Eugene the Jeep is a character from E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre comic strip who has long served as a pet and friend to Popeye and Olive Oyl. A mysterious type of animal with magical abilities, known as a Jeep, Eugene has proved an invaluable friend to those around him and always leads those around him on fantastic experiences.
Eugene is a well-recognized and beloved character and is often considered the unofficial animal mascot of the franchise. Eugene has proved to be a very popular character since his debut and is often used as a mascot for schools and other child-related organizations and events. It has even been theorized by many (including R. Lee Ermey) that the then-new Willys MB vehicle (eventually dubbed the Jeep) was named after this character: soldiers in World War II may have nicknamed the machine after the popular character because both shared an ability to "go anywhere".
Creation and development in Thimble Theatre
The Jeep was created by E. C. Segar for Thimble Theatre and first appeared in the titular March 16, 1936 strip "Eugene the Jeep" where he was given to Olive Oyl by her uncle Ben Zene. Since his debut, Eugene would stay by Olive and Popeye's sides from then on.
After the end of Segar's original Thimble Theatre run, Eugene would also appear as a supporting character in the 1948 comic book series by Segar's former assistant Bud Sagendorf, where he would regularly use his abilities for comedic affect or to aid those around him. His comic book appearances would continue for decades until the title's end in 1984.
As Popeye's popularity greatly grew, he would be given his own animated adaptation by Fleischer Studios. Eventually Eugene would join the cast in Popeye's animated adventures as a minor recurring character in the shorts of the late 1930s and early 1940s, although he would only appear in 3 shorts before the Fleischer Studios era ended.
Like many elements of Thimble Theatre and the Fleischer Studios era, Eugene would not return for the Famous Studios shorts.
Popeye's first TV series
Eugene returned to regular appearances in animation in the 1960s Popeye television series, where he was once again a prominent recurring character and portrayed as Popeye's mysterious pet who would disappear for long periods before returning just when he was needed. Several stories from Thimble Theatre that involved Eugene were also loosely adapted into the cartoon. The cartoon also implied that The Sea Hag's spells were useless against Eugene.
The All-New Popeye Hour
In 1978, Hanna-Barbera Productions, with King Features Syndicate, would produce a new Popeye television series, The All-New Popeye Hour. Unlike the previous show, this series had higher-quality animation and was more akin to Segar's work and Fleischer cartoons than other Popeye animations, with Popeye regularly seen as an adventurous sailor once more. Eugene would return for this cartoon usually as comic relief when using his abilities or helping the characters in situations where only his unique abilities could save them. Eugene was voiced by Don Messick in all of his appearances.
Popeye's first movie
In 1980, a theatrical movie called Popeye was released, featuring an original story and serving as a more faithful adaptation to Segar's Thimble Theatre. Originally, Eugene was planned to appear in the movie according Jules Feiffer's original version of the script and would serve as Popeye's magical pet, however he would eventually be written out. However Eugene's clairvoyant abilities would live on in Swee'Pea.
Popeye and Son
In 1987, the latest animated series focusing on Popeye was produced, entitled Popeye and Son. The series was unique in the Popeye franchise for taking place later in characters' lives (a notable change considering the rarity of having well-known cartoon characters actually move on with their lives). Even Eugene himself found a mate of his own, with whom he had many children. Eugene would make semi-regular appearances in the show before its early end. He was again voiced by Don Messick.
In the first segment from Popeye and Son's eleventh episode, Orchid You Not, Eugene begins to steal large quantities of orchids for his family, which consists of his wife, two daughters and four sons.
Eugene would re-appear in IDW Publishing's revival of the Popeye comics in 2012 as a recurring character who once again aids his friends by using his numerous abilities when needed. The first issue in the series in fact focuses on him and on Castor Oyl's hope to find Eugene a mate, in order to make a fortune selling Jeep puppies.
Eugene the Jeep originally hailed from Africa before eventually coming under the ownership of a man named Ben Zene Oyl. Ben Zene would eventually mail Eugene as a gift to his niece Olive Oyl overseas.
Attributes and abilities
The Jeep is a yellow creature about the size of a dog who walks on his hind legs. He has a bear-like head and ears but a large nose and a long tail. The Jeep's diet consists only of orchids.
As his vocabulary is limited to the word "Jeep", Eugene primarily communicates through body language. Eugene always tells the truth, and, possessing high intelligence, is able to help humans such as Popeye and Olive Oyl solve complex problems. He has precognitive powers, and also makes use of a limited form of teleportation: he can disappear from one place and reappear in another, and can walk through and on walls and ceilings. These powers are said to stem from the Jeep's ability to cross into the fourth dimension.
Eugene's gallery can be viewed here
- The Jeep's origin story is notably similar to that of Bernice the Whiffle Hen: a small magic animal that is brought to the Oyl home from Africa by a relative, with powers unknown to its owners until a malevolent millionaire attempts to get ahold of it.
- Eugene the Jeep is the school mascot for Northeast Dubois High School in Dubois, Indiana and at South Webster High School in South Webster, Ohio (although their Jeep is red instead of yellow).