Obituary: Vincent T. Hamlin

Vincent Trout Hamlin, cartoonist: born Perry, Iowa 10 May 1900; married Dorothy Stapleton (died 1984; one son, one daughter); died Spring Hill, Florida 14 June 1993.

VINCENT T. HAMLIN was one of the United States' greatest newspaper strip cartoonists and creator of 'Alley Oop', the time-travelling caveman. Although the strip seems never to have been syndicated in England (where the name 'Alley Oop' conjures up the Eastern accents of ITMA's sly salesman - 'I go, I coom back]'), Hamlin's hairy hero and his glamorous partner Oola will be familiar to all who were brought up on the coloured Sunday supplements and reprint comic-books of the 1930s and 1940s.

Hamlin was born in Perry, Iowa, in 1900, the son of a dentist. As a boy he showed an aptitude for drawing, and when he was 11 his mother took him to visit one of his heroes, 'Ding' Darling, a leading political cartoonist of the day. He received less encouragement from school, where he took his revenge on his teachers by drawing caricatures of them to make his playmates laugh. At 13 he took a spare-time job in the local cinema as an assistant projectionist, where he first encountered the curiosity of actual time reversal by running the film reels backwards. This intrigued him, and years later he developed the idea into a time-machine, which became a basic gimmick to his comic strip.

Hamlin's first professional cartoons were published in his local newspaper, the Daily Chief, when he was 16. Unfortunately, being an active youth, he played American football for his high school and in a rough game broke his drawing hand. A year later the US entered the Great War and, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, Hamlin enlisted in the Army. His professional friend 'Ding' Darling wrote him a letter of congratulations. He served in France as a truck driver, and whilst hospitalised with influenza met the newspaperman Paul Bessey, who encouraged him in his cartooning. Fifteen years later Bessey would be instrumental in obtaining national syndication for Hamlin's 'Alley Oop'.

After his discharge in 1919, Hamlin returned to Perry High School for a year, then attended the University of Missouri in Columbia. Here he studied English, history and art, but a dispute with his art teacher over cartooning brought about his resignation.

Hamlin's career was some time in settling down: another year at Drake University while working as a night reporter for the Des Moines Leader; a period as assistant to 'Ding' Darling which led to an argument and the sack; a month as an animator with Pyramid Films (1923); the publication of his first strip, 'The Hired Hand', in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Meanwhile his father accidentally shot Vincent in the foot, and he broke his hand again after turning semi-pro boxer. He worked in the oil-fields making maps, as a sports photographer, failed a screen test for films, did window-dressing, reported on a revolution in Mexico, and finally, after three airplane crashes, was put in charge of the Art Department of the Des Moines Register. Here in 1930, he began to develop a daily strip called 'Oop the Mighty'.

After a false start with a minor syndicate of 40 newspapers, Hamlin was helped by Phil Bessey to find acceptance at Newspaper Enterprises Association, known as the NEA Syndicate. 'Alley Oop' started his official adventures on 7 August 1933, first as a daily, then as a full-page Sunday colour feature. Alley, ugly, hirsute, and somewhat simian, was also anachronistic as far as his dialogue went: 'By Gadfrey]'; 'Migosh]'; 'Holy cow]'; and 'Haw] Who sez ol' Oop's lost his stinger]' You could tell at a glance he was a tough nut: his forearms and calves bulged as bulbous as Popeye's. He also rode through the prehistoric jungles on the back of a dinosaur called Dinny. Alley's gal, as pretty as Oop was ugly, was Oola, and he lived a life of club-swinging adventure in the Kingdom of Moo. This prehistoric paradise was technically ruled by King Guzzle and his nagging wife, Queen Umpateedle, but the power behind the stone throne was Grand Vizier Foozy.

In 1939, six years on in the saga, Hamlin gave his cartoon a new turn by introducing a 20th-century inventor, Doc Wonmug, and his time-machine. A twist of the wrist and Oop could find himself one day fighting the Crusades, another in Olde Egypt with the tempting Cleopatra. Although the strip was not published in the UK, it undoubtedly inspired the Knockout Comic in 1939 to introduce Stonehenge Kit the Ancient Brit, a comedy strip serial with similar prehistoric protagonists: Kit, King Kongo the Helpless, Glam the Gal Pal, and Whizzy the Wicked Wizard. (I was one of several cartoonists to continue these Anglicised caveman capers.)

Hamlin retired from his strip in 1971, whereupon it was taken over by his assistant, Dave Graue. A somewhat shy, retiring man despite the daredevil adventures of his youth, Vince Hamlin is on record as saying, 'A gracious God gave me the tools I use. I strive to be worthy of his gift.'

(Graphic omitted)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?