Popeye the Crossdressing Man

Nisby the Newsboy, May 20 1906.

My earlier post on historical representations of gays in the comics garnered many interesting comments and responses. I wanted to take an opportunity to point out a few of them and also make some further notes on the topic.

Popeye: a sailor who likes to wear a dress.

1. Robert Boyd has a very interesting post pointing out that in his earliest comic strip incarnation in the 1930s, Popeye was shown to be an active and enthusiastic cross-dresser. As Boyd writes, “as I was reading the most recent Popeye volume (reprinting strips from December 1933 to July 1935), I came across something weird. Cartoonist E.C. Segar repeatedly has Popeye wearing women’s clothes–and liking it.” I would highly recommend a look at Boyd’s post which is heavily illustrated. I would only add to Boyd’s comments that Krazy Kat, who can easily change genders at will, is another example of a sympathetic early comic strip character who cheerfully defied  heteronormative gender roles.

2. R. Fiore, the Edmund Wilson of comics criticism, weighs in on the difference between gayface and blackface, here  and here.

Detail from Nisby the Newsboy

3. Another possible example of an early gay character is a bit player in the May 20 1906 episode of George McManus’s Nisby the Newsboy, a strip that parodied Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo.  In the McManus strip, a rough looking character dressed up in a ballet outfit describes himself as “a real fairy.”

Everett True, September 14 1915


4. Yet another early comics gender bender: a fey bohemian from A.D. Condo’s Everett True strip of September 14, 1915, who receives a ribbing for his effeminate ways.

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