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.
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.
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.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
January 14, 2009 column
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