'Popeye", 30 April 1933.

E.C. Segar was one of the classic American cartoonists, who went down in history as the creator of 'Thimble Theatre' (1919), better known under its current name 'Popeye' (1929). He created the main cast members Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, Swee'pea, Alice the Goon, Eugene the Jeep and the Sea Hag, which are still used by current 'Popeye' artists. 'Thimble Theatre' is the fourth-longest running comics series of all time and the third-longest still going on until this day. As such the adventures of the super strong sailor have delighted audiences for literally a century (!) now. Popeye partially owes its global fame to the popular animated cartoon series created since 1933. Yet Segar's original comics are a class of their own. He drew in a loose, flexible but fun style. A combination of slapstick violence and outrageous cartoony gags. The same can be said about his lesser known series, 'Sappo' (1920-1947), featuring the wacky adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sappo and mad professor Wotasnozzle. Segar was a wonderful storyteller: his plots kept readers in suspense for weeks, sometimes months. Compared with his successors, he built genuine mystery and pathos in his narratives, which explains why he is still considered the best 'Popeye' artist. Segar's oeuvre had a strong impact on numerous humor comics, but 'Popeye' was also a prototypical superhero comic, long before the genre came into existence. Unfortunately Segar died at the height of his success, but it also kept the quality of his work as timeless and indestructable as Popeye himself. 

Early life and career
Elzie Crisler Segar was born in 1894 in Chester, Illinois. His name is pronounced "see-gar" and in adulthood he always made this clear to his readers by drawing a tiny little cigar next to his signature. His father was a Jewish handyman who worked as a house painter and wallpaper decorator. As a boy Segar had an interest in photography, window dressing and playing drums. In the days of silent cinema, orchestras played live background music to the pictures. His hobby led to a job as drummer in the film theater Chester Opera House. Between performances he sometimes went to the projection room and was eventually allowed to operate the camera himself. As he rewinded the films for the next show, Segar made little cartoons which he snuck in movie frames as intermezzos between pictures. His main graphic influences were Richard Felton OutcaultGeorge McManus, Frederick Burr Opper and George Herriman. Segar once tried to apply for a job as cartoonist in the St. Louis Dispatch, but was rejected. Realizing he had to improve his skills, he followed a correspondence course in cartooning from W.L. Evans. By 1914 Segar moved to Chicago, where he got hired as cartoonist at the Chicago Herald thanks to a recommendation by Richard F. Outcault. 

Charlie Chaplin's Comedy Capers (1917), by Elzie Segar
'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers' (1916).

Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers
As it happened, The Chicago Herald had just lost one of their cartoonists, Stuart Carothers, who'd fallen from a window to his death. Since March 1915 Carothers had been drawing 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers', a celebrity comic based on the tremendous popularity of Hollywood comedian Charlie Chaplin. After Carothers' unexpected death, the series was ghosted by two cartoonists who drew under the pseudonyms "Warren" and "Ramsey". On 29 February 1916 Segar took over, continuing Chaplin's daily antics until 15 July of that year. He also drew the Sunday page, from 12 March 1916 until 16 September 1917. As one could expect from an amateur cartoonist, both artwork as well as comedy were painfully bad. Segar gave Chaplin a tiny dumb sidekick named Luke the Gook. Since the real-life Chaplin was a solo act, whose comedy was based on pantomime, verbal interactions with another comic relief character didn't make the comic strip much funnier. Chaplin just didn't work as a double act. One can only wonder if, a full decade later, Segar might've been better off creating Laurel & Hardy comics? Nevertheless he at least tried to put his personal spin on 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers'. By lack of success the series was terminated, but M.A. Donohue & Co. compiled most episodes in five books, with the fifth copy reprinting all Sunday episodes. 


The Oregon Daily Journal, 27 May 1917.

And They Get Away With It
Between May and December 1917 Segar drew another gag-a-day comic titled 'And They Get By With It' / 'And They Get Away With It'. It starred a short, naïve man with a big nose and a moustache who was always fooled by the nonsense people told him. Very reliant on verbal comedy, it resulted in lengthy dialogue crammed in small speech balloons building up to the same predictable punchline. The irony was that Segar himself apparently got away with a lame comic like this for months. 

Barry the Boob
Segar's next gag comic, 'Barry the Boob' (1917-1918), took off on 23 September 1917. It starred two fools obviously inspired by Bud Fisher's 'Mutt & Jeff'. Barry is a tiny bald soldier whose nickname "boob" doesn't refer to female breasts, but a common expression at the time for "twit". His fellow recrute, Brutis, is tall, big-nosed and has a bushy moustache. While still nothing different from all other comics at the time, Segar's artwork and comedic timing improved considerably. Still, on 28 April 1918 the series was terminated. 


'Barry the Boob'.

Looping the Loop
On 1 June 1918 Segar joined the Chicago Evening American, which brought him under contract with legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst. Segar's vertically-printed comic strip 'Looping the Loop' (1918-1919) instantly took off. The series mostly centered on gags about nightclubs, restaurants and theaters in Chicago. For the same paper he also made various sports-themed cartoons and worked as a drama critic. Once his next comic strip, 'Thimble Theatre', started running, Segar focused all his energy on this signature work, dropping 'Looping the Loop'. 

Thimble Theatre (before Popeye)
In 1919 one of Hearst's most popular cartoonists, Edgar Wheelan, left his paper and took his popular series 'Midget Movies' with him. Hearst instructed Chester Gould to create an imitation of 'Midget Movies' for the Chicago Evening American (which became 'Fillum Fables'), while Segar made another knock-off, 'Thimble Theatre', for the New York Journal. Segar even moved to New York City for this occasion. His editors promised him his series would be syndicated by King Features if it turned out to be a success. This would also allow international distribution. The first episode of 'Thimble Theatre' appeared on 18 December 1919. The word "thimble" referred to the tiny size of the panels arranged in a vertical form. One day later, on 19 December, the main cast members Olive Oyl, her boyfriend Ham Gravy and her parents Cole and Nana made their debuts. Among modern-day audiences Olive is the most recognizable character from the comic's early years, particularly because she is the only one to remain part of the cast after Popeye joined in, a decade later. As with most female comics characters at the time, Olive wasn't allowed to look attractive, because the stories were meant for family audiences. Segar therefore made her a tall, flat-chested woman with big feet. Originally Olive had a normal figure, but as the years progressed she became very thin, almost like a walking vertical hat rack. Segar based her on a former school teacher. 


First episode of 'Thimble Theatre' (18 December 1919).

As intended, 'Thimble Theatre' was originally a parody of vaudeville shows and film serials, in the same vein of 'Minute Movies'. Many episodes featured a stereotypical villain in high hat, Wormwood, who tried to kidnap Olive or torment Ham and Olive in many different ways. After a few episodes Segar deliberately moved away from spoofs in favour of original gags. Many were self-contained, but he also started experimenting with stories which continued over the course of several days. On 14 January 1920, Olive's brother Castor Oyl appeared on stage. A pompous, short-sized man, Castor has a lot to compensate for. He considers himself multi-talented and therefore constantly sets up ill-conceived schemes, treasure hunts and enterprises. Many of his plans utterly fail because he overestimates his own abilities and only thinks about himself. Olive and Ham are often forced to help him or - equally often - try to interfere. Readers enjoyed Castor's determined buffoonish behaviour. Segar therefore made him, Olive and Ham the main characters and Castor's hare-brained ideas the motor behind each new narrative. On 25 January 1925, 'Thimble Theatre' received its own colour Sunday page, which gave Segar more room to tell longer and more suspenseful narratives. The same year the series also ran in the newspaper which had originally rejected him: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  


'The Five Fifteen', 12 April 1921.

Sappo
Meanwhile Segar launched a second daily comic at the instigation of his chief editor Rudolf Block, because Segar and his colleague Walter Berndt often left work early to go fishing for the rest of the afternoon. Although they claimed to "think up ideas" Block nevertheless felt: "If you've got time to go fishing, you have time to create another comic strip." Segar therefore launched 'The Five Fifteen' on 24 December 1920 (some sources have incorrectly claimed 4 January or 9 February 1921 as start date). The gag comic revolves around a tiny, bald-headed inventor, John Sappo, and his large chubby wife Myrtle. Sappo was named after the commuter train Segar took to his work, while Myrtle was his wife's name. In February 1923 'The Five Fifteen' was retitled 'Sappo the Commuter', later shortened to just 'Sappo'. On 17 February 1925 the series went on hiatus for a year, but a reboot was launched on 28 February 1926, now as a topper above 'Thimble Theatre'. During its earliest run 'Sappo' mostly thrived on humorous arguments between Sappo and Myrtle. Most were self-contained gags, but others were storylines which carried on for weeks. Sappo now had a secret club, Hardboiled Husbands' Club, which he tried to visit without his wife finding out, only to inevitably receive her rolling-pin on his head. While funny, 'Sappo' originally didn't stand out among the already dozens of other newspaper comics about quarreling couples. By 1932 it was getting stale and would've probably been discontinued if a new character hadn't made his debut...

Sappo by E.C. Segar
'Sappo' (28 January 1934).

On 8 May 1932 professor O.G. Wotasnozzle (a pun on the U.S. slang word for "big nose": "snozzle") moved in with the Sappos as a boarder. The mad scientist with the long beard invents the wackiest objects, gadgets, machines and vehicles, which always have bad side effects. Wotasnozzle basically lifted 'Sappo' to a more entertaining level, but still it never gained the same amount of fame and popularity as 'Popeye'. Undeservedly so, because some of Segar's most imaginative narratives were found in this underappreciated little gem. Contrary to 'Popeye', 'Sappo'  threw all logic out of the window. Storylines continued for months, sometimes years, stapling more unpredictable madness on top of other insanity. In one storyline Myrtle floats away in the sky, while in another Sappo is shrunk to such small size that he has to fight viruses. In another unforgettable tale Wotasnozzle enlarges his brain so he can outsmart his rival, professor Finklestop. One of the most memorable stories has Sappo's nose grow to such enormous lengths, that it crushes through the panel of the 'Popeye' comic next to it. 

'Sappo' ran uninterrupted except for 18 months in 1935-1936, when Segar fell ill and replaced it with 'Popeye's Cartoon Club'. After recovering, 'Sappo' continued until January 1938, when Segar's health deteriorated again. He passed 'Sappo' on to Doc Winner, who ghosted it until December 1939, passing the series on to writer Tom Sims and artist Bela Zaboly. They brought the concept back to a straightforward gag comic. On 18 May 1947 it was discontinued in the papers, but Wotasnozzle lived on in the 'Popeye' comic books published by Dell, which were drawn by Bud Sagendorf. He eventually passed the pencil to George Wildman. After the 88th issue (August 1967), published in the Gold Key Comics line, 'Sappo' was discontinued. 

Kids' corner comics
In his topper comics, Segar also made room for charming columns aimed at child readers. His 'Pete and Pansy - For Kids Only' ran between 27 September and 8 November 1926. 'Funny Films' (1933-1934, 1936-1938) featured special drawings of his characters which children could cut out. He made the torso separate from the limbs and added different kinds of clothing, so it could be puzzled together. Finally, 'Popeye Cartoon Club', which ran between 8 April 1934 and 5 May 1935, featured drawing lessons for children. 

Popeye by E.C. Segar
Early appearance of Popeye in the Thimble Theatre strip (18 January 1929).

Thimble Theatre: Popeye
On 17 January 1929, in the latest episode of 'Thimble Theatre', Castor and Ham went to Dice Island. In search for a ship, Castor spots a sailor. Although he obviously meets the visual criteria, he still asks him whether he is a sailor? The seaman sarcastically replies: "Ya think I'm a cowboy?" and is instantly hired. On 19 January the readers learn his name, Popeye, so-called because of his squinty eye. An episode later he first uses his catchphrase "Well, blow me down!", and gradually changes his white uniform for a black one. When the narrative ended on 27 June, Popeye went his way again. Segar originally intended to use him just once, but readers loved the sailor so much that he returned on 5 August, this time to stay. On 2 March 1930 Popeye also made his entrance in the Sunday pages, having conquered Olive as his girlfriend. Now that Olive and Ham had separated, Ham more or less disappeared from the series, with Castor following the same trail eventually. By 1931 the series was retitled 'Thimble Theatre starring Popeye', making it once and for all clear who the new star was now. Interesting for comics historians: Popeye debuted in the same month as Hergé's 'Tintin', who is only a week older in print. However, both comics legends were unaware of each other at the time.

In hindsight it's almost perplexing that Popeye became the main hero. Out of all Segar characters, he is easily the ugliest and most grotesque. One of his eyes is permanently shut. His chin is large, his forearms bulged and his feet are as large as Olive's. Even Olive said in their first adventure together: "I would kiss him if he wasn't so funny looking." Popeye furthermore rarely smiles. Most of the time he is grouchy, unmannered and easily agitated. He also has an eccentric way of talking. He often mispronounces words, which are spelled accordingly, such as "dangerisk" ("dangerous") and "disgustipated" ("disgusted"). Most of his verbs use the wrong form, replacing plural with singular ("I can't stands no more"). Segar was sometimes criticized by educators for adding so much vernacular and/or grammatically incorrect language in his comics, but to him "all sailors talked this way." He based Popeye's personality on Frank "Rocky" Fiegel, a tramp who earned a living as a bar bouncer. Fiegel was not only ruggid, he was also strong and enjoyed smoking pipe. An urban legend claims that Segar sent Fiegel an annual financial sum to show his gratitude. In reality Fiegel only learned he was the inspiration for Popeye when he read Segar's obituary in 1938, nine years before his own passing. On 7 September 1996 a headstone with Popeye's face on it was placed at Fiegel's unmarked grave.


Early on, Popeye still had to fight Ham Gravy over Olive Oyl's affections (9 March 1930).

Slapstick violence had been a staple of comics since the beginning, but in the 1930s the fights in 'Popeye' still looked more intense and exciting than rival newspaper comics. Popeye often clubbers his opponent(s) until their clothes are torn and their bodies bruised and scratched. He is both super strong and indestructable. Originally he gained his strength from rubbing the head of Bernice, a chicken nicknamed "the Whiffle Hen". But in a 1931 episode he gives general Bunzo a different source for his extraordinary abilities: "I eats my spinach." Yet his spinach consumption only became a permanent fixture of the comic strip thanks to the Fleischer cartoons. Nevertheless both Segar and his successors had a lot of fun with Popeye's powers, which allowed for many physically impossible gags. In his first story he survives bullets. In a 1931 tale he drinks from a poisoned oasis and only complains about the taste. Even his neck is so strong that an executioner can't decapitate him. Popeye is furthermore able to lift barbells and even an entire house with great ease. Yet Segar was careful to not overuse it. And he always let Popeye stick up for justice and/or fight in self defense. Although Mother Nature hasn't been kind to him, Popeye still expresses satisfaction with who he is: "I yam what I yam!", a famous catchphrase he first uttered in print on 17 April 1931. It's this uncompromising attitude which endeared him to readers. Many children look up to him, but adults sympathize with him too. Popeye entered the world in the same year as the 1929 Wall Street Crash. During the Great Depression millions of people could identify with somebody who didn't give up but literally fought back. In the United States he rose as an all-American national hero, doubled by his Fleischer cartoon portrayal which often used John Philip Sousa's march 'Stars & Stripes Forever' whenever Popeye won the day. But the character's personality has always been universal enough to resonate in other countries too. Even those without a maritime tradition. 

Popeye: cast expansion
With Popeye and Olive in the picture, and all previous protagonists out, Segar expanded his cast with more memorable characters. On 26 October 1929 Popeye first met The Sea Hag, who'd become his main nemesis. She is a witch who lives on Plunder Island, near the ocean. Her headquarters are guarded by several lions and a pet vulture named Bernard. Whenever she sets sail, she uses her ship The Black Barnacle and engages in piracy. Much like Olive, the witch is a tall, thin, flat-chested woman. Nevertheless Popeye still considers her feminine enough to avoid hitting her, as this goes against his personal code of only fighting men. This often proves a problem whenever he and his friends have to combat her.


Wimpy and Geezil burping it off (24 June 1934).

On 3 May 1931, another major character made his entrance: Wellington J. Wimpy. He is Popeye's best friend, though highly opportunistic and unreliable at the same time. The scoundrel often thinks up ways to trick people into doing favours for him. Especially fond of hamburgers, he promises people: "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger, today." Although he said this iconic catchphrase as early as 1931, Wimpy never fulfills his promise. Likewise he often invites people to eat duck at his home, only to yell: "YOU bring the ducks!", once he is at a safe distance. Imperturable, Wimpy rarely loses his cool. He always finds excuses to get himself out of sticky situations. For instance, whenever people want to do him harm he denies being himself and says: "I'm one of the Jones boys." Even his friends occasionally lose their patience with him. But in the end he always gets away with every shameless thing he does. Many readers consider Wimpy their second-favorite character after Popeye himself. Not just because of his comic relief, but also because he is a clever trickster managing to hold his own in a cruel world. Segar based Wimpy on William Schuchert, the manager of the Chester Opera House where he once worked, who also considered hamburgers his favorite food. Another inspiration was a referee in Ocean Park, California, who never interfered with the games. Segar's wife once threw a shoe at him in frustration. Wimpy's name was borrowed from Wellington J. Reynolds, one of Segar's art instructors.

Another comic relief, Oscar, was added to the series in 1931. Oscar is a buck-toothed and utterly stupid friend of Popeye who often helps him out on the ship. The following year Segar introduced two extra characters to play off Wimpy's insufferable personality. The first, debuting on 28 February 1932, was Rough House the cook. He is constantly annoyed by Wimpy's obsessive attempts to get food for free. Even more irritated with Wimpy is the long-bearded shopkeeper George W. Geezil. Although he first appeared on 12 September 1932, it still took until 1935 before Geezil's name was permanently established. Before that date he had different names, often with different spellings too. Geezil's hatred for Wimpy is such that he isn't shy about expressing it. He constantly insults, tricks and even tries to murder (!) Wimpy, but to no avail. His comic relief is the blackest in Segar's work. Geezil is furthermore the most notable expression of Segar's Jewish roots. The character speaks broken English, using the present continuous in a clumsy way. This, in combination with his long grey bushy beard and black suit, makes him come across as a stereotypical Eastern-European immigrant rabbi. 


Popeye fights Bluto, 20 September 1932.

Bluto is perhaps the most well known character among general audiences, apart from Popeye and Olive. He first showed his menacing head on 12 September 1932. The brutish, black-bearded strongman proved to be quite a challenge for Popeye. They are both so equally strong that their fight lasts ten (!) episodes. While Bluto became Popeye's main antagonist in the animated adaptations, Segar never used the character again. His successors did the same, long under the belief that Bluto was a copyrighted Max Fleischer creation. Once Bud Sagendorf took over the series he did add the villain to the comics cast, but redesigned him with big eyes and a different name: Brutus. After somebody actually took the time to look it up, Bluto turned out to have been a Segar creation all along. From that moment on he appeared uncensored in the series. On 24 July 1933, Popeye and Olive had a baby, or better said: an orphan child was delivered to them in a box. On 17 August the boy was named Swee'Pea. It later turned out he was actually the son of the king of Demonia, sent to Popeye to be protected from an evil uncle who planned to overthrow the country. Although Popeye and Olive aren't his real parents, Swee'Pea can nevertheless punch out people with equal fist power.

Thimble Theatre (10/12/1933), by Elzie Segar
'Thimble Theatre' (10 December 1933), featuring the debut of Alice the Goon. 

On 3 December 1933 Popeye met an old sea buddy, Bill Barnacle - nicknamed "Salty". But on 10 December they both soon discovered a far more intrigueing creature. A tall, heavily-built, bald humanoid with dotted eyes, a large nose (comparable with a proboscis monkey), no visible mouth and hairy arms and legs. Whenever it talks it's just indecipherable scribbles. Originally this creature worked as a servant-guard for The Sea Hag. It wasn't until 14 Januay 1934 that readers learned its name and realized it was female: Alice the Goon. Alice's haunting look and indeterminable gender confused, disturbed and frightened quite some young readers. After concerned letters from parents, Alice eventually became an ally of Popeye. She was revealed to have a younger daughter and moved in with Popeye and Olive to babysit Swee'pea. Her feminity was later accentuated more when Segar clothed her in dresses and made her interact with Wimpy, the only one who can understand her language. Another muscular thug, Toar, also worked for The Sea Hag when readers first got to know him in February 1935. Toar is a dim-witted caveman with no sense of his own strength. He is immortal and constantly accidentally breaks things, smashes through walls or crushes people's bones when hugging them. Just like Alice he also moved in with Popeye.

On 16 March 1936 perhaps the strangest creature in all of Segar's stories was delivered to Popeye's house as a gift from Olive's uncle: Eugene the Jeep. Eugene is a transmutation between an African Hooey Hound and a creature from the fourth dimension. The odd animal is capable of teleportation and can give the correct answer to any question. Wimpy takes advantage of Eugene by using him to predict gambling bets. Popeye and Olive treat Eugene as their pet, even though the animal is difficult to feed: it only eats orchids. Segar's final recurring character joined the cast on 25 October 1936, namely Poopdeck Pappy, Popeye's long-missing 99-year old father. Poopdeck is much tougher than his son, but also far less sympathethic. He doesn't like attention, pity or love. While Popeye is eager to reconcile with him, he simply wants to be left alone. Poopdeck is so grouchy that he doesn't mind beating Olive in her face if she irritates him. 


'Popeye', 18 November 1936.

Style and appeal
Segar based the looks and personalities of his characters on people he remembered from his hometown, friends, relatives and/or colleagues. Sometimes he combined certain traits from different people into different characters. It could explain why his characters, despite their cartooniness, still feel so lively and memorable. Bud Sagendorf once said that Segar was much like Popeye in the sense that he too had a very straightforward idea of "good and evil, right and wrong". Nevertheless Segar's protagonists aren't perfect people. Popeye is a no-nonsense grouch. Sometimes he beats up people over trivial matters. Poopdeck Pappy is even worse. Ham Gravy and Sappo are arrogant idiots, while the much brighter Professor Wotasnozzle and George Geezil are also full of themselves. Olive and Myrtle can be egotistical, domineering and even aggressive at times. Olive even beats up other women with ease. Swee'pea is a spoiled kid. Wimpy is a shameless lazy and thrifty con-man. Characters like Toar, Oscar and Alice the Goon are obnoxiously feather-brained. And recurring villainess the Sea Hag is sometimes pitiful. But despite their vices, Popeye and his friends always do the right thing in the end. 


'Popeye' Sunday page, 1 May 1932.

While Segar's drawing style certainly improved over time, he never bothered with elaborate artwork. Backgrounds are kept minimal, with no consistency between panels. His lay-out is very monotonous. Panels rarely change size or pattern. His characters look goofy and grotesque, with no believable anatomy. Arms and legs bend in strange ways. Many people are variations on the same designs. His female characters often look masculine, except for a few prettier drawn examples. And yet Segar's work instantly attracts readers through its simplicity. His panels read very clearly. The comedy is hilarious. Several gags, especially in 'Sappo', are wonderfully imaginative. The action scenes in 'Popeye' are equally over-the-top. Above all, Segar was such a compelling storyteller that nobody cared about the artwork. By being so simple, it didn't distract from his narratives. Segar often took a loose storyline, around which he built funny gags and situations. These narratives often carried on for weeks, months, sometimes years without every getting tedious or boring. One 'Thimble Theatre' story actually lasted two years, from 1927 until deep in 1929, a record that would later only be broken by Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' in 1934. Segar's characters have such amusing chemistry that even episodes where they just argue about, are full-out entertaining. Segar and Sagendorf often went fishing two or three nights a week to think up new ideas. As they sat in their rowboat under the starry night, Sagendorf took notes by the light of a Coleman lantern. This unusual method might explain why night-time suspense was a recurring motif in Segar's work. He intrigued his audience with stories involving mysterious gifts, strange characters, travels to unknown islands, odd events happening on Popeye's ship at night time, fights and contests of which the outcome remained unpredictable for weeks... Compared with later 'Popeye' cartoonists, Segar's stories were genuinely thrilling and occasionally a bit haunting as well. 


'Popeye', 6 June 1938.

Animated cartoons
In 1933 'Popeye' was adapted into an animated cartoon series by Max and Dave Fleischer. They narrowed the cast down to just four recurring characters: Popeye, Olive, Wimpy and Bluto. However, major character in the comics Wimpy only appeared as a side character in the cartoons, while the one-time villain Bluto became Popeye's prime nemesis. All cartoons were boiled down to a simple formula. Popeye is confronted with a threat - usually Bluto - and fights back. When he's about to be defeated, he munches some spinach, receives an energy boost and wins his battle. After the Fleischer Studios went bankrupt in 1941, the rights to the 'Popeye' cartoons were bought by Paramount Pictures, whose cartoon studio Famous made new theatrical 'Popeye' episodes until 1957. The old Fleischer and Famous shorts were repeated on television for decades, but cartoon shows especially made for TV also came about, thanks to Gene Deitch and Hanna-Barbera. In the early 2010s Genndy Tartakovsky ('Samurai Jack') was involved with a CGI-animated feature film starring 'Popeye', but he later abandoned the project, which is still in development hell today.

In the 1930s Popeye often tied with Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse as the most popular animated series in the world. The cartoons increased the global fame of the character, as well as the comic's sales. The only downside is that general audiences are more familiar with the animated version. Debates whether the cartoons are as good as the comics still rage today. Some fans argue that Segar's complex narratives and versatile cast weren't used in the more one-dimensional and minimalist Fleischer and Famous cartoons. The TV shows made by Deitch and Hanna-Barbera did use Alice the Goon, the Sea Hag, Swee'pea and Eugene the Jeep more, but in far simpler, dumbed down storylines. Likewise, Popeye doesn't fight that often in the comics, nor depends on spinach. Most of the time the sailor is perfectly able to bash his opponents in without relying on this vegetable. On the same token he isn't constantly defending or saving Olive either. Contrary to her animated counterpart she is no damsel in distress. Overall, Segar's comics relied more on comedy and suspense than just violence. On the other hand, Fleischer's 'Popeye' respected the spirit of Segar's comics more than previous animated versions of popular newspaper comics. The cartoony drawing style and slapstick violence fit the animation medium perfectly. The voice actors captured the characters' personalities so wonderfully that even today nobody can read the comics without imagining any other voices from Popeye, Olive, Bluto and Wimpy's mouths. It should also be mentioned that the theatrical cartoons were usually only seven minutes long per episode, leaving no time for multiple characters or long stories. 

Radio
On 10 September 1935 the comic strip was adapted into a series of radio plays on NBC Red Network, starring Detmar Poppen as the title character. Interestingly enough, Olive's voice actress in the cartoons, Mae Questel, also performed on the show but not as Olive as one might think, but Swee'Pea. Two extra seasons followed, one on WABC, the other on CBS, until the final episode rolled along on 29 July 1938.

Music
The Fleischer's cartoon series gave Popeye a signature song, 'I'm Popeye the Sailor Man' (1933), written by Sammy Lerner. The catchy song adds the sound of a misthorn to imitate Popeye blowing his pipe ("Toot-Toot"). Over the years the song has been used in every audio-visual media adaptation of 'Popeye'. Generations of children have invented their own naughty playground variations of this song. In the early 1960s, at the height of dance crazes like the Twist, a similar dance was launched called "the Popeye". It never quite caught on, but did inspire a series of novelty songs, among them Eddie Bo's 'Check Mr. Popeye' / 'Now Let's Popeye' (1961), Chubby Checker's 'Popeye the Hitchhiker' (1961), Ernie K-Doe's 'Popeye Joe' (1962) and Huey "Piano" Smith's 'Pop-Eye' (1962). Salsa musician Adalberto Santiago recorded 'Popeye El Marino' (1979), while the same year Israeli pop singer Marina recorded the catchy children's song 'Papa Popeye' (1979), about Popeye's son. In France Chantal Goya, known for her children's music, recorded 'Bravo Popeye' (1986).

Film
In 1980 acclaimed director Robert Altman (famous for 'M.A.S.H.', 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller', 'The Long Goodbye' and 'Nashville') directed a live-action feature film, 'Popeye', produced by the Walt Disney Company. Robin Williams made his film debut as the super strong sailor, while Shelley Duvall played Olive. Both were very convincing in their roles. For Duvall the role had special significance, since she had been teased since childhood that she was Olive's spitting image. Jules Feiffer wrote the script, while graphic designer Klaus Voormann had a guest role as conductor Von Schnitzl. At the time the movie received mixed reviews, didn't make its money back and was ridiculed in Mad Magazine by Stan Hart and Mort Drucker in issue #225 (September 1981). With the passing of time the picture has gained a cult following, because it is still a faithful adaptation of Segar's original comics, which was the prime reason why Feiffer agreed to write the screenplay. The original sets in Malta are still a tourist attraction today under the name 'Popeye Village'. 


Promo for the 'Popeye' strip (April 1933).

Global success
'Popeye' was a global success from the start. One of his celebrity fans was the Swedish king Gustaf V, whom Segar sent a personalized panel in the summer of 1938. In most languages Popeye's name remains the same, except for a few different spellings, such as in Czech ('Pepek námořník'), Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian ('Popaj') and Lithuanian ('Popajus'). Only some languages changed it completely, namely Icelandic ('Stjáni Blái'), Danish ('Skipper Skraek'), Norwegian ('Skipper'n'), Swedish ('Karl-Alfred'), Finnish ('Kippari-Kalle'), Turkish ('Temel Reis') and Italian ('Braccio di Ferro'). Popeye's success in Italy is such that after World War II several cartoonists have drawn local versions of the franchise, including Sandro Dossi, Gino Scott, Pierluigi Sangalli, Mario SbattellaTiberio Colantuoni, Maurizio Amendola and Alberico MottaWanderley Mayhé did the same in Brazil, while in the United Kingdom Chick Henderson, Mike Noble, Neville Main, Paul Green and Bill Mevin drew versions for the magazine TV Comic. 

Parody
As one of the world's most recognizable characters, Popeye has been subject of a great number of parodies. As early as the 1930s, the main cast members were regularly spoofed in anonymous pornographic comics titled 'Tijuana Bibles'. Some 'Looney Tunes' cartoons referenced Popeye's spinach habit as a joke, namely in Tex Avery's 'Porky's Garden' (1937) and Frank Tashlin's 'The Major Lied Till Dawn' (1938) and 'Scrap Happy Daffy' (1943). Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder satirized the comic strip as 'Poopeye' in issue #21 of Mad Magazine (March 1955), while in issue #224 (July 1981)  Don Martin also ridiculed the character in 'A Mad Look at... Popeye'. Cary Bates' and Curt Swan's 'Captain Strong' (DC Comics, 1973) was partially inspired by Popeye. Gary Larson drew a Far Side episode in the 1980s where the sailor is revealed to be a cross-dresser and defends himself: "I Yam What I Yam'. Trey Parker and Matt Stone made Popeye one of the "Nine Most Revered Fictional Characters" in the 'South Park' trilogy 'Imaginationland' (2007). Probably the weirdest appearance could be found in the Hong Kong kung fu movie 'The Dragon Lives Again' (1977), where Bruce Leung Siu-Lung plays Bruce Lee coming back from the dead and befriending not only Popeye, but also Caine from the TV series 'Kung Fu' and Fang Kang from the film 'One-Armed Swordsman'. The team-up was to fight a criminal gang made up from Zaitochi, Dracula, James Bond, The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, Don Corleone, Regan from 'The Exorcist' and Emmanuelle from the eponymous soft-porn franchise.  

Plagiarism
In the 1930s and 1940s 'Popeye' was so huge that some cartoonists shamelessly plagiarized the character. In Yugoslavia Walter Neugebauer created 'Popaj' (1935-1937), scripted by his brother Norbert. In the Dutch children's magazine Okki, B.J. Reith drew the text comic 'Monki' (1936-1941) in which his character Monki actually meets Popeye during his travels and become companions for no less than two stories, 'Monki met Popeye op de Oceaan' en 'Monki met Popeye in China'! During World War II Alfons Figueras drew Spanish versions of the spinach-eating sailor, because although his country was neutral, the latest U.S. episodes of 'Popeye' still had trouble reaching Spain. In the United Kingdom William A. Ward's 1930s series 'Binnacle Bill the Sailor' was very similar too and Jack Kirby's 'Socko the Seadog' (1939) wasn't even subtle about it! But it did help Kirby on a job as animator on the Fleischer's 'Popeye' cartoons.


The final 'Popeye' Sunday credited to E.C. Segar (2 October 1938).

Final years and death
Unfortunately, in his final years, Segar suffered from leukemia and liver disease. By January 1938, he'd already passed 'Popeye' and 'Sappo' on to writer Tom Sims (who occasionally drew some episodes too) and ghost artist Doc Winner. Bud Sagendorf, who had been Segar's assistant since 1931, was commissioned with doing merchandising artwork and, from the 1940s and 1950s on, would be drawing 'Popeye' comic books. In October 1938 Segar underwent a succesful operation to remove his spleen. Nevertheless he still fell into a coma for a day and passed away. The maestro was only 43 years old.

'Popeye' after Segar's death
After Segar passed away, Doc Winner kept ghosting until December 1939, after which Bela Zaboly became the new artist behind 'Popeye' and 'Sappo'. While 'Sappo' was discontinued in 1947, 'Popeye' remained popular enough. By 1955 Tom Sims retired as the writer of the dailies and passed the pen to Ralph Stein. It wasn't until 1959 before Bud Sagendorf was finally allowed back as cartoonist. He would continue 'Popeye' for the next three decades, making himself the second-best known 'Popeye' artist among fans. Failing eyesight forced him to leave the daily 'Popeye' comics to Bobby London in 1986, but Sagendorf did continue the Sunday pages until his death in 1994. A former underground comix artist, London's run on the series was eventually considered too subversive and from 30 July 1994 on, he was replaced by Hy Eisman who still draws the weekly Sunday pages of 'Popeye' to this day. However, the daily comics have been discontinued since 1994 in favour of reprints of Sagendorf's episodes.

Apart from the newspaper comics, 'Popeye' also continued in comic books, initially with Bud Sagendorf as the lead artist. George Wildman was a prominent artist for both the Western Publishing/Gold Key comic books and the Charlton Comics line, which ran from 1969 to 1977. The scripts were by Bill Pearson, Nick Cuti or Joe Gill. In 1972 Frank Roberge also drew some stories. Some special editions have appeared as well. Ron Fortier wrote 'Popeye Special' (Ocean Comics, 1988), while Ben Dunn drew the sailor in a more realistic graphic style. Peter David scripted 'The Wedding of Popeye and Olive Oyl' (Ocean Comics, 1999) where the artwork by Dave Garcia and Sam de la Rosa provides an equally huge stylistic break. For IDW long-time fan Roger Langridge wrote a mini series, 'Popeye' (2012), with artwork by Bruce Ozella, Vince Musacchia, Ken Wheaton and Tom Neely. In January 2019, to celebrate the series' centennial, a tribute one-shot webcomic was made, 'Popeye's Cartoon Club' (2019), with homages by Langridge, Neely, but also Jeffrey Brown, Larry deSouza, Jim Engel, Jay Fosgitt, Alex Hallatt, Erica Henderson, Carol Lay, Liniers and Robert Sikoryak.


The original Jeep (1 April 1936).

Legacy and influence
E.C. Segar is one of the few comics pioneers whose signature series is still iconic among general audiences. 'Thimble Theatre' is the fourth longest-running comics series of all time, behind Rudolph Dirks' 'Katzenjammer Kids' (1897-2006), Frank King's 'Gasoline Alley' (1918) and Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google and Snuffy Smith' (1919). It's third in line as the longest-running uninterrupted newspaper comics series. But it cannot be argued that, of all four, Popeye had the longest-lasting and most global cultural impact. Generations of children have been told to eat their spinach in order to get as strong as Popeye. Millions actually did too. The Allen Canning Company sold spinach with 'Popeye' as their brand name. Wimpy lent his name to fast food chain Wimpy's (1934) and Wimpy's Seafood Restaurant (1938) on Cape Cod, MA. Wimpy was also the nickname of the Vickers Wellington bombers - or "Wimpies". During World War II the name of the car type "jeep" was inspired by Eugene the Jeep. Many marine forces on the Allied side also used Popeye as their mascot. It has sometimes been stated that Segar invented the world "goon"; which isn't true. But he did popularize it in the English language as a way of referring to thugs or brutish cronies. And the word was the direct inspiration for the legendary British comedy team, the Goons. In Japan the fashion and lifestyle magazines Popeye (1976), Brutus (1980) and Casa Brutus (2000) were all named after Segar's eponymous characters. Novelist William Faulkner named a character in his novel 'Sanctuary' (1931) Popeye, while Gene Hackman played a policeman named Popeye Doyle in the classic film 'The French Connection' (1971).

In the United States Segar influenced Jules Feiffer, Carl BarksBasil Wolverton, Charles M. Schulz, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Don MartinJack Kirby, Robert Crumb, Bobby LondonKaz, Matt Groening, Stephen Hillenburg, Jeff Smith, Charles Forman, Marc Hansen, David Lapham and Patrick McDonnell. When Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster developed 'Superman' (1938), Popeye was one of their main inspirations. Much like Segar's comic strip-version of 'Popeye' is vastly different from his animated counterpart, Barks did the same when shaping 'Donald Duck' as a humoristic adventure comic. Just like Alice the Goon, Woodstock in Charles M. Schulz' ‘Peanuts' also communicates in squiggles, which only his best friend (Snoopy) can understand. Robert Crumb often used Segaresque characters in his underground comix. His 'Mr. Natural' is partially inspired by Gene Ahern's 'The Little Hitchhiker' and Segar's O.G. Wotasnozzle. Crumb's Big Baby, is basically a sexualized cross between Alice the Goon, Swee'pea and Billy DeBeck's Bunky. Maggie Simpson's dress in Groening's 'The Simpsons' was based on Swee'pea's clothing. Surly the lazy worker in his other series, 'Futurama', talks in Popeye-like grammatically incorrect sentences. In 1961 both Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein made a pop-art portrait of Popeye, while 1987 Will Elder drew a special lithograph, 'Popeye's Wedding' (1987) on commission for Stabur.


Toar has been an inspiration (and fear) to many... (July 1935).

In Canada, Segar was an inspiration to John Kricfalusi and Gisèle Lagacé, while New Zealand influences can be found in Roger Langridge's work. In Japan Yoshioka Ryuzaburo made a manga, 'Kaihakase' ('Doctor Strange', 1947), in which the protagonist can change himself into all kinds of characters, including Popeye. Osamu Tezuka's 'Mr. Cactus',  Dr. Jupiter in his series 'Lost World' (1948) were both inspired by Popeye. Popeye even appears in Tezuka's 'Son-Goku the Monkey'. Segar also had a massive impact on European humoristic comics artists. In the United Kingdom he influenced people like Hugh McNeill (whose ‘Pansy Potter' shares the same superstrength and muscular forearms as Popeye), Steve Bell and David Lloyd. In Switzerland Segar influenced Zep, while in France he did the same for Albert Uderzo, Jean-Emmanuel Vermot Desroches and Florence Cestac. Much like Segar, Uderzo also had a fondness for drawing huge, gorilla-type male characters, while Asterix' magic potion isn't unlike Popeye's spinach. In 2010 the French publishing company Éditions Charrette brought out a special homage album, 'Tribute to Popeye', featuring contributions by several French cartoonists. In the Netherlands Segar was a key influence on A. Reuvers (whose 'Drumpie' shares a resemblance to Popeye), Martin Lodewijk and Piet Wijn, while in Belgium Willy Vandersteen, Marc Sleen, MorrisAndré FranquinJean RobaDupa, Berck and Kamagurka are among his followers. Vandersteen's 'Simbat de Zeerover' featured a muscular pirate with similar large forearms. Tante Sidonia in his 'Suske en Wiske' is just as slender and flat-chested as Olive, while Jerom - much like Toar and Alice the Goon - started off as an uncivilized villainous brute, ultra strong caveman, but later joined the "good side". Jerom and the character Krab in Vandersteen's gag comic 'De Familie Snoek' are also comparable to Wimpy, because they always keep their eyes shut and have a calm, arrogant way of communicating with others. Segar's influence on Sleen is perhaps the most obvious, down to their loose graphic style and wacky narratives. In 'Nero' Meneer Pheip is a moustached opportunist similar to Wimpy, while Adhemar is a similar exceptional gifted baby like Swee'pea. In the 'Nero' story 'De Daverende Pitteleer' (1959) the one-shot character Gerard is nearly identically dressed as Toar, except for his glasses and near-sightedness. Franquin's Marsupilami was directly inspired by Eugene the Jeep, while René Goscinny named Wimpi the dog in Berck's 'Strapontin' after Wimpy from 'Popeye'.

Segar's name inspired the Elzie Segar Award, which was handed out annually by the National Cartoonists Society between 1971 and 1999. In Segar's hometown, Chester Illinois, a park was named in his honour, where also a large bronze statue can be found. In the first weekend after Labor Day, an annual Popeye Picnic is held, complete with parade, film festival and other acticities. An extra trail was created in 2006, with statues of all Popeye characters. Popeye also has a statue in Crystal City, Texas. Universal Studios' theme park had a river rafting water ride named after Popeye and Bluto. In 1995 Popeye was one of several comics characters to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. Since 2003 the Dutch village Almere has named a street after Popeye in their Comics district. 

Books about E.C. Segar
For those interested in Segar's life, Fred Grandinetti's 'Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History' (2004) is a must-read. Between 2006 and 2012 Fantagraphics has reprinted all original 'Popeye' comics by Segar chronologically in luxury book format, accompanied with dossiers by Bill Blackbeard, Jules Feiffer, Donald Phelps and Richard Marschall. Sunday Press collected Segar's pre-Popeye comic strips and a selection of his early 'Thimble Theater' comics in another book collection in 2018.

Series and books by Elzie Crisler Segar in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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