Fred Grandinetti, Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History, Second Edition (Jefferson, NC: McFarland &Company, 2004).
An Homage No Other Cartoon Star Has
Book Review by Gordan
Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History is a brilliant book dedicated to one of the most
enduring comic book / cartoon characters of our time - Popeye the Sailor. Written by Fred
Grandinetti, the co-founder of the International Popeye Fan Club, this splendidly illustrated
book provides an astonishing and thoroughly researched overview of the charismatic sailor's
rich history and exciting career. The author leaves no incarnation of the brusque, yet
charmingly humble swab untouched - from the pipe-tooting runt's beginnings in daily funny
pages, his extremely successful ventures on the silver screen, to Popeye's career on TV,
radio, and stage. Mr. Grandinetti also includes a great episode guide with short summaries
of every Popeye cartoon, emphasizing significant aspects of particular and/or groundbreaking
"Popeye" shorts. As if that is not enough, this magnificent book provides appendixes with
selected scripts from Popeye cartoons and information about the International Popeye Fan Club.
What is particularly fascinating about this book is the fact that Fred Grandinetti does not
simply reiterate the familiar "essentials" about the muttering sailorman's exciting career,
but also includes what has traditionally been marginalized and overlooked within the dominant
Popeye discourse. For example, in the "Popeye in Print" section not only does Mr. Grandinetti
deal with Popeye's creator, E.C. Segar, and his superb art of storytelling, but he also
incorporates various interesting accounts on Segar's imaginative successors and their own
versions of Popeye (Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Bela "Bill" Zaboly, Ralph Stein, Bud Sagendorf, Bobby
London, Hy Eisman). The author also touches on the gruff mariner's incarnations in comic books
and even Mad magazine.
As with his writing on Popeye in print, Fred Grandinetti tries to stay away from the homogeneous
interpretations of Popeye on film. For example, not only does Mr. Grandinetti discuss the "best"
of Popeye cartoon shorts (Paramount theatrical films), but he also challenges
(in a rather refreshing manner) the monolithic/mainstream perception of the King Features Syndicate
made-for-TV Popeye cartoons by recognizing the heterogeneous nature of these animated films
in terms of different directors' styles, quality of animation, use of music, etc. Here is an
example of just how meticulous and comprehensive Mr. Grandinetti's research can be: Beside
dealing with the easily distinguishable versions of the spinach-munching mariner
(i.e. Fleischer vs. Famous Studios vs. KFS versions of Popeye), the author goes on to
display/discuss different visual designs of Popeye used by different animators
(i.e. Hugh Frasier, Ed Friedman, Ken Hultgren, Alan Zaslove, etc.) within Jack Kinney's
unit that worked on King Features Syndicate's TV "Popeyes" in the period between 1960 and 1961.
And that is just one example.
Unlike Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny who have had numerous official releases of their best cartoons
on both VHS and DVD, Popeye the Sailor, one of the most popular cartoon characters of all time,
has been a very unlucky victim of a rather complex corporate quagmire that has been keeping him
in a sort of legal limbo for many decades now. In other words, the pipe-smoking sailor's magnificent
animated shorts have never been officially released on either VHS or DVD (You can read more about
this in the book). But, unlike Mickey or Bugs, Popeye is very fortunate to have the most dedicated,
passionate and hard-working fan/historian in the world - Fred Grandinetti, who paid a fantastic
tribute to this timeless animated hero in this splendid book. Written with love, admiration,
superb knowledge and thorough research, this beautifully illustrated book (with many original
frame grabs from theatrical/TV cartoons, comic strip clips, posters and advertisements) is an
homage no other classic cartoon character has.
Recommended to animation fans, students of pop culture, history/animation/film, adults, kids,...
in one word: recommended to EVERYONE !!!
Recommended Popeye Readings:
Ken Beck, "I Yam What I Yam! Popeye Flexes 75 Years of Laughs,"
Leslie Cabarga, "Chapter Four,"in Leslie Cabarga, The Fleischer Story, Revised Edition (New York: DaCapo Press, 1988), pp.82-139.
Gordan Calma, "75 Years of Popeye," Ottawa 04 International Animation Festival Reader.
William DeMille, "Mickey vs. Popeye," in Danny Peary and Gerald Peary (eds.), The American Animated Cartoon (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980), pp. 241-244.
Fred M. Grandinetti, "Popeye: 70 Years as An Animated Star," http://emol.org/film/archives/popeye.html
Mark Langer, "Popeye From Strip to Screen," in Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.4 (July 1997),
Don Markstein, Toonopedia: Popeye the Sailor (1999-2004), http://www.toonopedia.com/popeye.htm"
Michael Wassenaar, "Strong to the Finich: Machines, Metaphor, and Popeye the Sailor," in The Velvet Light Trap, No. 24 (Fall 1989), pp. 20-32.
Recommended Fleischer Readings:
Joanna Bouldin, "The Body, Animation and the Real: Race, Reality and the Rotoscope in Betty Boop," http://www.utu.fi/hum/mediatutkimus/affective/bouldin.pdf
Leslie Cabarga, The Fleischer Story, Revised Edition (New York: DaCapo Press, 1988).
Harvey Deneroff, "Max Fleischer - The Thin Black Line," in Sight and Sound (London: BFI, October 1993).
Norman M. Klein, "Animation and Animorphs", in Vivian Sobchack (ed.), Meta-Morphing: Visual Transformation and the Culture of Quick-Change (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 21-39.
Mark Langer, "The Disney-Fleischer Dilemma: Product Differentiation and Technological Innovation," in Annette Kuhn and Jackie Stacey (eds.), Screen Histories: A Screen Reader (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp.148-163.
_____, "Polyphony and Heterogeneity in Early Fleischer Films: Comic Strips, Vaudeville, and New York Style," in Persistence of Vision, No. 14 (1997), pp. 65-87.
_____, "Regionalism in Disney Animation: Pink Elephants and Dumbo," in Film History, Vol. 4 (1990), pp. 305-321.
_____, "Rotoscoping the Real: Thoughts on Animation Technology," unpublished paper given at University of Western Ontario, 18 February, 2003.
_____, "Working at the Fleischer Studio: An Annotated Interview with Myron Waldman," in The Velvet Light Trap, No. 24 (Fall 1989), pp. 3-19.
Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised Edition (New York: A Plume Book, 1987).
Don Markstein, Toonopedia: Max Fleischer Studio (2000-2001), http://www.toonopedia.com/fleischr.htm