Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comics Review: POPEYE THE SAILOR # 71 (1964)

To (Ahem!) “Kick-Off” the 2010 NFL Football Season, here’s something I wrote at the start of the 1997 NFL Season for my APA and Fanzine column THE ISSUE AT HAND.

Oh, and because this entry originated in 1997, please excuse the references to football stars of the 1990s, instead of current players. Please feel free to substitute the names of Darrelle Revis, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Adrian Peterson in the proper spots, if you wish.

I’m also guessing no one will mind SPOILERS to a 46-year old Popeye story. If so, don’t go back to the last post, where I also spoil a Green Lantern story.

The Issue at Hand is: POPEYE THE SAILOR # 71 (February, 1964) Published by Gold Key Comics.

"No Ball Playing!" or "Keep Your Ball Off My Island!" Story, art, and lettering by Bud Sagendorf.

Popeye the Sailor, unfortunately, has something of an image problem. Due to a long-running and often uninspired series of dreadfully repetitive theatrical cartoons produced by Famous Paramount studios (Post Max Fleischer whose cartoons were great! Just check them out on DVD!), most folks know Popeye for nothing more than interminable variations on the Popeye/Olive Oyl/Bluto love triangle - played out amidst every setting imaginable.

However, those who followed the Sailor Man through his newspaper strip and decades-long run of comic books know Popeye's adventures to be delightfully varied, satirical, and very often absurdist!

Unlike the more conventionally grounded Disney character comics by such talents as Carl Barks, Paul Murry, Don Rosa, and William Van Horn, Bud Sagendorf's Popeye frequently threw all logic "overboard" for the sake of a good romp. Our story, here, is no exception.

Popeye is summoned to the island kingdom of Spinachovia by his pal King Blozo, the island's reigning monarch. Blozo is besieged by his subjects for having made what seemed like a wise business deal... two football teams offered to increase Blozo's royal coffers by ten thousand dollars if he would agree to have his kingdom serve as host for a championship football game.

What Blozo failed to realize before pocketing the loot was that the two competing squads just happened to be teams of giants! I presume that the "royal fact-checker" was on vacation that month!

In this brief set-up is revealed the absurd charm of Sagendorf’s work. Nowhere is it mentioned where these giants might have come from, or where their previous contests may have been held, or any other such background detail to weigh the story down. As quickly as FOX commentator John Madden can say "BOOM!", here we are faced with a championship football game played by giants!

The preceding week's practice for this game, which no "Bowl" is quite "Super" enough to contain, has taken its toll in damage on the subject farmers of Spinachovia, who hold Blozo responsible for the ruin.

Popeye is appointed game referee by Blozo, because it is felt that only he can keep two rambunctious squads of "really, really big guys" in bounds and out of trouble. And, with a blow of the Sailor Man's whistle, the title game between the Leviathans and the Colossus begins!

Despite his best efforts to keep this biggest of "big games" under control, Popeye has his hands full calling more penalties than you'd find in a 1996 New York Jets game! The combatants are called for such outlandish infractions as stepping on the referee ( Don't worry, he can take it... he's Popeye! ), using a chicken coop as a kicking tee, and directing an end run through a peach orchard! Throwing his sailor hat down like a yellow flag, Popeye penalizes a defender "...fifteen yards fer roughin' a farmhouse!"

Regulation time runs out with the game in a tie. The titanic teams decide to play "Sudden Death", but the farmers of Spinachovia have had enough - lest that "sudden death come to THEM! They demand that Blozo stop the game or they'll dissolve the monarchy and elect a president! Popeye has no choice but to declare the game over as a tie.

This does not sit well with the giants, who continue play despite the ruling and summon a colossal punter to boot referee Popeye over a nearby mountain range! Whipping out his trusty can of spinach, our hero declares: "That does it! I yam the referee, an' I says this game is over!"

If this were animation, one could, at this point, almost see Popeye morph into the form of Reggie White, Bruce Smith, or Laurence Taylor as he streaks back across the field, tackles the giant ball carrier, and strips him of the ball! He runs off, with both teams in hot pursuit!

Cornered and trapped, Popeye tosses the ball to Blozo who takes off on an epic run more reminiscent of Barry Sanders than a bearded aging monarch! Unfortunately, Blozo makes for what he believes is the safety of his castle - which is destroyed as both teams pile atop it in quest of the football!

Much later, amid the rubble, Blozo comes to - and is informed by Popeye that his "royal rush" took him across the eastern goal line, winning the game for the Leviathans. So grateful were they that, before departing, informed Popeye of their intent to " all their games here next season!". Blozo indulges himself in a classic comic strip faint
(Plop!) as we fade out!

Ah, if only a fraction of Popeye's cartoons were as much fun as this story, which (for all we know) could have originated by something as simple as a friend asking Bud Sagendorf : "Hey, what time is the Giants game on?!". Alas, they could have been with someone as imaginative as Sagendorf at the helm.

Sagendorf, who wrote and drew the Popeye comic books from the 1940s through 1967 and did the same for the Popeye newspaper strip for even longer is sometimes overlooked in the rush to heap praise on Popeye's creator E.C. Segar. Both were master cartoonists well worthy of a place in comics history.


St00pidjunk said...

Great article mate! Never knew Popeye fought giants outside the cartoons. And yeah, Famous Studious was really unvaried in terms of plots.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks for the kind words! That was a favorite comic of mine, ever since I read it brand-new as a kid! Obviously, I still love it today!

IDW is reprinting those POPEYE comics by Bud Sagendorf in chronological order, so it may a long time before they reach 1963, but they’re way worth it… especially if you don’t have the originals.

And, repetitive or not, I still wish those Famous / Paramount Popeye cartoons would be released in an authorized (non-bootleg) DVD collection.