Wednesday Mini Book Reviews: Popeye: "I Yam What I Yam!" and The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962


See past mini book reviews here.

Popeye: "I Yam What I Yam!" by E.C. Segar (Fantagraphics Books, 2006).

The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books, 2006).

I'm behind in my reading on both these ongoing series of comic strip collections from Fantagraphics, with later volumes already out--another wonderful sign of the absurdly bountiful cultural wonders of modernity. (Don't even ask about all the Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase volumes piling up.)

I pre-cheered the Popeye volume before finishing it, and my affection and wonder at it only grew as I read it, a week or so of strips per day. As a physical object it's gorgeous, unnaturally tall and solid and colorful with the dailies in clear black and white and the Sundays in a lovely muted color. The stories within are a-burst with comedy, absurdity, adventure, and charm. The sequence where Castor Oyl feels he must call it quits with "old 'blow me down'" in a tiff over a dame is sweet and sad as can be. Still, the two stalwarts' deep affection, the galumphing but noble id of Popeye yoked to Castor's failed attempts to function as his weak-kneed superego, have plenty of crime-solving, jail-escaping, and Sea Hag-bedeviling behind and ahead of them. Both of their irreplacable voices are alive and well after all these years. Not to mention the magical whiffle hen. No one who loves comic strips should miss this chance to get all this stuff in such a lovely and convenient package.

No one needs me to tell them how great Peanuts was, I suppose--its size on our cultural landscape has been far larger than Popeye's (which helped shape Schulz as a cartoonist in his youth) for the past few generations. But if the TV specials and merchandise have blinded you to how great the strip was in its heyday, this early 1960s volume of Fantagraphics' godsend ongoing series of complete Peanuts reprints is a great place to leap in.

It has many of the strip's classic engines purring at optimal efficiency and effect: Both Lucy and Miss Othmar trying to rid Linus of his blanket habit (and, in manic physical comedy, Snoopy's attempts to steal it); Charlie Brown's attempts to use his nonexistent managing skills to turn his misfit baseball squad into winners (in one sequence, the team realizes their field chatter is hypocritical, since they don't in fact believe that Charlie Brown can strike out anyone--they all come up with more honest substitutes, with Patty's: "C'mon Charlie Brown we're not really expecting much, but we can hope!"); Lucy's bits of invented wisdom and angry outbursts ("Have you ever seen an X-ray of a hiccup?"), Frieda and her naturally curly hair arrive on the scene to harness Snoopy into her rabbit-chasing schemes; and sprinkled throughout many nifty week-long sequences, including Lucy's deciding she can stomp germs to death by having people cough on the sidewalk in front of her, and Charlie Brown attempting to get Lucy, who is having none of it, to confront the terror of nuclear disaster hanging over their generation's heads. Both collections make great gifts for comics fans or anyone you want to turn into a comics fan--it doesn't get much better than Segar's Popeye and early '60s Peanuts.