Noah x Popeye: A Closer Look - Cover

Noah x Popeye: A Closer Look

When we do collaborations, sometimes we feel it’s important to explain why it is that we personally connect with an artist or artistic creation. That’s not the case here, because we think everybody already knows that Popeye is cool. And honestly, he always has been. He’s gotten love from Roy Lichtenstein in the 60’s, Debbie Harry in the 70’s, and the young Indian actor Vicky Kaushal now.

Popeye is everywhere if you know to look for him. Which isn’t that surprising because he’s been an icon pretty much since his creation in 1929, as a side character in a daily comic strip. Readers responded to him so strongly that he soon became its lead and then a worldwide star.

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Roy Lichtenstein, 1961

What’s not to love? For us, it goes back to our feelings for the water that are at the heart of Noah - our soft spot for anything nautical. After all, he’s Popeye the Sailor Man. While Popeye had a superhero’s strength, he always felt human to us - someone with a real personality. He wasn’t just a logo or mascot for a big corporate franchise. He and the other characters in his universe had different points of view and shortcomings that made their stories believable, no matter how outlandish their adventures may have been.

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Bluto, in the cartoon short I'm in the Army Now (1936)

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Popeye the Sailor opening title employed in the 1930s

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But while Popeye had a quick temper and was always up for a fight, he was a good guy who never let circumstances change who he was. Early on in the strip, he fell into a huge sum of reward money, which he promptly gave away to those in need through a “one-way bank” that served only the poor. Others laughed at him, but at the time it was the Great Depression and he wanted to help others feed their families. Besides, what else was he going to do with it? He had no grand ambitions and was used to limited means, so by his reckoning he would just be going back to business as usual once it was gone.

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From the short Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

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From Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937)

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Beyond that, it was a pointed critique of the financial system that had failed our country. And that’s just one way in which the world of Popeye was connected to its own time - something the artists entrusted with continuing his legacy kept up. They weren’t afraid to include topics of the day into storylines, such as the religious right and referring to abortion by name at a time when you couldn’t talk about it on TV. For something that was so fun, Popeye could be pretty edgy about serious stuff.

Even as Popeye has evolved over the years, he’s managed to stay true to himself. As his credo says - “I yam what I yam, and that’s all I yam.” He’s been that way from his beginning - since before movies were in color and even before records were pressed on vinyl. And he’s stayed that way since.

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