THIMBLE THEATER featuring cartoonist E.C. Segar’s initial version of Popeye remains my favorite newspaper comic strip of all. Like most post-Television era kids, I grew up with the Popeye cartoons that ran in the afternoon–both those that had originally been produced for theatrical airings, and the later batch made especially for television. While possessing a certain surface similarity, Segar’s THIMBLE THEATER is nothing like them.

Segar’s work combined the best aspects of both the gag-a-day and the sustained adventure types of comic strips. He’d have long-running storylines (one covered more than a year) constructed in such a way as to give the reader a daily punchline of some sort, or at the least a gripping cliffhanger (and they were gripping, believe it or not). Segar’s Popeye was well removed from the sanitized version developed for the silver screen. He loved to gamble, loved to womanize, loved to fight. But he had a soft streak where the little guy was concerned, and so would often turn his “abilikies” towards helping those in trouble. Segar populated Popeye’s world with a diverse collection of genuinely unique supporting characters, many of whom could have held a strip all by themselves. 

I first encountered the strip in a collection borrowed from my local library, after reading Bill Blackbeard’s reminiscences in ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME. Sometime later, Fantagraphics fortuitously reprinted the lion’s share of the run of the strip in ten handsome collections

2014 Note: More recently, Fantagraphics issued the run of Thimble Theater in six oversized hardcover editions

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