Written by Roger Langridge
Art by Bruce Ozella
32 pages, color
Published by IDW
It was only a couple of years ago that I read the first volume of the original E.C. Segar Thimble Theatre comic strips that are better known as Popeye. If you’ve never read them before, they’re a thoroughly enjoyable series of adventure comics about Castor Oyl (always looking for a get-rich scheme), Olive Oyl (his slightly abrasive sister), and Popeye (the sailor who usually gets dragged into Castor’s schemes). Reading IDW’s new Popeye #1, one thing became immediately clear: Roger Langridge and Bruce Ozella have clearly done their research.
Unlike the cartoons and everything that followed Segar’s original strips, there’s no magical spinach gulping that makes Popeye get crazy strong, no constant idiotic chuckle from Popeye, or constant mentions of Wimpy wanting hamburgers. There’s still a lot of humor in Popeye, but it’s a slightly dryer and more unexpected tone. When slapstick happens it’s surprising instead of ordinary, and Popeye himself is a much gruffer, no-nonsense kind of guy. Langridge uses all of this to his advantage, with the trio going in search of what might be a second Jeep (the mysterious creature that they found on an earlier adventure that appears to be one-of-a-kind) in order to make money. A lot of old old favorites appear (the Sea Hag, Bluto, and even Wimpy) in the story, which moves at a good clip and has just the right mixture of suspense and action.
What’s especially nice about Popeye #1 is that even as all of these faces from the strip show up, I never felt like I had know anything about the original Segar strips to enjoy this comic. Langridge quickly explains what Eugene the Jeep is and why he’s so valuable, for instance, and villains like the Sea Hag and Bluto are explained merely by the situations they’re in, no exposition beyond a single sentence necessary. There’s an old cliche about how every issue of a comic is someone’s first, but Langridge takes it to heart here. I think that’s a good thing; there are a lot of comic readers who have never seen the original Popeye stories, and this feels like a great introduction to Segar’s high adventure, slightly comedic style. And, really, it’s near-impossible to not love a comic where Popeye agrees to go on a crazy quest by saying, "I can’t stan’ t’ see a dumb animal cry on account o’ I got a heart like nobody’s bizness."
I’d never heard of Ozella before, but I like his art here. It’s exactly in Segar’s style, with the rounded heads, wiggly lines radiating out of people’s heads, and gruff expressions. Bluto just radiates menace, and his assistant looks like a huge slab of beef just ready to attack. He’s got a fun sense of motion for his characters, with Popeye’s arms whirling around like a windmill, or the way that he leaps and bounds through the air. It’s completely in character with what Segar did before, but it also manages to keep from feeling old-fashioned or less than natural; that’s a feat that few comic artists can manage when mimicking another artist’s style.
Popeye #1 is a comic where there are boats with "Secret Weapon X" levers that, when pulled, release a shark to attack other ships. It’s slightly ridiculous but completely awesome. I’m hoping that Popeye #1 creates a whole new group of fans for the character (and if so, do check out the collections of Segar’s strip from Fantagraphics as well!), because Langridge and Ozella are turning out a comic that’s too fun to ignore.