My buddy, Randy Enos, shares his memories of Popeye below. For me, Popeye was about Tom Hattan who inspired me to draw cartoons since I was about three years old, watching The Popeye Show on channel 5 in Los Angeles. I was delighted to meet and talk to Tom many times in later years through the National Cartoonists Society. Tom passed away only a couple of months ago. He was a gentleman, and he inspired lots of cartoonists like me. That said, Randy’s Popeye experience is entirely different!
It all started with Popeye –my career, that is! My first teacher and guru of cartooning was my boss, the head of the cartoon course of The Famous Artists Schools, Forrest Sagendorf (known to everyone as “Bud”). He, aside from managing the cartoon course, drew the Popeye comic books. His relationship with Popeye started back in the 1930’s when he was a high school kid. Bud’s sister somehow knew Elzie Crisler Segar, Popeye’s creator. She suggested that he should hire her brother as an assistant because he was very interested in drawing. Segar did just that and later on as he got to know Bud , they both realized that he was the corner newsboy that Mr. Segar had bought papers from each morning for a few years.
At first, Bud’s duties around the studio were small chores like sweeping up and keeping things in order but as time went on and Bud started driving, he was enlisted in taking Mrs. Segar shopping etc..
Little by little Bud learned how to draw the various characters of Thimble Theater and he became a full blown art assistant on the strip while still going to high school. Until the day he died, Bud’s only drawing style was the Popeye style. It’s the only experience in drawing that he ever had.
Bud went to school during the day and worked on the strip in the evenings until wee hours of the morning. Soon he was frazzled with exhaustion and lack of sleep. It affected his school work. Since Bud was making good money (more than any of his teachers) he quit school to work full time on Popeye. The sailor man who was to become the star of the strip had only entered “Thimble Theater” a little over a year before Bud came on board so he was in on the creation of a lot of characters who were to be part of the American experience like the Jeep, the Sea Hag, Swee’pea and Wimpy. When Segar was looking for a name for the Jeep, Bud suggested “Eugene” as an inside joke for his former classmates who knew that Eugene was the kid who became a rival for the attentions of Bud’s future wife, Nadia.
Years later when Segar died, his funeral was attended by many famous folks including Krazy Kat’s creator and an idol of Segar’s, George Herriman. Herriman came into the church and chose a pew way in the back, sat silently and left early.
After Segar’s death, the strips continued to flow into King Features in New York. They didn’t know that Segar had an assistant. They summoned Bud to New York and offered him the daily strips with a writer or the new comic books which he could do on his own. He took the books. The strips were handled by a succession of artists and writers after that with even Al Capp (Li’l Abner) taking a stab at the writing. He was fired after he introduced a white slavery theme in the strip.
Bud continued on for many years doing the comic books as well as becoming the comics editor at King. Bud once told me how Percy Crosby (Skippy) used to do his strips downstairs in a bar and was always late with them. Bud would have to send someone down to urge him on and collect the strips. Crosby eventually had mental problems and Bud knew that the end had come when Crosby submitted a week of strips that were all identical.
I lived next door to Bud in Westport and while I worked at the Famous Artists Schools, he started to give me freelance work helping him with the comic books. We would work, in the summer time at two drawing boards, side by side on his screened in porch. At first I was only assigned the blackening in of Olive Oyl’s skirt. Sounds simple, eh? Not with Bud as task master. Bud had a fetish about really dense blacks. No greys were allowed to enter the premises of those skirts. I had to give them several coats. Bud taught me a lot –like, for instance, if you are cutting a lawn and you make the outward perimeter nice and short, the interior of the bed of grass will appear to the casual eye as being the same length. So, if you make the perimeter of Olive’s dress nice and juicy black, it might give the feeling that the whole skirt is the same.
Later on I graduated to creating minor characters that would enter the stories. In each comic book there would be one page which was a short story written by Bud and illustrated with only one picture. I used to marvel at how he would get up from his board and go up to his bedroom to lay down for 5 or 10 minutes to think up a story. He never failed to come back with a beaut’. He was a real pro.
As we worked, Bud would tell me great stories about his life in California and how Segar would hang out with the movie stars like Gary Cooper who he was in a gun club with. Bud missed California.
He had a few hobbies. He collected Juke boxes and he built doll houses and other miniatures like Popeye’s house which had a mother-in-law room upstairs with no windows or doors. The details in these houses were amazing. Every little object, like the rolled up newspaper on the lawn thrown by the paper boy, was infused with loving detail.
His crowning achievement, however, was his art museum. It had rooms galore, in which hung drawings by every artist that Bud knew or could wrest a drawing from. Nadia worked full time, writing to Fellini, Salvadore Dali, and every artist she could think of. I know Fellini donated a drawing and so did many others. We were all asked to do a small drawing that was only one square inch big. Bud framed each picture with tiny pieces of molding and hung them in his museum. When finished, the museum travelled to many venues. Years after Bud died, I heard that Nadia sold it.
At the elbow of this master cartoonist, I started my own career. He was always so supportive of me and taught me so much. As a result, the character Popeye has always held a special place in my heart and a little ripple of familial recognition wafts through me brain when I see his image. He’s like an old old friend or a family member. Popeye’s special way of speaking with mangled spelling was a boon to a cartoonist like Bud who was a very bad speller and actually lettered the strip with a dictionary on his lap.
When I go to the grocery store, my list has often been concocted with Popeye in mind when I write “Englitch muffings” or “sanrich meat”.
And a dog is always a “dorg”.
And, I always eats me spinach!
Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories:
The Smallest Cartoon Characters in the World
Brought to You in Living Black and White
Art School Days in the Whorehouse
The Card Trick that Caused a Divorce
8th Grade and Harold von Schmidt
The Funniest Man I’ve Ever Known
Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part One”
Read “I’m Your Bunny, Wanda –Part Two”
Famous Artists Visit the Famous Artists School
Randy and the National Lampoon