Popeye originally appeared as a minor character in Segar's newspaper cartoon strip Thimble Theater, which had been running for years with protagonists Olive Oyl and her brother Castor Oyl. The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger and larger part in the strip, then the strip was renamed after him.
Segar's strip was surrealistic. The compilation volumes show how different it was from the later strips (and the TV show).
After Segar's death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip, some more popular than others.
Popeye was turned into an animated cartoon character. The long running series was started by Max Fleischer Studios started in 1933 (with a Betty Boop cartoon named Popeye the Sailor) and continued by Paramount Studios. Over 600 cartoons were produced in the next four decades. In the cartoons, his nemesis was sometimes named Bluto and other times Brutus; no explanation is apparent in the cartoons for these vagaries (the results of a copyright dispute over the character's name) .
Nintendo created a video arcade game based on the Popeye characters in 1982. The game was fairly popular, and home versions of this game also appeared on various home game consoles of the time.
The reference to spinach comes from the publication of a study that, because of a misprint, gave spinach ten times its iron content. Another regular character in the strip was Wimpy, who, despite the name, may have played a significant role in popularizing the hamburger in the United States. The Wimpy chain of hamburger restaurants was not the first (White Castle is generally recognized as that), but was the first to go overseas.
Later on, Popeye would have a fried chicken chain named after him.
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Characters in Popeye