GRAPHIC NOVELS

Popeye, Vol. 1: Olive Oyl and Her Sweety

Fantagraphics Nov. 2021. 120p. ISBN 9781683964629. pap. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
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While Popeye’s place in the pantheon of all-time great cartoon characters is secure, his earliest adventures in Segar’s “Thimble Theater” newspaper strip remain largely unappreciated. With any luck, this collection of full-color Sunday strips published between March 1930 and February 1932 may correct that. Indeed, nearly every episode collected here reveals Segar to be an absurdly hilarious master draftsman and wildly entertaining storyteller. “Thimble Theater” had been following the adventures of diminutive schemer Castor Oyl, his sister Olive, and Olive’s boyfriend Ham Gravy for a decade when Popeye first appeared in 1929; the strips collected here make it easy to understand why Segar quickly elevated the one-eyed sailor from supporting character to a series lead. Equally irascible and big-hearted, Popeye is prone to melancholy, hotheaded, and as kind to children and the poor as he is ruthless when confronting conmen, snobs, and Olive Oyl’s other suitors. Speaking of whom, where Olive’s animated appearances tend to reduce the character to a mere plot point, Segar renders her nuance and charisma equal to that of the titular sailor man.
VERDICT An essential volume of both graphic storytelling and early 20th-century art.
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