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Popeye

Posted on: Mei 12, 2009


Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero famous for appearing in comic strips and animated films as well as numerous television shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar,[1] and first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929.

As of January 1, 2009, Segar’s character of Popeye (though not the various films, TV shows, theme music, and other media based on him) has entered the public domain[2] in most countries.

Although Segar’s Thimble Theatre strip, first published on December 19, 1919, was in its tenth year when Popeye made his debut, the sailor quickly became the main focus of the strip and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features’ most popular strips during the 1930s. Thimble Theatre was carried on after Segar’s death in 1938 by several writers and artists, including Segar’s assistant Bud Sagendorf. The strip, now titled Popeye, continues to appear in first-run installments in Sunday papers, written and drawn by Hy Eisman. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories.

In 1933, Max and Dave Fleischer’s Fleischer Studios adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and the Fleischers—and later Paramount’s own Famous Studios—continued production through 1957.

Since then, Popeye has appeared in comic books, television cartoons, arcade and video games, hundreds of advertisements and peripheral products, and including a 1980 live-action film directed by Robert Altman starring comedian Robin Williams as Popeye
Characters and story
In most appearances (except during the World War II era), Popeye is a middle-aged independent sailor (or “sailor man,” as he puts it) with a unique way of speaking, maybe missing one eye, muscular forearms with two (sometimes one) anchor tattoos, thinning red hair, and an ever-present corncob pipe (which he toots like a steamship’s whistle at times). Despite some mistaken characterizations over the years, Popeye is generally depicted as having only one blue eye, his left. In at least one Fleischer cartoon, Bluto refers to Popeye as a “one-eyed runt.” It has never been revealed specifically how Popeye lost his right eye, although he claims it was in “the mos’ arful battle” of his life. Later versions of the character had both eyes, with one of them merely being squinty, or “squinky” as he put it. According to the official site, Popeye is 34-years-old and was born in a typhoon off Santa Monica, California.

Popeye’s strange, comic, and often supernatural adventures take him all over the world, and place him in conflict with enemies such as the Sea Hag and Bluto. His main base of operations is the fictional town of Sweet Haven. Popeye’s father is the degenerate Poopdeck Pappy, who does not share his son’s moral righteousness and is represented as having abandoned Popeye in some sources. Popeye’s sweetheart (and in some sources, wife) for over 77 years has been Olive Oyl, although the two characters often bickered, especially at the beginning of Popeye’s appearances. Popeye is the adoptive father of Swee’Pea, an infant foundling left on his doorstep. (Sweet Pea is a term of affection used by Popeye; in the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed Olive Oyl as “Sweet Pea” at one point.)

In addition to a gravelly voice and a casual attitude towards grammar, Popeye is known for having an apparent speech impediment (a common character-distinguishing device in early cartoons), which either comes naturally or is caused by the ever-present pipe in his mouth. Among other things, he has problems enunciating a trailing “t”; thus, “fist” becomes “fisk” (as sung in his theme song, which makes it conveniently rhyme with “risk”) and “infant” becomes “infink.” This speech impediment even found its way into some of the titles of the cartoons.

Popeye is depicted as having superhuman strength, though the nature of his strength changes depending on which medium he is represented in. Originally, the comic-strip Popeye gained his strength and invulnerability in 1929 by rubbing the head of the rare Whiffle Hen. From early 1932 onward in the comic strip and especially the cartoons Popeye was depicted as eating spinach to become stronger. The animated shorts depicted Popeye as ridiculously strong, but liable to be pummeled by the much larger Bluto before eating spinach.

When fed up with this treatment or exhausted, he would eat spinach, which would instantly restore and amplify his strength to an even greater level. (At normal strength, Popeye appears capable of lifting or pressing approximately 4,000 lb (1,800 kg); when invigorated by spinach, he can lift or press about 36 short tons (32.7 metric tonnes).) In the comic strips, spinach is presented as a panacea, infusing Popeye not only with his extraordinary strength, but also making him invulnerable to all sorts of threats (including bullets, a basilisk’s petrifying gaze, or aliens’ weapons) and even capable of feats like flight or extraordinarily fast swimming (usually with the aid of his pipe as a propeller). In the animated shorts, Popeye’s ingestion of spinach – which is almost invariably canned – is equally fanciful and often involves squeezing the can until the top opens, or sucking the spinach through his pipe, and on rare occasions, even ingesting the can as well. Occasionally, spinach has a similar invigorating power on other characters.

Other differences in Popeye’s story and characterization show up depending upon which medium he is presented in. While Swee’Pea is definitively the adopted child of Popeye in the comic strips, he is often depicted as being related to Olive Oyl in cartoons. The cartoons also occasionally feature family members of Popeye that have never appeared in the strip, notably his look-alike nephews Peepeye, Pupeye, Pipeye, and Poopeye.

Even though there is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye’s capabilities. Though at times he seems bereft of manners or uneducated, Popeye is often depicted as capable of coming up with solutions to problems that (to the police, or, most importantly, the scientific community) seem insurmountable. Indeed, the only thing more ridiculously inexplicable than his ingenuity, is that the writers’ defiance of common sense is nearly universal. Popeye has, alternatively, displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigating prowess, determining for instance that his beloved Olive was abducted by estimating the depth of the villains’ footprints in the sand, scientific ingenuity (as his construction, within a few hours, of a “spinach-drive” spaceship), or oversimplified (yet successful) diplomatic argumentation, by presenting to diplomatic conferences his own existence (and superhuman strength) as the only true guarantee of world peace.

Popeye’s vastly versatile exploits are deemed even more amusing by a few standard plot elements. One is the love triangle between Popeye, Olive and Bluto, and the latter’s endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye’s expense. Another is his (near-saintly) perseverance to overcome any obstacle to please Olive – who, quite often, treats him like dirt, and ends up being the only character capable of beating him up. Finally, in terms of the endless array of villain plots, Popeye mostly comes to the truth by “accidentally” sneaking on the villains, the moment they are bragging about their schemes’ ingenuity, thus revealing everything to an enraged Popeye, who uses his fists in the name of Justice.

[edit] Thimble Theatre and Popeye comic strips

Popeye’s first appearance in Thimble Theatre (January 17, 1929)Thimble Theatre was created by King Features Syndicate comic writer/artist E.C. Segar, and was his third published strip. The strip first appeared in the New York Journal, a newspaper operated by King Features owner William Randolph Hearst, on December 19, 1919 before later expanding into more papers. In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style (hence the strip’s name).

Thimble Theatre’s first main characters/actors were the thin Olive Oyl and her boyfriend, Harold Hamgravy. After the strip moved away from its initial focus, it settled into a comedy-adventure style featuring Olive, Ham Gravy, and Olive’s enterprising brother, Castor Oyl. Olive’s parents, Cole and Nana Oyl, also made frequent appearances.

Popeye first appeared in the strip on January 17, 1929 as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell’s but survived by rubbing Bernice’s head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip—but due to reader reaction he was quickly brought back.

Popeye and J. Wellington Wimpy in E. C. Segar’s Thimble TheatreThe Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was expanded into many more newspapers as a result. Though initial strips presented Olive Oyl as being less than impressed with Popeye, she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye’s girlfriend-and Ham Gravy left the strip as a regular. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards the sailor. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. Eventually he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out west. Castor has seldom appeared in recent years.

In 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail, whom he adopted and named “Swee’Pea.” Other regular characters in the strip were J. Wellington Wimpy, a hamburger-loving moocher who would “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (he was also soft-spoken and cowardly, hence his name); George W. Geezil, a local cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; and Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely dog-like animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag, a terrible pirate, as well as the last witch on earth; and Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag’s henchman and continued as Swee’pea’s baby sitter.

Segar’s strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters who never appeared in the cartoons (King Blozo, for example). Spinach usage was rare and Bluto made only one appearance. Segar would sign some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, due to his last name being a homonym of “cigar” (pronounced SEE-gar).

Thimble Theatre soon became one of King Features’ most popular strips during the 1930s and, following an eventual name change to Popeye in the 1970s, remains one of the longest running strips in syndication today. The strip carried on after Segar’s death in 1938, at which point he was replaced by a series of artists. In the 1950s, a spinoff strip was established, called Popeye the Sailorman. Acknowledging Popeye’s growing popularity, the Thimble Theatre strip was re-named Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye during the 1960s and 1970s, and was eventually retitled, simply, Popeye, the name under which the strip continues to run.

[edit] Artists after Segar
After Segar’s death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, continued writing Thimble Theatre strips and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner and Bela Zaboly[3], successively, handled the artwork during Sims’s run. Eventually, Ralph Stein took over the writing, and wrote the comic strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.

Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar’s assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar’s classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O.G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf’s new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it would sometimes take an entire week of Sagendorf’s daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.

From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who, after some controversy, was fired from the strip for a story that could be taken to satirize abortion.[4] London’s strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar’s original. One classic storyline, titled “The Return of Bluto,” showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books, and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip is currently drawn by Hy Eisman, who took over in 1994. The daily strip began featuring reruns of Sagendorf’s strips after London was fired, and continues to do so today.

[edit] Theatrical cartoons
In November 1932, King Features signed an agreement with Fleischer Studios, run by producer Max Fleischer and his brother, director Dave Fleischer, to have Popeye and the other Thimble Theatre characters begin appearing in a series of animated cartoons. The first cartoon in the series would be released in 1933, and Popeye cartoons, released by Paramount Pictures, would remain a staple of Paramount’s release schedule for nearly 25 years.

The plot lines in the animated cartoons tended to be simpler than those presented in the comic strips, and the characters slightly different. A villain, usually Bluto, made a move on Popeye’s “sweetie,” Olive Oyl. The bad guy then clobbered Popeye until Popeye ate spinach, giving him superhuman strength. Thus empowered, the sailor made short work of the villain.

The animated Popeye shorts were the first stories to suggest that Popeye’s enormous strength came from a love of spinach; in the Thimble Theatre strips, Popeye did say he owed his strength to spinach, but was rarely seen actually using it until the cartoons. The 1954 Popeye cartoon Greek Mirthology depicts the fictional origin of spinach consumption in Popeye’s family. Popeye’s Greek ancestor, Hercules, originally sniffed garlic to gain his supernatural powers. When the evil Brutus removes the scent of the garlic using chlorophyll (an obvious incongruity), Hercules ends up getting punched into a spinach field, and, upon eating the leafy green substance, finds it empowers him many times more than garlic. (This story should be dismissed as just one of many fictional stories Popeye told his nephews so they would eat their spinach, a common theme in the Famous Studios cartoons.) The 1980 Popeye film depicted Popeye as initially disliking the vegetable until Bluto force-fed him some, resulting in great strength.

Many of the Thimble Theatre characters, including Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, and Eugene the Jeep, eventually made appearances in the Paramount cartoons, though appearances by Olive Oyl’s extended family and Ham Gravy were notably absent. Popeye was also given more family exclusive to the shorts, specifically his look-alike nephews Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, and Peepeye.

[edit] Fleischer Studios

Popeye in Fleischer’s Little Swee’ Pea (1936).Popeye made his film debut in Popeye the Sailor, a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon (Betty only makes a brief appearance, repeating her hula dance from Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle). It was for this short that Sammy Lerner’s famous “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” song was written. I Yam What I Yam became the first entry in the regular Popeye the Sailor series.

For the first few cartoons, the opening-credits music consisted of an instrumental of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe,” followed by a vocal variation on “Strike Up the Band (Here Comes a Sailor),” substituting the words “for Popeye the Sailor” in the latter phrase. As Betty Boop would gradually decline in quality as a result of the Hays Code being enforced in 1934, Popeye would become the studio’s star character by 1936.

The character of Popeye was originally voiced by William “Billy” Costello, also known as “Red Pepper Sam.” When Costello’s behavior became a problem, he was replaced by former in-betweener animator Jack Mercer, beginning with King of the Mardi Gras in 1935. Both actors performed Popeye’s gravelly voice in a similar style. Olive Oyl was voiced by a number of actresses, the most notable of which was Mae Questel, who also voiced Betty Boop. Questel eventually took over the part completely until 1938. Gus Wickie voiced Bluto during the series’ first five years of production until his death in 1938, his last work as the “Chief” in Big Chief Ugh-A-Mug-Ugh.

Popeye and Olive Oyl in A Date to Skate (1938).Thanks to the film series, Popeye became even more of a sensation than he had in comic strips. During the mid-1930s, polls taken by theater owners proved Popeye more popular than Mickey Mouse. [5] [6] In 1935, as Popeye was able to surpass Mickey Mouse in popularity, Paramount added to Popeye’s popularity by sponsoring the “Popeye Club” as part of their Saturday matinée program, in competition of Mickey Mouse Clubs too. Popeye cartoons, including a sing-a-long special entitled Let’s Sing With Popeye, were a regular part of the weekly meetings. For a 10-cent membership fee, club members were given a Popeye kazoo, a membership card, the chance to become elected as the Club’s “Popeye” or “Olive Oyl,” and opportunities to win other valuable gifts.

The Popeye series, like other cartoons produced by the Fleischers, was noted for its urban feel (the Fleischers operated out of New York City), its manageable variations on a simple theme (Popeye loses Olive to bully Bluto and must eat his spinach and defeat him), and the characters’ “under-the-breath” mutterings. The voices for Fleischer cartoons produced during the early and mid-1930s were recorded after the animation was completed. The actors, Mercer in particular, would therefore improvise lines that were not on the storyboards or prepared for the lip-sync. Even after the Fleischers began pre-recording dialog for lip-sync in the late-1930s, Mercer and the other voice actors would record ad-libbed lines while watching a finished copy of the cartoon.[7] Fleischer Studios produced 108 Popeye cartoons, 105 of them in black and white. The remaining three were two-reel (double-length) Technicolor adaptations of stories from the Arabian Nights billed as “Popeye Color Features”: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves (1937), and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939).

The Fleischers moved their studio to Miami, Florida in September 1938 in order to weaken union control and take advantage of tax breaks. The Popeye series continued production, although a marked change was seen in the Florida-produced shorts: they were brighter and less detailed in their artwork, with attempts to bring the character animation closer to a Disney style. Mae Questel, who started a family, refused to move to Florida, and Margie Hines, the wife of Jack Mercer, voiced Olive Oyl through the end of 1943. Several voice actors, among them Pinto Colvig (better known as the voice of Disney’s Goofy), succeeded Gus Wickie as the voice of Bluto between 1938 and 1943.

In 1941, with World War II becoming more of a source of concern in America, Popeye was enlisted into the U.S. Navy, as depicted in the 1941 short The Mighty Navy. His costume was changed from the black shirt and white neckerchief to an official white Navy suit, which Popeye continued to wear in animated cartoons until the 1960s. Popeye periodically appeared in his original costume when at home on shore leave, as in the 1942 entry Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye, An’ Peep-Eye, which introduced his four identical nephews, and in the 1952 Famous cartoon Big Bad Sindbad, which featured clips from Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor and also featured Popeye’s nephews albeit reduced to three.

[edit] Famous Studios
In May 1941, Paramount Pictures assumed ownership of Fleischer Studios, which had borrowed heavily from Paramount in order to move to Florida and expand into features (Gulliver’s Travels and Mister Bug Goes to Town). [8] By the end of the year, Max and Dave Fleischer were no longer on speaking terms with each other, communicating solely by memo.[9] Paramount fired the Fleischers and began re-organizing the studio, which they renamed Famous Studios.

Appointing Sam Buchwald, Seymour Kneitel, Isadore Sparber, and Dan Gordon as Famous’ heads, production continued on the Popeye shorts. The early Famous-era shorts were often World War II-themed, featuring Popeye fighting Nazis and Japanese soldiers.

In late 1943, the Popeye series was moved to all-Technicolor production, beginning with Her Honor the Mare. Paramount had begun moving the studio back to New York that January, and Mae Questel re-assumed voice duties for Olive Oyl. Jack Mercer was drafted into the Navy during World War II, and scripts were stockpiled for Mercer to record whenever he was on leave. When Mercer was unavailable, Questel stood in as the voice of Popeye in addition to her role as Olive Oyl. New voice cast member Jackson Beck began voicing Bluto when the series went to color: he, Mercer, and Questel would continue to voice their respective characters into the 1960s. Over time, the Technicolor Famous shorts began to adhere even closer to the standard Popeye formula, and softened, rounder character designs—including an Olive Oyl design which gave the character high heels and an updated hairstyle — were evident by late 1946.

[edit] Theatrical Popeye cartoons on television
Famous/Paramount continued producing the Popeye series until 1957, with Spooky Swabs being the last of the 125 Famous shorts in the series. Paramount then sold the Popeye film catalog to Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.), which was bought out by United Artists in 1958 and later merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was itself purchased by Turner Entertainment in 1986. Turner sold off the production end of MGM/UA in 1988, but retained the film catalog, giving it the rights to the theatrical Popeye library.

The black-and-white Popeye shorts were shipped to South Korea in 1985, where artists retraced them into color. The process was intended to make the shorts more marketable in the modern television era, but prevented the viewers from seeing the original Fleischer pen-and-ink work, as well as the three-dimensional backgrounds created by Fleischer’s “Stereoptical” process. Every other frame was traced, changing the animation from being “on ones” (24 frame/s) to being “on twos” (12 frame/s), and softening the pace of the films. These colorized shorts began airing on Superstation WTBS in 1986 during their Tom & Jerry and Friends 90-minute weekday morning and hour long weekday afternoon shows. The retraced shorts were syndicated in 1987 on a barter basis, and remained available until the early 1990s. Turner merged with Time Warner in 1996, and Warner Bros. (through its Turner subsidiary) therefore currently controls the rights to the Popeye shorts.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in a scene from Famous Studios’ Floor Flusher (1953).For many decades, viewers could only see a majority of the classic Popeye cartoons with altered opening and closing credits. a.a.p. had, for the most part, replaced the original Paramount logos with their own. In 2001, the Cartoon Network, under the supervision of animation historian Jerry Beck, created a new incarnation of The Popeye Show. The show aired the Fleischer and Famous Studios Popeye shorts in versions approximating their original theatrical releases by editing copies of the original opening and closing credits (taken or recreated from various sources) onto the beginnings and ends of each cartoon, or in some cases, in their complete, uncut original theatrical versions direct from such prints that originally contained the front-and-end Paramount credits.

The series, which aired 135 Popeye shorts over forty-five episodes, also featured segments offering trivia about the characters, voice actors, and animators. The program aired without interruption until March 2004. The Popeye Show continued to air on Cartoon Network’s spin-off network Boomerang. The restored Popeye Show versions of the shorts are sometimes seen at revival film houses for occasional festival screenings. The Popeye Show is currently airing on Cartoon Network in India. A daily half-hour block of Popeye is currently airing on the Boomerang network.

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