Fresh spinach from the garden is a springtime delicacy that invokes childhood memories. Canned spinach with hard eggs and bacon bits to hide the flavor. And Popeye the Sailor Man, who by all rights as a man of the sea had a cat as his sailing companion to protect ropes and food supplies from rats.
The unsophisticated Popeye with a New Jersey accent first appeared in a Betty Boop comic strip – a cursing, short-tempered underdog undeterred by a challenge. His famous lines include “That’s all I can stand, cos I can’t stand no more!” and the more philosophical “I Yam What I Yam”.
So imagine my surprise that it was not a weirdly drawn cat gifted to Olive Oyl by her uncle Ben but an exotic “jeep” – a magical animal transmuted from the African Hooey Hound with yellow fur, brown spots, large brown nose, and feline-like tail. Jeeps are highly intelligent and eat only orchids.
Most importantly, the magical jeep is more powerful than the sea hag, which was Popeye’s nemesis – he could not conquer her. A sea hag’s greatest weapon is her horrific appearance fueled by jealous rage: just looking at a sea hag saps your strength, it’s so frightening!! The magical power of spinach is no match. But with spinach, a cat, and a jeep, Popeye could face anything at sea or on land.
Another comic memory is Felix the Cat, which appeared in film ten years before Popeye hit the strips. Felix was a male (although not drawn that way) with a girlfriend named Miss Kitty White. His pace was famous—hands behind his back, head down, deep in thought.
Felix was the first balloon featured in Macy’s 1933 Thanksgiving Parade. Some think his character was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat that Walked by Himself” (1902) which says: “But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”
Felix was drawn as a black cat and certainly had a dark start. His early story lines include a search for food by any means necessary (even theft) and coping with the issues of the day. His debut as Master Tom in the 1919 “Feline Follies” animated short (silent) film is the story of how he loses his job as a mouser – the watchman of a house – and gets kicked out on the street for abandoning his work in favor of spending a music-and-kisses MEOW day with Miss Kitty White.
Fandom’s Felix the Cat Wiki summarizes his homeless fate: “Helpless and depressed, the cat goes after his girlfriend just to find out that she got pregnant and that he’s now father of 17 young kittens [and] seeing no sense or bright in his life, poor Tom kills himself.” Despite 17 being an impossible single litter size, a wiser cat would have made spay/neuter appointments for the couple – and the kids.
This article by Head Cat Susan Kumpf appeared in the April 2022 issue of Positively Haywood by Vicinitus.