Almost Gone! Highly Recommended. More than a decade before he created the world’s most famous cartoon sailor, E.C. Segar began his comics career in the movies. He drew cartoons for silent movie theater slides, the Charlie Chaplin comic strip, and a daily strip about Chicago’s movies and entertainment. Then, in 1919, he penned his own “small screen” creation for the newspapers, Thimble Theatre, where Popeye was to be born. Here are all of E.C. Segar’s early comics and illustrations, and 125 pre-Popeye Thimble Theater Sunday pages, including the complete run of the famed Western desert saga, a series that rivals his later work in superb art, storytelling and humor. Sunday Press, 2018. Out of print.
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More than a decade before he created the world’s most famous cartoon sailor, E.C. Segar began his comics career in the movies. He drew cartoons for silent movie theater slides, the Charlie Chaplin comic strip, and a daily strip about Chicago’s movies and entertainment. Then, in 1919, he penned his own “small screen” creation for the newspapers, Thimble Theatre, where Popeye was to be born. Here are all of E.C. Segar’s early comics and illustrations, and 125 pre-Popeye Thimble Theater Sunday pages, including the complete run of the famed Western desert saga, a series that rivals his later work in superb art, storytelling and humor.
These comics, most of which have never been reprinted before, are now here for the whole popeyed world to see. This has touches of Herriman’s wild layouts and humor from Krazy Kat; our lead character Castor reminds me of the diminutive but feisty Barney Google. The gags are wild, especially in the desert sequence which takes the strip out west to meet movie makers with dinosaurs, crazed Indians and loopier prospectors, not to mention the plethora of wild critters. There’s even some wonderful surreal touches that remind us of Frank King on the early Gasoline Alley.
This is very special.
Excerpted from thorough and lengthy essay introduction, complete with very, very rare early gag cartoons, promo pieces, and photos: Loops, Gooks, and Desert Madness: the pre-Popeye Life of E.C. Segar by Paul C. Tumey:
Popeye the Sailor entered the world in the winter of 1928, on a day when E.C. Segar almost didn’t go to work. His wife begged him to stay home due to a bad cold. Wanting to keep ahead on his workload, Segar dragged himself to his studio in downtown Santa Monica, cartooned a hilariously ugly, one-eyed man in a sailor suit and—as Popeye might put it—hiskory was made. The pop culture icon’s entrance happened in a day, but it was preceded by a dozen years of hard work by Segar to develop his singular visual style and master the art of unfurling an extended serial comic narrative.
Elzie Crisler Segar was born December 8, 1894, on a farm located on the outskirts of Chester, Illinois, a small town with a population of about 850. Later, his family moved to the heart of the community, into a house at the end of Harrison Street, just two blocks from the Mississippi River, next to a long flight of public steps that led up from the river bank. Segar was the youngest of eight children. Since his brothers and sisters were older half-siblings, Segar’s upbringing was like that of an only child. His father, Amzi Andrews Segar was first married in 1870. His second marriage, to Irma Irene Crisler, occurred in 1894 in Randolph, Illinois. Elzie Crisler Segar was their one child and bore his mother’s maiden name as his middle moniker.
Amzi Segar worked as a house painter and paperhanger. On occasion, Segar helped his father, who planned for his son to take up his trade. However, young Elzie moved in a different direction. Segar began to draw when he was ten years old, copying George McManus’s Panhandle Pete. Starting at age 12, in 1906, he worked for fifty cents a day at the town’s center of entertainment and culture, the Chester Opera House.
Segar’s duties included putting up posters and drawing showbills to display at the front of the theater. In time, he worked his way into becoming an official projectionist, cranking the films by hand. So great was his pride at this accomplishment, he had “M.P.O.” tattooed on his arm, for “Motion Picture Operator.” Jessie Lee Huffstutler, a young school teacher who played piano accompaniment to silent films—Segar sometimes joined her on a trap drum set—at the Chester Opera House, recalled Segar drew cartoons on slides shown on the screen during reel changes. “For one such slide he used a local young man knocking on the door, calling on his girlfriend. Of course, everyone knew who the young man was because he made the face to look just like him.” Huffstutler remembered the young Segar as “shy, very quiet and frail. His eyes were large but very soft and I could see kindness in them.”
Segar’s employer at the theater was Bill Schuchert, a sleepy-eyed, portly man with a mustache and a well-known love for hamburgers. He just might have been a partial inspiration for Thimble Theatre’s Wimpy. According to Huffstutler, Segar modeled other characters on some of Chester’s more colorful inhabitants. Dora Paskel, the wife of the general store owner, could have served as the inspiration for Olive Oyl. Most significantly, a possible inspiration for Popeye was a pugnacious, pipe-smoking Polish man named Rocky Feigle, who worked part-time at a saloon in Chester.
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