Review by Win Wiacek
This third magnificent collection of E. C. Segar’s clay-footed reprobate reproduces one spectacular groundbreaking epic after another. Segar’s whirlwind of creative inspiration takes the daily strip to new heights of cliffhanging thrills and absurdity whilst building unique and jovial character studies with the more humorous Sunday pages.
Comics historian Donald Phelps introduces the daily delights from June 9th 1932 to December 9th 1933, continuing from “Well Blow Me Down”, beginning with a rip-snorting mystery thriller featuring a large portion of the extensive cast. ‘The Eighth Sea’ finds Popeye, Castor, Olive and others following the instructions of Oolong the Chinese Parrot to recover a fabulous lost treasure. This sinister sea saga is the one and only Segar tale to feature Popeye’s ultimate nemesis (in the animated cartoons at least) Bluto.
That adventure leads the voyagers back to Nazilia for ‘Long Live the King or Gold and Goofs’ and a rematch with General Bunzo and his new Mata Hari, Dinah Mow, a worldly-wise vamp even iron-willed Popeye can’t resisk. After taking a well-aimed pop at popular democracy in ‘The Great Lection’ the old sea-dog sets up his own nation in ‘Popeye: King of Popilania’. This satire sees the increasingly irrepressible J. Wellington Wimpy expand beyond the Sunday pages to join the dailies cast. Popilania’s problems are multiplied by an invasion of “furiners”, “emmygrunts” and even jungle-Neanderthals in ‘Wild Men and Wild Women’ before the well-meaning reformer learns his lesson.
Trenchant social commentary and barbed satire continue when he returns to America to become ‘Star Reporter’ for The Daily Blast. This leads to the next big cast addition and our hero’s greatest advancement when a reader mails Popeye a baby in ‘Me Sweet Pea.’ Discovering the “infink’s” true history and heritage pits the sailor-man against some ruthless types, and results in a serious brain injury in ‘Bonkus of the Konkus’ but his indomitable soul and noble heart win through as always in the turbulent desert debacle ‘Popeye’s Cure’.
The Sunday Page selection follows a more domestic, but no less riotous path, increasingly appropriated by Wimpy, who even becomes a rival suitor for Olive Oyl’s scrawny favours. His development owes a huge debt to Segar’s love and admiration of comedian W. C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for common-man-but-imperfect-champion, Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving rapacious greed, freed from all ethical restraint or consideration, and gloriously devoid of any impulse-control. Wimpy literally takes candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar makes us love him.
Always innovating, the restless Segar began adding extra value for readers: incorporating collector stamps, games and puzzles to his Sunday pages. In an era with no television, radio-shows and Sunday pages were the home entertainment choices, and Segar excelled in creating paper-based toys and amusements.
An especially welcome bonus is an incredibly rare piece of Popeye memorabilia. The Chicago World’s Fair was advertised and promoted with an original full-page, monochrome Popeye serial as Popeye and crew explored the wonders of the World’s Fair in a truly spectacular and irresistible enticing promo feature – possibly the first of its kind.
This work is among the finest strip narrative ever created: reading it should be on everybody’s bucket list, and even when you do there’s still more and better yet to come in Vol. 4: “Plunder Island”. You owe it to yourself to make the acquaintance of this icon of cartooning.