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Popeye’s first ever appearance (1929)
This is Popeye’s debut – the first time that the character ever appears.
It’s quite a good joke: he’s approached by Olive Oyl’s brother, Castor, to do a job taking them to a far-away island, but his introductory question: “Hey, there, are you a sailor?” is a stupid one seeing as Popeye is wearing a full sea-going outfit and Popeye is immediately into his caustic stride: “Ja think I’m a cowboy?”.
This screenprint was made using a drawing by the artist who invented Popeye, Elzie Segar, who died in 1938.
Popeye was originally just one character among many in a strip syndicated in American newspapers. It was called Thimble Theatre, and started in 1919, with Olive Oyl and her brother Caster Oyl some of the main characters. Popeye first appeared as an incidental character – the sailor you can see here – in 1929 and stole the show; the strip was soon named after him.
Popeye and Olive now have the status of an archetypal couple – they are obviously attracted to each other, but they often fall out and row, often bitterly. Although the characters have been around for nearly 100 years, the way they behave seems quite modern.
By the way, it was only when I started screenprinting the character that I realised that his name refers to the fact that he only has a single eye, the left one. The right eye is always depicted as a sort of asterisk. Spinach – which became an essential part of the Popeye makeup – was not originally part of his setup.
Medium size: 48cms x 38cms.
Limited edition, handpulled screenprint; printed on cotton, mould-made paper milled in Somerset; printed in the UK; signed and numbered out of 200 in pencil by the printer, John Patrick Reynolds