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November 8, 2009

“Be good...or the Goon will get you!” That’s how longtime Popeye comics artist Bob Sagendorf remembered the threat. In 1933, E.C. Segar created a new foe for the famous sailor man, destined to become an infamous source of nightmare fuel: Alice the Goon from Goon Island!

Introduced in “Plunder Island,” an adventure continuity in Popeye’s Thimble Theater comic strip, the Goon was nominally female, but physically an androgynous, giant-size, cross-eyed troll who shambled around more or less in the nude, covered only by hair on her elbows and knees. Enslaved to Popeye’s old foe the Sea Hag, Alice’s job was to slay the Hag’s enemies with an enormous sword, and in lieu of that, just scare the bejeepers out of them. Professor Cringly, an ally of Popeye’s from the “Plunder Island” story, was reduced to a shivering nervous wreck.

E.C. Segar didn’t intend Alice to be queen of the monsters, mind you. While deadly with her knife, Alice attacked her foes entirely out of loyalty to her mistress, and the belief that they threatened her. When Wimpy befriended Alice, she threw away her sword and tossed the Hag overboard.

But the damage was done. Softie though she might be, Alice was still a huge, dangerous critter with a blank eyed stare and no visible mouth. Instead of speaking English in the comics, she mumbled via wiggly lines like an oscilloscope prints out. Then there was her hair and her nakedness. Kids were scared of Alice the Goon, and parents used her as a cautionary tale to make their kids behave. Something had to be done!

From the 1935 continuity “The Pool of Youth” onwards, Segar took the first step by dressing the Goon up in clothes, making her look less like a villain and more like a very weird housemaid. Then, in a Sunday strip continuity of that same year, Segar showed the Hag attempting to kidnap little Swee’pea, and the offended Goon turning on her permanently. From then on, Alice was firmly a good girl, and Swee’pea’s favorite babysitter, much to Popeye’s chagrin. He could never get over such a scary foe reforming so completely.

Later stories made the Goons still more sympathetic. In the 1937-38 tale “Valley of the Goons,” E.C. Segar and Doc Winner showed Popeye preventing hard bitten sailors from killing Goons and selling them for their skins. The sailors’ defense was that the Goons were vicious attackers who deserved to be offed. But Popeye found that the Goons were clobbering the sailors under the hypnotic bidding of the now anti-Goon Sea Hag, posing as a sea monster.

Alice and other Goons made the leap to animation with the rest of Popeye’s crew. In Goonland (1938), the original naked, scarier Goons appeared, holding Poopdeck Pappy captive on their island. Later 1960s TV shorts showed Alice in her more sympathetic role, as well as Popeye’s wanna-be girlfriend now and then! Later still, 1970s cartoons paired Alice up with Popeye’s real girlfriend, Olive Oyl, now under the guise of the two being army WACs on adventure.

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