Abandoned Love: So Who Exactly is the Sea Hag's Son?

Every installment of Abandoned Love we will be examining comic book stories, plots and ideas that were abandoned by a later writer while still acknowledging that the abandoned story DID still happen. Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of Abandoned Love. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

This is a special guest star edition of Abandoned Love. Noted Popeye expert Fred Grandinetti contributed this piece about the strange history of how the popular Popeye villain, the Sea Hag, has oddly ended up with a few different sons over the run of the series. Be sure to check out Fred's cool Drawing With Fred show (and, of course, his many books about Popeye, like "Popeye: An Illustrated History of E.C. Segar's Character in Print, Radio, Television, and Film Appearances 1929-1993". - BC

The Sea Hag was created by E.C. Segar for his Thimble Theatre comic strip in 1929. She is an evil pirate who sails the seven seas in her boat The Black Barnacle. Popeye has described her as his “absolukely best enemy.” During all the years the witch has tried to destroy Popeye she made time to have children.

When E.C. Segar died in 1938 Popeye’s adventures were continued by a number of writers and artists. These talented men included Tom Sims, Doc Winner, Ralph Stein, Bela Zaboly, Bud Sagendorf, Bobby London and Hy Eisman. In 1940, while Tom Sims was writing the strip, the evil witch was helped by her seven sons. Sims also gave The Sea Hag a beautiful daughter in 1948. Bud Sagendorf, who worked as Segar’s assistant, created The Sea Hag’s niece Tasty in 1960.

The success the Popeye theatrical cartoon series had on television led to the creation of The Sea Hag’s more enduring offspring.

Bluto first appeared in Segar’s comic strip in 1932 for one furious battle with Popeye. By 1956 more people recognized the brute from the sailor man’s film career. Paramount Pictures, who financed the Popeye theatrical cartoons, were under the mistaken impression Bluto was created for the animated films. King Features Syndicate, who owned the rights to all of Segar’s characters, did not challenge Paramount’s claim. Consequently, primarily on merchandise, Bluto became known as Mean Man during the late fifties.

Bud Sagendorf was aware of Bluto’s television popularity and wanted to put him back in the strip and comic books. Since he could not use his name Popeye faced several unnamed bearded bullies. Each one, aside from their nose fluctuating in appearance, could easily be mistaken for Bluto.

Beginning with Popeye #43 (1958) Sagendorf created Sonny Boy who was The Sea Hag’s son. He looked like the Bluto character children watched on television.

The Sea Hag’s bearded son eventually appeared in both the daily and Sunday comic strip. Initially Sonny Boy was a gigantic muscleman wearing a captain’s hat.

Over time he would lose some muscle and become cowardly.

To the displeasure of his witchy mother he fell in love with Olive Oyl.

In 1960 King Features Syndicate created a new series of Popeye television cartoons produced by Al Brodax. Bluto’s design was altered and christened Brutus. Unfortunately Bud Sagendorf was ahead of his work load for the strip and comic books. While Popeye and Brutus were sparring on television the sailor man was still tangling with Sonny Boy and assorted bearded bullies in print.

The television cartoon version of Brutus debuted in the comic book series with Popeye #64 (1962) by Bud Sagendorf. However an unnamed bearded brute also appeared in the same issue by an unknown artist. Sonny Boy returned, to help The Sea Hag, in Popeye#66 (1962) before Brutus took residence in Popeye #67 (1963).

Sagendorf kept altering his design of Brutus settling upon a look closer to Sonny Boy than the overweight character appearing on television.

On November 12, 1962 Sagendorf’s daily story, The Door to Nowhere or Knock! Knock! or Who’s There began its run. The Sea Hag captured Popeye and launched him far into space. Aiding her in this evil plot was her “boy” (as Wimpy referred to him). During the production of this story Sagendorf apparently received permission to use the name Brutus in print. On January 29, 1963 Olive Oyl said to The Sea Hag, “It’s your fault my sailor is in that hole with Brutus!” When Brutus returned to the daily strip on March 8, 1965 there was no mention he was related to The Sea Hag.

While the transition from Sonny Boy to Brutus was handled relatively smoothly in the daily strip this was not the case in the Sunday page.

The Sea Hag learns her bearded son loves Olive Oyl in the Sunday strip dated September 9, 1962. Popeye beats him up for becoming too aggressive with his girlfriend on September 16, 1962. On September 30, 1962 Olive stares at a bearded man’s photo and says, “Brutus wants to marry me.” She phones both Brutus and Popeye for a one o’clock date at Sandy Point. This is generally believed to be the first Sunday page utilizing the name Brutus. On October 7, 1962 The Sea Hag is upset her “beautiful son” is in love with Olive Oyl. The witch’s “son” looked exactly like the “Brutus” Olive made her date with at Sandy Point. On October 14, 1962 Popeye spots Olive Oyl on a date with Brutus.

It is possible this Sunday story arc was published out of sequence. As in the daily strip it might have been Sagendorf’s intent to subtly name The Sea Hag’s son, Brutus; and then drop any maternal relation the brute had with the witch. Although The Sea Hag mentioned her son’s love for Olive Oyl in a later Sunday strip he went unseen.

Brutus returned to the Sunday strip on April 4, 1965 and Sonny Boy vanished. Sagendorf eventually created a pint-sized mean woman who Brutus called his mother. His mother became frustrated her son would always lose his fights to Popeye the Sailor.

The idea The Sea Hag had a bearded son was revived in Popeye #128 (1975) when Brutus referred to the witch as his “Maw”. At this time the comic book series was produced by George Wildman. Wildman often referred to, with assistance from his fans, older Popeye comic books for research purposes. Sonny Boy was probably mistaken for Brutus and Wildman created the mother and son relationship.

Sonny Boy returned to the daily strip when it was handled by Bobby London. In 1991 Segar’s version of Bluto wants to wipe out all of the bearded brutes impersonating him. Sonny Boy makes a brief appearance alongside Mean Man. London’s hilarious story, The Return of Bluto was reprinted in IDW’s Thimble Theatre Presents Popeye Classic Newspaper Comics Volume Two: 1989-1992.

In the current Popeye Sunday page by Hy Eisman, The Sea Hag provides Brutus advice on how to defeat the sailor man. Her advice has Brutus seeing stars and ending up flat on his back. That is not the best way to treat someone she once regarded as her son.

NOTE: Fred also wanted to point out that IDW will be reprinting Popeye #40 in a couple of months. That's the issue which introduced the no-name bearded guy in Sagendorf's comic books. - BC

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