Other Notable Comic Strips
Hey Popeye Lovers Remember These?
Comic strips have been part of newspapers and periodicals since the late 19th century with the debut of The Yellow Kid in 1895, which eventually paved way to Blondie, Popeye, Dennis the Menace, Pogo and the Peanuts gang – the lovable comic strip characters we know today.
Sunday newspapers traditionally include special comic strips like Thimble Theater’s Popeye and Little Orphan Annie in the 1930s. Comic strips usually filled an entire newspaper page in a format known to collectors as a full page. It was gradually resized to reflect the change of time or eras. From the 1930s large scale newspaper advertisements, the paper rationing during World War II, the decline of newspaper circulation because of the dawn of television news and the 1950s-1960s inflation, comic strips has been seen being resized and changed in format until what we know them now. Bill Watterson, the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip creator, has oven voiced his opinion about the changes in size and the subsequent inability of cartoonist to create good comic panels. He won the battle against his syndicator and was granted to have half-sized Sunday comic strips and given freedom to arrange the panels the way he wanted.
There are many notable comic strips apart from Popeye through the ages and some of them are still running on daily and Sunday periodicals. Some of them are Gasoline Alley, Citizen Dog, The Amazing Spiderman, Tarzan, Marmaduke, Frank & Ernest, Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, The Phantom, Mary Worth, Superman, The Boondocks, Batman, Garfield, Snoopy, Bloom County, Pooch Café, Krazy Kat, Dilbert and Doonesbury.
Alongside the beloved Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schultz and Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketcham, Elzie Crisler “E. C.” Segar’s Thimble Theater featuring the bulging muscled-forearm sailorman named Popeye made its way into pop culture.
E. C. Segar began drawing Thimble Theater for the New York Journal, a King Features Syndicate newspaper. The comic strip featured characters like Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl (Olive’s brother) and Horace Hamgravy. Thimble Theater made its debut on December 19, 1919 and later on expanded and syndicated by other papers and would eventually be known as simply Popeye.
It took about a decade before the character of Popeye was introduced to the Thimble Theater comic strip. Popeye’s first appearance was on January 17, 1929 in strip when Castor Oyl needed a mariner to navigate his ship to Dice Island and he encountered Popeye. When asked if he’s a sailor, Popeye cheekily answered, “D’ja think I’m a cowboy?” Popeye the sailor eventually stole the spotlight and became a regular character ever since.
Popeye the sailor became so popular that he was subsequently given a larger role in the comic strip; expanding into a side story of having a foundling baby Popeye endearingly called Swee’Pea. Apart from Popeye, notable lovable characters introduced in Thimble Theater includes the local cobbler George W. Geezil, Toar the caveman, Swee’Pea’s unlikely babysitter Alice the Goon, the magical dog-like creature Eugene the Jeep, the pirate Sea Hag, and the hamburger-loving moocher named J. Wellington Wimpy.
E. C. Segar’s Popeye was very different from the later incarnations of the comic strip after his death. The Popeye storyline was more complex and Bluto’s appearances were not as much as the later versions. There were also some characters that weren’t included in the Popeye cartoons. After his death, Popeye was picked up and continued by several artists and writers, most notable of them would be Segar’s assistant Bud Sagendorf.
Sagendorf drew and wrote Popeye’s daily comic strips until 1986 and the Sunday Popeye strips until 1994 before he died. He retained most of Segar’s initial vision and style for Popeye. He also included some of Segar’s not well-known characters into the Popeye strips. His pacing was less fast than Segar’s though. It would sometimes the Popeye story would last a week before it concluded, which attributed to Popeye’s longevity.
Bobby London took on the Popeye’s daily comic strips where Sagendorf left off – 1986 to 1992 – and Hy Eisman continued the Sunday edition comic strips in 1994. London often touched on controversial issues such as abortion and try to parody it to leave a message to the public. In London’s classic Popeye storyline titled “The Return of Bluto,” Popeye’s arch-enemy is seen battling against versions of him in comic books, television animation and animated feature film. London was eventually fired and reruns of Sagendorf’s Popeye were featured in the daily strip.
As of January 1, 2009, after seventy years of the death of Thimble Theater’s creator, E.C. Segar, Popeye became a public domain in most countries. Although the United States still have copyright claims to the Popeye character, its various film franchise, comic books, television shows (including Hanna-Barbera’s All-New Popeye Hour, The Popeye and Olive show, and Cartoon Network’s The Popeye Show), Popeye television commercials, theme music (I’m Popeye The Sailorman) and many more.
Popeye’s popularity branched out into other mediums. There’s the Quaker Oats commercials featuring Popeye, the Dr. Pepper’s 1979 “I’m Popeye the Pepper-man” campaign, Popeye radio shows, retail food like Popeye’s canned spinach, Popeye Candy Sticks, fast-food restaurant chain (Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits), Popeye feature films, Popeye video and pinball games (created by Nintendo as a widescreen Game & Watch game), Popeye sports mascot, Popeye toys and other merchandise. Popeye’s character surely capitalized on almost all marketing mediums available.
Throughout the years, Popeye’s influence has reached the social and political areas. Popeye was featured in some awareness campaigns such as the 1990 advertisement about the harmful effects of coastal pollution. The commemorative U.S. postal stamps released in 1995 included the Popeye comic strip in the Comic Strip Classics series among other notable comic strips like The Yellow Kid, Gasoline Alley, Nancy, Little Nemo Slumberland, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Blondie, Bringing Up Father, The Katzenjammer Kids, Barney Google, Little Orphan Annie, Brenda Starr, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Rube Goldberg’s Inventions, Li’l Abner and Toonerville Folks.
Thimble Theater became popular because of Popeye the sailor. And eventually, in the 1970s, the name was changed into Popeye and remains to be one of the longest running syndicated comic strips of all time.