For as long as he could read, Mark Lambert has been reading the “Alley Oop” comic strip in the Newton Daily News.
The 52-year-old Newton native, who also delivered the Daily News in his youth, said “Alley Oop” was a passion he picked up from his father. Olen Lambert, who still resides in Newton, began reading the strip in his youth, as well.
“I have many fond memories of reading ‘Alley Oop’ and talking with Dad about it,” Mark said. “We would discuss what had happened in the strip and what we thought was going to happen next.”
So, imagine Mark’s surprise when he received an email from Jack and Carole Bender, the creative minds behind “Alley Oop” today, informing him he would soon be a character in the comic serial. “Dr. Mark Lambert” first appeared in Thursday’s strip.
“Being a character in an Alley Oop strip is a dream come true for this kid who rushed to open the Newton Daily News to the comics page every night of my childhood to read his favorite comic strip,” he said.
The “Alley Oop” syndicated comic strip was created in 1932 by V.T. Hamlin, a native of Perry, who wrote and drew the popular serial through four decades for Newspaper Enterprise Association. The strip is today syndicated through Universal Uclick.
Hamlin created an engaging cast of characters, led by the title character, who was a sturdy citizen of the Stone Age kingdom of Moo. Alley Oop rode his pet dinosaur, Dinny, and carried a stone war hammer.
Since its inception, “Alley Oop” was a satire on American suburban life, and often dealt with the important topics of the day. In April of 1939, Hamlin introduced a new character, Dr. Elbert Wonmug, and a new plot device, a time machine, that allowed the Stone Age characters to travel through space and time, making the strip an ageless classic.
Today, the strip is written and drawn by the Benders. They became acquainted with Mark nearly 15 years ago through a special event hosted by the Daily News.
“Jack is from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, and had a really good friend from his days at the Courier, Mike Chapman,” Carole Bender said. “Mike asked Jack to give a talk and to sign autographs. As Jack was signing autographs, he noticed a guy with a beard and a big, beaming smile.”
That was Mark. Once he had a chance to meet Jack Bender, he was able to express his lifelong infatuation with the “Alley Oop” comic strip. They continued to converse from time to time, which provided another opportunity for Mark and the Benders to cross paths a couple years later.
“About 13 years ago, I learned that the original creator of ‘Alley Oop,’ V.T. Hamlin, grew up in Perry,” he said. “I then started working on a documentary film about [Hamlin] that was released in 2005 and is entitled, ‘Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop.’”
Mark said he spoke with the Benders as part of the five-year process to create the documentary. Since then, they’ve stayed in touch. Mark and Carole are Facebook friends, as well, which is why he was picked to play a role in the comic strip.
“Oop was in a very serious fall ... Dr. Wonmug insisted he be checked out by a doctor,” Carole said. “Any time we add a character, I make a creative decision to come up with the name. Will it be a fictional character, or someone we know?”
Initially, Carole said, the doctor Dr. Wonmug selects was going to be the Benders’ personal physician. But, they didn’t know him quite as well as they knew Mark. So, even though Mark is an attorney by trade — he’s an assistant city attorney in Ames — they felt he would make a good “Dr. Lambert” for the strip.
“We thought he would probably get a kick out of being in the strip, so we were fairly certain he would be OK with it,” Carole said. “When Oop has had such a serious injury, we thought what better hands to put him in than one of his Number One fans.”
The Dr. Lambert character will continue to be a part of the daily comic strip through Monday, Dec. 2. “Alley Oop” appears daily — twice on Friday — on the Daily News’ Diversions page, found on page 6A.
Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at email@example.com.