Written and Illustrated by Bud Sagendorf
Published by Yoe Books and IDW Publishing
Released 3/6/18 / $19.99
If classic comic characters were gods, Popeye would certain be Hercules.
Sure, there’s the obvious strength but he’s also well-grounded in the world of humans, fighting the good fight and partaking in amazing adventures, often in far-off lands.
Both have also been portrayed by famous artists and, much like Hercules’s heroic adventures, each story remains (mostly) timeless.
As the name indicates, Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf collects a handful of iconic Popeye stories by one of the best.
This collection is presented in the tradition of older comics which often offered colorful comics along with a text story. (Heck, it even has an illustrated nameplate page you can personalize.)
Fortunately, here, the story we’re treated with tells of the slightly twisty paths that brought Sagendorf and the spinach-gulping sailor together.
The book begins with a brief introduction by animation historian and former animation studio exec, Jerry Beck. While that might be enough for most, the next several pages feature a more lengthy essay by Craig Yoe that puts it all into perspective.
On the Popeye side, it traces the character’s evolution from comic strip to animated ‘toons, then to comic books. As for Sagendorf, it’s almost as if he were born to work on Popeye.
L’il Sagendorf, as a paper boy, actually sold papers to Popeye’s creator, Elzie C. Segar, multiple times. They also frequented the same art store, Segar for supplies and Sagendorf mostly because his sister was the store’s head buyer. The two eventually met, and Sagendorf became his assistant for several years. Oddly enough, after Segal passed, Sagendorf wasn’t picked to take his place. Instead, it was 20 years after Segar’s death when Sagendorf was finally able to take a crack at the character his mentor created.
Although comic books didn’t hold quite the honor as comic strips back in the day, Sagendorf eventually went on to create more than 100 Popeye comics books over 24 years, with only a tiny selection presented here.
Included in this book are also several instructional of his pages, navy illustration cards and a book Sagendorf created for the Red Cross.
The stories that follow cover the myriad types of adventures and opponents he’ll encounter over the years.
What’r Ya Lookin’ At?!
The comic book portion dips directly into the first issue – yup, Popeye #1 (1948) – with one inked page later shown as part of a full-color story. It features a few of our favorite characters, including Olive Oyl who has joined the Anti-Fisticuff Society, forcing Popeye to resist throwing a punch, even when directly provoked.
Although he takes make hits, he holds back his iconic swooping punch for many panels. But, when you get down to it, he yis what he yis, and you can expect those burly arms to eventually get back tah swingin’.
In the next story, plucked from Popeye #9 (1949), our sailor takes on a conglomeration of the tiny thievin’ Misermites who ar’ able to come together to form massive Mr. Zoog, á la Voltron. Jump to #12 (1950) where Popeye and the Spinachovian farmers face off with The Sea Hag and her sea vulture minions.
The next, pulled from #21 (1952) dips into the sci-fi realm with Jetoe (think “Jethro”), the hillbilly from Mars, who is able to turn into just about anything, disguising himself to learn each of Popeye’s punches.
Then “Shrink Weed” (hyuck!) from #25 (1953) does just what it says, shrinking Popeye and Swee’Pea down to the size of, well, a pair of peas. A farmer then collects the babe and Popeye and uses them to fish as if to prove that, even when the size of a matchbook, no creature is a match for Popeye.
One of the weirdest is from Popeye #34 (1955) titled “Nothing.” Here he, Wimpy and Olive meet up with, well, nothing, after landing on an invisible island. It’s strangely surreal and goes to show that Popeye can fight just about anything, even if it’s nothing.
The silliest may be “Spinach Soap” from #41 (1957), where Olive takes Wimpy as a boyfriend only because he can hold a job. Popeye eventually gets hired making Spinach soap which contains, naturally, pure “mudlesszine.” Considering Popeye’s iconic corn cob pipe, you can probably see where this is going.
He Yis What He Yis
I love this in all its scratchy half-toned goodness. The muted colors seemingly ruined by poor paper, lossy production and time, often resulting it that almost homemade, self-painted quality that any long-time comic reader can appreciate. (Now if they can just bottle that slightly sour, old paper scent…)
As you’ll see in many of the stories, there’s a feminist theme despite the seemingly obvious macho bravado. Spindly Olive more often than not gets in the last laugh or, more accurately, the last punch, defending her – and even Popeye’s – honor.
In many, he comes up against Sea Hag and Bluto who have each conceived their own shady deception that becomes the center of the story. This adds to the sense of timelessness and justice in each story, allowing Popeye to lead with his heart even if it comes with a coupl’a fists.
This is a beautiful collection of classic Popeye goodness that perfectly honors the history of both our favorite comic book sailor and one of his greatest artists.