Differences in Popeye’s story and characterization vary depending on the medium. Originally, Popeye got his strength from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen, changing to spinach by 1932.+-
Swee’Pea is definitively Popeye’s ward in the comic strips, but he is often depicted as belonging to Olive Oyl in cartoons. The cartoons also occasionally feature members of Popeye’s family who have never appeared in the strip, notably his lookalike nephews Peepeye, Pupeye, Pipeye, and Poopeye.
There is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, although certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye’s capabilities. Popeye seems bereft of manners and uneducated, yet he is often depicted as capable of coming up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to the police or, most importantly, the scientific community. Popeye has, alternatively, displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigative prowess (determining, for instance, that his beloved Olive was abducted by estimating the depth of the villains’ footprints in the sand), scientific ingenuity (as his construction, within a few hours, of a “spinach-drive” spacecraft), or oversimplified (yet successful) diplomatic arguments (by presenting his own existence—and superhuman strength—as the only true guarantee of world peace at diplomatic conferences). Popeye’s pipe also proves to be highly versatile. Among other things, it has served as a cutting torch, jet engine, propeller, periscope, and, of course, a whistle with which he produces his trademark toot. Popeye also on occasion eats spinach through his pipe, sometimes sucking in the can itself along with the contents. He seldom appears to use it to smoke tobacco.
Popeye’s exploits are also enhanced by a few recurring plot elements. One is the love triangle among Popeye, Olive, and Bluto, and the latter’s endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye’s expense. Another is his near-saintly perseverance in overcoming any obstacle to please Olive, who often renounces Popeye for Bluto’s dime-store advances. She is the only character that Popeye will permit to give him a thumping. Finally, Popeye usually uncovers villainous plots by accidentally sneaking up on the antagonists as they brag about or lay out their schemes.