Popeye the Sailor Man, his bulging forearms, and his strength-fortifying can of spinach can be seen on Google’s home page today, doing fans of cartoon art a big favor. Today is the birthday of Popeye creator E.C. Segar, born 115 years ago.
Segar was a newspaper cartoonist, and Popeye was first seen in Segar’s comic strip “Thimble Theater,” starring the sailor, his rail-thin girlfriend Olive Oyl, her brother Castor Oyl, and, eventually, their hamburger-munching pal Wimpy, and Popeye’s rival for Olive, the hulking Bluto.
The adventures of Popeye in the comic strips were fantastic — terrific storytelling about the creepy Alice the Goon, the Sea Hag, and other exotic villains. But the character of Popeye is best remembered for the series of cartoons that the great animator Dave Fleischer made in the 1930s. Take a look at the way Popeye and Bluto battle it out in this 1936 cartoon:
As a kid watching these shorts on TV, I loved the bouncy, elastic animation of the Popeye cartoons; as an adult, I appreciate the way the work is utterly different in tone and style from the equally-great Warner Bros. cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck) and MGM’s Tom and Jerry shorts.
There used to be some debate about the violence in Popeye cartoons. After all, the climax of most of his adventures arrives in the form of Popeye wind-milling his muscled arms and beating Bluto to a pulp.
I also loved the voice-work by Jack Mercer, the way he made Popeye mutter sarcastic asides, commenting ruefully on the action. No one else in cartoons sounded like that.
Happy birthday, E.C. Segar, wherever you are.
Are you a Popeye fan?