Popeye the sailor man first appeared as a secondary character ten years into the run of E. C. Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre, which offered up parodies of dumb Hollywood movies.  Almost instantly, however, he took over the strip.  Violent, indestructible and bound by his own code of rough honor, he was irascible but dependable — the perfect protagonist for the wacky adventure strip Thimble Theatre turned into.


The strip featured surreal and whimsical fantasy elements and regular episodes of wild anarchic action, with Popeye inevitably having to beat the bejesus out of some villain or other.

The whole thing is eccentric, sui generis — and one of the most inventive and entertaining of all comic strips.  Popeye got toned down as a character in the animated cartoons he eventually starred in, and in the incarnations of the comic strip after Segar’s untimely death at the age of 43.  The character created by Segar remains a true American original, though — a brawling pigheaded palooka with a heart of gold.


  1. I liked other characters in the strip better than Popeye: Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea (especially; when I was small I always worried he’d get trod upon) and even J. Wellington Wimpy, always cadging a hamburger. Popeye and Bluto were just too belligerent and ugly. (Ugly villains–like Fly Face–in “Dick Tracy”–made me sick, as did that strip’s explicit violence; I remember my horror when somebody suffering a broken rib that punctured his lung.) It was maybe 20 years ago that a friend clued me in to Eugene the Jeep in “Popeye,” whom he loved; still making up my mind there but am heading in the direction of creepy.

    • Other characters were more endearing than Popeye, but Popeye was always saving them from the jeopardies their dim-wittedness got them into — got to love him for that.

  2. Off-topic really, Lloyd, but I’ve always thought that Altman, Williams, Duvall, et al, (even Harry Nillson with the music) did something extraordinary yet under-appreciated with the movie version of Popeye, simultaneously staying true to the comic’s original spirit while taking it all somewhere else. Pity about the ill-judged ‘climactic’ end sequence though.

    • I saw it when it first came out and was a bit bewildered by it — I need to look at it again.

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