Portrait of Olive Oyl looking cheerful

Posted by John Patrick Reynolds on

Portrait of Olive Oyl, looking happy

I love Olive – she’s a complex character, in turns feisty, passionate, needy and contrary. She’s capable of tenderness and violence. A real heroine in her own right.

This screenprint is made using a drawing by the artist who invented Olive Oyl (and then Popeye), Elzie Segar, who died in 1938. 

Olive pre-dates Popeye. Popeye was originally a minor character in a strip syndicated in American newspapers called Thimble Theatre, which started in 1919, with Olive Oyl and her brother Caster Oyl some of the main characters. Popeye first appeared as an incidental character in 1929 and stole the show; the strip was soon named after him. See my Popeye cards here. 

Popeye and Olive now have the status of an archetypal couple – they are obviously attracted to each other, but they often fall out and row, often bitterly. Although the characters have been around for nearly 100 years, the way they behave seems quite modern.

By the way, it was only when I started screenprinting the character that I realised that his name refers to the fact that he only has a single eye, the left one. The right eye is always depicted as a sort of asterisk. You can see that here, in this portrait of the sailor in my range. 

And spinach – which became an essential part of the Popeye makeup – was not originally part of his setup. The iron-rich leaf first made an appearance in the early 1930s, when he was running away from a bull and accidentally landed in a back garden full of the stuff. He didn’t even know what it was, and had to be told. This is the first time Popeye encounters the vegetable.


Limited edition, handpulled screenprint; printed on cotton, mould-made paper milled in Somerset; printed in the UK; signed and numbered out of just 20 in pencil by me, the printer, John Patrick Reynolds

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