Popeye lifts Thimble Theater to new heights of popularity. It is while the comic strips in this volume are being produced that the Fleischer Brothers first reach out and begin their long and highly successful series of cartoons starring the Sailor Man and some of his sidekicks. It is during these strips that Popeye encounters Bluto in the daily strip and Wimpy takes over the scene in the Sundays.
And that latter situation changes the tone of the comic strip quite a bit. In this third volume from Fantagraphics Popeye is solidly established as a success and Segar seemed content to explore others in the cast. Wimpy had started as a referee in some of Popeye's bouts and showed up at Roughhouse's eatery with his omnipresent desire to eat today and pay on some imaginary Tuesday. This becomes the focuse of the strip and we spend many a lazy Sunday at Roughhouse's place seeing Popeye somewhat in a secondary seat watching Wimpy pull his latest shenanigans. What Popeye had done to Castor, now Wimpy seems to be doing to Popeye -- taking the limelight. Also the violence in the Sunday pages diminishes quite significantly. I can only imagine that the success of the strip had drawn more attention and the chaotic fighting which gave such verve to the earlier strips is pared back quite a bit to the strip's detriment. It begins to feel like many another gag cartoon.
In the daily strip though the adventures continue and Popeye, Olive and gang head off with the always agonized King Blozo to seek fortune in "The Eighth Sea". They find there way by way of an inscrutable Black Parrot and a master of quick disguise named Merlock Holmes, but eventually they find a mythically sinking island and gather some signficant gold. During the sea voyage Popeye is in fine form, taking no guff from his mutinous crew and generally asserting himself as captain of his tiny vessel. When he finds the pirate Bluto hidden aboard the two have a tremendous two-week tussle for the ages. It's some blessed violent relief in a strip which was on the verge of getting a bit chatty. Popeye ends up again in Nazilia. King Blozo finds himself in a furious election to keep his position and let's just say the open cheating and fraud in this Segar election makes the real world quiver. There is even (preserve us) a host of late ballots that show up and change the result, the early presumed winner being displaced when the full will of the people is revealed. Later Popeye gets his own kingdom, but that proves a difficult proposition when his utopia is invaded by jaybirds and is threatened with war.
Popeye eventually gives up being a ruler and along with Wimpy and Olive heads back to the United States where he promptly uses his wealth to buy a newspaper called The Daily Blast and installs himself as a "star reporter" with Wimpy as his photographer. He's not very successful at that, but while he's at the paper he gets a mysterious box and inside is a little baby who Popeye calls "Swee'Pea". It turns out Swee'Pea is a lucky charm for the people of a little territory called Demonia and they want him back. They attack Popeye who refuses to give up his new charge and as a result Popeye gets hit on the head very hard and contracts the nigh always fatal "Bonkus of the Konkus". It causes him to imagine he's a cowboy and he heads into the desert with Swee'Pea and they find some comfort with an old lady Popeye imagines is his mother but who simply needs help. As always Popeye steps in and saves the day, recovers from his illness and as the volume ends is set to take over a little paper in a little town as editor. On the horizon though is the dangerous Sea Hag.
The daily strips still have the luster of wildness that Segar infused into the series with twists and turns coming quickly. I'm struck by the lack of repetition in the daily strips which makes reading them in this way much more enjoyable.