Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Back in the early 1970s, Charlton Comics (in conjunction with King Syndicate, and bearing the King banner on the cover) released a series of educational comics for kids on the subject of future careers. Naturally, as a spokesperson for the exciting world of clocking in, they chose a character who’d had a long history of being an itinerant bum with a gambling problem and anger issues that would have made him a living nightmare to any Human Resources department – Popeye! Toot toot!

A natural choice for career guidance, your humble editor is a big fan of the early E.C.Segar Popeye strips and can tell you that the one-eyed sailor spent most of his life fighting people for money and losing fortunes by gambling. On at least a couple scenarios, I’m pretty sure Segar was slipping in a joke about Popeye visiting prostitutes, too, but it was the Thirties and no one lived past age twenty-five back then, so you had to live when the living was good.

Also it's weird when Popeye just
blithely mentions Jesus like this.
Still, Popeye probably cleaned up his act by then. There were a total of fifteen “E-Series” comics featuring Popeye and a host of assorted disciplines and for the sake of completism here’s the total list:

  • Popeye and Health Careers
  • Popeye and Environmental Careers
  • Popeye and Communications and Media Careers
  • Popeye and Transportation Careers
  • Popeye and Construction Careers
  • Popeye and Consumer and Homemaking
  • Popeye and Manufacturing Careers
  • Popeye and Hospitality and Recreation Careers
  • Popeye and Marketing and Distribution Careers
  • Popeye and Marketing and Office Careers
  • Popeye and Public Service Careers
  • Popeye and Personal Service Careers
  • Popeye and Marine Science Careers (finally, one that’s up his alley!)
  • Popeye and Fine Arts and Humanities Careers
  • Popeye and Agri-Business-Natural Resources Careers

Meanwhile, here’s a list of some of the industries Popeye never covered in this series:

  • Popeye and Sex Industry Careers
  • Popeye and Drug Manufacturing and Trafficking Careers
  • Popeye and Body Mod-Tattooing Careers
  • Popeye and Cheating Welfare
  • Popeye and Killing a Wealthy Relative for the Inheritance 

"No, seriouskly See'pea, you're a terrible raciskt.
We've all been meaning to say somethingsk
before now."
All fifteen of the comics have something “special” going for them, if mostly just for Popeye’s abandonment of his signature patter, being as legibility was apparently key. Other than that, there are startling panels exhibiting examples of the different careers present in all of the issues, such as in “Popeye and Public Services Careers” where we’re shown the jarring image (for a Popeye cartoon, anyway) of a police officer trying to talk a tearful runaway into leaving the streets, or a sexy housemaid in Popeye and Consumer and Homemaking Careers who occupies the lion’s share of the comic mostly flirting with cops. It’s a goddamn street-level crime drama around here.

There’s also a hefty helping of “they mean well” going on in the pages – it’s a diverse cast in these books, with pink-skinned Caucasians mixing it up with brown-skinned African-Americans, highlighter-yellow-skinned Asians, greenish-gray-skinned … sub-continental Indians, maybe? Captions occasionally add some variation on the phrase “Sometimes women are good at this job, too!” which is a hell of an artifact to leave to future generations, to be sure.

As alarming as some of the comics can be, there’s too much in all fifteen to cover, so I wanted to focus on two of them:

In Popeye and Environmental Careers, the squinty-eyed sailor takes his ward Swee’pea (whose trapeze artist parents were murdered by criminals, I’m sure you’ll recall) on a tour of America’s nightmarish future of limitless filth. Within five pages, Popeye has already seen or envisioned a gray river of sludge, a blighted black wasteland forever burning with charred trees dropping dead leaves on the listless soil, garbage dumps extending further than human vision, starving cows  and throttled fish in murky environments clouded with waste, mile-high garbage dumps and birds murdered by insecticides. At this point, this is either Popeye or the prequel to Zardoz.

He's twitching like that because of the unnatural
mercury levels in his spinach.
In the process of underlining the importance of Environmental careers moving forward – and remembering that the EPA was a new invention of the era, when this comic was created – Popeye has to lay out all the menaces facing the health and welfare of humankind  in the upcoming new millennium; overpopulation, smog epidemics, deforestation, overhunting of predator species, overfishing of the world’s oceans,  mercury in the water, deoxygenation of the world’s oceans, all conveyed to Swee’Pea while they sit in a spoiled field upon thrones of skulls. Well, the field is spoiled, anyway. They’re actually sitting on tin cans, like idiots.

As a bright spot, Popeye lets Swee’pea know that this can all be avoided – thanks to clean, efficient, totally safe nuclear power! There’s 15 plants already built and another 89 coming, what a swell future! Maybe that’s how Popeye got those arms.

Meanwhile, in Popeye and Fine Arts and Humanities Careers, things get meta. With Swee’pea wondering how artists are able to craft all those wonderful things (“Drugsk” replies Popeye, laughing nervously as perspiration beads on his frantically twitching upper lip), we’re taken on a tour of anatomy classes, life-drawing sessions (the closest I’m sure we’ll ever come to seeing a dick in a Popeye comic), a pottery class, advertising agency, and then the studio office of … George Wildman, the guy who is drawing this very comic as we speak! Ah! Is he God? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

Moreso, Popeye wanders over to the busy attic office of writer Joe Gill, the autor of “funny comics, love comics that girls like, war comics or superhero comics.” He’s also writing every aspect of your very world, Popeye, bow before he to whom you are only a mote in his eye.

"For inskance, I euthanizes dogsk! Arf arf arf!"

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