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Popeye: Plunder Island (volume four)

Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2010
By: Danny Djeljosevic

E.C. Segar
E.C. Segar
Fantagraphics
After reading Fantagraphics’ reprints of old Popeye strips, I realize why so many indie comickers are obsessed with old comics: they’re just better.

Nowadays, the comic strip form sits in a state even worse than its comic book brethren: Stagnant, sanitized, and totally establishment--represented by bland repetitive joke-a-day mainstays like Garfield and Hagar the Horrible. Thank the gods for Web comics.

Both Garfield and Popeye come with elements that are constantly repeated. For instance, Garfield hates Mondays, loves lasagna, and constantly kicks Odie off the table. Similarly, Popeye eats spinach and constantly saves the day with a few well-placed punches, Wimpy will do anything for a hamburger, and Geezil hates Wimpy with a foreigner’s blinding rage. However, in Popeye these repeating elements occur within the context of actual stories that are delivered either daily in six-panel chunks or weekly in 16-panel grids on Sundays--and E.C. Segar's comic strips are not quite as formulaic as the Fleischers' animated shorts.

The centerpiece of Volume Four is the “Plunder Island” story in which Popeye and his cohorts battled the Sea Hag on their way to an island full of treasure. In other words, Popeye becomes an adventure comic, and a very funny one at that.

The inclusion of Segar’s other comic, "Sappo," proves a treat, albeit one more repetitive than its companion. The premise is this: Professor Wotasnozzle concocts a new scientific invention and inflicts it upon the title character (often with hilariously disastrous results) until the next invention comes along.

While sillier and less violent than Popeye, "Sappo" is no less imaginative as its hero is shrunk down to microscopic size and forced to deal with monstrous germs and flooding caused by his wife’s tears. The liberating lack of science in the strip amuses most of all--Segar is concerned with effect, not cause.

Professor Wotasnozzle defines his invisibility ray as such: “I have combined the well-known X-ray, my own Super Z-ray and my J-ray--the J-ray is really a fifth dimension ray--you really wouldn’t understand, so I won’t go into details”--this is the closest we get to scientific explanation.

Segar produced six panels a day!

That’s twice the number of the average installment of "Zits"! That’s triple the number of the average "Mary Worth"! Where did we go wrong, America? Why does a single "Popeye" strip from 1934 have more depth than an entire Sunday comics section? Granted, my complaints won’t change things, so at least we have these Popeye reprints.



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