Monday, January 19, 2015
Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Popeye, London Style
by Bobby London
IDW Publishing, hardcover, $39.99
I generally don't bother reviewing multiple books in a series. If I did I would have bored you with effusions about IDW's Little Orphan Annie series, what, nine times now? I can't subject you folks to that.
I have to make an exception, though, for volume two of the Bobby London Popeye reprint project. I'll make it quick, though. In fact I can sum it up thusly: BUY THIS BOOK!
Okay, you wanna know why. Well I already said in the review of volume 1 that London did the seemingly impossible, writing humorous continuities that ran in the ridiculous, utterly impossible space of two teeny-tiny panels per day. What's more, in volume 2 he gets even better at it. These are funny strips, topical, and of course (this is Bobby London after all) outrageous.
Of course, everyone who remembers the brouhaha over London's firing from the strip is dying to read the final continuity. Be assured that it is here in all its glory, including several weeks of the strip that never ran in any newspaper, as they were rejected by the syndicate. London had to know that there was just no way these could have run in newspapers. They'll only only run cartoons that are fit consumption for even the most chaste and prudish grandma. Was London trying to see just how far he could stretch the boundaries? I imagine so, because he has other continuities here that are pretty darn outrageous. I get the impression that no one at King Features ever bothered to vet London's material before it was shipped out to newspapers. Instead, they would wait until a newspaper editor squawked and then raise hell with the cartoonist. That doesn't seem fair at all, and I think the syndicate should have manned up and taken the blame rather than firing London. I mean, they sent the damn proofs out, and only when the offending strips were about to run did they tell newspapers not to run them and fired London. That's bad business.
Is it London's fault that King didn't draw a line for him? I mean, he was an Air Pirate for goodness sake! He deserves to be considered at least a little dangerous. They must have been reviewing his material, if only for proofreading -- why did no one catch this?
But hey, I don't know what actually went on -- just my guesses. Maybe King bent over backward to work with London. I tried to ask King Features editor Jay Kennedy about it many years ago, and you never saw someone clam up so hard. An ongoing lively correspondence came to a dead halt with that question. Never heard from him again.
This was intolerable, and he knew it. So he was let go. Perhaps that's just what he was calculating, because though everyone knows Popeye, it's in very few papers,so to get the maximum coverage of this event, he ran directly to the liberal tabloid New York Daily News (which has never run Popeye)which ran it as a headline cover story "OYL CRISIS Popeye Aartist says he got canned over drawing". Which is true, but it's not like he wasn't told not to do this to the strip. The News characterized it as a debate over Olive's "right to choose", and in the news story Bobby blubbers "I wouldn't have done it if Roe vs. Wade weren't threatened."
Once again, this is about the Popeye comic strip.
The reason Kennedy would no longer wish to talk about it was that he felt sure, and he was right, I take it, that no matter what he or the comapny would say, London would be believed first. He paints himself as the brave litle guy fighting for truth aginst the powers of corporate chieftans. All London had was Popeye, but it was more important to him to show off his liberal bona fides than be a syndicated cartoonist, so he ruined it intentionally.
I look forward to reading the strips and deciding for myself how harmless or evil London's attempt at recapturing Segar's original voice.
The interview is interesting and you should read it. Yes, it is bias from London's POV but it is enlightening to what happened behind the scenes.
Why did King hire London? And how is London being the same London of his entire life his fault?
The comment London made was King wanted the strip to sell the TV series Popeye and Son is most likely true. I was born in 1954 and grew up hating boring Popeye and the King Features lineup. It wasn't until I discover Segar's original work that I realized how badly King had ruined the character.
In cases like London vs King no one side is wrong. In this case the two were just incompatible.