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Before the quirky Spongebob ever came to be, there was one iconic sea-farer who ventured into comic strips and eventually to the homes and hearts of the world. This famous and lovable sailor is known as Popeye the Sailor man. Some would say he was the first comic strip superhero, and his adventures live on from the first moment he was inked to this day.

The Popeye characters were thought up and brought to life by the creative mind of Elzie Crisler Segar (pronounced SEE-gar) in the year 1929. The original comic strip appeared in the New York Journal and starred Castor Oyl, an adventurer, Olive Oyl, his younger sister, and Horace Hamgravy (or simply Ham Gravy), Olive’s then fickle boyfriend. They were the main cast of the comic strip for about ten years or so, having hilarious adventures (or misadventures, as it were) from time to time.

popeye fighting

popeye swinging

Then came January 17th, 1929, the historic day when Popeye himself was introduced to the newspaper comic reading public.

It so happened that Castor was in need of a mariner for a sailing adventure to Dice Island for yet another one of his get-rich-quick schemes. Castor found him on the docks and asked if he was a sailor, a question to which he replied, “Ja think I’m a cowboy?”

This remark permanently endeared Popeye the sailor to the masses. The story continued, as Castor planned to get rich by ‘breaking the bank’ at the casino owned by a gambler named Fadewell. After the voyage, Popeye’s character left the comic strip. However, he had become a crowd favorite from the moment he set foot in the story, and he was immediately brought back for more adventures in a larger role.

Eventually, the Popeye the Sailor Man comic strip expanded into several other newspapers, as Popeye continued to gain popularity and new avid followers. The storyline also began to revolve around him more. He and Olive had lots of awkward and hilarious fights, but as it turns out, they were simply meant for each other. Their feelings soon became more evident and they grew more affectionate with each other. By and by, they became the famous couple we have all come to love.

popeye flex

Popeye flexing

The comic strip continued to enjoy much success, soon expanding to other media like comic books, animated television cartoon series, video games for arcades and for families, and even made into a live-action film.

The Popeye characters were relatively constant and remained faithful to the original creations of E. C. Segar even after his death, but a few characters were also added (and removed) for creative purposes. In the original Popeye comic strip, the storyline involved a lot of people from Olive Oyl’s side of the family. These were namely her parents, Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl (derived from banana oil), who made quite a lot of appearances; there is also her adventurous uncle Lubry Kent Oyl, Castor’s wife Cylinda, and their kids Diesel and Violet. There is not much to hear from Popeye’s side of the family, though, save from his long lost (and recently found) father Poopdeck Pappy, and his four rambunctious nephews Pipeye, Poopeye, Pupeye and Peepeye (who are quadruplets, and remarkably have a very strong resemblance to their uncle).

popeye spinach

popeye spinach

There has not been much continuity with the Popeye storyline between the comic strip and the Popeye cartoon, especially with Segar’s death. The artists that were hired to continue working on Popeye did their best to keep the story faithful and entertaining yet had the heavy task of thinking up new things to keep up with the times. The beloved Popeye series had also a few unforgettable characters introduced (and were along for the sensational ride) like his arch-enemy Bluto (also known in the UK as Brutus), a no-good thug who is part of a love triangle between Olive and Popeye; J. Wellington Wimpy (or simply known as Wimpy), who was a rather irritating man who loved to mooch off of people, Popeye in particular; and there was also a queer, yellow, sort of dog-like creature named Eugene the Jeep.

The Popeye characters had quite a lot of escapades, and although varying, they all had more or less a common denominator. A rather sweet (and generally accepted spin on the plot is that Olive, who was originally being courted in a way by the brute Bluto, falls for Popeye after all. Olive Oyl was a typical damsel-in-distress, although thin (but still quite fashionable at the time) in constant need of rescuing from the kidnapping arms of Bluto. He was also often involved in something sinister, and his plans would be thwarted by Popeye who comes to Olive’s rescue and ends up saving the day as well.

green popey

Popeye green

Popeye is most famously remembered singing the theme song of the animated cartoon, which goes “I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eat my spinach”. The 1980 live-action feature entitled Popeye (starring comedian Robin Williams in the title role) offered a simple history behind the sailor’s connection to the spinach vegetable.

In the movie, his search for his father Poopdeck Pappy (also known as the Commodore) leads him to another evil plot by Bluto. The latter had kidnapped Olive Oyl and the young toddler named Swee’pea (or Sweet Pea). Sweet Pea apparently had some sort of power to look into the future and predict things that are about to happen. Bluto planned to steal the Commodore’s hidden treasure and was going to use Sweet Pea and his ability to track the location of the said treasure.

popeye background

popeye wallpaper

Popeye and his friends go after Bluto and is reunited with his long lost Pappy along the way. As usual, Bluto and Popeye have a duel, a swordfight this time, in fact. Popeye, being less muscular than his opponent, was losing. Pappy then advises him to eat some spinach to gain strength. Popeye had a particular dislike for the vegetable and its taste, and refused to do so, and he was then overpowered by the big bully.

Bluto teased him as well, shoving the awful-tasting spinach down his throat before throwing him into the ocean tied in chains. Amazingly, the spinach he just swallowed gave him an almost superhuman-like strength, which allowed him to shoot back up the boat from the water, beat Bluto up, rescue Olive and Sweet Pea, and get them all safely on to shore.

They landed on Pirate’s Cove, the location of Pappy’s hidden treasure. It turn out that these prized possessions were of a sentimental nature. The treasure contained things from Popeye’s childhood, one of the most endearing ones being a picture of Popeye as an infant with the caption “Me Son”.

popeye pic

popeye hurt

The Popeye characters had a lot of positive ratings because of the family values it imparted in its stories. First of all, Olive’s closeness to her family members (and the Oyl family’s seemingly harmonious relationship) promotes the importance of a strong family bond. Then, Olive and Popeye show great affection and responsibility toward the little Sweet Pea (eventually even adopting the foundling), which promotes good parenting and child care. Eating spinach greatly encouraged children at the time to consume an acceptable amount of leafy greens which are good for one’s health (especially when it comes to the proper nutrition for growing kids).

Perhaps most importantly, the love shared by Olive and the sailor speaks a lot of being committed in a relationship. Although Olive’s character seemed easily swayed when wooed by other men, Popeye’s determination to win her back each time is commendable. After many years of bickering, courtship and hilarious drama, the two end up getting married and living happily ever after. Indeed, the Popeye cartoon is one of the few shows that are still relevant to this day.

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