This second collection of E.C. Segar’s Popeye-era Thimble Theatre strips is just as good as the first and possibly even better, as this volume has a bigger Sundays section (only about a quarter of the first volume was made up of colour Sunday strips, as Popeye appeared in the Sunday strips later than he appeared in the dailies, but this volume is divided pretty much evenly between dailies and Sundays). It’s another huge hardcover – only 175 pages but each of those pages is nearly 15 inches high and contains up to 36 panels – and no quick read at all. It’s taken me about three weeks to get through this book – admittedly, I read it in small doses – which makes the £21.99 / $29.95 cover price seem like quite a bargain compared to, say, Marvel’s Omnibus editions, most of which I could read much more quickly than this and all of which are more expensive.
The daily strips in Popeye Vol.1, which introduced Popeye into a strip that had previously revolved around the exploits of the Oyl family, mainly focused on the mystery-solving double act of Popeye and Olive’s brother Castor Oyl, while the Sunday strips focused on Popeye’s boxing career and the romance between Popeye and Olive Oyl. In this volume, though, Castor Oyl quickly fades into the background and the daily strips mainly focus on the adventures of Popeye and Olive, while the Sundays carry on much as they were. During the course of this book, Popeye and Olive have two separate Western adventures, Popeye becomes king of a country called Nazilia (in an adventure which reminded me a lot of the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, which actually wasn’t released until two years after Popeye’s adventures in Nazilia ended), and even opens a bank that gives away money to the poor (this was a depression-era newspaper strip). There is still no sign of Bluto (yet) but in the Sunday strips we get to meet hamburger obsessive J. Wellington Wimpy for the first time, and Popeye makes several references to spinach. At one point, Popeye even eats an allotment full of spinach to boost his strength during a fight, but at no point does he glug down any cans of spinach, like he used to in the animated cartoons, and Segar’s Popeye hardly needed spinach to make him tougher. Segar’s Popeye could beat anyone in a fight – and boy does Popeye love to fight! – and was virtually bulletproof! In one strip, after getting shot by a firing squad, Popeye just walks away complaining that there’s a bullet tickling his heart. Segar’s Popeye was tough 24/7, and spinach merely made him tougher still. In one particularly good strip – possibly my favourite in this volume - Popeye gets lost in the desert and has to resort to drinking water from a poisoned pool. We see the skeletons of thousands of cows that have died after drinking from the pool, the skeletons of desert wolves that have died after eating the poisoned cows, the skeletons of buzzards that have died after eating the wolves, and even the skeletons of ants that have died after eating the buzzards. However, after drinking from the pool, Popeye merely says: ‘I’ve drunk worse stuff’n this an paid money for it.’ A couple of strips later, a cowboy tells Popeye that his brother died within two minutes of taking a drink from the pool, to which Popeye replies: ‘Four hours ago I drunk a gallon of that water an’ all I got is a stumick ache. Ya see, mister – I got exter swell, healthy insides – they has to be healthy to stan’ all the arful stuff which I’ve throwed into ‘em in me day.’ I laughed out loud when I read both of those strips, and they certainly weren’t the only strips in this brilliant collection which made me laugh out loud.
Segar was a great cartoonist, Popeye is a great character, and I fully intend to buy all six volumes (five published so far) in this excellent series from Fantagraphics Books. Not that I’ve paid money for any of them yet! My wife bought me the first volume for Christmas and the third volume as an anniversary present, and my sister bought me this second volume for my birthday. However, unless the quality of these strips drops off a lot in the third volume – which seems very unlikely – I don’t think I’ll be able to wait until the next special occasion (Christmas?) for the fourth and fifth volumes and I may have to break the habit of a lifetime, put my hand in my pocket and buy them for myself. Luckily, they aren’t too expensive. As I said, this has a recommended retail price of £21.99 / $29.95 but most volumes are available for nearer £15.00 from the likes of Amazon and the Book Depository. I doubt anyone would regret buying at least one volume, and I doubt many people would be able to resist coming back for more.