Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Well OF COURSE everyone speaks English!

Though their art styles and the ambiance of their individual works is completely different, I think you can put Carl Barks, E.C. Segar, and V.T. Hamlin together in a rather odd category. Barks, of course, wrote and drew many classic Donald Duck & Uncle Scrooge stories. E.C. Segar wrote and drew the comic strip Thimble Theatre, which eventually gave us Popeye the Sailor. V.T. Hamlin wrote and drew the comic strip Alley Oop, which introduced a character many people consider to be their favorite caveman. (And if you don't have a favorite caveman--what the heck is wrong with you?)

All three creators managed to walk a sort of thematic tightrope, giving us excellent stories that combined comedy (often slapstick in nature) with a sense of honest-to-gosh adventure generating real suspense and a palpable sense of danger. And they did this without these two extremes clashing with each other at all. The stories flowed along smoothly with comedy and adventure complimenting one another rather than competing against one another.

We've looked at several of Barks' tales in the past and we'll eventually get around to Popeye. Today we'll take a look at Hamlin's Alley Oop, which began its long run on the newspaper comic page in 1932.

At first, it was set in a prehistoric past, with Oop riding around on his pet dinosaur and getting into fights on a a fairly regular basis. Despite its ancient setting, Hamlin often used the strip to satirize American suburban life. It was a great strip right from the beginning, with likable protagonists and a real sense of fun inherent in both story and art.

In 1939, Hamlin decided to shake things up a bit by having a 20th Century scientists inadvertently kidnap Oop and his girl Oola forward in time via a time machine.

This is the moment, I think, that Alley Oop truly becomes a classic strip--it literally opened up all of Eternity for story telling purposes. There's a great story involving Oop wandering around the 20th Century getting into minor trouble, redeeming himself when he accidentally catches a couple of bank robbers.

But Professor Elbert Wonmug, the inventor of the time machine, is having problems. He allowed a colleague named Dr. Bronson to travel to the prehistoric past to prove the machine works. But Bronson hasn't returned and Wonmug may be accused of Bronson's murder.

Oop volunteers to go back to find Bronson. But he soon discovers that he (and Bronson) are actually in the city of Troy--while its being besieged by the Greeks.

Oop--being Oop--promptly beats up a Trojan soldier and gets tossed in the slammer. He reunites with Bronson and, during an escape attempt, they meet up with Helen of Troy. Shenanigans ensue and Oop is
soon Troy's new champion, fighting in single combat against the Greek champion Ajax. It's a fight Oop wins mostly due to his unorthodox use of swords and spears.

The two time travelers can't get home because Oop can't remember the exact spot at which he arrived. Oola is sent back to find them, but she hooks up with the Greeks, where she's declared to be the goddess Minerva after she fires a pistol.

This all leads up to the Trojan Horse affair, some more fighting, Oola finding Oop and Bronson and everyone getting home just in time to save Prof. Wonmug from being arrested. Oop would eventually return to Troy,
as well as visit Robin Hood, ancient Egypt and the Moon.

Hamlin's art strikes just the right balance between cartoon imagery and realism. Elements that would be jarring in hard science fiction, such as everyone (regardless of their point in history) speaking colloquial English, was somehow appropriate within the panels of Alley Oop. It couldn't sillier, but Hamlin was able to make a time-traveling cavemen shouting "dadgum your hide" seem natural.

V.T. Hamlin knew how to have fun with his storytelling and that's what makes Alley Oop so successful.  No matter how absurd the subject matter, Hamlin could turn it into an entertaining yarn.


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