Yes, I know Tumbleweeds is done.

§ August 10th, 2018 § Filed under all star batman, comic strips, popeye § 9 Comments

So Dave Carter of Earth sez in response to my last post, he sez

“I wonder if kids these days get exposed to Popeye like we did when we were young? I mainly learned the basics of Popeye mythology (Popeye, Olive, Swee’Pea, Bluto/Brutus, Wimpy, spinach, etc.) though the cartoon, which ran on a local UHF station. But I’m not aware of any way a kid these days would encounter Popeye unless it is purposely placed in front of them by an adult-type.”

…And yeah, that was something I was wondering about myself the other day. Well, in sort of a roundabout way, I suppose. I was wondering if we would ever see, arising from the newspaper funny pages, a strip that would achieve the near-universal recognition and/or influence of, like, Garfield, or Peanuts, or Dilbert, or even Popeye.

I mean, sure, it’s not like the strips can’t be found, and even if people don’t have newspaper subscriptions, which nowadays is more and more likely, the comics can always be found online at the various syndication websites. But there that requires readers to go and seek the strips out, versus the strips coming into your home every day with the latest copy of the Oxnard Press-Courier (or your local equivalent). Near effortless daily access for readers of all ages compared to a readership comprised of at least slightly tech-savvy folks (or at least with tech-savvy relatives to show ’em how to get the new Marvin)…there’s going to be some attrition.

And not to mention selection…the latter group won’t be getting the full page or two of every strip in the paper, where they’ll at least be aware of Tumbleweeds, probably spending the couple of seconds to read it even if they don’t like it. Instead they’d likely pick and choose which strips they want to follow…no inadvertently scanning over strips they didn’t want to read, no basic knowledge of the strips they don’t see.

I’m making a lot of assumptions here. My thesis here essentially boils down to “comic strips aren’t the universal experience they used to be,” which I don’t think can be too heavily argued against, even if the reasons for this are up for debate. Is there going to be another licensing juggernaut like Garfield that spawns out of the traditional newspaper strip format? Or even from web-only strips? Surely there will be some marketing success with other strips, but only if they make it into other media, and not nearly on the scale of a slothful orange cat or a neighborhood filled with neurotic children.

Anyway, we were talking about Popeye. Popeye, of course, was immensely popular nearly from the get-go, with his introduction in the comic strip in 1929, and the famous cartoons, and, inexplicably, the chicken restaurant (RIP that tie-in license, by the way). But now, in 2018, like Dave said above, it seems like the number of opportunties for kids to learn about Popeye are drastically reduced.

The comic strip runs reruns of old Bud Sagendorf dailies, while still producing new Sunday strips by Hy Eisman. I don’t know how many subscribing papers Popeye has, but it can’t be too many, possibly only a fraction of the number it held in its heyday. You know, like almost every other strip.

The cartoons, which seemed ubiquitous on TV in my youth, have been relegated to the specialty channels. Not sure how often they’re shown, or what the viewership is, but certainly the numbers are lower there too.

And I don’t know how many kids are stumbling across the Official YouTube Popeye Channel…maybe some, I’m sure. Oh, and don’t forget the popular attraction in Malta built around the still-standing sets for the 1980 Popeye movie that starred Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.

I admit some bias…I don’t see Popeye on TV or in the paper or just by happenstance over the course of my day (well, yes, except at the store), so I’m assuming nobody does. When I see anything Popeye-related, it’s when I seek it out…like renting the archival DVDs of the original cartoons from Netflix, or watching, like I did very recently, that 1980 live action adaptation (short review: beautifully designed, wondefully cast, stupefyingly presented), or buying a specific issue off the eBay.

As it turns out, when I received that very Popeye comic in the mail at the shop, my niece (who used to be the 10-year-old niece I’d occasionally mention on this site and who is now my 21-year-old niece, in case you needed another shove towards the grave) happened to stop by to say hello. I said “hey, look what I got in the mail!” and she replied “hey, Popeye!” so she definitely knew who the character was. A while later, thinking about what Dave said, I asked her about how she knew about Popeye. Her reply was that, when she was younger, her dad’s parents would sometimes let her read her dad’s comics from when he was a kid, which included the adventures of our favorite gazookus which hates all palookas. And she would see Popeye cartoons on the very same cable network I’d linked above while pooh-poohing its viewership.

So, you know, it’s Popeye. He’s too tough to be forgotten, and he’ll find a way to connect with kids somehow. Maybe the audiences aren’t are huge and widespread as they once were, and it’s not as easy to just happen across any of his material, but he and Olive and Wimpy and Bluto (and Brutus) are all still hanging in there, waiting for that next child eventually to discover what E.C. Segar created for all of us so long ago.

9 Responses to “Yes, I know Tumbleweeds is done.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I was surprised to read in the linked article that the restaurant now claims to have taken its name from THE FRENCH CONNECTION. I can remember back when the chain was establishing itself; the official line then was that the name came not from the comic strip or the cartoons, but from William Faulkner’s novel SANCTUARY. And that made at least a bit of sense, because Faulkner’s Popeye was (sort of) a Cajun*. Why would someone name a restaurant after a racist cop with a habit of shooting other policemen?

    Mind, there are some who think that Faulkner named his Popeye after the comic strip character (who debuted two years before the publication of SANCTUARY). The “tell” is that Faulkner’s Popeye has a special fondness for olive oil, and always keeps a can around.

    *To be honest, I cannot remember if he was Cajun in the novel. He definitely was in the 1961 film version, but that may have been done merely to justify the casting of Yves Montand (and then, that film changed the name to “Candy Man,” presumably because of a fear that audiences would laugh at the original name).

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    OK, qualification on that line “Why would someone name a restaurant after a racist cop with a habit of shooting other policemen?” Obviously, Faulkner’s Popeye (a rapist and a pimp) is a worse person that Popeye Doyle, and so even more fraught a choice for a restaurant’s inspiration. But, at least there is a sort of logical link between that character and Cajun food. There is nothing in THE FRENCH CONNECTION to make one think of spicy fried chicken.

  • Jason says:

    I honestly don’t know if my 10 year old son knows who Popeye is. I’ll have to find out.
    Apparently Universal Studios in Orlando has an area themed with older comic strip characters including Blondie and Dagwood, Popeye, and some strip called something like Nancy and Sluggo, which I don’t think anybody has ever heard of. Especially not readers or writers of this site.
    So some kids might just recognize them for that.

  • Brad Walker says:

    Mike Petersen does a column for The Daily Cartoonist called “Comic Strip of the Day.” It’s more positive than the Comic Curmudgeon. It’s a great way to discover new strips.

    A guy named David Latham is doing new adventures of Popeye in Segar’s style. He’s up to #45 already. Here’s the first one:

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Hey, this post got quoted on the Caustic Cover Critic Twitter feed, with the line “it seems like the number of opportunities for kids to learn about Popeye are drastically reduced” earning the response “A worry that does NOT keep me up at night.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I will add that his blog is quite interesting, though updates have become very infrequent.

  • pell says:

    I came here to point out that my understanding was that the Popeye’s restaurant was named for the French Connection character, but I’m not unhappy to find that it may have been based on a Faulkner character, being a fan of the author myself.

  • pell says:

    “Why would someone name a restaurant after a racist cop with a habit of shooting other policemen?”

    Considering the popularity of antiheroes like Wolverine and Deadpool, it never occurred to me to question the story that Al Copeland would have based the name of his restaurant on the antihero Popeye.

  • Jason says:

    So I asked my son and he kind of knew that Popeye was as sailor and that he is strong, but that was about it. He didn’t even recognize a picture when I showed him, nor did he know the other characters, or about spinach.
    So from a sample size of one, today’s kids don’t really know Popeye.