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en > ahoi!

All the sequence of the first apparition of “Whiffle hen” until the Popeye’s arrival (september 10th, 1928 - January 17th, 1929), is one of the most amusing productions by the Thimble Theater.
Now let’s talk about the new “hero” of the comic strips starting from “The African whiffle hen”, where Popeye’s character begins to delineate.


Let’s say the truth: it’s no joke to have sixteen bullets someplace in own body.
It’s absolutely incredible because King Kong was killed by little more than sixteen bullets!
Well, sixteen bullets, sixteen holes in Popeye’s sailor tunic; but when Castor Oyl asks Popeyehow is he, the bored answer is: “I never felt better in my life. It takes more than sixteen bullets to sink the old Popeye, well, blow me down!”.
Imagine Popeye taking the place of Julio Cesar: we could even imagine Bruto and companions knifing Popeye and Popeye happily punching them. It is enough to make anyone lose heart! Probably the natural course of events would be changed.

Instead The Thimble Theater really changed after these sixteen useless bullets. Remember that Snork hit the mark, so what can we say about what happened? First of all Popeye’s complete recovery is miraculous but it will be characteristic of him in the log run: Popeye isn’t infallible (like most of “heroes”), he is indestructible!
After this baptism of fire, all kind of stratagem will be useless to beat Popeye who will become more powerful than before because of the spinach.
However, without energetic spinach, his fists aren’t caresses; Ham, an old Olive’s boyfriend, is the first to know it because on February 18th, 1929 Popeye punches him for the first time in the comic strip’s Segar. It’s a date to remember!
It won’t take long for another fist: on April 2nd, 1929 Popeye punches a mean person called Snork, the Mr. Fadewell’s gunner. There is much difference between the first and the second fist. That’s quite another story! The second fist is a clear reference to The Thimble Theater’s sense of duty: Popeye acts with fairness.

Introducing Popeye and the adventure in The Thimble Theater, Segar is wonderfully able to preserve and to strengthen the humour in his comic strips, making more amusing and frequent the paradoxical and surrealistic implications.
This isn’t an easy and typical surrealism to send improbable and taken for granted messages; rather, a special and functional surrealism to tell wonderful stories where the classic adventure is set in a tissue of genuine humour.

Segar places side by side Popeye and many surrealistic characters. So Popeye is never alone but he always acts with formidable comedian’s stooges: this is proof of the inexhaustible Segar’s inspiration.
Some of Segar’s character are taken from the American pioneers tradition: just think about the classic country sheriff or the unscrupulous speculator with top hat and waistcoat: one glance at them is sufficient to realize that they’re a clear symbol of the human defects and virtues and they’re characterized by an hidden abstract reasoning.

Popeye’s salient characteristics are moral sense and desire to do justice to everyone: we know that Popeye is full of goodness and we can judge this character by his actions. It has never seen anything like his adventures and his great humour!
In order to fully appreciate Segar, we would know his production until the Popeye’s arrival, when the only one hero was the small Castor Oyl.

At that time, Segar created “Whiffle hen”, a funny and mysterious bird: it’s an indecorous,fabulous and plebeian phoenix . We’re not sure about its nature(magic or not),but itcertainlyrepresents stupid superstitions in which Popeye, initially sceptical and on the Castor’s ship not long ago, seems to believe.

In one way or another “Whiffle hen” is the dress rehearsal of the “Jeep” that in the next years will permanently enjoy Popeye’s companions.

Popeye’s evolution is amusing: the situation appears to be more interesting than seemed at first, because Popeye gradually gains authority over his travelling companions; his uniform’s colour, initially white, changes into blue.
A meek looking man, suspicious, peevish and uncertain in the first comic strips, little by little Popeye becomes a star, the main Segar’s character.
One by one Castor Oyl and all his old friends will be victims of those sixteen bullets that were useless to beat Popeye the sailor when, perhaps, it was still in time.
Well, blow me down!

Luciano Guidobaldi

Translation by Carlo Cianci


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