First things first: so, this is going around.
The survey asks what classic King Features comic strips people would like to see brought back, and what ones they would not. Included on the list are Popeye/Thimble Theatre, Apartment 3-G, Krazy Kat, Mandrake the Magician, and some others, plus spots to write in your own. I certainly have my preferences, but do encourage you to vote as you like. I would love to have more story strips, to read and to recap. I notice that The Amazing Spider-Man is not on the list of possible revivals.
And I’m aware that revivals and new-artists to comic strips are a controversial thing. I’m not sure if, besides Annie, there’s been a revival of a moribund comic strip that’s succeeded. One can fairly ask whether comics page space should go to Johnny Hazard, who’s a heck of a forgotten character, when some new and original idea might flourish. But if comic strip readers are reading more online, then there’s less of a limitation on space; the constraint is how much editorial support the organization can give. I assume the effort of supporting 55 strips is not so much more than that of supporting 50. (To pick numbers arbitrarily; I don’t know how many they’re maintaining offhand.) If a new Heart of Juliet Jones makes the whole enterprise a bit less fragile, good, then, let’s have it.
Does an online survey result in anything? I don’t know. The last time I saw something like this from Comics Kingdom it was choosing among possible names for John Kovaleski’s comic strip Daddy Daze. So it’s at least plausible. We’ll see.
Giddy Gold is another 1961 cartoon made by the Paramount Cartoon Studios crew. The story’s credited to I Klein; the direction, to Seymour Kneitel. It’s a basic story, yes. But it’s another cartoon in the era of Deep Cuts of Thimble Theatre cast. No, Roughhouse still hasn’t appeared on-screen. I swear, he appears eventually.
Popeye, like Superman, has an ambiguous relationship with magic. He lives in a world full of it, and people who can use magic to produce wonders. But he’s not comfortable with magic, since he can’t punch it. The Sea Hag is the most frequent source of magic imposed on Popeye’s world. Sometimes there’ll be a magic ring or a genie introding. Sometimes it’s Eugene the Jeep, whose powers — at least in the Fleischer cartoons — stick mostly to fortune-telling and harmless mischief. But there is another magical creature. She’s the thing you need to know to enter the club of Hardcore Popeye Fans. This is Bernice the Whiffle Hen.
Bernice the Whiffle Hen was a magical, luck-giving bird from Africa, given to Castor Oyl by uncle Lubry Kent in a 1928 sequence of Thimble Theatre. Castor Oyl hired the first sailor he saw to sail him to the gambling casino on Dice Island and that’s how Popeye joined, and took over, the comic. And more: Bernice’s luck gave Popeye the super-strength and invulnerability he needed to survive the gamblers shooting him. Popeye’s super-strength would eventually be explained by spinach. Bernice would (in a 1930 story) meet a Whiffle Rooster. She looked ready to leave with him, but came back, and now they live wherever the heck Ham Gravy and other lesser characters went. When Popeye needed a magical animal companion, Eugene the Jeep would do.
So here, now, we finally get an appearance by the Whiffle Hen. Or at least the Whiffle Bird, as Popeye calls her. Jack Mercer does the voice for the Whiffle Bird too, in a voice that sounds male. Really that sounds like he’s trying to do Wallace Wimple (Bill Thompson) from Fibber McGee and Molly. I don’t know why not have Mae Questel do the voice except maybe they didn’t want to give her three parts?
This is one of the few Popeye cartoons we can place to a specific time: the Whiffle Bird says it’s the 7th of day of the 7th month. July the 7th, then. Also, it’s the 7th hour, so Popeye and Olive Oyl are at the amusement park way too early in the morning. Maybe it’s the seventh daylight hour. Our Heroes are in a Tunnel of Love ride. I’m an amusement park enthusiast and I love particularly the more old-fashioned rides. So between that and the Whiffle Hen this cartoon is tightly aimed at my niche interests. There’s not many Tunnel of Love rides — also called Old Mill rides — out there anymore. I’ve been able to get to three, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Rye Playland, and Kennywood Park.
The cartoon’s depiction is basically right: you putter in a boat past scenes of, like, gnomes digging in emerald mines and stuff. Rye Playland’s got a really great example of this and if you can get there when the pandemic is over, I recommend you do. (Kennywood’s, last I visited, had themed their Old Mill ride to Garfield. It’s been re-themed since then, but I haven’t been able to see it.) Olive Oyl wishes the fabulous scenes were real and the Whiffle Bird decides to make this of all possible wishes come true.
Olive Oyl’s eyes bug out and stay bugged out. Popeye, instinctively distrustful of magic and easy riches, wants to drop the buckets of treasure. Especially when he hears there’s three dangerous dangers to overcome before they can leave. The first danger’s a stone tunnel slapping shut in a move that looks like a platformer game 25 years early. Popeye’s able to clip through it, of course.
The next danger is Medusa. Olive Oyl finds the menace laughable because she hasn’t been paying attention. Medusa turns her, and her buckets of treasure, to stone. This includes precious gems that, as a know-it-all, I must point out were already stone. Popeye offers a beauty salon treatment to beat Medusa, which is a good 1960s-tv-cartoon solution. It works, breaking the spell, when she accepts the beauty treatment. I’m sorry there wasn’t time for, like, twenty seconds of Popeye as a beautician. I’m not sure where to cut the time from, though.
The last peril’s the Siren, and I have to say, this is a great Tunnel of Love. Popeye tip-toes towards her charms in a way I’m not positive wasn’t sarcastic, at least to start. Olive Oyl eats Popeye’s spinach and slugs the mermaid, which is enough to get them past the perils. They get to the boat, emerge into the sunlight and oh! Bernice(?) forgot to mention that the spell would wear off when they reached daylight. I understand the instinct to reset the status quo, although it’s hard to think why the Whiffle Bird would cast such a limited spell. Maybe s/he just likes causing mischief. I can respect that.
Making the Whiffle Bird talk, and cause mischief like this, expands her role from the comic strip. But it gives her character a clear separation from Eugene the Jeep. And she can introduce mischief in a way that Eugene couldn’t, at least not outside the Popeye’s Island Adventures shorts. So as character retcons go this is probably a good one. At least as long as talking animals don’t break the rules you perceive Popeye’s world to have. We’ll see her, or maybe him, again, although not enough.
5 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Giddy Gold — and wait, could Popeye return to the comics page?”
Didn’t one of the breakfast food companies-probably Quaker oats- have Jay Wardish commercials around this point featuring a Waffle Wiffler? Maybe the lawyers thought Wifflehen too close,and Wifflebird not close at all.
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It’d be little early for Jay Ward to get involved, but some kind of waffle-based cereal would have been a great fit for that era, yeah.
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Doesn’t Popeye already have an updated strip? “Popeye’s Cartoon Club”? As much as I’d like to see Krazy Kat revived I’d hate to see a modern writer sledgehammer at Krazy’s gender issues that Harriman handled so lightly and expertly.
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The Popeye’s Cartoon Club was always a limited-duration thing; I believe it was meant to just run for the one year in honor of Thimble Theater’s centennial/Popeye’s 90th year. There were a couple weeks of strips run, after the “official” end, all drawn by Randy Milholland (of that tweet) but that was never intended to be more than a temporary jam.
I have the greatest reservations about a revived Krazy Kat, although I have to admit part of that is there’s not much of a sample size. There were ghost writers (and artists) for Herriman, but they were (as far as we can tell) pretty short-run, temporary expedients. We just don’t know what the strip would look like if Hy Eisman or Olivia Jaimes or someone were doing it. And, of course, it won’t damage the originals; a remake can’t.
And … you know, reading the vintage strips that Comics Kingdom reprints? The talk about George Herriman’s treatment of Krazy Kat’s gender fluidity seems really overinflated. There’s a handful of strips that get anywhere near the topic and that’s all. Maybe there’s more examination in the Sunday strips which they’re not reprinting. But a person who just read the strip without reading about the reputation of the strip would be justified in having no idea there was supposed to be a strange, liminal nature to Krazy Kat’s gender.
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