Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Dadgum them pesky Greeks!" Looking at Alley Oop

Working on the university's comic art collection I've been fortunate enough to discover many classic comic strips for the first time; earlier I referred to my discovery of Captain Easy - and another fantastic strip was Alley Oop. Thanks to IDW's Library of American Comics series, there's finally a new and affordable volume of the Alley Oop strip!

Rather than cover the entire history of the strip, IDW published this item as a single volume of their "Essentials" series. As the cover declares, this is "the first time travel adventure," and spans strips from March 6, 1939 to March 23, 1940. It enters mid-story and exits mid-story because strips of the time tended to follow long, sprawling arcs - the strips featured here give some of the background leading into the time travel element. A thorough introduction gives the background of this unusual strip and its creator, V.T. Hamlin.

Alley Oop (which is still published today) told the story of a rough-and-tough caveman in his fanciful, humourous prehistoric adventures. In 1939, Hamlin decided to bring Oop (and girlfriend Ooola) into contemporary times, setting off a series of misadventures as Oop lumbers around the modern world, picking fights with trains and bulls. Before this can ever be exhausted, Oop sets off on another time travel adventure, winding up in Troy just in time to defend the besieged city from "them pesky Greeks."

Most of the humour in Alley Oop is anachronistic: Oop uses modern slang, the mythical Sirens summon victims with swing music, the time travellers bring items such as motorboats, tommyguns and a station wagon into Homer's Iliad - all good fun.

The stories are not only told with great humour, but fine art; Hamlin's storytelling is clear and simple (often conveying plots with just 3-4 panels per day), yet full of neat details and imagery (such as above where Oop throws a spear the wrong way). The only pity is IDW have chosen solely this volume for their library; if a complete Alley Oop is ever undertaken, or even if they pick up where this book ends, I'd be most pleased.

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