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Nana Oyl to join statues on Character Trail

  • Nana Oyl, the matriarch of the Oyl family, is the newest addition to the Popeye Character Trail. Her statue will be unveiled Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Manor at Craig Farms, 3030 State St., Chester.

    Nana Oyl, the matriarch of the Oyl family, is the newest addition to the Popeye Character Trail. Her statue will be unveiled Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Manor at Craig Farms, 3030 State St., Chester.

 
By Gwendy Garner
Contributing Writer
updated: 9/5/2018 9:35 AM

When cartoon enthusiasts think of Chester native Elzie Segar, they think of him first and foremost as the creator of Popeye, the sailor man.

And so he was.

But before Popeye could arrive on the cartoon scene, Segar, while working for a newspaper syndicate in New York City, was told to create a comic strip based on the title, "Thimble Theatre." The year was 1919. Almost overnight, Segar created the Oyl family, which included father and mother Cole and Nana Oyl, and children Castor and Olive Oyl. He added to the mix Olive's first boyfriend, Ham Gravy.

The new strip started as a gag-a-day feature, each day complete unto itself. As time went on, the daily cartoon strip featured themes lasting a week or more. Popeye did not arrive on the scene until 1929.

When the short-lived "Popeye & Son" cartoon series began in the late 1980s, Popeye and Olive had a son known as "Junior". So -- technically speaking -- Nana Oyl was for a brief time a grandmother. However, old school purist Popeye cartoon fans shunned that cartoon series since Elzie Segar's concepts of Popeye and Olive Oyl never included marriage or a progeny.

"Nana Oyl's name is considered to fall in line with other 'Segar-ish' humor when it comes to character names," said Mike Brooks, owner of Spinach Can Collectibles and the Popeye Museum in Chester.

"There are Castor, Olive and Cole Oyl, all names depicting various types of oils. Nana is an abridged version of 'Ba-Nana,' which can also be a licit type of oil," Brooks said.

Nana Oyl made the majority of her career appearances in the newspaper comic strips. However, she also had a cameo appearance in one of the Max Fleischer theatrical cartoons, "Man On The Flying Trapeze" in 1934. She was portrayed by actress Roberta Maxwell in the 1980 Robert Altman film "Popeye," starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.

Nana Oyl's main claim to fame was being the matriarch of the Oyl family, born out of Thimble Theatre in 1919.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, Nana Oyl's statue will be unveiled at the Manor at Craig Farms, 3030 State St., in Chester. Nana Oyl is the 14th member of the Popeye Character Trail of statues in Chester. Cole Oyl is located on the lawn of the Chester Public Library and Castor Oyl is located on the lawn of Memorial Hospital in Chester.

Olive Oyl stands across from the Randolph County Courthouse. The unveiling of Nana Oyl's statue will complete the granite tributes of the Oyl family.

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