beautiful journey with me. I hope you subscribe to your local newspaper and read Gil that way. But the next best way is to read it on GoComics where there is a fun (sometimes harsh) community of Gil Thorp fans with their way of communicating. It’s unreal and confusing. But I love them.
Henry expanded on that a bit with The Daily Cartoonist.
I love comics and comic strips. Gil Thorp is one of those comics that fell in my orbit when I worked in newsrooms because we’d get other papers from around the country. I’ve always skipped to the funnies since I was a kid.
The beautiful thing about Gil Thorp is it’s more of a comic strip that’s reflective of the time and people and less so about its actual space. I have promised before that this will be first and foremost a Gil Thorp story.
TDC asked about Henry the comic book writer adapting to a daily comic strip rhythm:
It has been a fun exercise. There is a formula that you can follow. I want my run on this strip to stand out, so some will have to adjust to new pacing. But I am doing my best to honor the creator Jack Berrill.
While there are continuity strips, that won’t be named here, that seems to drag with a single scene taking up an entire week, TDC is impressed by the quicker pace Henry has brought to the daily funny pages. Trusting readers follow and even fill in some spots.
Thank you for saying that because I have a method. I’m writing this in mind that I will be able to recollect the strips as a graphic novel. Something I’ve learned from better writers than myself is to never underestimate your audience—and the reader is always smarter than you. I intentionally leave things “vague” with the promise to follow it up.
But it will get some getting used to for the longtime fans. There was a strip when I asked Rod Whigham to do the heavy lifting. He drew a QB passing the ball to a receiver on the last down without dialogue. That threw folks for a loop.
We asked about guidance from the syndicate and working with Rod Whigham.
I feel lucky because Tribune has been great to me. They’re giving me room to do what I want to do with the strip. I really like the 6-day schedule. I would love a Sunday edition. But I’m happy with what I’m working with now.
Shoutout to my editor Carrie [Williams] and the crew at Tribune. Rod is a dream to work with. He’s a pro. I wish we could clone him and he could draw all my ideas.
Though he kind of skirted the issue of lead time:
We work pretty far ahead. Sometimes it’s best not to know how the sausage is made.
I read a ton of the GoComics archive. I bought the one and only printed single issue and the Gil Thorp Silver Yearbook collection. I’m really drawing from Berrill’s original vision. I think there’s a lot of stuff unexplored. But my predecessor Neal Rubin was kind enough to leave me with some documents giving me the lay of the land.
Henry on Luke Martinez, a new rival for Gil:
Luke Martinez is the polar opposite of everything Gil Thorp stands for. I think Gil deserves a worthy adversary, but someone that isn’t a total monster. We will learn more about Luke, and I hope folks will start to warm up to him by the end of the year.
When Henry first was introduced to the comic strip reading public and Gil Thorp fans in particular he said that Midford will be encountering 21st Century issues. We asked about courting controversy.
I don’t want to give too much away, but, Gil will have to deal with something he had a heavy hand in twenty years ago. My career working in mainstream comic books has granted me access to classrooms. Kids have access to the world on their phones, they vape, some are nonbinary, and they are dealing with real dangers. I will do my best to reflect on what I’ve seen and heard with the utmost respect.
As Henry mentioned in his introduction, “there is a fun (sometimes harsh) community of Gil Thorp fans” opining regularly at the GoComics site, and Henry has occasionally replied to some of the comments. We asked about wading into those snark-infested waters.
I grew up on the internet. I’ve gone from chatrooms, to building my own site with GeoCities, and now using social media. I have a thick skin. But I also want to connect with the folks that read this strip every single day. I want to give them a reason to come back, and I think they’re having fun with it.
We are grateful to Henry for indulging The Daily Cartoonist.
More about Henry’s pre-Gil career at NPR from early this year.
This Week in Milford comments on the Gil Thorp comic strip daily.
That the writer of a daily comic strip is actively interacting with the strip’s readership speaks volumes, and in a positive way … Will we be on our best behavior from now on? Nah.
Henry Barajas comments on his and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp here
and has an ongoing dialogue with fans at Discord here.