Popeye is a sailor character created in 1928 by Elzie Crisler Segar for his Thimble Theatre comic strip (subsequently renamed after Popeye himself). He is the protagonist of many comics and animated cartoons, who is best known for his squinting (or entirely missing) right eye, huge forearms with two anchor tattoos, skinny upper arms, and corncob pipe. He can occasionally be seen smoking his pipe but usually he toots it like a tugboat and sometimes uses it as a weapon by blowing the smoke in his enemies faces. His strength varies among his portrayals: as per the original comics, he is super-humanly strong and can lift huge objects, while in later adaptations he is not quite as mighty until he gains a boost in strength by eating spinach. He is known to mutter when he speaks and mangle the English language (e.g, he calls elephants and infants "elephinks" and "infinks", respectively). Popeye's creator, E. C. Segar, characterized him as violent and uncivilized yet introspective and with a high moral fiber.
Popeye has a long and rich history spanning nearly a century and is one of the most recognizable and beloved cartoon characters in the world, consistently regarded as one of the best ever created.
Creation and development in Thimble Theatre
Popeye was created by E. C. Segar and was inspired by a man Segar knew in Chester, Illinois: Frank "Rocky" Fiegel. Popeye would make his debut in the January 17, 1929 Thimble Theatre strip "Dice Island" as a rough sailor for hire. While originally introduced as a minor character (with the actual star of the strips then being Castor Oyl), Popeye's popularity eventually grew to the point where he became the main character of Thimble Theatre, with the strip now focusing on his adventures and hijinks. Initially, Popeye was portrayed as a very strong and seemingly uneducated but very savvy sailor who would gain extraordinary luck and resilience when he rubbed the magical Whiffle Hen Bernice, but by 1932, he began to favor spinach, crediting it as a healthy source of strength. As the strips started focusing more on Popeye, he began to form a relationship with Castor's sister Olive Oyl after she had left her previous boyfriend Ham Gravy, and the two would eventually go on to become one of the most recognizable couples in cartoon history.
After Popeye's run in the original Thimble Theatre, he would return as the main character in the 1948 comic book series by E. C. Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf, which combined elements from both the original Thimble Theatre and the Fleischer Studios cartoons. His comic book appearances would continue for decades until the title's end in 1984.
Popeye's huge popularity led him to be adapted into animation, which would only be loosely based on Thimble Theatre due to the limited length of the theatrical shorts at the time keeping them from making proper full-length adaptations of the Thimble Theatre sagas, which resulted in the shorts being episodic. The huge success of the first Popeye the Sailor cartoon (which originally started as a part of the Betty Boop shorts) would ensure a long-running series of independent theatrical shorts for the now famous sailor. In the various cartoons by Fleischer Studios, he would usually have to rescue his girlfriend Olive Oyl from Bluto, his rival and sometimes friend or go on a daring adventure with Olive and his good friend J. Wellington Wimpy. Some of the cartoons take a different recurring approach, like him rescuing Olive from another threat, dealing with something alone, fighting a small enemy he cannot beat, or watching over his adopted son Swee'Pea. As these theatrical shorts deviated from Segar's strips quite a bit, many characters from the comic never made an appearance or only appeared once (like Castor Oyl and the Goons). However, other characters like J. Wellington Wimpy (who sometimes served as Popeye's sidekick), Poopdeck Pappy and, more rarely, Oscar would make semi-regular appearances in the shorts. Eugene the Jeep also made some appearances but would not be used as often as the above. George W. Geezil also made only two appearances alongside Popeye. Many of these cartoons mostly focused on Popeye's adventures and antics along with Olive and occasionally Wimpy as they tried to resist the antagonistic Bluto. While not appearing as a sailor very often (as Popeye was usually portrayed with a number of odd jobs) the stories in the cartoons would involve his brawling escapades or his adventures in certain areas of the world while doing impressive feats and preserving Olive's safety and their relationship.
World War II
During the World War II-era animated shorts, Popeye was a member of the U. S. Navy and his outfit was changed to a white Navy suit, and he would continue to look like this in animation from the 1940s through to the 1960s. During Fleischer Studios' final years, the shorts they produced were WWII stories focusing on Popeye's heroic attempts to help America fight the enemy, mostly the Japanese and Germans. The cartoons with these battle scenes have often been banned from television for being considered too "politically incorrect".
Also, in the 1940s shorts, Popeye gained four nephews named Pipeye, Peepeye, Poopeye and Pupeye, who originally debuted in an earlier short within a dream sequence as his children, before being made recurring and turned into his nephews. However, their exact relation to Popeye remains unclear and the parent of his nephews has never been properly identified.
Following the takeover of the Popeye animated franchise by Paramount Studios in 1942, the Popeye cartoons were now handled by Famous Studios, who made drastic changes which abandoned almost all traces of Thimble Theatre and focused largely on plots involving Popeye, Olive, Bluto in something resembling a love triangle, without many other characters appearing and with very few shorts deviating from that setup, which involved Olive falling for Bluto and Popeye beating him after eating spinach in an oft-repeated formula. Also of note are Famous Studios' remakes of Fleischer cartoons (such as Goonland, itself a loose Thimble Theatre adaptation), heavily changed by Famous to remove all traces of Segar creations outside of Popeye, Bluto and Olive, i.e. Popeye's Pappy replacing Goonland's Goons with what might be considered racial caricatures of Africans led by a Bluto-like cannibal, with the only thing in common between the two versions being the rescue of Pappy - who would go on to make only two more appearances after this (one of which contradicted the established fact that he left his son shortly after his birth). Supporting characters who were notable friends of Popeye and even had several appearances in Fleischer cartoons, such as Wimpy, Pappy and Swee'Pea, were featured less than a handful of times: Wimpy only appeared in three shorts (aside from flashback-oriented stories) and others such as Eugene the Jeep never appeared at all. Popeye's role as an adventuring sailor was also reduced to a point where he was barely ever seen at sea or in the Navy other than in a few shorts mostly from the war period, as the majority of stories preferred to avoid doing more adventurous and fantastical stories and focus on Popeye's everyday life, his vacation hijinks or the "love triangle" setup.
Popeye's portrayal in the animated adaptation (such as the theatrical cartoons and especially the Famous outings) has alternately been criticized for giving him a single means to solve all of life's problems (unlike in the older strips), or praised for bringing children to eat healthy. This reliance was most exaggerated in the short How Green Is My Spinach, which presented Popeye as being helpless without spinach (and portrayed other vegetables as ineffective), spoofing the cartoons' own formula but at the same time providing a rather questionable message.
In the fifties, Popeye's cartoon catalog was sold by the Paramount studio to Associated Artists Productions for broadcast on television. Animated shows were also made for television in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
First television series
In 1960, the first Popeye the Sailor animated television series was produced for ABC which proved successful. Like the earlier theatrical cartoon series, it would use many elements that were already well known, mostly the basic storyline of Popeye trying to keep his sweetheart Olive safe from the hands of other male suitors while using spinach to remain fit and healthy. Unlike the theatrical shorts however (especially the Famous Studios shorts), this TV series made a more prominent attempt to bring back characters and elements from Thimble Theatre back to Popeye's side, such as his old friend J. Wellington Wimpy, who had been considerably absent during the Famous era, and the show even included characters who never had the chance to appear in animation, such as Popeye's old lucky charm Bernice the Whiffle Hen and even Alice the Goon, King Blozo and Rough House (yet while bringing in more Thimble Theatre elements, very few episodes were a direct or accurate adaptations of the strips and had no real continuity between them). Notably, the only character that failed to return was Bluto himself, who was instead replaced by his lookalike/brother Brutus, due to King Features incorrectly thinking that the former was not originally a Thimble Theatre character. While the show did involve Popeye's love life, episodes actually focused more on his adventuring around the world (and beyond) not unlike the Fleischer and comic strip incarnation, and also brought back other Thimble Theatre antagonists rather than relying solely on Brutus, like the sinister Sea Hag and Toar the caveman, who proved to be a true challenge for Popeye. As in the final Fleischer cartoons and most Famous shorts, Popeye still wore his Navy uniform, an exception being the pilot episode "Barbecue for Two", where he did wear his original outfit.
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 more regularly seen as an adventurous sailor. Popeye's look was once again changed for this series, this time it was a permanent return to his classic outfit, however he still wore his Navy hat, making it something of a combination of both styles. The series also gave characters such as Alice the Goon more prominence, having her co-star with Olive in their own segment, Private Olive Oyl. This show focused more on adventure than past animations: there were entirely new segments dedicated to sailing the seas and searching for adventure, as in Popeye's Treasure Hunt. Popeye and the Sea Hag's relationship was also more accurate to the strips than the previous series, with the Hag wanting to marry Popeye, much to the latter's disgust. Oddly enough, Popeye's signature spinach can would have special effects on other characters, such as Olive and Swee'Pea, who would unusually turn into actual superheroes.
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. It brought almost every friend of Popeye's to the silver screen, although it portrayed the well-known sailor as having an initial aversion to spinach, and the setting took place in a port town called Sweethaven. It eventually went on to gross $49,823,037; more than double the film's production budget.
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 Popeye's life, where he had finally married Olive Oyl, settled down and had a son of his own (a notable change considering the rarity of having well-known cartoon characters actually move on with their lives). The series shared similarities with its predecessor, The All-New Popeye Hour, having various references to Thimble Theatre and other media in Popeye's history such as the theatrical film, with the cartoon taking place in Sweethaven. However, the series didn't prove as popular as its predecessors and was eventually cancelled after 13 episodes. Being the last animated Popeye series on television, it can be considered somewhat fitting that it ended at a later and happier point in Popeye's life.
In 2001, Popeye received a tribute show on Cartoon Network titled The Popeye Show, which only featured classic shorts but also adding trivia info and facts about Popeye as well as occasionally showing unaltered original versions of the shorts, with the series going on to have 45 episodes.
In 2004, a CGI-animated TV movie titled Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy was produced by Mainframe Entertainment for Lions Gate Entertainment and King Features Entertainment. An attempt at a full-fledged animated theatrical film was also made by Sony Pictures Animation for release in 2012, with test animation made by Genndy Tartakovsky, yet production on this film has apparently remained on an indefinite hiatus.
In 2012, IDW Publishing began a brand-new Popeye comic book that primarily stays faithful to the character's original comic strip incarnation by E. C. Segar and Bud Sagendorf, and features countless throwbacks and references to Popeye's old adventures and even features the return of many (if not all) of the characters from the classic era. As the series is more faithful to Segar and Sagendorf's work, the plots of each issue follow more closely to the original format of the older comics rather than the cartoons, and the art even replicates Segar's style flawlessly. In 2013, IDW held a special crossover event where they depicted many of the settings in their comics as being invaded by the Martians from the 1962 trading card game and 1996 film Mars Attacks, with Popeye facing off against the 1962 incarnation of the Martians in the special Mars Attacks Popeye.
Popeye's unique and commonly used design is one that is immediately recognizable, being always depicted as a gruff-looking yet skinny sailor with a large cleft chin, a single eye, a mostly bald head and very large forearms with anchor tattoos, while his outfit normally consists of a black dress shirt with a red neckline and sleeves with blue edges along with blue pants, brown shoes and a sailor's cap. During his first introduction in Thimble Theatre, Popeye's appearance was not too different from his current one, the only difference being that his nose was noticeably larger, his chin was slimmer and his forearms were less round and more angular (and also a bit hairy), but as Segar's talent continued to grow, the design would change to match the well known sailor seen today. This design would be his most iconic and most used depiction used in many media, and most notably the first piece of Popeye animated media by Fleischer Studios.
Following the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941 by the Japanese which made the US take part in World War II, Popeye's design remained unchanged, however, in the cartoons he was now made a member of the U. S. Navy and given the appropriate naval attire, consisting of the standard white uniform with a black neckerchief, black shoes and a small Navy cap. He would continue to wear this outfit until the mid-1960s. During his Famous Studios run, Popeye's eyes were also slightly enlarged to look a bit more realistic rather than looking like black dots, and he was also portrayed as having two eyes in both Famous Studios and the 60s television series, which would occasionally be seen in several shorts.
When Bud Sagendorf began the Popeye comics in 1948, Popeye's design was changed to resemble his classic look but while still wearing his Navy cap from the war. His eyes were also changed back to their black dot appearance. His chin was also further enlarged with only a few minor changes due to Sagendorf's own unique art style. This design would continue to be used by Sagendorf's successors in Popeye comics, such as George Wildman, Bobby London and several others throughout the 70s, 80s and future newspaper comic strips depending on the artist, with Segar and Sagendorf's designs usually being interchanged. Sagendorf's design was also used in other 70s media and two cartoons, The All-New Popeye Hour and Popeye and Son.
Since the end of Popeye and Son, media and merchandise (outside the occasional comics) would continue to portray Popeye with his classic look or his Sagendorf design regularly, and only rarely using his Navy look.
Popeye is a rough and tough sailor with a heart of gold who always does what he can for others and always doing what he thinks is best. He is brave and compassionate, as he will not back down against any foe and give them all he has got, but his compassionate nature makes it so he always tries to "defends the weakerist", as he cannot stand seeing the weak and helpless get abused. He also has a fondness for "poor dumb aminals" and can't stand to see any animal being hurt for no reason, however, he has no patience for violent beasts who attack defenseless people or other animals for no reason either, and he will be quick to turn them into mincemeat for their hotheadedness.
Being a sailor, he has a love for adventure and the sea, and will not pass up the chance to find new mysteries, lost treasures and grand adventures. While he is usually a treasure hunter of sorts, he is not greedy and always does his best to share with others and encourage others to do the same. Popeye has a dislike for things like monsters, ghosts and other such terrors, having faced several himself in his life time and would even pretend they do not exist, as seeing them terrifies him greatly, but he always manages to muster the courage to face off against any foe. Popeye's favorite food is spinach, and he always tries to encourage others to eat this healthy vegetable as it is a great source of "strenkth and vitaliky". He loves his sweetheart Olive Oyl dearly despite their rough start and will go to any lengths to keep her safe and make her happy, showing that he is a very chivalrous and romantic man, despite his rough, tough and gruff nature.
Birth and early life
Popeye was born the son of Poopdeck Pappy and an unnamed woman in a typhoon in Santa Monica (with Popeye erroneously claiming to have been born at 2 or 3 years of age). Shortly after his birth, his father Poopdeck left home and was never seen again, and his mother's fate was unknown, leaving the young Popeye an "orphink" to be raised by an orphanage keeper who gave him the ID number of 185,764. As an infant, Popeye already had his signature pipe, presumably given to him by his father before leaving, and would only take it out of his mouth for his morning bottles of malted hardtack. As far as he could remember, little Popeye was impressed by early home training and exercised as soon as he was able, but avoided getting into serious fights until he was 4 years of age, where he had finally had enough of his orphanage keeper and let him have it. After this incident, it seemed as though Popeye's keeper became impressed with the child and decided to enter him in contests (similar to dog shows) where the young Popeye became a prize baby in many shows and always took great pride in his Bertillon measurements. Eventually, the orphan Popeye would fall on hard times upon leaving the orphanage, and was forced to wear flour sacks for clothes, but happily, the luckless lad was taken in by Whaler Joe at the docks, who even bought the young lad a new pipe and a fascinating straw hat with a radio antenna on it.
At six years of age, Popeye began to fulfill his promise of taking his exercising more seriously and started devoting himself to fights with the local bullies, easily laying his foes among the geranium flowerbeds, always promising to do so and never breaking his word. With Popeye around, the local bullies did not need the aid of any pliers or doorknobs to get rid of those useless bicuspids thanks to Popeye's left-right to the jaw. As Popeye's notoriety grew among the children, he inadvertently became a factor for good in discouraging his fellow rough-dock kids from crapshooting, doing so by being too good at the game himself, as he always got 18 straight passes when he rolled the dice. Despite his love of crapshooting, Popeye would be forced to sell his beloved dice for the lead in them after his guardian Whaler Joe fell on tough times. One day, Popeye set out on a boat with nothing but a bent pin and a spool of thread in hopes of helping his guardian by catching whales for him. Unfortunately, upon reaching the whale pod, Popeye realized he was grievously ill-prepared against the giant sea beasts who thrashed about his little vessel as they let out a loud horselaugh, which made Popeye respond with a quick tempered "Blow me down, you-!"-- but before he could finish, the whales suddenly stopped. It was then that the largest whale, deeply offended, got on little Popeye's vessel and sprayed him with a mighty jet of water. This action infuriated the young Popeye so heavily that his anger became pure strength; he quickly got back on his feet and punched whale with all his might, instantly killing the proud alpha and proceeded to take on the rest of the pod. A triumphant little Popeye then returned home with a nice string of whales for Whaler Joe that night.
Teenage Years and the Path of the Sailor
Upon reaching the age of 12, Popeye had startled everyone he knew by the sheer fact that he was now like a full-grown man, puberty having hit him hard as he now had to shave after every meal and he even had muscles so tough that they could be used as grindstones, with Popeye even renting out his forearms for just that purpose for some extra side cash. It was around this time that Popeye finally (but unknowingly) set out to sea, having been shanghaied onto a crew one night after some bilge rat put a mickey in his "sodie pop" to knock him out. After he woke, he found himself aboard the Josie Lee with a new crew bossing him around, so he decided to slip a "mickey" himself to everyone in the crew with his fists, including the captain. It was then that the Josie Lee began to drift out to sea and after a few days, Popeye realized that he liked this style of living and would go on to devote his life to that of the sailor's way, deciding to join the crew of the Josie Lee and begin practicing his "sailor's walk" from then on. Popeye then dedicated himself to sailing the seas, looking for fights and new adventure, as well as any clue to the whereabouts of his long-lost Pappy.
The One-Eyed Sailor
As the twelve-year old Popeye set off on his first voyage, he would end up losing his right eye in "the mos' arful battle" of his life. One fateful night, Popeye had just finished shooting craps with his five mates, who laid beaten on the deck of the Josie Lee with all their money on Popeye's side. It was then that the monstrous and bloodthirsty cook of the ship, a beast-like man simply known as "The Ape" stepped forth, having had enough of Popeye's winning streak. Popeye knew a fight was inevitable and shouted out a "Blow me down!" before promising to lay the monster man "among the swee'peas" (the sweet pea flowerbed) as his resting place. However, the naive young boy (who always kept his promises no matter what) realized that there was not a single flowerbed of "swee'peas" in sight, with the exception of a bed of sunflowers on the ship. The flustered Popeye kept looking around the boat with his good peepers for any sign of a flowerbed to keep his word on, but before he knew it, "The Ape" pounced on the unsuspecting rookie sailor and a fierce onslaught ensued with The Ape showing no mercy and laying down a gruesome punishment on the sailor, with Popeye never being able to see another flowerbed with that one peeper of his again. From then on, those at sea would refer to Popeye as "Pop-Eye", after his popped eye.
Despite this gruesome defeat, Popeye did not weaken or falter and only became more dangerous from the experience, and he quickly recuperated and continued his service as a sailor on the Josie Lee, continuing to make his regular nightly rounds, winding the anchor watch, always staying in front of the mast so he could say "Blow me down!" when the wind hit the sails and always keeping his fists tough while walloping his foes with only his left fist, for if he used his right fist, he would be unable to control his strength without obliterating his opponent due to not having his right eye to be in synch with his fist anymore. In those days, one had to be a brave or foolish mariner to incur Popeye's wrath.
It was around this time that the teenaged Popeye started embracing a chivalrous oath of gallantry, possibly due to the mature nature of his shipmates, with him often refusing to involve himself in the haughty and lewd conversations they had about fair maidens. His chivalry reached its peak one day when an albatross landed on the deck of the Josie Lee. The hapless little bird was suddenly grasped by none other than the ship's cook, "The Ape", who hoped to make some "Off" out of the poor bird. Popeye then noticed that the small bird was wearing a pair of tiny lady's shoes, making him realize that this albatross was a lady bird, or "Albatress", as he called her. Popeye then wound up his fist and let "The Ape" have it with a mighty blow to the jaw (while also unintentionally getting a revenge of sorts). With the little female albatross now saved, Popeye apologetically bowed before the little bird and said "maybe you is somebody's sister, tha's a fack! Nobody but a criminal would do a hurt to anybody's sister!", and the little bird happily went on her way.
The Mary Ann
Around the age of 14, when ships were wood and men were iron, young Popeye became a member of the Sea Dog Club for sailors, where he would meet his good friend Bill Barnacle. The two would then join the crew of the Mary Ann for an unknown voyage. On a dark night, the Mary Ann began ringing in an ominous and unusual tone not unlike the sound of bones and skeletons moving when suddenly the moon became blood red. The two shocked sailors could only look on in horror as they saw numerous indescribable beasts clinging to the side of the Mary Ann, led by a sinister being. The next morning, the duo and their skipper found five of the crew missing with no trace of them left behind. All that was known was that their frightening encounter aboard the "Ol' Mary Ann" would forever remind the duo of the all-true horrors that exist within the seas.
Later in life (at the presumed age of around 34 according to Bud Sagendorf), Popeye would offer his seafaring services at local ports; it was there he would eventually meet the ever-ambitious Castor Oyl and his sidekick Ham Gravy, who sought Popeye's services in order to travel to the gambling paradise of Dice Island and make it big using the luck-enhancing powers of their mysterious pet, Bernice the Whiffle Hen, and through them he would meet Castor's sister, Olive Oyl who at first was not too fond of the sailor and vice versa. Even her first words to him were harsh: "Take your hooks offa me or I'll lay ya in a scupper", and they fought bitterly---and hilariously---for months until finally realizing their feelings for each other. It was at this point that Olive left her womanizing fiancee Ham Gravy to be with the gruff sailor she loved. Since then, Popeye and Olive have remained almost inseparable and happily in love.
Since his debut in animation, Popeye has had many unique songs for himself as well as many tunes dedicated to him.
- I Yam What I Yam
- Swee'Pea's Lullaby
- Blow Me Down!
- I'm Popeye The Sailor Man
- William Costello (a.k.a. Red Pepper Sam) from 1933 to 1935
- Jack Mercer from 1935 until his death in 1984
- Jackson Beck during the brief time Jack Mercer served in World War II
- Mae Questel from 1945 to 1946
- Harry Welch from 1945 to 1947
- Maurice LaMarche from 1985 to 1990
- Billy West in from 2004 to 2006
- Floyd Buckley (radio)
- Dave Coulier (Robot Chicken)
- Jim Cummings (commercials)
- Robin Williams (live-action film)
- Tom Kenny (2014 animation test)
Popeye's gallery can be viewed here
- According to Bud Sagendorf (the original assistant to E. C. Segar and a longtime Thimble Theatre writer and artist), Popeye is 34 years old.
- In the theatrical cartoons, Popeye was instead portrayed as being 40 years of age, as stated in the Fleischer cartoon Goonland (where Popeye says that his father left when he was born 40 years ago) and in the Famous cartoon The Ace of Space, in which a martian machine lists his age as being 40 as well.
- Popeye | The Home of Popeye the Sailor Man website
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia Popeye page
- Popeye at the Internet Movie Database