Abandoned Love: When Swee'pea Grew Up

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 how the Popeye character, Swee'pea, aged and then de-aged. 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

During the 1960’s my mother tells me I was the easiest child to buy for at Christmas. It was either something with Popeye or Bozo the Clown. One morning Santa brought me a Popeye Presto Paints Set by Kenner Toys. I remember one of the pictures to color was a young boy in a sailor’s uniform. While his face looked like Swee’pea I thought to myself, “but he always crawls”.

On April 14, 1957 readers of the Sunday Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye strip witnessed the debut of the walking Swee’pea. This occurrence would follow suit in the daily strip on June 7, 1957.

It was not a result of reader demand or King Features Syndicate who distributed the strip to approximately 300 newspapers at the time.

The change in Swee’pea’s attire was the result of a plea by Philip W. Porter, editor of the Sunday Plain Dealer. Porter was looking at some advance comic strip proofs and it apparently struck him that Swee’pea had been crawling around for much too long. He wrote a letter to Frank Nicht, a King Features executive, and asked him why he didn’t get Swee’pea “off the ground and out of the sack.”

It fell upon writers Tom Sims (Sunday ) and Ralph Stein (Daily) to write the change into the storyline. In the Sunday page Popeye catches Swee’pea wearing his uniform and decides it’s time for a change in attire.

In the daily Popeye returns from one of his globe-trotting adventures and discovers Swee’pea made the decision to switch his outfit. Bela (Bill) Zaboly drew the redesigned Swee’pea for both the Sunday and daily strip.

The more grown up Swee’pea shared many of his Sunday page antics with buck-toothed Oscar.

This version of Popeye’s adopted son also attended school. The lad often found comical solutions to mathematical questions which plagued both he and Oscar. On Sundays Swee’pea could be seen at the beach. The presence of his legs meant he could be drawn wearing a bathing suit.

In 1958 King Features Syndicate assigned both the daily and Sunday strip to Bud Sagendorf (although his work wasn’t published until 1959). Swee’pea went back to wearing his “sack”. This might be the only time a comic strip character was allowed to age and suddenly regress.

Despite the lad’s return to his original look in the strip the walking Swee’pea still had legs.

From the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s Swee’pea’s uniform was on display in coloring and sticker fun books from different publishers...

a slide puzzle by Roalex...

children’s records by Peter Pan, Kenner’s Give-A-Show Projector Slides, Jack Built’s Popeye Color and Re-Color Book and Popeye Annuals published in the United Kingdom.

Though this phase of Swee’pea’s career was short lived it is well remembered among fans of the sailor’s comic strip adventures.

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