Monday, 22 February 2010

Review: Tribute to Popeye (Editions Charrette, 2010)

Everyone loves Popeye; that's just a fact. Whether it be for his status as a classic pop-culture icon, his role as a precursor to the ever-popular american super-hero archetype, being indirectly responsible for the creation of Super Mario, or simply for encouraging generations of children to eat more spinach, Popeye is a legendary figure in the cartoon pantheon.

Created by E.C. Segar in 1929, Popeye has since become one of the oldest (1) and most enduringly popular cartoon heroes of the mass-media age. On the 1st of January 2009, the sailor-man finally entered the public domain, giving people (outside the US) the freedom to (or, at least in the murky world of copyright law, more freedom to) utilise the character in their own work. Almost exactly one year on, French publisher Editions Charrette have released Tribute to Popeye, a collection comprising over 70 re-interpretations of the world's most famous spinach-lover.

As with many collections of this type, a wide variety of different styles and themes are represented. Although some are parodic in approach, all convey an affection for Segar's characters. Not unexpectedly, a number of thematic troupes reoccur throughout the collection, most likely due to the simple nature of the characters. In no way intended as a criticism, it is interesting to see how the artists imprint their styles into these basic ideas. Popeye's relationship with Olive Oyl seems to be the favoured subject for most of the artists and is seen frequently throughout the collection. The two are showcased in a number of situations, including being presented as a hard-boiled tough man and femme fatale and a depiction as the biblical first couple.

A particularly sturdy-looking Popeye and Olive by Tanxxx

Although Popeye and Olive are the stars of the book, series aficionados can rejoice that there are still plenty of pages dedicated to the rest of the cast. Bluto, J. Wellington Wimpy, Eugine the Jeep, Swee'Pea, Alice the Goon, King Blozo and The Sea-Hag (blink and you'll miss her) all make appearances. The glaring omission of Poopdeck Pappy is lamentable, but you can't always ask for the world, right? My favourite of these supporting-character pieces has to be  BenGrrr's comic book mock-up, "Thimble Comix: InterStellar Wars", in which Wimpy is faced with a peaceful alien traveler who unfortunately looks just like a hamburger (extra geeky bonus points for the "Thimble Theatre" reference, the cartoon strip in which Popeye first appeared).

I hear that this was the original pitch for "ID4: Independence Day" (Artist: BenGrrr)

Other favourites include: various depictions of Olive Oyl as a sex symbol/ glamour model, a picture exposing the dangers of Popeye's tobacco consumption; Popeye marketing spinach in the style of a the sailors seen in Jean-Paul Gaultier cologne advertisements; Popeye moonsaulting from the turnbuckle of a wrestling ring and a wonderful re-imagining of Gulliver's Travels where Olive is held captive by hundreds of tiny Segar characters. Of course, the collection wouldn't be complete without a couple of obligatory references to René Magritte's Treachery of Images thrown in for good measure.

Without a doubt, my favourite pictures in the collection are the lovingly-created action sequences featuring the classic match-up of Popeye and Bluto. The best of which is the following piece by Raphael B, which manages to be both faithful to the characters and have a gorgeous style all of its own:

I would buy a print of this in an instant.

Featuring minimal French (in fact, most of the interior text is in English), this collection is a must-buy for any Popeye fans who aren't afraid of seeing their favourite maritime hero in a new light. This kind of item is the sort of object that lights the fire in my geeky heart and I would advise anyone of similar leanings to import this or pick it up at the nearest Comic Store that stocks French items ASAP. Good luck finding one of those, by the way.

Well, that's all for this review. In the immortal words of Popeye himself, "That's all I can stands and I can't stands no more!".

(1)  : Interesting bonus fact: Popeye's not quite as old as fellow adventurer Tintin. The sailor made his first appearance just one week later than Belgium's favorite son (January 17th 1929). I think that January must be an expensive month of birthdays for Felix the Cat.

I don't imagine Mickey Mouse buys anyone gifts, ever, which is probably why he's so insufferably rich.


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