From 1972 to 1974, I got my wish to be just like Popeye. I served in the Navy. Home on leave in late 1973, I visited by pal Bosco Brown, world's oldest collector. He had recently acquired several years of newspaper bound volumes from the 30s which carried Thimble Theatre and a host of other strips. For reasons now forgotten, we began reading Popeye. It was infectiously funny. The peculiar, two-faced characters. The incessant running gags. The grotesque drawings. The epic-length adventures. This was better in its own way than the black and white cartoons I loved. I had to have ‘em.
After some fast talking, it was agreed that for the small concession of cutting out all the daily strips for Bosco, I could keep the Popeyes. Armed with a metal straight edge and Exacto knife, my blistered fingers and aching wrists quickly told me that he had cleverly negotiated the better end of the deal. Still I managed to amass a nice run of Popeye dailies and was introduced to the world of E.C. Segar for the small price of experiencing an early form of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Segar's cartooning career began on the struggling Chicago Herald with the assignment to draw and write Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers in March of 1916. When the paper lost the rights to use Chaplin in April 1917, he pinned Barry the Boob until Hearst bought out and closed the Herald in 1918.
Segar immediately moved to the Chicago American and produced Looping the Loop for the next year, until King Features brought him to New York to start Thimble Theatre on December 19, 1919, featuring Olive Oyl and Harold Hamgravy. A year later, the prolific artist started The Five Fifteen with Sappo and Myrtle. Then on January 25, 1925, the Thimble Theatre Sunday page was added to his workload. But it took the introduction of the one-eyed sailor on January 17, 1929, to bring widespread recognition and fame to Segar and Thimble Theatre.
While professing to be a sailor, it is readily apparent to anyone reading the early strips that Popeye's true occupation was that of a prizefighter and his avocation was street brawling. The adventures were filled with recurring gags of the hostile sailor sending his adversaries to lay amonkst the swee'peas. Hearst himself reportedly ordered the strip be toned down as more and more children came to idolize Popeye.
So Segar got to cut out the gratuitous violence. And because of friends like Bosco, I got to cut out, keep and enjoy these hilarious strips from the funny papers.
- Seaman B.C. Shults, Submarine Base Pearl Harbor Hawaii, 12/1/73
The American Press
Early Trade Magazine Cover
Let's analyze Popeye.
First of all he's an A1 fighting man. He loves to fight with his "fisks." And he always wins. He's the idol of the same following that has made idols of prize-ring champions from John L. Sullivan to date.
Second -- He has a "soft and foolish heart for the sex," and admits he's putty in the hands of "brunecks."
Third -- He's a gambling fool who'd rather shoot craps than eat -- or drink.
Fourth -- He has a catchy name, an intriguing one-eyed physiognomy, and a lingo all his own that's adding new phrases every day to American speech.
Why, "Blow me down!" he's just POPEYE. "Tha's all." And that's all he has to be to make him the big new comic success he is.
This is the RIGHT TIME to put him in the ring against your opposition. He'll delight in helping you "lay 'im among the swee'peas, pernament."
POPEYE is having a triumphal march across the country from coast to coast -- BUILDING CIRCULATION wherever he goes.
Better TIE UP WITH HIM NOW.
SEE-GAR YOU IN THE FUNNY PAPERS! Popeye lays his creator
among the swee'peas in this specialty strip from Modern Mechanix, October 1934.
Learn more about E.C. Segar and the Thimble Theatre comic strip:
Read Popeye The First Fifty Years by Bud Sagendorf, Workman Publishing, 1979. Or collect The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye which reprints all the Sundays and dailies by Fantagraphics Books currently on sale.
Digital Images/Text Copyright 2009 by Bruce C. Shults / Popeye and All Other Characters are Properties of and Copyright King Features Syndicate and the Hearst Corp - World Rights Reserved