Friday, January 05, 2024

What Is Perry, Iowa Known For?

Above: the first Alley Oop Sunday page from September 9, 1934 via The Daily Cartoonist.

The most famous cartoonist to come out of Perry, Iowa was V.T. Hamlin, whose syndicated newspaper comic strip Alley Oop first appeared in 1932. 

Hamlin was, like a lot of young cartoonists, a doodler since he was a little kid. He sketched out Alley Oop at the age of eleven. By the time he was fifteen years old, he was selling his cartoons to the Perry Daily Chief. He drew cartoons for the Perry High School yearbook, The Eclipse, signing them under his nickname "Snick."

He left high school and, lying about his age, enlisted in the army to fight in World War 1. 

He shipped out as part of the Sixth Army's Motor Transport Group, arriving in France where he served with the American Expeditionary Forces in 1918. Recovering from a poison gas attack in France, Hamlin began illustrating the letters of fellow soldiers, and a newspaper man he met in the Army convinced him he could make a living from his art abilities. - Wikipedia

Hamlin returned to Perry and graduating in 1919, attended college at the University of Missouri and then Drake College. After an altercation with an art teacher ("Then the teacher took out my drawing and she stood up with it before the class and announced: 'Now here's a man with a wonderful talent and he wants to waste it on being a cartoonist!'"), he traveled, taking newspaper jobs and other work he could find. In 1926, he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Stapleton. She would become the model for Oola, the girlfriend of Alley Oop. The Hamlins had a daughter, Theodora, in 1927. They returned to Perry in 1930, where he submitted Alley Oop for syndication. The strip began on December 5, 1932. The strip was successful, and a Sunday version of the feature appeared two years later. The Hamlins  welcomed another child, Jon, in 1936.

Dorothy Hamlin also worked on the strip, creating color roughs and contributing story ideas, including the important plot device of time travel that was introduced April 5, 1939.

Hamlin wrote and drew Alley Oop until his retirement in 1971. When Hamlin retired because of failing eyesight, Dave Graue took over full-time. - Wikipedia

Alley Oop continues with Joey Alison Sayers (writer) and Jonathan Lemon (artist).



Ten years ago last spring (or 114 years after Hamlin's birth), I traveled to Perry, IA. Fellow cartoonist Dave Carpenter and I taught cartoon classes at Perry Elementary and I also gave a keynote address to the Chamber of Commerce. This was all to celebrate cartooning and cartoonists from Iowa. (I was born in Iowa City, IA, and was thus qualified.)

I was fortunate to stay at the Hotel Puttee's V.T Hamlin room. It's a huge room in a beautiful old hotel, which has a lot of Alley Oop memorabilia. More about that here

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Yesterday, the first day back to school for the second semester, there was a school shooting in Perry.

The Des Moines Register:

Six people were shot at Perry High School on Thursday morning by a 17-year-old who then killed himself.

One of the victims, a sixth grade student, died. Five other victims, including an administrator, were injured.

The shooting happened about 20 minutes before school was supposed to start when students from the adjoining middle school were at the high school for a breakfast program.


In this age, when there are threats from some of our politicians as well as the constant accusations on the internet and talk radio, it's a very different time from six or seven generations ago when Hamlin was born. 

We are all in our own worlds of routine and comfort. Mine is a cartoon world, and I always thought of Perry as Hamlin's town. That's not true now. When violence and death come in the early morning hours in a small town -- well, I can't imagine it, but here it is. My heart goes out to Perry, which will now be better known for a shooting than for a cartoonist. I hope that Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst do something meaningful about our lax gun laws. I wish we could go back in time and fix this, but we don't have that Alley Oop time machine, you know.


J. Lemon said...

Another school shooting. Another tragedy.

Thanks for posting Mike.

Brian Fies said...

This is a thoughtful and heartbreaking essay, Mike. Thanks.