For more than 17 years, Glen Rock artist Hy Eisman has kept cartoonist E.C. Segar's muscular tradition of the spinach-eating seaman alive.
But the 84-year-old Eisman — just 2 years old when Popeye the Sailor Man debuted in the King Features comic strip "Thimble Theater" in 1929 — does more than just continue to turn out the weekly strip featuring a man who is "strong to the finich 'cause I eats me spinach."
He has also served as a teacher and mentor, inspiring a generation of young artists, and has acted as a go-to staple in the Glen Rock community.
From Fill-In to Full-time
Eisman was called to fill in for former "Popeye" artist Bud Sagendorf when he became ill in 1994. However, Sagendorf passed away and King Features, the company that syndicates "Popeye," asked Eisman to stay on.
Eisman had been the artist for their other comic strip “The Katzenjammer Kids,” a strip that has been in newspapers since the days of William Randolph Hearst, in 1897 and Eisman's week is still spent drawing it and "Popeye" for the Sunday newspapers.
Eisman said he got into comics when he was very young. "As soon as I saw drawings were done by human beings, I started drawing," said Eisman.
Born in Paterson in 1927, the octogenarian comic book artist was first exposed to the newspaper comics when he was a child. He was 5 years old when his mother got sick and his father put both him and his brother in a nearby orphanage.
"In the home on the weekends, the kids would have visitors from New York City and Philadelphia. Since they took the train, many of them brought newspapers," said Eisman.
"I would draw on anything I could get my hands on," said Eisman. He said that he remembered drawing on old paper bags that were left behind after visits.
Back at Home and On the Job
By the time he was 10 years old, he had returned to live with his family. When he entered his teens, he attended high school in Paterson and drew a comic for the school newspaper.
By 1950, he was working as a fulltime artist for greeting card companies and the American Comic Groups.
From 1954 to 1957, he wrote and drew a comic in the Newark Sunday News called "It Happened in New Jersey." It was similar in style to "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" that highlighted the extraordinary that happened in the Garden State.
Eisman also drew many comics such as "Kerry Drake" from 1957 to 1960 and “Little Iodine" from 1967 to 1987. He also drew comic book versions of “The Munsters” and “Bringing Up Father” and he spent a great deal of time "ghosting" for Archie Comics — ghosting is just like ghost writing, but for comic artists.
Eisman said that his biggest influence was a classic tale of King Arthur told from the point of view of a Nordic nobleman, Valiant, who joined the Round Table.
"Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant' is an inspiration to me," said Eisman. He said his goal was to draw a story in a similar style, but he said he is pleased to draw what he is drawing today.
Teacher and Mentor
When not drawing Popeye or The Katzenjammer Kids, he often visits the Kubert School of Art in Dover. He began teaching in the mid-1970s, but has since slowed down his involvement.
Parent, who made news for writing and drawing Archie Comics's first openly gay character , said Eisman was his first teacher on his first day at the Kubert School.
"That was a good thing, because he was a very friendly guy, and set the tone for a very nervous first time art student [and] Hy was a really good teacher, and was a real master of all trades," said Parent. "He could ink, letter and pencil really well. And what a lot of people may not know is he could draw realistically very well, along with his cartoon style."
Ruiz, who lives in North Haledon, also shared an example of how he benefitted from Eisman.
Eisman had been instructing a class on how to draw in the style of Archie comics; Ruiz made an attempt but it needed work.
"He took me into the faculty room where he had some of his Archie pages and showed me how he drew the characters. It was great watching his process. Hy is very meticulous and makes it look easy," said Ruiz. "[So] I gave the pages another shot."
The second time around, Eisman praised Ruiz's work and suggested he show them to the president and publisher of Archie Comics. "I did just that when [Archie Comic executives] Victor Gorelick and Dan DeCarlo came to visit the school and review [the portfolios of the artists]," said Ruiz. "Luckily they liked what I did too and hired me right there."
"We Don't Do Paper!"
Recently, Eisman’s work has helped inspire a greener Glen Rock. He became involved with an environmental push in Glen Rock . In the drawing to promote the initiative, a brother and sister say “We don’t do paper!” “We don’t do plastic!” The parents exclaim, “We bring our own!” and the cashier rhymes, “Hey! That’s fantastic.”
“When the people from Glen Rock asked me to do this, I said absolutely,” said Eisman. He said he was pleased to help out with a worthy environmental cause. As he said on his drawing, “It’s the green thing to do and Glen Rock loves green!”
Parent said it's actions such as these that prove Eisman is “always approachable and friendly” and a “real classy guy.”