Review by Win Wiacek
After Popeye’s creator E. C. Segar’s tragic and premature death in 1938, several artists worked on the newspaper strip. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that placed Popeye at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf did.
He’d been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 he wrote and drew Popeye’s adventures in a regular monthly comic. Collected in this enchanting hardback is an admittedly arbitrary and far from definitive selection of the Young Master’s compelling canon from 1948 to 1957.
The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded here by an effusively appreciative introduction from Jerry Beck before ‘Ahoy, Ya Swabs!’ relates history and recollection from inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe. It’s augmented by a fabulous collation of candid photos, original comic art and more. Especial gems are Bud’s 1956 lessons on backgrounds from the Famous Artists Cartoon Course, series of postcards and the Red Cross booklet produced for sailors.
Popeye’s fantastic first issue supplies ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’, in which our salty swab earns a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter. That ends when upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing his sweetie Olive Oyl President of the fictitious Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. It only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled.
‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion of plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with “orphink kid” Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon. ‘Witch Whistle’ sees the sailor revisit the embattled kingdom of Spinachovia where old King Blozo is plagued by a rash of vanishing farmers.
‘Interplanetary Battle’ taps into the growing fascination with UFOs as Wimpy innocently aids his old pal. When no prize fighter on Earth will box with Popeye, the helpful vagabond broadcasts a message to the universe and what answers the call is a bizarre shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers. J. Wellington Wimpy is a scurrilous but polite oaf, always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight”.
‘Shrink Weed’ details how some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’ Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and consequences before the entire cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere. An epic thrill-fest manifests in ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ as humans are abducted, leading Popeye into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which another family sea-voyage results in the cast being castaway on an island of irascible invisible folk in ‘Nothing!’
The fun concludes in sheer surreal strife from 1957 as Popeye displays capitalism at its finest when Olive gets a new boyfriend: one with a regular job and prospects. Stung to retaliate, Popeye devises ‘Spinach Soap!’ to secure his own fortune.
If you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you’ll love this, and you might want to explore a whole series of Sagendorf’s Popeye, starting with Popeye Classics Volume One.