Before he was a fried-chicken spokes-toon and the subject of a misconceived Robin Williams–Robert Altman movie, Popeye was a surlier sailor man who muttered unintelligible expletives under his breath, picked fights, and punched out almost anything that moved. And in a new DVD, the misanthrope with the swollen forearms is rescued from his recent history and restored to seaworthy status.
Unlike the cuddly forest creatures who were Walt Disney’s exclusive domain, the salty dog of Popeye the Sailor 1933–1938 (out 7/31) is decidedly the product of Great Depression–era America: Across 60 theatrical shorts produced by animation pioneers Max and Dave Fleischer, this Popeye explores faded cityscapes, struggles to make a living, and hangs out at Mardi Gras. His working-class adventures would influence not only the work of R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar, but that of Matt Groening as well. After all, how could perpetual realist Homer Simpson philosophize that “trying is just the first step toward failure” if Popeye hadn’t first declared “I yam what I yam”?
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