Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Popeye: Wha's a Jeep?

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Popeye: Wha's a Jeep? (volume five) (Fantagraphics, 2011).

Fantagraphics is very nearly finished with their complete reprint of E.C. Segar's run on Popeye, with just one more volume to go after this. It's a breathless, surreal and ridiculous collection of fisticuffs and wonderfully funny violence, and every home should own it.

As before, the format is broken down between the daily continuity strip in the first half and the unconnected color Sundays in the back. Some of the Sunday strips have their own storyline - there's a "gold rush" story that runs for a few weeks - but mostly, each stands alone and, as before, shares a page with Segar's other strip, Sappo. Unfortunately, Segar completely lost interest in this little strip, but rather than retire it and give the main strip a few more panels, he oddly decided to have the character do a weekly lesson in silly art, like drawing a letter A and adding enough lines around it to turn it into a person's face. This went on for many, many months. Clearly, Segar was saving all his might for Popeye. There's one where Olive decides to disguise herself as a male suitor to make Popeye jealous. This was a terrible, terrible idea. I don't know whether anything funnier than this page appeared in print, anywhere, for two or three decades.

The daily strips start with Popeye having started an island nation of men who've grown tired of wives bossing them around and this goes on for quite a few entertaining months before the characters, having won a south Pacific war, return home for the introduction of Eugene the Jeep, a prized and coveted weird animal who, living partially in the Fourth Dimension, is able to predict the future and escape any confinement. Confronting a salt-of-the-earth fellow like Popeye with a high concept like that is a work of genius. The Jeep leads Popeye on a quest for his long-lost Poopdeck Pappy, so's he won't be an orphink no more, only to find Pappy a coarse and rough old salt who's not interested in his ugly kid. Pappy, of course, looks exactly like Popeye, just with a couple of extry whiskers.

The disappointment of the once-cute Sappo deteriorating into a waste of space knocks this down just a peg from the previous volumes, but the half-hour I spent guffawing over that strip with Olive dressed as a guy probably makes up for it. Highly recommended.

No comments: