Popeye the Sailor Man eating spinach
(Image Source: Popeye Spinach / King Features Syndicate)

Long-Running Popeye Spinach Question Answered

“I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach.” Popeye sang that lyric in many of the cartoons starring the super-strong Sailor Man. Indeed, he is so synonymous with spinach that he is still used as a mascot to sell it. So why have none of his enemies, like Bluto, started eating spinach to best him in a fight?

Popeye cartoonist Randy Milholland has an official explanation, which he offered up on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account. In a lengthy thread, Milholland outlined the history of the Sailor Man’s super-strength. He also noted that the comics and cartoons have differing continuities and mythologies. To that end, the source of Popeye’s powers in the comics was quite different.

Comic Popeye’s Strength Comes From a Magic Bird

Popeye and the Whiffle Hen
(Image Source: King Features Syndicate)

The first instance of Popeye’s powers appeared in the June 11, 1929 Thimble Theater comic strip. The storyline of the time had Popeye defending the Whiffle Hen, a magical bird that granted incredible luck to those who petted it. For the Sailor Man, this manifested as amazing strength and invulnerability. Two years later, on June 26, 1931, he replied “I eats spinach” when asked how he managed to win a fight against multiple opponents. However, Millholland believes this was meant to be a joke rather than a literal truth.

“Popeye, in the comic strips, does not pull out cans of spinach to eat when he’s getting beaten up and then powers up like in the cartoons,” notes Millholland. “Since it’s part of his diet, he is pretty much ALWAYS super strong.” Still, the question remains as to why Bluto doesn’t partake of the iron-rich vegetable. Milholland theorizes that it is a combination of the Wiffle Hen’s magic and a spinach-rich diet that grants Popeye his super-strength.

“If that is the case (big if), eating spinach would never help Bluto because he didn’t also stroke the feathers of the Whiffle Hen.” Millholland also notes that the Whiffle Hen is hard to catch, even if Bluto were to make the attempt. Even then, it seems unlikely that a bad guy like Bluto would think to gently pet a magical animal.

New and classic Popeye comics can be found at Comics Kingdom.