Comics: Elzie Crisler Segar “Popeye”

Elzie Crisler Segar, creator of Popeye the Sailor Man, was born in Chester, Illinois, a town on the banks of the Mississippi River. He worked many odd jobs growing up, including as a projectionist at the Chester Opera House, and took a correspondence course in cartooning. He moved to Chicago and worked on several comic strips before creating “Thimble Theatre” in 1919. Starring Ham Gravy and his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, the strip was a moderate success until January 1929 when Segar introduced a one-eyed, prizefighting sailor named Popeye. The brutally honest, hamfisted hero became so popular that when Segar removed him from the strip, public demand returned him permanently. A few years later, a patently dishonest hamburger moocher Wimpy appeared, thus introducing to the world another indelible character. Between Segar’s storytelling, artwork, and characters, Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye has since been compared to the work of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens for its inventiveness and humor. In 1933, animator Max Fleischer saw Popeye’s potential and began creating an immensely popular series of cartoon shorts that further increased the sailor’s popularity. Sadly, Segar was stricken with leukemia in early 1938 and died later that year. Despite the decline of quality in both the strip and the animated cartoons since his creator’s death, Popeye remains a popular character, with at least three public statues dedicated in his honor in Arkansas, Texas and Segar’s hometown in Illinois.

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