E. C. Segar's Popeye 3: "Let's You and Him Fight!" (Anglais) Relié – 12 février 2008
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"The Eighth Sea" cabooses neatly onto a lengthy, though sometimes wandering, story in which Nazilia's King Blozo returns in triumph to his country with gold to prop up his pathetic economy, survives an attempted coup and an electoral challenge from the cigar-chomping General Bunzo (his commander during "The Great Rough-House War"), and then agrees to sell an outlying island to Popeye, who's intrigued with the notion of setting up an entire nation from scratch. "Popeye, King of Popilania" definitely points toward the later "The Dictator of Spinachovia" but lacks the topical satirical sting of that story, including only a few passing references to the Depression (e.g. Popeye ensures "prosperiky" for his new realm by turning a horde of invading jaybirds sent by the jealous Blozo into a Shmoo-like source of all manner of salable products) and wedging in a severely silly subplot in which Popeye lures bachelors from Nazilia by offering them the matrimonial services of a tribe of "wild women." Presaging the denouement of "Spinachovia," Popeye ultimately gives up on nation-building and generously turns over his kingdom to Blozo, who's watched his land depopulate as a result of Popeye's eccentric, but genuine, largesse. Perhaps Popeye had come to realize that government will always turn out "punk" regardless of whether its leader is a two-fister straight-shooter like himself or a whining worrywart like Blozo. "Spinachovia" would hone this point to a rapier's keenness a few years down the line.
The last story in the volume, besides introducing another key member of Popeye's extended "tribe," illustrates Segar's nimbleness as a story-teller, in the sense that he knew when to cut away from a less-than-inspired plot and go in an entirely different direction that ultimately netted vast profits. After returning from Popilania/Nazilia, Popeye (joined by Wimpy, who'd made his first extended appearance in the daily strip in the role of the ineffective "commander" of Popilania's minuscule army), accepts Castor Oyl's offer to invest his profits in a newspaper. The ensuing reporter-and-photographer gags evidently didn't excite Segar, who executes a neat swerve by having Popeye receive a mysterious package. Inside is Swee'pea, who will, of course, become Popeye's child-ward forever after. (Segar obviously loved the "package" gambit, as he also used it to introduce Bernice the Whiffle Hen and Eugene the Jeep. No wonder; it's a sure-fire way to build suspense and make a new character's appearance seem like something really out of the ordinary.) Swee'pea is being pursued by agents of his "superstitious" homeland of Demonia, who regard the infant as a "lucky gift from the gods" on account of the seven moles on his back. The Demonians inflict such a series of head-blows upon Popeye that the sailor suffers a supposedly fatal case "bonkus of the conkus." Even when mentally addled, however, Popeye holds his ward in an iron grip, braving a sojourn in the desert (and an attack from a goon sent to track him and Swee'pea down) and finally curing himself through sheer willpower. Segar puts the cap on this extraordinarily detailed "diversion" by bringing Popeye home to take over a small-town newspaper.
In this era's Sunday strips, Wimpy really comes into his own as the ultimate sponger, driving Rough-House to distraction (and even into a hospital at one point!) and even discomfiting poor Popeye at times. The "sprize fight" theme gradually fades into the background as Segar prepares for "Plunder Island," his greatest Sunday continuity (and, arguably, his most famous story), which will be reproduced in full in the next volume. (In a sort of anticipation of that epic, Segar sends John Sappo and Professor O.G. Wottasnozzle on a lengthy trip to Mars and Venus in THIMBLE THEATRE's always-entertaining Sunday-page companion strip.) And that's not all, folks; we close the volume with a series of never-before-reprinted strips from early 1933 in which Popeye and friends experience the Chicago World's Fair in their own unique way. These strips appeared in the sports sections of the Hearst newspapers, which perhaps explains why Segar was willing to dare convention (not to mention evoke nausea) by having Olive Oyl emulate Sally Rand and perform a fan dance. Popeye likewise "has his way" with a series of chorus girls and dancers, as indirectly indicated by the fact that a whole slew of them cry at his departure from the Windy City in the series' final strip. Between this additional newspaper exposure, the debut of the Fleischer cartoons, and the canonical newspaper strip, 1933 might be considered the peak year of Segar's career -- except that some of his greatest narratives were still over the horizon. Save for another obscure and muddy introductory spiel by Donald Phelps, this would be an absolutely perfect package of classic comic-strip entertainment.
If you've never read Segar's Popeye you're in for a shock. Popeye is rude, crude and often a bully. He has a soft spot for hard luck cases but his desire to help often backfires. What makes Segar so great is that he develops Popeye into a fully three dimensional character flaws and all. In one story Popeye tries to help the poor farmers of Nazilia by insisting that King Blozo give each one a doorknob sized hunk of gold. This ends up shattering the countries economy which is exactly what would happen. Segar delves into some deep philosophical issue concerning the danger of excessively helping the poor and the unfortunate fact that sometimes even the best of intentions can blow up in a persons face. After the economy is repaired King Blozo's kingship is challenged by General Bunzo from volume 2 in a general election. Popeye attempts to rig the election and Segar shows awareness for the dubious morality of Popeye's actions.
Popeye expresses his philosophy of life saying, "I don't do good deeds to get credick. I does `em on account of they oughter get done... an if ya does good deeds jus' to get yerself a swell seat in heaven yer selfish. The only reward ya should expeck for doin' right is the sort of cumfterble feelin wich ya get from doin it" That is an amazingly deep statement coming from a character in a daily comic. The above quote is expressed as an explanation as to why he is helping Wimpy to earn enough money to help his mother afford a place to live. Popeye ill conceived plan is to buy Wimpy a hamburger stand with hopes of turning a profit. When Wimpy inevitably eats his own product Popeye simply gives Wimpy five grand to pass on to his mother. To Wimpy's credit he does give the money to his mother... right before hitting her up for some cash which he proceeds to spend on burgers. Segar sets up an admirable philosophy for Popeye and then shows its flaws. Segar's Popeye is not a great man but he is a complex man with flashes of greatness. This is exactly what elevates Segar above the rest.
This book features a ton of famous firsts including the first appearances of Swee'Pea and Mr. Geezel and the single appearance of Bluto who gets the business end of Popeye's devastating "Twisker Punch". Wimpy is given a much larger role and pretty much takes center stage in the color Sunday comics. The Sundays center around Popeye, Wimpy and Roughhouse and they're at least as much fun as the dailies. Wimpy may be the most amoral character ever to exist in the funny pages. In one hilarious comic Popeye bets a man ten bucks that Wimpy wouldn't choke his own grandmother for a burger. After devising a plan to test Wimpy Popeye ends up ten dollars lighter. Finally let me state that the E.C. Segar comics are clearly a product of the depression era where a violent sailor with poor grammar could be a hero. On the other hand the Segar Popeye, who is fast approaching his 80th birthday, holds up amazingly well and feels much less dated than other decades old characters. If I could give this book six stars I would.
Finally let me close with one quick joke as an example of Segar's wonderful comedic flair....
Popeye: Nothin kin kill me Mr. Works I yam immoral
Mr. Works: You mean immortal
Popeye: I means what I means - tha's what I means
(I complained about the animated Popeye, in particular, when I reviewed the first two volumes of this series -- "I Yam What I Yam!" and "Well, Blow Me Down!" -- so I won't repeat myself here.)
So this third volume is titled "Let's You And Him Fight!", which is of course one of the catchphrases of the cover character, Mr. Wellington J. Wimpy (along with "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today" and "Come up to the house sometime for a duck dinner -- you bring the ducks" and "Have a hamburger with me -- on you"). Wimpy only appears in the Sunday continuity, though -- this is from the era in which dailies and Sundays were almost entirely separate, like Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions of the same characters.
The dailies in this book -- from June of '32 through December of '33 -- have a succession of long stories (each one generally taking several months, even with six large, dialogue- and action-filled panels a day), in which Popeye sails off in search of treasure in "The Eighth Sea," fights Bluto and his piratical mutineers, discovers that treasure and takes it back to King Blozo's kingdom of Nazila, where there's another close to a year of adventures, with Popeye founding his own country and dealing with wild men (and, even better, wild women!). When Popeye finally gets back home -- which is some nameless port city in the USA -- he immediately dives into an unlikely job as a star investigative reporter, which quickly gets sidetracked when he discovers a lost baby. (Popeye, of course, usually calls him "Swee'pea," but the boy is actually christened with spinach in the name of Scooner Seawell Georgia Washenting Cristiffer Columbia Daniel Boom, just in case you want a really obscure Popeye trivia question.) And then, at the end of the daily section, there's the funniest sequence of this period, in which Popeye was hit on the head -- and developed "Bonkus of the Konkus," a very serious ailment -- which made him think "I yama lonely cowboy" who had lost his "horsh" and all of his cows. Popeye's usually so all-competent -- pretty much unstoppable, unless he's frightened of black magic -- that seeing him confused and aimless is a lot of fun, especially since we're sure that he's too tough to ever really be hurt.
The Sundays cover a similar but distinct period -- October '32 to November '33 -- and have less continuity to them. There are occasional boxing matches, and other stories, that run for a few weeks, but most of these are one-off gags, set either in Rough-house's restaurant or the Oyl's front parlor -- though, again, each of these strips has sixteen big panels, so they're not small gags. (The Sunday pages also include Segar's other strip of the time, Sappo, about -- by this time -- a pair of inventors and the odd things they get up to.)
Segar's Thimble Theater was a nearly perfect blend of humor and adventure, with a cast of interesting oddballs (led by Popeye himself, of course) and a tone that could veer from high drama to low comedy within a couple of panels. And this Fantagraphics series is even closer to perfection, presenting Segar's work gorgeously on great big pages -- it would be a much better world if all our artistic treasures were treated this well.