Popeye Classics volume 3


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-779-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-492-5

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre for a decade (since December 19th 1919) when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studios animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt.

Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery Sagendorf, finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and – from 1948 onwards – exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are issues #10-14 of Popeye’s comicbook series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning December 1949/January to October/December1950.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a fabulous collation of candid photos and assorted gems of merchandise – such as actual Wimpy burgers, a set of Popeye-themed Old Maid cards, Lunchbox illustrations, an anti-bullying campaign posters and foreign edition covers – in another ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, and we rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills nearly two year later with #10 and a single-page monochrome duel of wits between Popeye and his “infink” protégé Swee’ Pea before the four-colour fun takes off with ‘Rockabye Berries! – A Lethargic Tale of Slumbering Horror amid the Snoozing Sleepers of a Drowsy Island’ as old King Blozo of Spinachovia pleads for aid to overcome a bizarre plague of sleeping sickness. The old salt soon stumbles onto – and deals with – the cause… the island’s long-forgotten and rather aggrieved original inhabitants…

‘Ouch! or Don’t Hit Him… He’s a Human!!’ sees master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy attempt to teach fiery prize-fighter Popeye how to lose a fight after which ‘Pirate! or The Fist mus’ be Mightier ‘an the Sword! or The Seven Seas ain’t Big Enough to hold Both of Us!’ introduces nautical bully Typhoon Thomas who relentlessly pursues the sailor-man to force a duel and prove his own toughness. Big mistake…

Short prose stories were a staple of these comics (and a legal necessity to gain favourable postal rates) and here ‘Swee’ Pea and the Wonderful Bait!’ details a fishing competition between the kid and grizzled “grandparent” Poopdeck Pappy before Wimpy and Swee’ Pea clash wills in a story of the chase entitled ‘Apple Snack!’

The issue ends with a bang in a black & white interior half-page Popeye gag about pesky mosquitoes and issue #11 (February/March 1950) opens with a monochrome single-pager gag as the incredible infink builds a burglar trap and Olive Oyl proves it works…

Four-colour fun resumes with ‘Swell Day’, pitting Popeye against bullying adult sadist The Duke, who loves to make kids cry, forcing out hero to adopt infantile camouflage to teach him a lesson. Instantly following is ‘The Guest! or Was This Visit Necessary? or Good-Bye! Good-Bye! or Next Time Call B’fore you come, so I can Leave B’fore you Arrive!!’ as a translunar Moon Goon imposes on Popeye’s hospitality and literally eats him out of house and home…

The old salt almost endures his first defeat when playing ‘Golf!’ against Wimpy and Rough-House until he dumps the clubs for a more versatile striking implement, after which prose yarn ‘Swee’ Pea and the Tossing Island!’ spins a bittersweet yarn about a lonely beast on a distant atoll. Wimpy then stars in ‘Easy to Find!’: another duel with the baby sailor before the issue ends on another half-page monochrome Popeye gag.

Moved to quarterly release, # Popeye #12 (April-June) opens with a monochrome single-pager and Popeye “explaining” in his unique brisk manner why no one calls him a sissy, after which the magnificent Witch Whistle’ sees the sailor revisit embattled Spinachovia where King Blozo is plagued by a rash of vanishing farmers. The cause is sinister old nemesis the Sea Witch whose army of giant vultures seem unbeatable… until Popeye intervenes…

‘Drip! Drip!’ finds the nautical champion still in Spinachovia as a vile villain tampers with the water supply and the sailor-man is forced to dig deep to achieve his purpose…

All sailors and kids love the prospect of buried treasure so when Popeye unearths ‘The Map!’ in his own garden he soon sparks a storm of interest and unwelcome attention, before text vignette Swee’ Pea’s Sea Kite!’ reveals a close shave aboard ship and cartoon classic ‘The Double Mooch!’ sees wily Wimpy defeated by the machinations of Poopdeck Pappy and tricked into a day’s hard labour…

A monochrome gag reveals the limits of Popeye’s courage after his sweetie Olive asks him to critique her new hat, ending the issue and segueing neatly into #13 (June-August) and another with the infernal infink plundering a new fishpond, before the main event unfolds in ‘Shipwreck!’ Here the unusual suspects set off in search of an island of solid gold, unaware that they are also carrying two “ghost” stowaways…

Safely returned to shore, our cast heads west once more in ‘Adrift! or Here’s Dirt in your Face!’ Their desert trek soon uncovers evidence of ancient gopher people: they’re quite mean and rather rude…

Swee’ Pea then has fun with pets in prose piece ‘A New Port!’ before Pappy and the ultimate moocher renew their simmering rivalry in ‘Wimpy and the Big Bite!’, after which another monochrome closer details the joys and wonders of random fruit fling tossing (I threw an apple in the air… where it landed, I don’t care…).

Popeye #14 (October-December) celebrates the magic of the Iron Horse with a stunning cover (but aren’t they all?) and a B&W rebus crossword puzzle before ‘Western Railroading!’ finds the sailor-man setting up his own wild west train line. Sadly, with Olive as his sole passenger, business gets pretty tough, pretty quick…

Staying in cactus country but switching modes of transport, ‘Horse Race!’ sees the crafty cove adapt maritime techniques to cowboy pursuits before the cast are bedazzled and beguiled by the acquisition of a ‘Ghost Mine!’

Prose tale ‘Pappy Severs a Partnership’ sees the old reprobate rebel against Popeye’s galley fare with heart-rending consequences before cartoon madness resumes with J. Wellington Wimpy lured into excessive effort – and mortal combat with a cow – in a western ‘Gold Rush!’ before this captivating chronicle concludes with one last rebus crossword puzzle.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely top tier and for those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this terrific treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 3 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.