Popeye: Plunder Island
Written & Illustrated by E.C. Segar
Published by Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics’ fourth oversized collection of Elzie Segar’s legendary Thimble Theatre strips, famous as the birth place of Segar’s notorious Popeye the Sailor, continues the winning standard set by earlier editions.
Well, honestly, Plunder Island comes up slightly short of the brilliance set by previous Popeye strips, if only because Segar pushes J. Wellington Wimpy so heavily in the Sunday pages. I seem to be in a minority, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the repetitious themes of Wimpy’s mooching exhaust me. The payoff is slight and easily predictable.
The daily sequences, more focused on Popeye and his English-mangling, extreme-punching, heart-of-gold antics, mixing adventure and humor in balanced measure, are more to my tastes. I’m not sure why Popeye’s gimmick is less bothersome than Wimpy’s – mostly I suspect that there’s just a little more range in the jokes focused on Popeye. The gags are still well within a certain realm, but Segar was more able to vary the formula when working on the dailies. Wimpy’s only relationship is with hamburgers, after all. Popeye manages to juggle Olive and June VanRipple, as well as friendships with Mr. VanRipple, Castor Oyl and Toar, while discovering Plunder Island, saving King Blozo’s kingdom (again) and establishing his own country, Spinachova.
Fantagraphics’ enormous format remains among the best-looking strip reprints available. The Sunday pages are published in full-size glory, complete with the (fairly tepid) accompanying Sappo strip Segar created to run with Popeye. To match the largeness of the Sunday pages, Fantagraphics puts six dailies – a full week – on each page, giving an incredible density and even matching the weekly pacing of the strips in a condensed manner. The artwork reproduction is very strong throughout.
Anyway, the gags in the dailies remain of a type, but Segar mixes the formula to keep things fresh, and his comical character designs continue to be strong, suiting his slapstick pacing. If you were to ask me to recommend a classic newspaper strip, Popeye would easily be among the top five. Given the vast range and sheer number of strips that have existed, Segar’s incredibly high standard continues as a standard-bearer.