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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #322

Welcome to the three hundredth and twenty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, it is an all-Popeye edition of CBLR! Was Donkey Kong really first meant to be a Popeye video game? Did Popeye’s spinach really derive from an 19th century decimal error? And what’s with Terry Austin and Popeye?

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-one.

Let’s begin!

Popeye the Sailor was the creation of E.C. Segar, who introduced the character into Segar’s Thimble Theatre comic strip in 1929 (the strip began ten years earlier). Popeye soon became the star of the strip and eventually the strip was re-named after the character. It remains that way to this day. Popeye appeared in a number of popular animated film serials and later an animated TV series (plus there was a live action film in the 1980s). He is a legendary part of American popular culture. Here are a few legends related to him…

COMIC LEGEND: A decimal error in the 1870s led to an erroneously believed fact in the 20th Century that inspired Popeye’s strength-inducing spinach.


One of the most infamous typos in pop culture history was the supposed typo that occurred in an old nutrition textbook stating that spinach contained an excessive amount of iron, but it was later discovered that the decimal was off and spinach had no particularly special iron content. From a 1972 article on the subject by Arnold E. Bender:

For a hundred years or more spinach has been (and clearly still is) renowned for its high iron content compared with that of other vegetables, but to the joy of those who dislike the stuff this is quite untrue. In 1870 Dr E. von Wolff published the analyses of a number of foods, including spinach which was shown to be exceptionally rich in iron. The figures were repeated in succeeding generations of textbooks – after all one does not always verify the findings of others – including the ‘Handbook of Food Sciences’ (Handbuch der Ernahrungslehre) by von Noorden and Saloman [1] 1920.

In 1937 Professor Schupan eventually repeated the analyses of spinach and found that it contained no more iron than did any other leafy vegetable, only one-tenth of the amount previously reported. The fame of spinach appears to have been based on a misplaced decimal point.

As the story goes, then, Elzie Segar chose spinach to be the source of Popeye’s strength based on this erroneous fact.

However, in a wonderfully researched piece, Mike Sutton has discovered that this article by Bender, was the origin of the Popeye spinach myth, over thirty years after Popeye started using spinach! And Sutton details the fact that by the time Elzie Segar was creating Popeye, the mistakes of von Wolff had long been discredited in the United States.

In fact, there is no evidence linking Segar to the von Wolff erroneous studies. It was always a matter of “well, since the science was not discredited until 1937, then Segar must have been relying on that information when he made spinach be the source of Popeye’s strength.”

But, as Sutton so deftly proves in his essay, there was no such belief in the United States when Segar began work on Popeye and certainly not by the time he introduced spinach as the source of Popeye’s strength.

Furthermore, Sutton actually shows the 1932 strip where Popeye specifically states why he uses Spinach, it is because of the Vitamin A content.

That’s pretty darn conclusive (click here to open a pdf that has the paper where Sutton proves the Vitamin A part of the story).

What’s fascinating, and Sutton touches on it a lot, is the idea that since a myth was being “busted,” people who would normally bust myths themselves simply accepted the busted myth as true, even though it certainly does not appear to be so.

I don’t want to steal Sutton of his well-deserved thunder by just regurgitating his whole piece, so please feel free to read his article here. It is a long work, but it is extremely fascinating. Suffice it to say, though, that the Popeye myth appears to be just that, a myth.

Story continues below

Thanks to Mike Sutton for the amazing information!

COMIC LEGEND: Donkey Kong was originally a Popeye video game with Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto in place of Mario, Pauline and Donkey Kong.


ANYhoo, for years, there have been certain theories bandied about about the origins of the 1981 video game classic from Nintendo, Donkey Kong.

Specifically that legendary video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto originally designed the game (which was a re-purposing of the hardware of a failed Nintendo game called Retro Scope, which IS worth mentioning – thanks, SoggyHydrox!) to be a licensed Popeye game, but after Nintendo lost the license, new characters were created based on the Popeye characters.

The parallels are eerie between the classic triangle of Bluto, Olive Oyl and Popeye…

with the set-up of Donkey Kong, where the over-sized Donkey Kong (Bluto) kidnaps Pauline/Lady (Olive) and forces Jumpman/Mario (Popeye) to come save her…

Now, Nintendo has always conceded that the game DID have origins involving Popeye. Their story was that they pursued the Popeye license and failed to get it. At that point in time, they then asked Miyamoto to come up with brand-new characters that they could market for future games, and Miyamoto was inspired by the classic triangle set-up of the Popeye strip and he then invented the characters and plot of Donkey Kong.

That has always been the story – that Miyamoto was inspired by Popeye, but Donkey Kong was developed separately from their failed attempt at a Popeye license.

A coupe of years ago, though, Miyamoto explained that the Popeye game was much further along than many folks thought it was in the past:

I sketched out a few ideas for games using Popeye. At that point, Yokoi-san [Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo head engineer and the fellow in charge of the project – BC] was good enough to bring these ideas to the President’s attention and in the end one of the ideas received official approval. Yokoi-san thought that designers would become necessary members of development teams in order to make games in the future. And that’s how Donkey Kong came about.

And when asked to confirm, then, that the game was, in fact, a Popeye game, he continued:

That’s right. But while I can’t recall exactly why it was, we were unable to use Popeye in that title. It really felt like the ladder had been pulled out from under us, so to speak. It was a really lucky break! So next we began to flesh out the idea for a game based on the concept we had come up with.

So there you have it, straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Imagine how different things would have been if there was no Jumpman and, in turn, no Mario? Would the Popeye game have still been a hit? It was a very well-designed game, after all.

Interestingly enough, Nintendo DID end up releasing a Popeye game in 1982, and it was basically based on the (by then quite popular) Donkey Kong format.

Thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto for the great information! And thanks to Jeff Ryan for suggesting this one a few years back!

COMIC LEGEND: Terry Austin is a huge Popeye fan and as such, often hides Popeye in comics that he works on as a penciler or inker.


In honor of our Month of Comic Book Easter Eggs, let us take a look at one of the most famous easter eggs, Terry Austin’s usage of Popeye!

Terry Austin is one of the most popular comic book inkers around. He is also a major Popeye fan.

Here are a few Popeye-related sketches that he featured in his recent sketchbook (that you really ought to pick up – lots of great stuff in it).

So, as a fan of Popeye, he has worked the character into a number of comic books over the years as “easter eggs.”

Here are a few…

Uncanny X-Men #125…

Marvel Premiere #50…

New Mutants Special Edition #1 (this time penciler Art Adams obviously went along with it)….

Detective Comics #475 (suggested by commenter Joe Mama)…

Can you think of any other instances of Austin sneaking Popeye into a comic book? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the piece!

Story continues below

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

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Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!


I’m assuming the New Mutants one was the Asgard issue, but the image isn’t showing up for me. I remember the sequence well though. :) Heck, that issue and the followup have a ton of cameos IIRC.

Took me a while to find Popeye in the Uncanny X-Men #125 but once I did… nicely hidden.

Oops, thanks, glitchy! Yeah, I had an errant “S” in the image code. It’s fixed now.

I can’t see Popeye in the background of the Uncanny X-Men comic, but then again, I can barely make out anybody in the background of that panel.

Look above the orange alien’s hand.

I think it’s safe to say that Popeye spurred far more people to believe that spinach made one strong than any research into the ingredients of the vegetable.

There’s never been a character more connected to a food, and I include Bugs Bunny and carrots. Here’s a great page about Alma, AR, the spinach capital of the world, who glorifies Popeye more than Memphis does Elvis:


The only pairing that comes CLOSE in modern history are Wallace and Gromit and Wensleydale cheese. Sales of the comestible were so poor they were considering stopping its manufacture. Then Wallace declared his love for the stuff, and demand skyrocketed. Completely accidentally, Aardman saved an entire regional British industry.


In Detective Comics #475, part 1 of “The Laughing Fish”: Batman first encounters Joker’s altered fish on a Gotham Dock, and Austin inserted Popeye’s silhouette in with the group of fishermen surrounding Batman during the scene.

@ Brian

Yeah, that’s the one. :) I also remember there were some other with Olive Oyl is there next to Bluto (right around the time he trips Doug I think).

Have you considered doing anything about Art Adams Gumby fixation in this or Comic Book Easter Eggs?

I still don’t see him!

Brian, your clue about looking above the orange aliens head had me looking in the wrong place for about 10 minutes. He’s actually BELOW the orange alien’s head, and behind the orange alien’s hand.

That Popeye/Donkey Kong one should only be partially true since Donkey Kong was built using the hardware of Radar Scope not a Popeye game

Brian, your clue about looking above the orange aliens head had me looking in the wrong place for about 10 minutes.

‘Twas not my clue that mislead you, but your misreading of my clue. ;)

The Phantom Stranger is also in the background. If I remember correctly, Byrne was ticked at him for doing that.

Sure, SoggyHydrox, that’s worth mentioning, thanks!

Oops. My bad.

Also note that there’s a Puppetteer alien from Larry Niven’s Known Space novels in the X-men panel as well. Let’s see if there’s any Niven fans out there who can point it out. :)

Is it just me, or is there a Firefox emblem labeled ‘porn’ on the screen cap for donkey kong?


Ha! So there is. That’ll teach me to take images from Google Images without checking them closer! :) Thanks, I’ll go find a better image.

I almost wanna say Popeye shows up in a Byrne FF (possibly the trial of Reed Richards?) which may or may not have been inked/finished by Austin.

Steve Leavell

July 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

Also in the X-Men 125 panel there’s one of Larry Niven”s two-headed puppeteer aliens. I wonder if Byrne or Austin slipped that one in.


Popeye also appears just entering a panel in Titans/X-Men.

Steve Leavell

July 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

Badspock beat me to it while I wasn’t looking. (By the way, the critter in question is near the center or the panel, just beyond and to the right of the hefty blue alien.)


Matthew Johnson

July 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

There’s a scan of the Popeye appearance in “The Laughing Fish” at http://grantbridgestreet.blogspot.com/2009/05/batman-laughing-fish-by-steve-englehart.html?zx=c3ef6cfe1f072db8.

Damn, those scans go waaaaaaay past “fair use.”

yeah, i hate to say it, but i have scrutinized that X-Men panel for several minutes to no avail. When it starts to give me a head ache, I just take everyone else’s word for it and assume he’s invisible to my eyes.

You know, I can’t say I’ve ever played a version of Donkey Kong where Mario has to jump over Firefox shortcuts labeled “PORN.”

What’s funny is that the site the image came from doesn’t even seem to explain why the Firefox porn thing is there: http://rossplendent.com/?cat=5

Tying in the Popeye/Nintendo thing even more is that Robin Williams (who played Popeye in the Robert Altman movie) became such a big fan of Nintendo game he named his daughter, actress Zelda Williams after the princess from the Legend of Zelda series. They just made a Nintendo ad about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bINUfbLV_0M

“Brian, your clue about looking above the orange aliens head had me looking in the wrong place for about 10 minutes. He’s actually BELOW the orange alien’s head, and behind the orange alien’s hand.”

Thanks, T, I found it now.

“…after Popeye started using spinach.”

“Using” spinach? Geeze, makes it sound like it’s a controlled substance or something. ;-)

(Which of course is a suggestion not without associations within Popeye lore…)

Power-2 most-the-Peoples

July 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

In the LongShot series in 85, Popeye is in a panel in silhouette in a crowd scene. I think it was the issue where She-Hulk is beating the crap out of him. And Spidey happens by. All three of them are on the cover for that issue,hard to miss.

In What If? vol. 1, #29 (“What If the Avengers Deafeated Everybody?”), there’s a panel showing that the Scarlet Centurion has been collecting all of Earth’s super-heroes and villains and keeping them in some kind of cryostasis. One of the captured heroes is Popeye.

Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery has a review of the issue, with a scan of the panel in question:


Here’s the scan:


Thanks, Erich, but Austin didn’t ink that issue, right? How weird, then, that there’s still a Popeye cameo. Maybe Austin helped Al Gordon out a bit or something?

Wasn’t the character ‘Captain Strong’ from the Superman comics in the 70s & early 80s based on Popeye?

I love that issue of Marvel Premiere, the all Alice Cooper issue!

I thought Bibbo was also based on Popeye. Is that not right? (Also, I think the Trial of Reed Richards memory instead involved Charlie Brown.)

Even as a kid I knew they were trying to get us kids to eat spinach with Popeye. Well, guess what? It didn’t work. Wow, he’s in that issue of the X-Men.

Hey, a fun issue would be Popeye versus Doug Ramsey there. Doug Ramsey. He hardly had any powers at all. Too bad stopping bullets wasn’t one, either. HA!

John Trumbull

July 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Damn, I’ve read The Laughing Fish a hundred times and I NEVER spotted the Popeye cameo before.

The Phantom Stranger is also in the background. If I remember correctly, Byrne was ticked at him for doing that.

Oh dear god, I see the Phantom Stranger now. (Immediately to the left of the two-headed green critter.) That’s hilarious.

It used to be a bit of a game to look for Popeye whenever a new comic by Terry Austin came out. :)

Damn, I want to go home and watch Robert Altman’s Popeye movie again!

The Puppeteer aliens are John Byrne’s own “easter egg”. They are in quite a lot of his alien crowd scenes.

Pedro Galván

July 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Maybe i’m wrong, but in Captain America #401 or #402, while Captain and Ironman (as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark) are in a tabern, penciler Mark Gruenwald drew a lot of cameos like Dick Tracy, Popeye, and even Humphrey Bogart (as Rick in Casablanca).

There’s an awesome Cerebus/Popeye story by Austin and Sim in…I think it was called Cerebus Jam?

Oh man, did I forget to mention that? Thanks, Eric. Yeah, Austin did the story with Cerebus meeting “Squinteye the Sailor.” Good stuff.

Popeye is in Marvels #1. For better or worse, he’s drawn by Alex Ross, so he looks human (as opposed to cartoonish), so he looks…not funny. See here: http://comiccoverage.typepad.com/comic_coverage/2007/12/marvels-the-cel.html

When I was a teenager there was a Popeye version of Pac-Man at our local sub-shop. It was just Popeye’s head instead of Pac Mans but it was still pretty cool. It was of course called: Popeye Pacman.

What’s funny is that the site the image came from doesn’t even seem to explain why the Firefox porn thing is there

Clearly, the blogger is using the screenshot as his desktop background, and has labelled his internet icon as ‘PORN’ (as… *sings* the internet is for porn).

It would have been great if the last one was false.

“COMIC LEGEND: Terry Austin is a huge Popeye fan and as such, often hides Popeye in comics that he works on as a penciler or inker.”


Nope! This hasn’t happened.

Kind of telegraphed that one!

I call shenanigans on the Popeye hidden in the alien crowd, not only he’s really tiny but he’s not colored right at all. Would never have found him without help (nor have been motivated to… I read this column for the Legends, not to play Where’s Waldo.)

Speaking of legends, you forgot to mention that Olive *predates* Popeye, Cronin. Everyone knows her today as Popeye’s Girlfriend, but not only she came first, she had a ANOTHER boyfriend at first too! (BTW I hope that’s one of her *many* relatives and not her in the picture where Popeye is eating like a horse. Or did she have a weight problem originally? :D )

PS. Terry Austin *Still Rocks* :)

I call shenanigans on the Popeye hidden in the alien crowd, not only he’s really tiny but he’s not colored right at all. Would never have found him without help (nor have been motivated to… I read this column for the Legends, not to play Where’s Waldo.)

Sijo, you’re missing the whole point and fun of this post.

Popeye was also revealed to be one of The Shadow’s Far East agents in THE SHADOW STRIKES #25 along with Pat Ryan and Terry Lee from TERRY & THE PIRATES. The issue also included cameos by Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy, The Dragon Lady, and Burma. Daddy Warbucks is revealed to be the sinister mastermind in TSS #27.

An amusing in-joke is Popeye’s password response “Ja think I’m a cowboy?” echoes the first words Popeye ever uttered when he was introduced in THIMBLE THEATER.

Too bad the issue wasn’t inked by Austin, though.

Speaking of Art Adams and cameos…Adams likes to sneak in Gumby into his work. When he and Austin worked together you can find all sorts of cool stuff in crowd scenes including Robbie the Robot. What a great team those two were.

I remember spotting the Phantom Stranger right away in that scene from X-Men 125 when I bought the comic off the stands decades, but never even noticed Popeye until now! You have a really fun posting this week, and I also like the easter eggs postings you are doing separately. Keep up the good work!

You know, not for nothing, the alien that’s covering Popeye in X-Men 125 has more than a little Alice the Goon look to it, as well.

And Byrne is a massive Niven Fan – he had Bones McCoy treating a Puppeteer (credited this time) on the cover of one of his recent Star trek comics.

Well, the Known Space and Star Trek universes have a canonical overlap – the Kzinti exist in the Trek-verse, at least in so far as the Animated Series can be taken as canon. Niven adapted The Soft Weapon into an episode of TAS called The Slaver Weapon, which introduce the Kzinti, who were also mentioned in the episode The Infinite Vulcan.

I keep thinking the Popeye game came out first and Donkey Kong was a failed sequel. Naw. Donkey Kong, which was planned to be Popeye, came out first and Nintendo did end up getting the license later for that Popeye game.

What’s terry Austin up to nowadays anyway? I miss seeing that clean, crisp style of his. The man can make anyone look good.

I read Dr E. von Wolff’s book in 1802 and can confirm that spinach does not confer super strength upon those who consume it.
Immortality, otoh..

There’s a picture later in that New Mutants issue with both Bluto and Olive Oyle. (Bluto trips up Doug as revenge for the scene showed.)

I’m not entirely sure but I believe it was something along the lines that Nintendo wanted the rights to do more than one game but were only able to only get the rights to do one game. They would then have to seek a license for each sequel. They decided it would be more profitable to use original characters instead of having to deal with licensing. I could be wrong though but that’s what I’ve heard.

[…] Book Legends discusses a 40-year-old claim that a misplaced decimal point in some German research led to medical […]

[…] to the bloodstream.Nanoparticles as Popeye’s KryptoniteAlthough it has since been shown that Popeye’s predilection for spinach is based on an error (spinach has no higher iron content than any other leafy, green vegetable), […]

“What’s terry Austin up to nowadays anyway? I miss seeing that clean, crisp style of his. The man can make anyone look good.”

He’s at Archie, where they still appreciate clean lines and crisp blacks in comics.

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