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Popeye, Vol. 1: I Yam What I Yam Hardcover – November 17, 2006
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Segar had been drawing the Thimble Theatre strip for a decade when he launched its leading characters, Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy, on a seafaring adventure in 1929. The squinty-eyed seaman they hired for the voyage quickly came to the fore, soon displacing all of the strip's other characters except for Castor's sister Olive, who became the hired tar's scrawny sweetie. Most people know Popeye, as the character was called, through his animated incarnation, but Segar's strip is a far richer creation combining a colorful cast, outlandishly inventive dialogue, slapstick humor, and lengthy story lines that originally unfurled over the course of months. The first two years of Popeye contained in this oversize volume show those ingredients in place right from the start, even before Segar added such beloved second bananas as Wimpy and Swee'pea. The book's series title, E. C. Segar's Popeye, is telling. Although many hands continued the strip after its creator's death in 1938, none of them came close to capturing the brilliance Segar displays in these pages. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“The books qualify as near-architectural marvels in their own right―towering, heavyweight packages with die-cut front-cover windows and an interior design that showcases numerous installments of the feature with each two-page spread... The Fantagraphics editions make plain Segar’s mastery of grim suspense and biting humor as essential components of storytelling.”
- The Fort Worth Business Press
“I think of Thimble Theatre as blue-collar Beckett.”
- Art Spiegelman
“The perfect comic strip.”
- Charles M. Schulz
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Fortunately, there is a 1984-1990 "Complete E.C. Segar Popeye Series" which published the strip in a larger size, and which is available here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-C-Segar-Popeye-Vol/dp/0930193008/ref=bseries_primary_1_0930193008
Finally, here's a question for the Popeye scholars out here: has Popeye's first adventure (featuring the Whiffle Hen and Dice Island) ever been published in color? That I'd like to see!
This is not the Popeye most people are used to. This is the Popeye that existed prior to being significantly toned down at the behest of William Randolph Hearst in response to the characters growing popularity. This Popeye is a violent, foul mouthed sailor with a serious gambling addiction. Few able bodied males outside of the diminutive Castor Oyl manage to get through the book without receiving one of Popeye's famous haymakers and I have to give credit to Elzie Segar for his skill in drawing the most thunderous, teeth rattling punches in the history of comics. In the opening introduction there is a group drawing by Segar of a menagerie of characters from Thimble Theater including a most mild-mannered looking fellow named Johnny Doodle. I thought surely Mr. Doodle would be safe from Popeye's fists but sure as the sun rises in the east, before the book was through Johnny Doodle was left horizontal.
In one particularly funny sequence Popeye punches out a man for no apparent reason. When asked why, Popeye answers, "I don't need a reason... I socks `em where I sees `em, I leaves `em where I socks `em". Queried further Popeye responds, "I jus wanted to see which way he'd fall" and finally adds, "I likes to smack tall swabs on account of they fold up so nice" Later it turned out the man he socked was a crook but when it gets right down to it the humor of Popeye revolves around his burning desire to punch everyone he meets and Castor Oyl's vain attempt to control it. Popeye is a man who kills a horse with a single crushing blow. In volume one Popeye is arrested multiple times on assault charges and proudly proclaims, "I hits cops too - I hit's `em jus' like they was somebody else" In a sense the original Popeye seems almost like a parody of his future self.
I absolutely loved this book. A few reviewers complained about size of the images saying they caused eyestrain but I didn't have any problems at all. My biggest complaint is with the gigantic dimensions of the book. I would have preferred something similar to what was produced for the Dick Tracy or Peanuts collections. I also have to confess that the covers are absolutely bewildering. I'm not sure what the publisher was going for but I don't think it worked. I guess I also have to take issue with the introduction which really didn't do anything for me. In the end it's the brilliance of Elzie Segar's drawings and writing that makes this volume. I've already purchased volume 2 and intend to continue buying them as they are released.
This is the first long look that I've had of the real, honest to goodness Popeye other than just fragments in comic strip histories. This volume gives the reader a chance to get to know Popeye and the Oyl family and some other assorted characters from E. C. Segar's brilliant Thimble Theatre.
Popeye doesn't need spinach to make him strong. He got his strength from the sea and from the school of hard knocks. In these Depression-era tales, we get to see an undereducated, rough-around-the-edges "everyman" make it in a world of cold, hunger, joblessness, dispair, crooks, thieves, get-rich-quick schemers, murderers, and some nice people thrown in for good measure.
Popeye manages to outsmart and outfight them all without even trying. There is such a basic goodness in him, that the world around him can't beat him down no matter how hard it tries.
That spirit got America through the Depression and made Popeye an American icon... and old "blow me down" Popeye still lives today. Granted, in a somewhat more sanitized version, but he's still Popeye.
Buy this book and marvel at the stroylines, the wordplay, and the genius of E. C. Segar. Thanks, Fantagraphics for giving Popeye and the Thimble Theatre cast the treatment they deserve, which is world class. I can't wait for volume two coming in the fall of 2007!
Now, midway through reading volume 2's dailies, it's Popeye in the spotlight, Castor becomes invisible, and spinach starts to enter the picture. Still fun and funny, but more for kids.
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