Popeye – the spinach-swillin’, pipe-smokin’ cartoon sailor man who popped up in the 1920s – is surrounded by controversy in many a comic and cartoon. But to this day, one Popeye controversy is taking place off-screen: where Popeye’s hometown is located.
Some say he’s from Victoria, Texas. Others are not so sure.
The town’s claim on Popeye began on Jan. 17, 1929, the day when he first appeared in the comic strip “Thimble Theatre”, by E.C. Segar. The strip itself started ten years earlier with familiar characters like J. Wellington Wimpy and Olive Oyl, Popeye’s love interest.
When Popeye finally came on the scene in 1929, only a few papers ran “Thimble Theatre”. Originally, Segar meant to put him in just one storyline. But the sailor with the oversized forearms was a hit. Soon, the strip was rebranded as “Thimble Theater starring Popeye the Sailor”.
One of the few papers to pick up “Thimble Theatre” in syndication was the Victoria Advocate. If you ask folks from Victoria, they say the Advocate was the very first to pick it up.
Chris Cobler is the Advocate’s editor-in-chief.
“When his creator first tried to syndicate the strip, Victoria Advocate was the first newspaper to take a chance on it,” Cobler says. “The Victoria Advocate likes to proclaim that it recognized the talent right away.”
Segar was so grateful to the Advocate that he sent the paper a special comic made especially for its 88th anniversary edition in September 1934. It’s unclear both why the 88th anniversary was so special, and why Victoria would’ve been the first to run the strip. But the special Segar comic was a big deal. The paper ran it across seven of the nine columns on the front page. The Advocate still has a copy of it hanging in the newsroom.
“Popeye declares that ‘Victoria is the swellest town, and yorn is the best paper,’ is what he writes in this strip,” Cobler says. “He says ‘Victoria is me ol’ hometown on account of that’s where I got borned at.’”