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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

ALLEY OOP IS A TEXAN?

by C. F. Eckhardt
Alley Oop, the cave-man character created by Victor T. Hamlin in 1932, is a native Texan. Hamlin, at the time, was a cartographer for an oil company working in the Permian Basin. He had responsibility for mapping and making terrain sketches for well locations. Then steam shovels came in and leveled areas for the drilling rigs.

The area around present Iraan, Texas—pronounced ‘Ira-ann,’ incidentally, not ‘Iran’--was a gold mine of dinosaur fossils. In the days before salvage archaeology, the fossils were simply hauled away by the truckload. This gave Hamlin the idea for a comic strip.
This country, in the ‘20s and ‘30s, was dinosaur and cave man crazy. The silent version of Conan Doyle’s science-fiction novel THE LOST WORLD was a major boxoffice hit. One of the most popular cartoon characters of the day was ‘Gertie the Dinosaur.’ Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ape-man, Tarzan, was finding hidden valleys of dinosaurs and cave men all over Africa in Burroughs’ novels. A fossil find near Piltdown, in Britain—later proved to be faked—raised the possibility of a ‘missing link’ between apes and humans.
Hamlin created a ‘lost world’ of his own—the rival kingdoms of Moo and Lem (taken from the fictional ‘lost continents of Mu in the Pacific and Lemuria in the Indian Ocean), in a world populated by both dinosaurs and cave men.
Dinny of Alley Oop, Iraan Texas

Dinny in Iraan. TE Photo

Alley Oop, the muscular, beetle-browed, stone-ax packing hero, had a pet dinosaur named Dinny. Moo, the kingdom in which Oop lived, was ruled by King Guzzle, usually called Guz, who was in turn ruled by Queen Umpatiddle, usually called Umpa. Their adviser, the Grand Wizer, wore a headdress apparently made from a buzzard. The rival kingdom, Lem, with which Moo was often at war, was ruled by King Tunk.

Oop’s closest male friend, Foozy, spoke entirely in rhyme. It was, however, Oop’s girlfriend, Ooola, who—in effect—revolutionized comic art. Most women in newspaper comic strips at the time were essentially sexless. Wilma Deering, Buck Rogers’ female companion, usually wore riding pants. Only her name indicated she was female until much later. Blondie Boop-a-doop, who later married Dagwood Bumstead, was a typical 1920s boyish-figure flapper. Only Nina Clock, who became Mrs. Walt Wallet in the Gasoline Alley strip, had a suggestion of a figure. Ooola had curves! The sarong-like dress Hamlin put on her emphasized her voluptuous figure.

In effect, Hamlin broke the ice. When Flash Gordon came around considerably later, his female companion, Dale Arden, was not only buxom and curvaceous, she showed a lot more skin than Ooola did. Al Capp took it even farther with the scantily-clad, curvaceous gals of Dogpatch—Daisy Mae Scragg, Moonbeam McSwine, and Wolf Gal, among others. All these girls, though, were sexy only in appearance. In actions most of them were entirely innocent. It remained for Milton Caniff, in his first strip, Terry And The Pirates, later drawn by George Wunder, to create a female character that was not merely sexy-looking, but sexy-acting—the Dragon Lady. Hamlin started it all with Ooola.

The strip first appeared on December 5, 1932, and ran through January 3, 1933. Beginning on August 7, 1933, the strip began a continuous run that lasts even today, making Alley Oop the third-oldest continuous comic strip in the US. Only Gasoline Alley, which recently celebrated its 90th birthday, and Blondie are older.

In 1940 Hamlin added a new wrinkle. He created Dr. Elbert Wonmug (a play on Albert Einstein—ein is ‘one’ in German, and a stein is a mug), who invented a time machine. He also added Dr. Wonmug’s lab assistant, G. Oscar Boom (another play on words—the name is ‘go boom.) This opened the strip to many possibilities. Dr. Wonmug sent Oscar back to ‘the time of the dinosaurs’ to recover a small dinosaur or two. Oscar returned with Oop. Dr. Wonmug said “That’s impossible. There were no cave men in the time of the dinosaurs.”

Oscar replied “Behold the impossible.”

With Oop traveling in time along with Oscar and occasionally Dr. Wonmug himself, the strip took on an entirely new look. In the daily strips Oop and Oscar visited many eras in history, having adventures in ancient Egypt—where they met Cleopatra—to ancient Greece to accompany Ulysses on his adventures, to Arthurian England to assist King Arthur, and into the American West. These adventures, though, were only in the daily strip. The Sunday strip usually was a one-gag or a continuing story that lasted only two or three weeks, nearly always set in Moo. Many newspapers published two editions, a morning and an afternoon paper. The papers carried different comic strips. If the Sunday strip carried portions of an adventure that was ongoing in the daily strip, subscribers to the daily paper that didn’t carry Alley Oop couldn’t follow the story.

Hamlin drew the strip from 1932 until 1971, when he retired and his assistant, Dave Graue, took over. Graue both wrote and drew the strip until 1991, when he hired Jack Bender as illustrator. Graue wrote the strip until he retired in August, 2001. Bender then took over as primary illustrator, while his wife Carole began writing the strip. At its peak Alley Oop was carried by 800 newspapers. Today more than 600 papers carry it.

In Oop’s birthplace,
Iraan, Texas, the city park is known as ‘Alley Oop Fantasy Land.’ There are concrete statues of Oop, Dinny, Ooola, Dr. Wonmug, and Oscar Boom, and a mural depicting Moo.
© C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" >

January 14, 2009 column

See Iraan, Texas


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