Popeye Classics #16 is the latest installment of IDW’s continuous reprinting of cartoonist Bud Sagendorf’s long run with Popeye the Sailor Man and related “Thimble Theater” characters. Boasting over 50 pages without ads, there’s more than twice the amount of material here compared to what $3.99 will usually get you at a comic book store nowadays. But is it good?
Popeye Classics #16 (IDW Entertainment)
Popeye Classics #16 is completely new reader friendly, as most comics were back in 1951, when the material collected in this issue was originally published. There is a gentle sense of continuity, though, as this panel from the issue’s first story demonstrates:
This is fantastic. In a brilliant display of economy, readers are acclimated to Popeye’s current status quo with a premise that’s simple enough for new readers to understand, yet intriguing enough to make them want to keep reading, without suggesting that they are missing crucial elements of the story if they didn’t read prior issues. However, it also gives a great incentive for readers to catch up on earlier issues. Who doesn’t want to find out how Popeye got the power to speak to animals?
Side-note: After this initial story, Popeye’s animal/bird communication powers aren’t mentioned again for the rest of the issue. Is this ever brought up in subsequent Popeye adventures? Does Popeye ever lose these powers, or did everyone just forget that he has other powers beyond the ability to turn spinach into steroids?
Side-side note: Why does Sagendorf specify that Popeye could speak to animals and birds? Did scientists in 1951 not yet consider birds to be a part of the animal kingdom?
“New Zoo” is easily the best story featured in this issue, largely because of how well it showcases Sagendorf’s artistic talents. He obviously owes a great deal to Popeye creator E.C Segar, and upon first glance, Sagendorf doesn’t seem to deviate much from the already-iconic look of the Popeye universe. Yet it soon becomes clear that he’s adding his own special touches to the mix, especially as he takes advantage of the comic book format as opposed to the comic strips that Segar made. Sight gags like this, for example, would not have been possible in the newspaper funny pages:
It’s also a relief that even with a plot focused an expedition to Africa, “New Zoo” is not nearly as racist as I would expect from comics of the first half of the 20th century. Sure, Sagendorf falls into that “Africa is just one big country” fallacy, and once Popeye arrives in Africa, the only characters that he meets are adorable talking animals, so there isn’t anyone to be racist toward, but it’s still easy enough to enjoy this story relatively free of guilt.
The same cannot be said for the issue’s last story, in which cowboy “Ham Gravy” meets a lying, stealing Native American.
Luckily, none of the other stories presented in this issue are racist at all, making it easier to critique them for their own merit. “Gold Shipment” is a disappointingly dull follow-up to “New Zoo,” with an ending that anyone remotely familiar with Popeye will find predictable. “Grand Opening” delights as Wimpy schemes yet again to score free hamburgers. The Sammy Bug prose story “Deep Water” didn’t do much for me, but I can imagine it being fun to read aloud to young children.
There’s also some great lettering throughout the issue, although I’m not sure if Sagendorf did it himself. Whoever lettered the comic has wonderful sense of cartoonish charm, and the overabundance of punctuation marks actually contributes to that exuberant appeal.
- Not as racist as one may expect.
- Charming artwork.
- Genuinely funny moments.
- Still kind of racist.
- Some dull moments.
- Popeye occasionally slips out of character.
It should also be noted that Popeye only appears in “New Zoo” and “Gold Shipment, although that distinctive Popeye tone permeates throughout. This makes it all the more disconcerting when Popeye’s own dialogue occasionally sounds uncharacteristic, but for the most part, this is the same Popeye that you know and love.
Is it Good?
Yes, especially if you skip the last story.