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‘Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons’ (review)

Written by Fred M. Grandinetti
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

While I’m certain there’s a lot more to Fred Grandinetti than Popeye, I have to admit those two names have long been associated in my mind.

Mr. Grandinetti has written so often and so knowledgably about the one-eyed, spinach-loving sailor man created by Elzie Segar in his Thimble Theatre newspaper strip that he is, in fact, considered a fairly unimpeachable expert on the subject.

It’s easy to write about the good Popeye stuff—the original comic strips and comic books, the black and white cartoons and the later color ones.

It’s undoubtedly a tad trickier to write a 200+ page book on what many have long considered one of the worst incarnations of the character and his supporting cast and make it interesting.

In the new Bear Manor book, Popeye the Sailor—The 1960s TV Cartoons, the author manages to make very readable the complete (and more complex than I expected) history of this King Features series that ran well into the 1970s before being revived in the ‘80s and later on home video, cable, and, these days, YouTube.

While reading the book, I actually took the time to watch some of these Popeye cartoons on YouTube—both ones labeled good and ones labeled bad by Fred. In my memory, while they were certainly nowhere near the near-perfection of the original Max Fleischer theatrical series, they were actually closest in tone to Segar’s originals and presented many characters who had simply never made the leap to animation earlier.

Turns out I was correct! Fred writes about Al Brodax and how he pulled together various different studios from Gene Deitch to Larry Harmon to create these limited animation cartoons. Veterans who had worked on much more expensive Popeye cartoons over the years were also involved at every level. Most obviously and probably most necessary were the trio of perfectly cast voice actors—Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson Beck, all of who lend a major sense of continuity to the wildly disparate quality of these short adventures.

Other issues dealt with are the Bluto/Brutus controversy, the design of Olive Oyl this time out, and the fact that the literally one-eyed sailor tends to often have two eyes in these and just squints a lot with one…and sometimes the other.

The bulk of the book is an episode guide, grouped wisely by studio and then, within each section, by year. It’s a good one, offering opinionated review-like plot summaries as well as bits of trivia where there are any to be had. As noted, it’s also useful as a guide to which episodes to find online…as well as which ones to avoid.

Throw in a couple of extensive black and white illustration sections that are themselves fun as they highlight both high points and low, low, low points of this particular Popeye series. I think even the most casual Popeye fan will admit that there was still worse versions of the character to come and that Popeye the Sailor—The 1960s TV Cartoons maybe weren’t so bad after all.

Booksteve recommends.  

 

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