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September 30, 2007

Celebrating comics

Popeye hits 75-year mark

It hardly surprises me that Popeye ("the sailorman" as he was called) has reached three score and 15 years. He preceded Superman as the comics superman. Nothing seemed to harm him, probably because he had a can of spinach always with him and quickly consumed its contents to give him the strength needed for combat which he always seemed to be in.

I wonder if Popeye's creator Elzie Segar ever tasted canned spinach. If he had, he would never have touted it as he did. It was much later than Popeye's early days that I tasted fresh spinach and realized it wasn't as distasteful as youngsters generally thought. Canned was the way we had it as kids and as military men in World War II. We used what strength we had to avoid it.

Nevertheless, cartoonist Segar is credited with substantially increasing spinach sales during the Great Depression, and also making the hamburger sandwich the first choice of America's young. Popeye's supporting character, J. Wellington Wimpy, was the greatest hamburger addict and promoter in history, beside McDonald's genius Ray Kroc.

I like to think that our term "wimpy" (weak and ineffectual) was developed from J. Wellington's name, but most lexicographers don't think so. Some think it came from "whimper." Well, OK. I won't argue about it.

There seems to be no argument about the word "jeep" being derived from one of the comic strip characters "Eugene the Jeep." We're all on the same side in thinking the military in WWII began calling the General Purpose vehicle "Jeep" in honor of Eugene.

The cartoonist-historian Jerry Robinson feels that Popeye was the forerunner of superman in the genre. "He dives out of planes," he wrote, "and lands safely on his ample chin; impervious to bullets, he calmly coughs them up if shot in the chest; knocks out gorillas, human and otherwise; and lifts houses, human and otherwise." How about that Popeye face! In addition to the big chin, there is a banana nose, and just one eye. Popeye would never tell how he lost an eye, but did say, "It hurt orful." Probably in a fight outside a waterfront cafe.

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