My Little Brother Was a Genius

Popeye in the water

My brother drew this when he was not yet six years old. What’s incredible (besides it being what it is which is beyond amazing) is that all his LIFE he worked on the story of Popeye and his Pappy.

I was talented, but no genius (as my mom liked to remind me very often). I was already doing what I would do all my life — draw and paint from life. Here’s my 5 year old drawing of the playground at school.


I never realized what a genius he was until I started going through things my dad had saved. The pictures are very revealing about each of us. It seems that all my life I have been OK with the world as it is. My brother never was. His drawings are imaginative. Even though he copied cartoons, and the characters stayed in character, Kirk’s vision took them farther. Strikingly, he never draws his real self. Many of the drawings are hilarious, violent and prophetic. As an adult, he did have a character (a really wonderful one!) based on himself, but his childhood drawings do not put him in the world. There’s a drawing in which my brother has eaten spinach and become Popeye. He’s knocked out both my mom and my dad. My dad interviewed him about the drawing and he said, “This is what I’m going to do to you next time you get mad at me.” My dad took down my brother’s words and quoted him on the drawing. I’d have been very nervous if I’d been my parents. I’d have wondered about my kid. Probably they did.

Here’s a painting for what was to have been the title shots of a full-length animated feature paid for by the National Endowment for the Arts. The character is my brother’s avatar, Leafy Wanders.


10 thoughts on “My Little Brother Was a Genius

  1. Martha, what an amazing couple of kids you were. Your brother’s drawing of the figure under the water is very thoughtful. Scary too how he saw the world.

    • I think he felt small and powerless and angry. The odd thing is that when he was a boy, he would never fight anyone. Not the kids who beat him up, no one. I beat them up on his behalf. He tried as much as possible to live in his own little world, but I miss him a lot. Finding these drawings was revelatory.

    • I miss mine every day. I expect it will be like that for the rest of my life. We were supposed to have stayed together.

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