Monday, August 17, 2009

V. T. Hamlin (1900-1993)

Alley Oop has always been a special strip to me. It was one of two (three if you count L’il Abner, which I do) adventure strips that appeared in my hometown B. C. newspaper, the Trail Daily Times. The other was Buz Sawyer which had a lot in common stylewise with V. T. Hamlin’s art. Oop’s girlfriend, Oola, was drawn in the Roy Crane style of drawing women, although Oola always had a more masculine appearance about the face. I read Alley Oop almost without interruption from 1956 to 1969, bowled over by the excellence of art and story.

Hamlin must have studied the competition well since he used ideas from every newspaper comic genre then in use. He borrowed elements from Tarzan, Prince Valiant, Wash Tubbs, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Alley Oop’s exciting adventures in the Land of Moo caught the public’s fancy from the first. Dinny had been conceived as the original star of the strip (Hamlin got many of his ideas for Dinny’s facial expressions from Betty, a pet black Russian Muscovy duck ) but Oop, Oola, King Guzzle, Foozy and the Grand Wizer soon took precedence in the strip.
Hamlin shocked editors and readers alike when, through the “Time Machine” he catapulted Alley Oop from prehistoric times to the Twentieth Century. The invention of the “Time Machine” allowed Hamlin to deposit Oop in any time frame he chose. In years to come Oop adventured with the knights of King Arthur, met Cleopatra, skirmished with American Indians, and rocketed off to the moon.
Hamlin was born in Perry, Iowa in 1900 and began drawing at an early age. After high school he enlisted in the army, and went overseas in 1917, where he was wounded in action. While recuperating in Europe he was urged by two journalists in adjoining beds to become a cartoonist, and, following their suggestion, that’s just what he did. “When I went back to Perry in 1919 I returned to high school for a short while and then took a course in journalism at the University of Missouri.”
“My first jobs as a reporter were on the Des Moines Register Tribune and the Des Moines News. Later I left des Moines for a job as artist and photographer for the old Fort Worth Record.” As a reporter he covered a little known Mexican revolution, the Escobar uprising, in 1926. He got “shot up” in that affair.
In 1927, while Hamlin was producing artwork for an oil company he met a geologist who was a student of prehistoric life. “I became fascinated,” said Hamlin, “and took up the study of science out of library books. From geology I drifted into the study of life in past ages and later made history in general a hobby.”
Hamlin had the idea he would like to write a strip about dinosaurs with Dinny as the main character. He took a job with the Fort Worth Star Telegram as a reporter and rose to head of the art department. Hamlin had been drawing editorial cartoons for the paper when Alley Oop began to take form. He moved to Des Moines and one day in a fit of despondency threw all his drawings onto the fire. “I didn’t think I’d ever get over it,” his wife said.
In July 1933 Hamlin began all over again, writing and drawing his caveman feature for syndication by NEA beginning on August 7, 1933. Hamlin liked to think of himself as the biographer of the strip rather than the author. According to Hamlin Alley Oop was “just a big dope.” Mrs. Hamlin did all the color work for the Sunday Alley Oop.
In the beginning Alley, King Guz, Foozy, Oola and the other denizens of Moo were planned as human gimmicks to give conversation to a comic projected with mute Dinny the dinosaur as the lead character. The human element took over little by little and Dinny was relegated to the background. On April 7, 1939 Hamlin took a chance that his readers would follow Alley Oop into the present with the introduction of a time machine. One perplexed New York doctor psychoanalyzed Hamlin and “discovered” a dissatisfaction complex that had caused the artist to make the change.
When Hamlin retired in 1973 Oop’s writing and drawing were taken over by Dave Graue, his assistant of twenty years. Graue’s interest in cartooning began when he was a young boy copying the Chicago Tribune comics. V. T. Hamlin’s daughter, a high school classmate of Graue’s, introduced the two men. Graue was off to Air Force duty in WWII when Hamlin gave him a sketch of Alley Oop in an airplane. Graue gave him a sketch in return. “I guess I must have impressed him,” said Graue, “he got in touch with me after the war and asked me if I’d like to give up my job as a soda jerk to do some color charts and some lettering for him.”
Hamlin died at his home in Florida in 1993 but alley Oop continues to this day, written by Carole Bender and drawn by Jack Bender.
*The five Oop strips on top are dated April 3, April 4, April 6, April 8 and April 9, 1959. The three Oop strips on bottom are dated April 24, April 25 and April 30, 1959.

1 comment:

  1. There were a couple of days where Hamlin did a daily strip that was a single panel... these were superbly rendered, the guy was awesome...