Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Yam What I Yam… Then, I Stops… Abruptk-ly!

Our “Brother-in-Blogging” Chris Barat has done a fine job in reviewing the recent release of…

E.C. SEGAR'S POPEYE, VOLUME 6: "ME LI'L SWEE'PEA" by E. C. Segar (Fantagraphics Press, 2012)HERE. 

There’s nothing newsworthy about that.  Chris does a wonderful job reviewing books of every stripe. I point you there for a fuller picture of the book in question, while I focus on what is a particular sore point for me. 

This is the final volume for the sad and simple reason that it covers the period of (Popeye’s creator) E.C. Segar’s passing. 

When we reach that unfortunate point, the book takes a strange turn in the midst of a continuity that was “in-progress” at the time of Segar’s death.  The continuity abruptly stops, and the book’s editors offer this explanation: 

“…we have chosen to suspend the Thimble Theatre [ The actual name of the strip that featured Popeye] reprints here with the 8/30/38 strip, a few days after the very last strip signed by Segar (who would pass away six weeks after that date – before this sequence, which his assistant Doc Winner completed had run to its end in the papers).

During the rest of this (frankly somewhat interminable) storyline…[ The paragraph goes on to describe the remainder of the story in one, generally vague, run-on sentence].  

Speaking only for myself, I am appalled to have a story (…ANY story) dismissively cut off and discarded as this one.  It’s not as if we have ANY OTHER means to read it and judge it for ourselves. 

In my view, Fantagraphics has overstepped its bounds as editorial arbiters with this action.  For my money, shouldn't *I* be the one to decide if the story is indeed "interminable"? I purchased a book of POPEYE STORIES – and ended up with an INCOMPLETE story! 
What exactly are the obligations of a publisher that offers for sale a reprint collection?  I feel that, if the “King Swee’pea” continuity is BEGUN, it should be finished – regardless of the tragic loss of a genius-level cartoonist such as E.C. Segar.

It would appear that Fantagraphics was more concerned with a memorial showcase for Segar, than with presenting the stories!  And, honestly, I feel cheated out of the ending of that continuity – whether or not it was handled by others.  It SHOULD have been allowed to complete as originally presented. 

There was plenty of non-Floyd Gottfredson “Death Valley” material presented in the first of Fantagraphics’ magnificent series of Mickey Mouse hardcovers.  They didn’t just pick it up once Unca Floyd got rolling.  There, they opted for complete stories – even if not completely done by Gottfredson.  Why take such a different approach here?   

How do others feel about this, I wonder?   Our Comments Section is open! 


scarecrow33 said...


I agree that this is outrageous. Publishers do the same thing with the later works of Dickens...he wrote many short novels that were continued and finished by Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and others less well known. Yet the books that collect these stories only include the parts written by Dickens! This shows a total disregard for the reader, who can get caught up in a story and then never learn the resolution. It is shameful that Fantagraphics would pull this type of stunt with Popeye.

joecab said...

You know, I have Fantagraphics' original run of the Popeye strips (dailies and Sunday) in hardcover and I don't remember what they did back then.

I'm kinda fine with killing it right there since it's Segar I enjoy the most about it. The only other person I ever really liked on a Popeye strip was Bobby London decades later, and if you don't know the story behind his firing it's worth looking up.

I really do enjoy when a talented creator runs with an established work and makes it his own but still harkens back to the person who first made it great. Too bad it doesn't happen all that often. Good examples to various degrees: William Van Horn on the Ducks, John Byrne's Fantastic Four run... The new creators almost always were heavily influenced by the original and it shows.

Now, BAD examples I could name forever, but I think I should stop there. ;)

Joe Torcivia said...

JoeC and Scarecrow:

First, welcome, “Scarecrow”! Glad to have you aboard! We’re mostly friends around here, and I hope you stick around and enjoy!

Counting Chris’s comment on his own Blog post (that I linked to), that makes us dead-even (2 to 2) on the issue of “Creator Tribute vs. Complete Stories”.

It goes without saying that I respect the views of Chris and Joe, but I still don’t understand how an unfinished story (in an expensive hardcover volume, no less) is a good – or even a merely acceptable – thing!

If “Thimble Theatre” abruptly ceased upon Segar’s death, that’s one thing. And, I’m not suggesting that they go BEYOND the ending of the story Segar began. But, to suddenly cut it off in mid-narrative – even if in some well-intentioned tribute to the creator – is not right.

They are not consistent with this in their Floyd Gottfredson MICKEY MOUSE volumes – Win Smith and others are represented where the overall STORY requires it.

Even if they reproduced the non-Segar strips in somewhat of a SMALLER SIZE (though, not so small to be unreadable), to mark the end of Segar’s contributions, that would have been okay. The point of a “Monument to Segar” would be made – AND readers could complete the story too!

I just take issue with their DISMISSING it so. I’d still have liked the opportunity to make up my own mind on the subject.

To Scarecrow, I must ask: What is the value of PART of a “short novel”? Are the only relevant parts the ones by Dickens? That, too, makes no sense. I’d say it makes even LESS sense than with comics!

JoeC cites two great examples of continuance beyond the original creators with Byrne’s FF and Van Horn’s Ducks. It may just be the world I was hatched into, but I see Bud Sagendorf as that for E.C. Segar.

By the SIXTIES (had Segar gone that far), don’t you think Segar’s narratives would have been just like Sagendorf’s? …Less rich and/or convoluted, and even more loopy. Fifties Gottfredson was a far cry from the peak of mid-late thirties Gottfredson. Segar would have gone the same way, I’m certain.

As I said on Chris’ Blog, fandom is largely at odds with me on this. Maybe if I didn’t come up in a time and place where Paul Murry was *THE* “Mickey Mouse Man” and Bud Sagendorf was *THE* “Popeye Guy”, I might think differently too. It’s all relative.

Anyway, I’m glad to see the debate of “Creator Tribute vs. Complete Stories” get some traction! Let’s see where it goes from here…

Anonymous said...

I say: finish what you start. I don't see any harm in publishing the complete serial/story arc, even if it was continued by someone other than the original creator. There is precedent. Robert E. Howard died with several stories unfinished. Some of them were later finished by L. Sprague deCamp and/or Lin Carter. When Lancer reprinted Conan the Barbarian in the 1960's, they did not (AFAIR) publish any incomplete fragments. They published complete stories, whether they were finished by Howard or his successors. Berkeley published editions in the late 1970's for purists. They did not include the Carter or deCamp apocrypha, only the originals that REH finished himself and that were actually published in pulp magazines in his own lifetime. But, even then, they only reprinted complete stories, not unfinished manuscripts. Similarly, Kitchen Sink did not cancel their Spirit reprint series when they ran out of stories written and drawn by Will Eisner. They continued to reprint issues by Jules Feiffer and Jerry Grandenetti. It's true that successors often fail to maintain the standard of quality established by the original creator, but, if the publisher doesn't reprint the successors' work, then we don't have a chance to judge that for ourselves.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Anon!

It’s now 3-2 in favor of stories!

And, more to the point, you put it PERFECTLY when you say: “I don’t see any *harm* in publishing the complete serial / story arc…”!

That’s exactly what I was fishing for, but couldn’t quite come up with!

Was the balance of that story considered to be “harmful” to the aesthetic of the series, or something that would bring down the collection as a whole? Could it REALLY have been that bad, just because it was not by the original creator?

And, again… Even if it was, shouldn’t WE, the consumers, have been able to debate that for ourselves?

Perhaps we’re having that debate right here! …If only we could see how the story turned-out, so we’d better know what we’re debating. I still feel we deserved that for our money.

joecab said...

And I pulled out my old copies of the first run of the Popeye strips by Fantagraphics from years back and ... they stopped in February 1937! (or at least my collection stops there with Volume Ten)

Joe Torcivia said...


February, 1937? Really?

The last strip in this volume – where the story abruptly stops – is August 29, 1938! Then they give us ONE MORE strip dated October 31, 1938 – Halloween! …I guess all the “interminable” stuff occurred in between!

Oddly, the plot thickens, with a glance at Dell Comics’ POPEYE # 46 (Oct-Dec 1958), the cover caption of which promises: “The story of Swee’pea – Boy King”!

No, it’s not a comic-book adaptation of the 1938 tale that we got in unfinished form, but an original by Bud Sagendorf that, for all we know, was inspired by that then-20 year old Segar tale.

In it, baby Swee’pea was the “boy king” of the “island kingdom of Goff… right in the middle of the Eighth Sea”. His evil Uncle Herman wants to kill him and become king. Swee’pea stows away in a container-load of exported spinach and ends up with Popeye. After a few “royal complications”, and the defeat of Herman, Swee’pea selects kindly “other-Uncle Thaddeus” as king, and elects to stay with Popeye… and become his “adoptid boy-kid”.

We end on a funny bit, where present-day Swee’pea begins to have ever-so-second thoughts about that!

Yeah, it’s Sagendorf and not Segar, but that was never a problem for me. In the same way I enjoy Mickey Mouse by both Floyd Gottfredson *AND* Paul Murry. …And Star Trek *AND* Lost in Space. And Silver Age DC *AND* Silver Age Marvel… and so on…

And, hey… At least THIS STORY has an ending!

Germund said...

There was an 11th volume of Fantagraphics' old Popeye run, but this too ends with approx. the same date, August 30, 1938. And I'd vote that full stories are always to be preferred.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Germund! And, there’s another vote for COMPLETING the story!

Are you listening, Fantagraphics?

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with Fantagraphics that Doc Winner did in fact made the story lengthier than it should have been (I've read it to the end elsewhere) I still think they should have published it complete for a number of reasons:
Nobody Knows exactly (unless we can resucitate Segar or Doc Winner and made them tell us...) what Segar told Winner in terms of storyline tips to continue the story while he was ill. This means that although the remaining strips are 100% Winner drawn I have the feeling that some of those later strips were at least suggested by Segar.
I'm totally convinced that the looks of the demonian "Demons" were in fact designed by Segar before he passed away. If you look at the first few strips were the demons appear and then at the very last ones -100% Winner drawn- i'm personally convinced that those were at least pencilled by Segar to show Winner the way to draw them. There is a clear divergence in style that points that way. This means that I agree with the Halloween theory proposed in the book.

At any rate they should have published the strips for people to judge this anyway...

Joe Torcivia said...

As you know, Anon, I’m in complete agreement – and your thoughts here only add to the case.

Fantagraphics does a LOT of great stuff, and are responsible for some of the finest reprint collections on the market today (Popeye, Mickey Mouse, Carl Barks Donald and Scrooge, etc.) – but my feeling is they should have presented the remaining strips (even in a smaller or compressed version) so that we would have a complete story, and can decide for ourselves.