Vincent T. Hamlin, Original Creator of Alley Oop

December 29, 2006

    It is no surprise that Alley Oop is a long-running success. The comic strip was built on the fascinating interests and delightful sense of humour of its innovative creator, Vincent Hamlin. Though he was an avid artist as a boy, it was a long, winding road to comics success. Hamlin's intrigue with the prehistoric stone-age era of cavemen and women, in fashionable leopard skin clothing accessorized with the latest in clubs, led him to devise a comic strip with a twist: his characters could time-travel.

    Vincent Trout Hamlin was born on May 10, 1900 in Perry, Iowa. His parents were Erma and Frederick Hamlin. Always artistic, he drew and doodled in his spare time. He liked to drop inat the local newspaper office, the Perry Chief, to use their copy paper for his drawings. *(1)

    World War One arrived, and Hamlin signed up at the tender age of 17 to join the fight. Shipped to France with the Sixth Army's Motor Transport Group, he used his artistic bent to illustrate letters home for his fellow soldiers. Injured in a poison gas attack, Hamlin was hospitalized for a time and then discharged. He returned home to his home town and, being a wise young man, returned to high school. He was still only 19 years old. *(2)

    Higher education called, leading Hamlin to a term at the University of Missouri in 1920, then to a term in journalism at Drake University in 1922. He gave up school after a nasty squabble with a teacher who had no use for cartooning. *(3)

V T Hamlin

   Hamlin found work as a journalist at the Des Moines News, then moved on to the Texas Grubstakers newspaper and the Fort Worth Record. By 1923, he was employed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but not as a journalist: he was now a photographer, a cartoonist and a writer. While at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he created his first comic, The Hired Hand, a four-panel strip, and created The Panther Kitten, a sports feature.

    Taking a bride in 1926, Hamlin married a girl from his home town, Dorothy Stapleton. The Hamlins became parents in 1927 with the birth of their daughter, Theodora, and again in 1936 with the birth of their son, Jon.

   Finding another job, Hamlin worked as an artist for an oil industry magazine. He became fascinated with paleontology and geology, leading him to wonder about dinosaurs and prehistoric ages. The seed for his comic strip was planted. The magazine collapsed and the Hamlin family moved back to Perry, Iowa in 1930, giving Hamlin the chance to create a comic strip of his own.

   "The Mighty Oop" was the first attempt by Hamlin to draw an on-going strip to submit for syndication. Unfortunately, he was unhappy with the results and destroyed the whole project. The next year, he tried again. He submitted Alley Oop, a caveman and friends living with dinosaurs, to Bonnet-Brown, a small syndicate, in 1932. They scooped it up and ran it as a daily, debuting on December 5, 1932. That is, until bad luck fell again six months later, and the syndicate failed. (Hamlin and Dorothy must have been hitting their heads on the wall in aggravation by then.)

    But, all was not lost. The NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) took on Alley Oop, and it began again on August 7, 1933. It was an immediate hit with readers who loved the unique theme (Six years later, Dorothy had suggested adding time-travel to the comic to give it a wider range of story lines) and so it also became a Sunday feature beginning on September 9, 1934.

Hamlin Comic Book

   It was the first strip to feature the Stone Age, but not the last. BC, The Flintstones and many others were to follow in Hamlin's innovative footsteps. Some have even suggested that Alley Oop's dinosaur, Dinny, was the idea for Dino the Dinosaur of Flintstone fame.

    Alley Oop was the ingenius work of Hamlin for almost forty years. Dave Graue was hired as his assistant in 1950, and he took over the cartooning of the dailies in 1967. (Hamlin developed vision problems that hindered his work.) Hamlin himself wrote storylines until 1970 and drew the Sundays until his retirement in 1973. Graue continued the strip with the help of assistant Jack Bender, and today, the husband and wife team of Carole and Jack Bender carry the torch, or shall we say the club, of Alley Oop.

    At its height of popularity, Alley Oop appeared in over 800 newspapers. In the 1960s, the main character was given the honour of being formed into a comics award statue called the "Alley". Along with the strip, Alley Oop has appeared in a line of comic books, assorted merchandise and television cartoon compilations. The USPS recognized Alley Oop in its 1995 series of stamps, Comic Strip Classics.

   After retiring, Hamlin and his wife moved to Brooksville, Florida. He wrote several books, including his autobiography, "The Man Who Walked With Dinosaurs", a novel, "The Devil's Daughter", and a fishing memoir entitled "Four Rivers." Married for almost 50 years, Dorothy died after battling a long illness in 1985. Hamlin died of cancer in Florida in 1993 at the ripe old age of 93. *(3)

Hamlin stamp
© USPS. All rights reserved.

    Vincent Hamlin was renowned for his fine skills as an artist and for his ability to create the believable out of the unbelievable. He was lauded for detailed character development, and for creating a wonderful world of fantasy, adventure and humour. The man was one hard act to follow.

Enjoy Alley Oop daily and Sundays:
http://comics.com/alley_oop/

Sources to find more about Vincent Hamlin and Alley Oop:
*(1) http://desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/99999999/FAMOUSIOWANS/41225011/1001/NEWS

*(2) http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/specialcollections/hamlin.htm

An especially informative biography:
*(3) http://www.stevestiles.com/alley.htm

© Susanna McLeod 2006
TheCartoonists.ca