Cal Alley was once asked: "How long does it take to produce a cartoon?"
"Ten hours and twenty minutes," he answered truthfully. "Huh?" came the response.
"Ten hours to work up the idea, twenty minutes to draw it," Alley explained.
Cal Alley, who was editorial cartoonist for the Commercial Appeal from 1945 until his death on Nov. 10, 1970, was a firm believer that before a cartoonist sat down to his drawing board he should have something to say, and then he should say it forcefully.
He executed his drawings rapidly and with force, much to the amazement of many who did not know he had spent hours before picking the proper subject, seeking just the right slant, the proper treatment.
Alley grew up in the editorial cartooning profession. He was tutored by his illustrious father, J.P. Alley, who was a masterful, internationally famous cartoonist.
Alley was born in Memphis where his father was an artist and the first person to hold the position of daily editorial cartoonist for the Commercial Appeal. In addition, the senior Alley drew the nationally syndicated cartoon feature "Hambone." Even before Cal could complete his formal education and art training, he joined his brother, James, in drawing "Hambone" after their father's death.
Following art training in Memphis and Chicago, Alley took his first full-time work as a cartoonist for the Kansas City (Mo.) Journal in 1939. When the Journal stopped publication in 1942, he returned to Tennessee as the editorial cartoonist for the Nashville Banner.
In 1945, the Commercial Appeal invited him to return home to fill the position first held by his father.
He met the challenge of the daily cartoon, continued to draw "Hambone" and created a new family comic strip "The Ryatts" based on his own family situations or those of friends and neighbors. He drew the nationally-syndicated cartoon strip from 1954 until 1967 but gave it up to devote himself full-time to his daily editorial cartoon.
Alley had a genius for deflating the pompous, never hesitating to take on anyone in his cartoons. One of his more famous ones, showing John Bull as a beggar holding a cup for a handout while standing in front of the Socialism Bar, almost created an international incident when reprinted in a London paper.
Many of his other cartoons won different recognition. Among his many honors are a Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for his 1955 cartoon showing a ghostly American soldier wearing an arm band labeled "Korean Dead" and blocking the path of a bloody-handed figure of Red China as it advanced toward the United Nations, which was captioned, "Over My Dead Body."
By 1970 when he was at the height of success, he became ill and two days before his 55th birthday he died of cancer. Earlier the American Cancer Society had honored him by selecting his cartoon on the fight against cancer as the best one on the subject that year.