Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Sunday Funnies - Alley Oop 1934-36!

It's a general notion that not much captures a young kid's imagination like dinosaurs. It was certainly the case with me. The idea that once upon a time immense beasts roamed the landscape, long before man was a figment of nature's imagination is thrilling in a way. Even more thrilling is the bizarred but compelling notion that maybe despite all the geological evidence to the contrary that dinosaurs and mankind might have coexisted. Maybe these beasts (all called "dinosaurs" despite their actual classifications) are still lurking up some forgotten river or inside some lost valley and maybe people might stumble across them sometime. 

It's the basis for many a yarn including those spun by the likes of Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Doyle (The Lost World). Movies made of these stories and originals have spread the vicarious gospel that man and prehistoric beast are good together. The thrill of dinosaurs hit a peak when The Lost World made it to the silent picture screen and later still in 1933 a little movie called King Kong transformed the movies and the way we think about dinosaurs. But in 1932 in the comics pages V.T. Hamlin was scratching about trying to find a formula for a hit strip to make a living with. He fashioned one which showcased some rather sophisticated cavemen and lo and behold they shared their four-color universe with a wide assortment of dinosaurs. The strip was named Alley Oop and it made Hamlin's career and he worked on it the rest of his life. 

According to my exhaustive research (Wikipedia) the Alley Oop stories take place in the "Bone Age" and the names of "Alley Oop" and "Oooola" his girlfriend are derived from the French phrases "allez hop" and "oo-la-lah" respectively. Alley and his ever-rhyming colleague Foozy live in "Moo" (Mu) and contend from time to time with folks from "Lem" (Lemuria). Hamlin was having lots of fun with language as he fabricated light-hearted misadventures for his prehistoric gang. In 1934 a Sunday page began and that's what I just finished reading the first volume of from Dark Horse. The strips are from the years 1934 through 1936, and we meet our cast and learn quite a lot. 

Alley and his buddy Foozy as the pair try to make a go of their mercantile storefront (a cave opening) which specializes most often in clubs and stone axes. In fact they even scheme to trigger a small war between Moo and Lem to driving up sales at one point. At another the two fall out and begin a heady competition. At other times they must placate King Guzzle and Queen Umpateedle who rule over Moo. In these early tales Alley Oop is not seemingly all that interested in romance, but does have a hankering for fisticuffs. I was reminded of Popeye's pugilistic ways, though Oop doesn't seem to be all that much tougher than his mates. All of them though are plenty tough though because they commonly hunt down giant dinosaurs for a host of resources such as meat for food and bones for equipment. 

The strip also supplies real actual information in the form of images and data on actual real dinosaurs and other assorted prehistoric creatures in a feature dubbed "Dinny's Family Album". Later this will give way to other kinds of premium activities, but for the first few years of the Sunday page it could be relied upon to display some very bizarre ancient critters indeed. 

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