‘Plunder Island’ is the fourth of six oversized volumes collecting all of E.C. Segar’s Popeye-era Thimble Theatre strips, while ‘Strong To The Finish’ is a collection of Popeye comics from the 1940s and ‘50s, written and drawn by Segar’s former assistant Bud Sagendorf and originally published by Dell (these were comic books, rather than newspaper strips). The Segar book is every bit as good as the three volumes that preceded it – brilliant cartooning and laugh-out-loud funny gags. The only difference this time around is that the Sunday strips fill the first half of the book and the dailies fill the second half (it’s usually the other way around) but otherwise it’s business as usual. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about Segar’s Popeye, and the whole book was thoroughly enjoyable, but highlights in this volume include: Wimpy’s excessive scrounging and his repeated insistence, when confronted by someone he has pushed too far, that he’s not Wimpy at all (‘Jones is my name – I’m one of the Jones boys.’); a strip in which Popeye tricks some savages into shooting all of their poisoned darts at him so that they use up their ammunition (Popeye is so tough that being covered from head to toe in poisoned darts doesn’t bother him at all); and a brilliant sequence in which Popeye survives having his neck broken in two places during a fight (‘I wouldn’t mind it, but the poppin’ of me neck bones makes me nervous!’) and then carries on fighting with a broom tied to his neck as a splint (Olive Oyl: ‘You’re not going to fight him with your broken neck!’ Popeye: ‘A’course not! I yam go’ner fight him with me fisks.’). Great stuff!
The Bud Sagendorf book is something that I’ve been looking out for ever since I saw a copy in Gosh Comics last year, although I was previously unaware of Sagendorf’s work. It’s certainly a great-looking book, from the spinach can cover design, which carries over to the back cover and even the inside of the front and back covers, which are designed to look like the corrugated metal interior of a tin can, to Sagendorf’s fantastic art. I even love the old-style colouring and paper stock, which make these stories look more-or-less the way they would have looked when they first appeared in print more than half a century ago. Unfortunately, the book itself was a bit of a letdown. These are good children’s comics, probably aimed at very young children, but the stories and gags were too simplistic for my tastes – stories about Popeye boxing Martians, or Popeye eating some spinach which causes people to shrink, etc., which seemed to drag on for pages and then end very suddenly – and worst of all, so were the characters. Popeye was more or less himself, albeit with a bit of his edge missing, but the supporting characters really seemed to be missing something – particularly Wimpy! In Segar’s Popeye strips, Wimpy is a despicable human being, an arch scrounger – very funny but loathed by more or less everyone within the strip. In Sagendorf’s Popeye, however, Wimpy is reduced (or should that be elevated?) to the role of Popeye’s loyal sidekick, a role that could have been filled by anyone, and he doesn’t do much (if any) mooching at all. Still, as I said, this is a great-looking book, so I reckon I’ll probably hang on to it and flick through it from time to time.
Cost: I’m pretty sure my wife bought me ‘Plunder Island’ for Christmas, so that one didn’t cost me anything, but it has an RRP of £21.99 / $29.99. You can usually get the Segar Popeye books online for around £15.00 each but they are well worth buying even at the full cover price, and very good value considering their size and the amount of material included (it took me a week or more to read ‘Plunder Island’, while I read the Sagendorf book, which has a similar page count, in two short sittings). ‘Strong To The Finish’ also has an RRP of £21.99 / $29.99 and can also be found online for nearer £15.00. I guess I always suspected that this book might not be as good as the Segar books, otherwise I would have happily paid £15.00 (or more) for a copy, but instead I waited until I managed to find a copy ‘on the ration’. I eventually bought a new copy from an Amazon Marketplace seller for £7.35 (£4.55 plus £2.80 P&P), which I thought was a great bargain at the time – and I’m still happy to have bought it at that price – but I’ve since seem another Amazon Marketplace seller selling new copies for £3.00 (plus £2.80 P&P). At that price, it’s worth buying a copy just to look at the pretty pictures, and to admire the brilliant cover design, which I think was my favourite thing about the book.