history of the cartoon

The evolution of the cartoon

From Comic Strip to 3D animation

As defined, cartoons such as Popeye, Blondie and Pogo are humorous scenes drawn in an exaggerated way and used to showcase satirical humor that are found in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. Satirical types of cartoons had been around for more than one hundred and fifty years, which started in 1843 when Punch, a magazine that features ironies through sketches by John Leech. The term was first used to describe John Leech’s cartoon where he used a substance and shadow style of drawing.

Although cartoons were popularized during the 1800s, political/humorous cartoon was first coined during the 1700s when President Benjamin Franklin used drawings of a snake in various posters in his “Join or Die” campaign in 1754. These posters were circulated to encourage people to join and get united prior to the French and Indian War.

Taking its cue on popularized gag cartoons or comic strips like Gasoline Alley and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Popeye the Sailor began its journey through King Features’ Thimble Theater on January 17, 1929, created by Elzie Crisler “E. C.” Segar. Because of its popularity, Popeye the sailor became the main focus of the daily comic strip Thimble Theater, giving him a larger role.

E. C. Segar’s comic strip was rather different from the succeeding strips after his death in 1938. The plot was more complex, Popeye was even shown having Sherlock Holmes’ type of investigations. There were also a lot of characters that were introduced but were later on dropped off when Popeye was continued after his death.

Considered the be one of the longest running syndicated comic strips in history, Popeye started its first run after E. C. Segar’s death as a Sunday strip, written and drawn by Hy Eisman. The old Sagendorf Popeye series was run as daily strips. Its longevity was attributed to several artists and writers such as E. C. Segar’s assistant Bud Sagendorf continuing the publication of the famous Popeye comic strip. Thimble Theater gave birth to its spinoff, Popeye the Sailorman, in the 50s owing to the popularity of the character. In the 60s, they renamed the series into Thimble Theater Starring Popeye. Since Popeye the sailor became the imminent character of Thimble Theater comic strip, it was eventually decided that the title be changed simply into Popeye in the 70s.

An epitome of an underdog, Popeye the sailor wove it’s way into American hearts with his off-beat funny quips, dialogues like “D’ja think I’m a cowboy” and his fondness in consuming spinach and transform into a bulging muscled sailor that delivers a mean uppercut to his arch-nemesis Bluto.

Before becoming Popeye’s love interest, the flighty and often flirtatious Olive Oyl was originally Harold Hamgravy’s girlfriend. Ham Gravy was once a regular character in Thimble Theater and when Olive Oyl left him, the character left the comic strip as well. Over the years, Popeye’s love affair with Olive Oyl was oftentimes portrayed as a love triangle between him, the stick-figured Olive Oyl and the lead-fisted Bluto. This love triangle has survived the test of time and has become a part of pop culture. Bluto would eventually become Brutus because of some copyright issues.

Popeye’s transition from comic strip to cartoons started when Max and Dave Fleischer’s Fleischer Studious made Popeye the Sailor into theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures in 1933. It became so popular after those initial showings that the cartoon series continued through 1957.

Fleisher Studio’s television animation shorts were only the start of the swaggering sailor’s continuous appearance from black and white animation to the colored hour-long series by Hanna-Barbera Productions’ The All-New Popeye Hour that debuted on CBS in 1978. In 1981, the animation was cut into a half-hour animation called The Popeye and Olive show, which lasted until 1983. The CBS put it back on television in 1987 when it made a brief appearance as Popeye and Son. Then, in 2004, a computer-animated television special by Lions Gate Entertainment titled Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy was shown in conjunction with Popeye’s 75th anniversary. In this version, Bluto is Popeye’s friend.

In Popeye’s present day incarnation, the Cartoon Network premiered The Popeye Show on November 11, 2001. Popeye was helmed by animation historian Jerry Beck. The first two episodes of Popeye’s first season met with controversy and were subsequently skipped during its TV debut and were later on shown in the reruns. The Popeye Show spanned four seasons and the Cartoon Network continued its legacy with its spinoff network Boomerang. VHS and DVD copies of Popeye are sold everywhere.

Through the years since its first introduction to the public, it has become a household name. There are Popeye comic books, Popeye radio shows, Popeye television animation, Popeye feature films, Popeye video and pinball games, Popeye television commercials for an oatmeal, Popeye toys, Popeye sports mascot, Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits (a fast-food chain), retail food like Popeye Spinach and Popeye Candy Sticks, and beverages like Dr. Pepper’s “I’m Popeye the Pepper-man” campaign. Popeye has capitalized on almost every medium available.

In history, famous comic strips have made their way into television cartoons and eventually into feature films. Popeye became a live-action musical feature film in 1980 that starred Robin Williams as Popeye, Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl and Paul Smith as Bluto. Filmed entirely on Malta, the set which is now called Popeye Village became a tourist attraction in Mellieħa, Malta.

Popeye was then created by Nintendo as a widescreen Game & Watch in 1981, featuring the sailor on a boat and has the catch the bottles, pineapples and spinach thrown by Olive Oyl. Popeye needs to avoid Bluto’s boat and dodging Bluto’s mallet while doing this. Namco Networks released an original graphically enhanced and multi-level Nintendo Popeye arcade game in 2007 that can be played in mobile phones.

With Disney, serializing Mickey Mouse in both comic strips and animated films, prominent cartoons such as Yogi Bear and The Smurfs have already been made into 3-D animation in recent years. In March 2010, Sony Pictures Animation has announced that they’re developing a full-length Popeye 3-D film that is set to premiere in the near future. From the writers of the 2011 The Smurfs film, Popeye will surely be something to look forward to.

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