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Castor Oyl
Castor Oyl.png
Profile
Species Human
Gender Male
Likes/Loves {{{likes}}}
Dislikes/Hates {{{dislikes}}}
Residence Sweethaven,
Beezark Center
Relatives Unnamed grandmother,
Cole Oyl (father),
Nana Oyl (mother),
Olive Oyl (sister),
Ben Zene Oyl (uncle),
Lubry Kent Oyl (uncle),
Otto Oyl (uncle),
Sylvan Oyl (uncle),
Auntie Bellum (aunt),
Deezil Oyl (daughter),
Sutra Oyl (cousin),
Sweet Oyl (cousin),
Swee'Pea (adopted nephew),
Popeye Junior (nephew),
Cylinda Oyl (wife),
Popeye (brother-in-law)
Production Information
First appearance Thimble Theatre
Portrayed by Donovan Scott (film)



Castor Oyl is a character created by E.C. Segar for his comic strip Thimble Theatre, now simply named after Popeye. Castor is the quick-witted yet diminutive adventuring older brother of Olive Oyl, and both are the children of Cole Oyl and his wife Nana. While initially a minor character heavily defined by his bizarre, paradoxical antics (often said to be a product of insanity), Segar redeveloped Castor, by 1923, into an opportunistic and money-hungry adventurer who eventually found his true calling as a detective and became the hypercompetent head of his own agency.

Debuting within Thimble Theatre on January 14, 1920 (a month after the strip's own debut), Castor, following his 1923 revamp, became the main protagonist of the strip until the first appearance of Popeye in January 1929. While Castor continued to play a lead role in the strip until 1931 (with Segar afterwards demoting him to a mostly sporadically-appearing guest character), he played little role, if any, in Popeye cartoons. His only known animated appearance is as a member of Popeye's orchestra in the 1935 short The Spinach Overture.

Character history

Creation and development in Thimble Theatre

Castor Oyl in his debut (January 14, 1920)

Castor Oyl was created by E. C. Segar for his comic strip Thimble Theatre, making his debut on January 14, 1920 (a month after Thimble Theatre first saw publication). Castor's debut occurred concurrently with Segar's redevelopment of the strip from a lampooning of silent melodrama and vaudeville (in the stylistic vein of Midget Movies) featuring the nondescript lead actors Harold Hamgravy (later Ham Gravy) and Olive Oyl into a gag-a-day strip emphasizing the foibles and romantic dysfunctionality of Ham and Olive, now defined individuals rather than mere ciphers. Castor's introduction as a relative of Olive's therefore marks one of the earliest occasions on which a facet of her identity is defined beyond the traits a given strip's theatrical idioms imposed on her.

A typical example of Castor Oyl's earlier characterization, featuring Ham Gravy as a straight man (June 15, 1920)

As Segar further transitioned into more grounded gag-a-day material, Castor solidified into a minor character almost entirely defined by his illogical and paradoxical antics - one 1920 strip features Castor drinking a 'new kind of poison' he has recently invented, only to subsequently declare (much to Ham Gravy's exasperation) that the 'beauty' of the alleged poison lies in its inability to kill the drinker - heavily implied by the strip to be a product of insanity. Early in 1921, Segar would briefly eliminate Castor from the strip in favor of a series of generic tertiary characters (the majority asylum patients) with similar traits, further indicating his initial expendability (at least to Segar) within the early strip. Within months, however, Castor had returned in his previous capacity and gradually increased in prominence over the following year, thereby appearing on an almost weekly basis by mid-1922.

Castor with his fighting cockerel Blizzard (1924)

As Segar opted to redevelop the strip into a serialized comedy-adventure format, however, Castor would experience an unexpected further promotion. While largely cast as a comic sidekick to Ham and Olive within the sprawling 1922 storyline "Great Gobs of Gold", Castor would, over the following months, begin to shed his bizarre antics, thus gaining a more measured and self-conscious demeanor (if one nonetheless prone to wild flights of fancy and short-sighted decision-making). By the onset of the Lizzie Lucre storyline in June 1923, Castor had effectively evolved into an irascible-yet-ambitious everyman, thus increasing his emotional range and, resultantly, his ability to act as the focal point of a narrative. Upon the introduction of his fighting cockerel Blizzard months later, Castor's dynamic with the bird became a dominant element of the strip over the following year, effectively enabling him to supersede his co-stars Ham and Olive as the strip's main protagonist.

Castor Oyl attempts (and fails) to commit suicide, manifesting numerous aspects of his mid-1920s characterization (January 2, 1926)

The flexibility of Castor's mid-1920s characterization (particularly when compared to his co-stars) enabled him to act as the ontological core of the strip's storylines during this period. Despite the lofty scale of his ambitions, Castor is frequently both quick-tempered - as evidenced by his vitriolic disapproval of Blizzard's romantic interest in an 'ordinary' speckled hen owned by a local farmer - and exceedingly short-sighted, given his infamous purchase of a local municipal bridge after falling for a blatant scam. Nonetheless, the intensity of Castor's determination sporadically grants him success, albeit seldom to a solid or lasting degree: through lapses in judgement, Castor loses a fortune accumulated in British Guiana upon his first marriage's annulment (with his former wife merely withdrawing the millions from their joint back account), a sizeable sum from the sale of a quinine-infused lake (to the previously-mentioned municipal bridge scam) and an entire lucrative trade in nonparkable chewing gum, his own invention, by overlooking its ability to self-destruct inside its consumers' stomachs. The resultant volatility of his ventures offers an explanation for both his family's critical perception of him and his love-hate relationship with his frequent accomplice and straight man, Ham Gravy.

Castor with his erstwhile father-in-law (and recurring antagonist) Mr. Lotts (January 1, 1928)

Via the introduction of his second (and longest-lasting) wife Cylinda Oyl and, more significantly, her antagonistic and misanthropic father I. Caniford Lotts, in 1926, Castor gained a series of secondary foils and dynamics which further confirmed his centrality. Over the ensuing two years, Segar revamped the strip to focus on the Castor-Lotts dynamic, with Castor's attempts to financially support himself and Cylinda (to whom he remains devoted) being frequently challenged or upended outright by the spiteful obstructions of Lotts or, as with previous storylines, Castor's own misjudgements. By the dawn of 1928, Castor had entirely absorbed both the daily and Sunday continuities, enabling him to emerge as the sole protagonist of the first ten months of "the Great American Desert Saga". Following Segar's decision to write Cylinda and Lotts out of the strip in June 1928, however, a displaced Castor reunited with Ham and the remaining Oyls, thus briefly restoring the strip's mid-1920s status quo, albeit with a greater outright focus on Castor.

Castor's centrality would, however, soon be challenged by the introduction of Popeye in January 1929, albeit on a more gradual timescale than his former co-star Ham Gravy. Upon Popeye's promotion to a lead within the daily continuity in October 1929, Segar initially opted to pair him with Castor, thus briefly reformatting the daily strip into a set of buddy-comedy narratives presenting Castor as a foil to the impulsivity and unorthodox perceptions of Popeye. While Castor initially retained his short-sighted tendencies (hence his poorly-judged purchase of a blatantly fictitious "brass mine" within a storyline run in late 1929), he had evolved, by mid-1930, into a more measured and intellectual figure, and thus a clearer counterpoint to Popeye's brawn. It is within this period that Castor (aided by Popeye) would found the detective agency in which he would ultimately settle.

Castor Oyl in "A Sock for Susan's Sake", his final major appearance during Segar's lifetime (August 1937)

As Castor evolved into a more reserved character, however, his role within the strip correspondingly diminished, particularly following the Glint Gore storyline early in 1931, which focused on Popeye and the newly-resurgent Olive Oyl at the expense of Castor (marking his first minor role within the daily continuity in over two years). By the time of "the Great Rough-House War" storyline (which introduced King Blozo and Oscar), Castor had devolved into a minor foil to Popeye, often being absent from the narrative for weeks at a time. Following the storyline's conclusion in October 1931, Castor, having returned home off-screen, settled into solo operation of his detective agency, thus marking his exit from the daily strip as a regular; he had exited the Sunday continuity three months earlier. While Castor would periodically return over the remainder of Segar's lifetime (most notably within "the Pool of Youth" and "Popeye's Ark" storylines in 1935), these appearances, featuring Castor as a highly competent and authoritative figure able to summon legions of men over long distances with the blow of a whistle, are far removed character-wise from the bumbling would-be adventurer of the 1920s. Following Segar's death in 1938, Castor would fade from the strip almost entirely, save for a brief resurgence as a regular lead under Bobby London's authorship decades later.

Role in later media

Castor would return as a recurring character in the 1948 comic book series by E. C. Segar's former assistant Bud Sagendorf, long after Segar's passing. Castor's comic book appearances would continue for decades until the title's end in 1984.

Castor Oyl is named after castor oil, a medicine often given to children back in the 1920s and 1930s. Similarly, his mother Nana's name is a derivative of "banana oil," an epithet similar to "baloney", while his father Cole's name is a derivative of "coal oil," a now-obsolete term for kerosene. Castor himself got married in the early Segar comics, leading his bride to take the also-improbable name of Cylinda Oyl, though the character of Castor's wife faded into obscurity around the same time as Popeye rose to prominence. The like-named Deezil Oyl, originating in the 1960s animated series Popeye the Sailor, was revealed to be Castor's daughter in the online comic strip Popeye's Cartoon Club.

Fleischer Studios

As Popeye's popularity greatly grew, he would be given his own animated adaptation by Fleischer Studios. However, Castor himself never became a major recurring character in the shorts, and his only notable appearance was in the 1935 short The Spinach Overture as a member of Popeye's orchestra.

Popeye's first movie

In the 1980 film directed by Robert Altman, Castor is a key character, and is played by actor Donovan Scott. In the film, however, he is made Olive's younger brother and is considerably less sophisticated than his comic strip counterpart but still all too eager to earn money.

Revivals

Castor Oyl would re-appear in IDW Publishing's revival of the Popeye comics in 2012 as a major recurring character who once again seeks to make it rich and often has Popeye and Olive or others accompany him on his money making adventures. Castor is also accompanied by his old pet Bernice the Whiffle Hen once more.

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