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Celebrate 95 Years of Strength and Grit with Popeye®, the Sailor Man!

By Nadya Martinez

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Today marks the 95th anniversary of Popeye!

Popeye, the iconic spinach-gulping underdog with “bulging forearms and a mean uppercut,” is celebrating his 95th anniversary. 

The beloved fictional cartoon character was created by cartoonist and writer Elzie Crisler (E.C.) Segar first appeared on January 17, 1929, in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.” 

On this day, E.C. introduced Popeye to the then 10-year-old comic strip Thimble Theater with his famous first line – “Ja, think I’m a cowboy?!” The Thimble Theatre comic strip originally starred Olive Oyl and Harold Ham Gravy and revolved around Olive’s family. 

Although he was introduced as a minor walk-on character, he quickly gained popularity, becoming a fan favorite and outshining the other characters, becoming the lead star of Thimble Theatre. 

He’s strong to the finish ’cause he still eats his spinach; he’s Popeye the Sailor Man. 

Popeye not only went from a supporting character to a comic strip star but eventually led animated adventures produced in different eras by Fleischer Studios, Famous Studios, and King Features. 

Known throughout the world for his bulging forearms and an ever-ready can of spinach, there’s only one thing the sailor loves more than spinach and the sea: his flimsy, feisty, flirty girlfriend, Olive. The comic features the famous love affair and Popeye’s devotion to the distressed ever-damsel. He may not be as cultured as Olive would like, but as Popeye notably puts it, “I yam what I yam,” an honest, hardworking, quick-tempered but good-natured sailor. Treat him well, and he’s your best friend; double-cross him, and you might catch a spinach-powered right hook to the chops!

Along with Popeye came a batch of new eccentric and unconventional characters such as Swee’Pee, Wimpy, and Brutus. After being left on Popeye’s doorstep, Swee’Pea went on to become the sailor’s “adoptid infink;” then there’s J. Wellington Wimpy, the world’s most hamburger-obsessed moocher which has made him one of the many popular supporting characters to come out of this strip, and Brutus, the hairy “heavy” with the glass jaw. Fun fact: Bluto is also known as Brutus.

Since his first appearance, Popeye the Sailor Man has captured the hearts of millions of fans. He has become an iconic character ingrained in American culture and remains one of the most recognized pop-culture icons in the world.

Popeye turns 95 years strong. Click here and Cozy up to your comics and dive in to celebrate.

Popeye is short, balding, ornery, and downright ugly by anyone’s standards, yet millions of fans across the globe have followed him and identified with the modest hero since his first appearance nearly a century ago. He is an underdog, a brawler, and an honest neighborly character who has enamored audiences. 

With one of his cartoons airing somewhere in the world nearly every minute of every day, Popeye remains one of the most widely recognized and best-loved personalities ever.

“Segar had a genius for creating strong, memorable characters the entire world knows and loves… the monocular seafarer has seldom been caught without a new adventure in the works,” wrote Michael H. Price of The New York Times News Service.”

Following the passing of Segar (the original cartoonist) in 1938, the Popeye comic was taken on by several different cartoonists, most notably Bud Sagendorf. Bud took on the Thimble comics creation from 1957 until the 1990s. In February of 1948, Dell Comics published Popeye’s first original comic book series, written by Bud Sagendorf. Later comic series were published by Gold Key, King, Charlton, and Whitman Comics.

Later on, after Bud’s run on Thimble, Hy Eisman took it over and continued delivering Sunday Popeye strips to readers through the spring of 2022. In 1994, Eisman added another comic legend to his repertoire when he started drawing the Sunday Popeye strip, which stars Popeye, the salty sailor man, and his crew of lovable co-stars Olive Oyl, Swee’ Pea, Wimpy, and Bluto.

Randy Milholland is now the latest cartoonist to pick up the weekly Sunday reigns, bringing his personal vibrant style to the strip while remaining true to Popeye’s legacy. Randy introduces bold lines, bright colors, and quirky character designs while introducing new characters to the comic. Randy also reminds readers that Popeye is a multi-layered character and is much more than big forearms and spinach. Randy discusses his work on Popeye here at King Features in a heartfelt Podcast.

The younger cartoonist first caught the eye of “Popeye” readers back in 2019. To celebrate the character’s 90th birthday, King Features Syndicate invited top artists to draw their takes on the adventurous sailor. This bonus feature was called “Popeye’s Cartoon Club” — a title from the comic’s early days, when Popeye’s creator, Elzie “E.C.” Segar, would share fan art in his strip.

Milholland, a lifelong fan of the character, garnered so much positive feedback from online fans that he was asked to offer more strips in 2020. Milholland honors Segar’s creation by sticking with Popeye’s moral code.

King Features Syndicate distributes Popeye to newspapers worldwide. BUD SAGENDORF (DAILIES) & RANDY MILHOLLAND (SUNDAYS)

Popeyes Legacy 

In 1933, Popeye got his cartoon series, “I Yam What I Yam,” produced by the Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures between 1933 and 1942. Popeye also jumped to the silver screen in a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon entitled Popeye the Sailor from the Fleischer Studios. In 1960, King Features Syndicate produced a new series of Cartoon adventures entitled Popeye the Sailor for TV syndication. Popeye was one of the most popular cartoons from the 1930s through the 1960s, with 600+ cartoons in existence that are still in worldwide syndication! Many are available on video, and the Fleischer Popeye cartoons can be seen today on Cartoon Network.

In 1980, Paramount Pictures released a live-action musical motion picture in which Popeye was portrayed by Robin Williams and Olive Oyl, played by Shelley Duvall. In 1993, Ted Turner’s Cartoon Network celebrated the 60th anniversary of the sailorman’s film debut with “Popumentary,” a series of six prime-time specials.

Popeye is known as Iron Arm in Italy, Karl Alfred in Sweden, and Skipper Skraek, or “Terror of the Sea” in Denmark; Popeye continues to appear in comic books published worldwide.

In 1937, the Spinach Capital of the World, Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue to honor E.C. Segar and Popeye for their influence on America’s spinach-eating habits, making Popeye one of the first cartoon characters ever immortalized in public sculpture. The spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 percent increase in U.S. spinach consumption, saving the spinach industry in the 1930s!

Today, the iconic sailorman has made Popeye-brand canned spinach the No. 2 brand behind Del Monte, and he has his brand of fresh spinach and salads. He has also punched up supermarket sales of everything from Pepsi to popcorn, not to mention millions of T-shirts, caps, jackets, and collectors’ watches. 

There’s even an entirely new digital entertainment genre, the MultiPath Movie. In fact, Popeye was the first character to invade the toy and novelty field. From tin wind-up toys to puzzles and kazoo pipes, early Popeye novelty merchandise now carries staggering price tags in antique shops and flea markets.

Popeye appeared in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (1957), influenced Andy Warhol’s ‘pop art’ collection, had his own Nintendo arcade game, a Universal Studios water raft experience, and even a commemorative stamp. 

The U.S. Postal Service featured Popeye in its “American Comic Classics” collection of postage stamps issued to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American comic strip.

Popeye continues to be one of the world’s most widely recognized and beloved characters. It’s amazing what a little spinach can do!

We have 8,810 ARCHIVED Popeye COMICS, so leave the doom-scrolling to the trolls.

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