Before I read Fantagraphics's POPEYE reprints, I honestly had forgotten everything about Wimpy except that he loved hamburgers. Maybe that's all I'd known: like most people in my age bracket, I only knew Popeye and his friends from animation. But then the Fantagraphics books came out, and I got them, and I dang near had a heart attack. Because they're *brilliant.* Funny, sad, touching, thoughtful, satirical, surprisingly adult. Popeye became an incredible favorite of children, as writer/artist E.C. Segar acknowledges in the strip by portraying children as Popeye's friends, but he wasn't a safe friend -- he was a rough sailor who loved shooting craps and getting into fights, who made money hand over fist and then spent it all just as quickly, who had a terrible weakness for women, particularly "brunecks;" who would show the kids a good time by buying them more candy, ice cream and hot dogs than they could eat, causing every child in town to have an epic bellyache. Popeye was fun because he was rough-and-tumble, a little bit dangerous. He would never make it onto today's comic pages. Never.
Case in point: Wimpy.
Wimpy loves hamburgers, right? He has that catchphrase: "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." The reason he's always saying that is that Wimpy is stone broke. He is utterly overextended financially; the guy's credit is in the absolute toilet, and he's always seeking to borrow more. He's Segar's Mr. Micawber, but while Micawber is always sure something will turn up, Wimpy is forlorn and adrift in the world. And if you take pity on him, try to help him out or make things better for him in some way, Wimpy will turn right around and take advantage of your good-naturedness. Because that's his nature. And yet, he's got a tenderness and vulnerability to him: Wimpy is a sponger, but he's also a sad clown. So his repeatedly-burned friends can't help but love him. He is a sad, lonely character, in part because he deserves to be.
I love Wimpy. Here are two Sunday strips featuring him. Click on 'em to see larger.
Here, Wimpy demonstrates one of his emotional failings: for Wimpy, everything is about Wimpy. It's all about he feels, and what he wants, and his need to express it. At all costs.