Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Strong Without Finish - The Enduring Rubbishness Of Popeye

Who of us over the age of 805 can honestly say they don't remember where they were when they first saw Popeye the Sailor Man, who appeared for the first time on this day in 1929 on E.C. Segar's long running "Thimble Theatre" newspaper comic strip saying his classic catchphrase "Ah'll skerbidge umper doodoo skiddlypom wise guy huh?" which the American states of America soon rang with in every school yard, shopping centre and horse reclaiment centre for miles.

That first classic strip. Other oft quoted comic strip pearls of the time included "Hello wife! I'm home. Where is sandwich?" (The Husband and Wife), "Buggeroon!" (Captain Cap'n and The Katzenjammer Geese) and "Fuck off you" (Mentally Disturbed Cat). This was a golden age for the newspaper funnies.
For me as a kid in the 1980s though, Popeye was strictly an animated character, popping up frequently as scratchy TV filler or badly traced on the front cover of those "an hour of kiddies favourites cartoons!" VHS tapes along with the equally out of copyright likes of Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, Betty Boop and Bugs Bunny cartoons that were seemingly drawn on a potato and filmed through an arse. Later as I acquired more interest in the history of animation, I could appreciate how well done many of these cartoons were, in particular those made by Fleischer Studios who were extremely quick to transition Popeye to the big screen, less than four years after his first Thimble Theatre appearance and was nothing short of a phenomenon, taking over from a censorship-hit Betty Boop as the top animated franchise, a popularity equal in the modern day to something like The Great British Bake Off, Drake or being sick in the road outside a Wetherspoons.

Some alarmingly real Popeye cover art from the 80s. 

Back in the eighties, Popeye was just baffling to my telly obsessed pre-teen mind. The original black and white cartoons were odd and surprisingly violent, unlike the Disney and Hanna Barbera I'd grown up with and the plot was seemingly the same every time:

1. Popeye and Olive Oyl would be doing a thing,
2. Bluto would steal Olive Oyl as if that's a reasonable thing to do,
3. Popeye would get the piss kicked out of him,
4. Popeye would open a tin of spinach in an extravagant fashion which made you question his need for it in the first place,
5. Popeye would get stronger and punch the living fuck out of Bluto,
6. Ends.

What the sod even was spinach? We didn't have it in our local Morrisons I can be fairly sure. To confuse matters further, BBC One would desperately fill up its kiddie slots (stop that) with cheapo imported cartoons including "The All-New Popeye Show", a title as unoriginal as it was frequently lies. A chopped up syndicated version of what had been an hour long slot in America, these shows would usually involve some standard Popeye scrapes followed by a back-up 'extended universe' series featuring some 'big concept' like Olive Oyl in the army or a caveman version of Popeye that seemed to completely contradict what happened in the main cartoon. I'd only just got used to the idea of the Muppets as babies, I couldn't be dealing with all these multiple Popeye continuities!

Then as if to kick further gravel in my childhood craving for order an entirely new and TOTALLY!!! UPDATED!!!! FOR!!! THE!!! 80s!!!! version of Popeye was spat into our face on October 9th 1988 with "Popeye and Son" as part of BBC2's Sunday morning "Now On Two" strand. This unsurprisingly featured the spinach-spitting sailor in the modern day (we know this as he wears a very Magnum PI-style Hawaiian shirt) with now-wife Olive (always clad in a Roy and Renee-style pink tracksuit) and a Scrappy Doo-ish son called...um...Popeye Junior. At almost the exact same time Popeye was fertilising his wife with his ejaculate, Bluto was similarly penetrating his partner, leading to a child the same age called Tank. (Whether this was the same Tank who frequently espoused admiration for Walkers Crisps is as yet unsubstantiated.)

This mania for adding kids to existing Hanna Barbera properties had begun the previous year in the US with the correctly forgotten Flintstone Kids which reduced the ages of the original stone age favourites for...reasons. The same series also featured the in universe show "Captain Caveman and Son" which...oh, you know.

And all this isn't even thinking about the mid 60s cartoons where Bluto is renamed as Brutus for some reason. What the hell was I meant to do with that information? Next you'll be telling me Boss Cat isn't actually called Boss Cat!

As the eighties turned into the day-glo Twist N Squeeze-sippin', Hammer-non hurtin', hard poggin' decade of the 1990s, Popeye seemed to fade away from the collected world consciousness. And yet looking at the TV schedules on BBC Genome, repeats of the now deeply ironic "All New Popeye Show" continued on terrestrial Children's BBC as late as 2004. Its probably on some ridiculously high Sky channel as we speak. So until the inevitable CGI big screen reboot, happy birthday Popeye, 88 years young and liked by nobody I have ever met ever.

All together now: He's strong to the fammich cos he ate a sammich, he's Pobbay the Sailor Type. Toot toot!



  1. The inevitable Popeye CGI reboot was already cancelled https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4tNuM9XttM

  2. We had an uncle who was the first person we knew to get Sky, and he'd give us tapes full of the 1960s Popeye cartoons - and being the impressionable age that we were, naturally I can't get enough of those ones now I'm in my thirties.

    Some of those sixties ones "framed" older 1930s cartoons, which made for double the fun perhaps?

  3. The CGI Popeye was going to be directed by Gendy Tarkovsky, the bloke behind Dexter's Lab and Samurai Jack. It might have been terrible even with his input but I'm sad it's not happening.