The strip first appeared in the New York Journal, a newspaper operated by King Features owner William Randolph Hearst, on December 19th, 1919 before later expanding into more papers. In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style.
Thimble Theatre's first main characters were the thin Olive Oyl and her boyfriend, Harold Hamgravy. After a while the comic began moving towards a comedic adventure style featuring Olive, Ham Gravy, and Olive's enterprising brother, Castor Oyl. Olive's parents, Cole and nanna oyl, also made frequent appearances.
Popeye first appeared in the strip on January 17, 1929 as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell's but survived by rubbing Bernice's head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip—but due to reader reaction he was quickly brought back.
Thimble Theatre soon became one of King Features' most popular strips during and, following an eventual name change to Popeye in the 1970s, remains one of the longest running strips in syndication today. The strip carried on after Segar's death in 1938, at which point he was replaced by a series of artists. In the 1950s, a spinoff strip was established, called Popeye the Sailorman. Acknowledging Popeye's growing popularity, the Thimble Theatre strip was re-named Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye during the 1960s and 1970s, and was eventually retitled, simply, Popeye, the name under which the strip continues to run.
The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was expanded into many more newspapers as a result. Though initial strips presented Olive Oyl as being less than impressed with Popeye, she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye's girlfriend-and Ham Gravy left the strip as a regular. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards the sailor. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. Eventually he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out West. Castor has seldom appeared in recent years.
In 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail, whom he adopted and named "Swee'Pea." Other regular characters in the strip were J. Wellington Wimpy, a hamburger loving moocher who would "gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today"; George W. Geezil, a local cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; and Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely dog-like animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag, the last on earth; and Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag's henchman and continued as Swee'Pea's babysitter.
Differences from the CartoonsEdit
Segar's strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters who never appeared in the cartoons. Spinach usage was rare and Bluto made only one appearance. Segar would sign some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, due to his last name being a homonym of "cigar".
Artists after SegarEdit
After Segar's death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, continued writing Thimble Theatre strips and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner and Bela Zaboly, successively, handled the artwork during Sims's run. Eventually, Ralph Stein took over the writing, and wrote the comic strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.
Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar's assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar's classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O.G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf's new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it would sometimes take an entire week of Sagendorf's daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.
From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who, after some controversy, was fired from the strip. London's strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar's original. One classic storyline, titled "The Return of Bluto," showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books, and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip is currently drawn by Hy Eisman, who took over in 1994. The daily strip began featuring reruns of Sagendorf's strips after London was fired, and continues to do so today.