Texana Thursday: Popeye the Sailor, Texan

Popeye the Sailor is honored with a statue in Crystal City, Texas, which promotes itself as Spinach Capital of the World (Creative Commons license attribution, photo courtesy J. Stephen Conn)

Comics fans know that Popeye the Sailor is strong to the finish because he eats his spinach. But what many people don’t know is that Popeye is from Victoria, Texas.

Elzie Crisler Segar (1894-1938) was from Illinois, and he went on to become a cartoonist in New York City. In 1919 he created a comic strip, “Thimble Theater,” which eventually introduced the Popeye character. With his unsophisticated manner and bulging forearms Popeye proved so popular he eventually took over the strip.

The strip included some other noteworthy characters, including Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl, his rivals (and comic villains) Bluto and Brutus, the baby Swee’Pea, and J. Wellington Wimpy, who would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

King Features Syndicate distributed the comic strip, and the Victoria Advocate newspaper was one of the first newspapers to run the comic strip.

Segar was aware of this, and wrote a special cartoon for the Advocate’s 1934 anniversary issue. Speaking as Popeye, Segar wrote, “Victoria is me ol’ home town on account of tha’s where I got born’d at.”

Popeye has remained an enduring character in pop culture. He has appeared in comic books, arcade games, and video games. His cartoons continue to appear on television today. In 1980, Paramount and Walt Disney made and released a Popeye movie, starring the late Robin Williams as Popeye. Shelley Duvall played Olive Oyl and Paul L. Smith played Bluto.

Some of his fellow Texans have noticed Popeye’s fondness for spinach.

Crystal City, Texas, sits near the Texas-Mexico border, and is 203 miles southwest of Victoria. Like other communities in the Rio Grande Valley, it’s known for its agriculture. Crystal City touts itself as the Spinach Capital of the World. Its citizens decided to honor Popeye and his creator with a statue, built in 1937, which sits in front of the city hall building.