Saturday, July 5, 2008

Buffy and Popeye

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume One (Dark Horse, 2007) and Popeye Volume One (Fantagraphics, 2006).

I felt like giving this a try, since the Hipster Kids and I have been watching the first season of this series. Dark Horse has been publishing Buffy tie-in and spin-off comics from a number of creative teams for around a decade. This compiles more than 300 pages of comics, not in publication order, but in chronological order, setting the stage for the characters before the first episode of the show. It's pretty uneven. The bulk of the book is scripted by Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, with excellent art by Cliff Richards and Will Conrad, and it's not at all bad, but you have to wade through a mess to get there. A story about Spike and Druscilla set in 1933 doesn't truly evoke either character, but "The Origin," ostensibly a more faithful adaptation of Joss Whedon's original film screenplay than the movie that emerged from it, is a garbled, seventy-page disaster of sloppy, amateurish storytelling, illustrated by someone who was unclear just what Sarah Michelle Gellar looks like. I might pick up additional volumes of this Omnibus series - it's a great package, also done for several other licensed Dark Horse properties like Aliens and Indiana Jones - but the discount will have to be pretty steep. Not really recommended, but Whedon's more devoted fans might overlook the clumsy pacing and narrative more easily than me.

This is about one thousand times better than I thought it was. We're all familiar with the Popeye cartoons of the 1930s, but those seem to have next to nothing to do with the bizarre, engaging, absolutely wonderful newspaper strip that spawned them. Thimble Theatre had been running for about a decade before some of its heroes met this unedermekated, unstoppable brute of a sailor, who rewarded them by taking over their strip. The strip comprises lengthy adventures full of bizarre science and evil spiricks, incredible wit and gorgeous linework by the great E.C. Segar. I laughed myself stupid several times. There's a bit early on where Castor Oyl and Ham Salad get rid of Olive by sending her to purchase "a dime's worth of longitude," and I must say that the silent punch-line panel for that strip is just about the funniest thing I've ever seen drawn. Then Segar runs with that gag for three priceless days. What a great strip.

Best of all though is Popeye himself, a force of nature who just routinely beats the hell out of anybody for any slight. I can't even begin to describe what a revelation this is. They sanitised the heck out of this character when he started appearing in motion picktyers. I wish he could have gone ten rounds with Everett True back in the day; that would have been something.

My only complaint is a small one: in reproducing these so close to print size to get the full effect of the Sunday pages, Fantagraphics created something that's awfully difficult to handle or to shelve. If the strip wasn't so triumphantly fun, I'd question continuing with these ungainly volumes, but my son is reading the second one and we're looking forward to the third later this year, and I'll shelve 'em as long as Fantagraphics prints 'em! Highly recommended!

(Originally posted July 05, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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