Eugene the Jeep

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s toy acquisition is part of the loot from lightening striking multiple times at one online toy sale in Britain this fall. Within a few hours I had redistributed some hard earned cash to three dealers. One was a small purchase, a wonderful postcard though of a girl in hunting garb aiming at a Steiff teddy. (That post can be read here.)

Today’s Jeep came from a dealer whose toys seemed to skew more toward traditional bears and dolls than somewhat obscure comic characters. She was lovely however and I will hope there is a chance to do future business with her.

As it happens, I have always had a soft spot for the Jeep and frankly had no idea that Deans Rag Company produced one, but as soon as I saw this one I snatched it happily up. For those who have not read the original Segar Popeye strip, I say do yourself a favor and settle in with the full run and have a good old read. I originally read the dailies serially via a wonderful edition of hard cover books that our friends at Fantagraphics published years ago. (They have subsequently published the Sundays as well.) The full glory of Popeye in his native medium bears little resemblance to the somewhat limited range of the animated cartoon character of my childhood and it was one of the nicest rabbit holes I ever headed down in comics.

A volume from my beloved edition of Popeye dailies published by Fantagraphics.

Among the discoveries, such as characters Ham Gravy and Castor Oil, was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep, for those of you who have not encountered his mystical self, is a dog-like animal from Africa who can, (among other things) appear and disappear at will, walk on his hind legs, always tells the truth, and can utter the single word, Jeep! (Wikipedia has a rather cogent explanation of him and his back story which can be found here.) The Jeep represents a sort of the high point of that strip for me – a charming and mystical character which possesses somewhat limited if extraordinary powers.

The first mention of the Jeep appears in March of 1936, although he takes his place in the strip later in 1938. While researching this and the dates associated with it I had a moment of wondering how the first mention might have intersected with the introduction of Punjab into the Little Orphan Annie strip. The equally mystical Punjab was introduced into that strip almost exactly a year before in February of ’35. Makes me wonder if it inspired Segar or if there was something else afoot in the world that inspired both. I am not well versed enough in these things to say, but will perhaps pose the question to one of our better informed friends such as Bill Kartalopoulus, comics historian. Maybe it was just in the air. (The question of whether or not the army vehicle with this moniker has the strip as the origin remains somewhat unclear to me, but is definitely possible.)

Much like Krazy Kat, and even Felix to some extent, the relatively simple shape of this character seems to have inspired somewhat strangely inaccurate three dimensional recreations and I have looked for a splendid soft Jeep toy for a very long time. Kim has spoken of one that passed through his hands in the late 80’s which I have had trouble finding. I think it might be this model below, just spotted on eBay.

Not (yet) in Pams-Pictorama.com Collection. Interesting that the lucky clovers deteriorated into spots here.

While the earnestness of this Dean’s Rag incarnation cannot be denied, down to the lucky four leaf clovers which decorate him, somehow he is a bit off kilter. He is about 7 inches in height. (I have not had a chance to dig really deep to see if he came in a number of sizes, although as a rule Deans character toys did. Having said that he does seem a tad rarified so there isn’t much online. Somewhere I have a CD which has the history of the Dean’s catalogue on it which will enlighten me if I can find it.) My example has a small tear on the neck and toward the tip of the tail. The only other example I can find has a worse tear at the tail with stuffing emerging – at first I thought it was a characteristic of the toy.

He has, as is necessary, the wonderful Dean’s Rag Book Company imprint on the soles of his feet. (For some reason those imprints fill me with great joy – if I were to come back in a future life as a vintage toy I would very much want to be a Deans Rag toy proudly sporting this indicia.)

Lucky Jeep! Deans Rag Toy tag.

As toy collector and seller Peter Woodcock pointed out in an email these small toys soiled and tore easily with handling and did not survive in large numbers. (Peter will emerge further as a subsequent character in the tale of this sale as he parted with something truly delightful which I purchased as well.) A quick look over at Mel Brinkrant’s collection shows a few pristine examples, as well as one or two other examples I must keep my eye out for – I can see the corner of another of the Deans Rag ones and I would say yes, it is larger. (For all things Mel and his beyond extraordinary collection you can go here. Talk about a happy rabbit hole!)

Jeep not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection – but you never know…For me this one is the best design relative to the drawing in the strip.

Researching this wonderful toy has reminded me that within these cramped four walls is a new volume of the pre-Popeye Thimble Theater strips. (It can be found here on Amazon.) I think I need to curl up with that oversized volume in bed for the remainder of the weekend. It is snowing gently outside and I cannot think of a better way to wile away this afternoon and evening.

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