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Popeye, Vol. 5: Wha's a Jeep? Hardcover – March 21, 2011
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“One of the great geniuses of the comic strip form, E.C. Segar created work that represents some of America’s finest art in its epic scale, colloquial language, daffy humor and themes of romance and commerce... Not to be missed.”
“I consider the Popeye run of E.C. Segar’s strip one of the towering achievements in comics. [The volumes] contain some of the greatest humor comics of all time… within a package so solid and lovely looking I would have purchased it had it housed seven years of Marvin.”
- Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
“The perfect comic strip.”
- Charles M. Schulz
About the Author
E.C. Segar (1894-1938), creator of Popeye, is a member of the Will Eisner Awards Hall of Fame. He was born in Chester, IL in 1894 and passed away in his longtime home of Santa Monica, CA. The National Cartoonists Society created the Elzie Segar Award in his honor, which was awarded annually to a cartoonist who has made a unique and outstanding contribution to the profession.
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Popeye is an inspired creation with a gold mine worth of humor potential that only Segar was able to fully tap. The difference was that Segar took Popeye to his absolute extreme and the original comics play out like a parody of future comics and cartoons. When Popeye fails to get the men of Spinachovia into any kind of fighting condition he simply takes matters into his own hands and begins tearing the Brutian battleships apart with his bare hands and smacks the Brutian Admiral across the face. Ripping apart a battleship is something Superman might do (a character nearly a decade Popeye's junior) but Popeye was simply a poorly educated sailor with grand ideas. It was Popeye's colossal strength and inhuman ability to survive damage that allowed him to try and realize his dreams but his utter lack of social convention generally doomed him to failure. Popeye is often not a kind man but his strength shields him from repercussions. As the war with Brutia intensifies Popeye walks right up to King Zlobbo and says, "I came to ast for peace - but after takin' a look at yer ugly mug... I just got to smack it - aye - ya got a chin I loves to touch!!" and then delivers a thundering roundhouse. There is nothing Zlobbo can do except fume in frustration at his invincible foe. In a later story an assassin unloads five bullets into Popeye's chest only to have the sailor cough them into his hand and toss them on the ground. What can you do against a man like that? Popeye doesn't hold back on delivering punishment on anyone perceived as giving him the merest slight. If one of Popeye's citizens lodges a complaint he'll likely get a punch to the mouth and if he won't eat spinach Popeye will cram it down his throat. Popeye does because Popeye can and no one can stop him.
As much as I love the dailies the Sunday comics may be even better. For one thing there is much less repetition and for another there is a tremendous emphasis on Segar's other great creation J. Wellington Wimpy. Wimpy is such a clever, amoral character he could have easily headlined his own cartoon. The Sunday comics also tend to pack a bigger wallop. In one comic Popeye is waiting on Olive when a mild looking suitor wanders in. Popeye pivots yelling, "Who the *bleep* are you?" (I mentally substitute actual curse words and I don't insert "heck") and nails the guy in the teeth with his oversized fist. For the next seven panels he pummels the guy until he's left punch drunk slumped in a chair. The violent reaction of Popeye is in itself the joke and the humor is in the brutality that Popeye dishes out. Segar's genius was in rendering these hammering punches like nobody else ever could and Segar had the bravery to offer no apologies for the violence. Popeye is who he is and Segar rendered him thusly with no regret.
For all Popeye's violence and short temper he's also a man who'll give his last penny to help orphans. He wouldn't use the Jeep's unerring pre-cognizance to win money at the racetracks because he didn't want children to see him gambling. Despite his bad grammar and brawling he sees himself as a gentleman and his philosophies of life are altruistic to a level that approaches saintly. In one hilarious lack of self awareness Popeye tries to teach Pappy grammar even as he mangles the English language. Perhaps Segar rendition of Popeye could only thrive in the depression era but he infused his creation with a level of depth and humor that no other writer or artist in any medium has ever captured. Fantagraphics presentation isn't perfect and I've always found the blown up images on the front cover rather odd in the way it slices the image and presents the bottom of the frame on the top of the cover. I have no idea why they chose to go this route. I also think the die cut is better in theory than practice. On the other hand this collection includes the essential Sunday dailies which other collections have not. In the end Segar is the best writer and artist to ever handle Popeye and Fantagraphics collection is the best and most complete yet.
Popeye is one of the most beautiful characters ever created for the comic strips, and Vol. 5 in this ongoing series from Fantagraphics exemplifies the beauty of these volumes that finally do justice to this American comedy classic. Each book measures 10.5 X 15 inches, just about the right size for the lower bookshelves but big enough to allow six daily strips per page as well as high quality color reproduction for the Sunday pages. There are supplemental features including a new introduction by Rick Marschall and a reproduction of pictorial article from "Modern Mechanix" about Elzie Segar and his hobbies.
As for the beauty of Popeye the character (as well as the "Thimble Theatre" strip), flip ahead in the book to page 130 and take in the sequence from 1936 in which the Sea Hag sends Alice the Goon to Popeye's house to kidnap baby Swee'Pea. Alice was one of the most hideous, frighteningly ugly creations in this or any other comic strip, somehow even more so when dressed in female attire. But Swee'Pea, in wisdom beyond his years, sees more to Alice than meets the eye, and eventually, so does Popeye. Sequences like these abound in Segar's strip, hilarious and at the same time, gut-wrenching in their human insight. There are no ugly people in Popeye's world except for those who make themselves so. And this is the key difference between Segar's original creation and all the spinoffs and sequels that have followed from other hands. The Fleischer cartoons and the continuations by Bud Sagendorf and others have all had their high points, but not one has captured the humanity of the original.
Fortunately, we can all now savor the richness of Segar's masterpiece in books that are worthy of its greatness. If you haven't read any of the others, start here and dig into the "Jeep" story. If that doesn't hook you, nothing will.