Inside Woody Allen, by Stuart Hample

Stuart Hample, sometimes shortened to Stoo Hample, was an American comic artist, children's novelist and playwright, most famous for his gag-a-day celebrity comic 'Inside Woody Allen' (1976-1984). This newspaper comic based on jokes from Allen's stand-up routines was globally translated. Hample also drew the shorter-lived newspaper comic 'Rich and Famous' (1976-1977), about a failed talent scout and his wife, and the monthly cat comic 'Tiger's Tales' (2006-2010). He was an assistant to Al Capp and wrote Bob Lubbers' 'Long Sam' (1958-1962) and 'Robin Malone' (1967-1970) during its final years. Outside the comic industry, Hample is famous for compiling the book 'Children's Letters to God' (1966), which became a multi-adapted international bestseller.

Early life and career
Stuart Ertz Hample was born in 1926 in Binghamton, New York. He enjoyed drawing even before he went to kindergarten. In the 1930s, he published a single-panel cartoon in his high school paper at Allen Field Junior High. Among his favorite comic strips were Percy Crosby's 'Skippy', Fontaine Fox' 'Toonerville Folks', Walt Kelly's 'Pogo' and Al Capp's 'Li'l Abner'. Hample ranked humorists like Jules Feiffer, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, George S. Kaufman and Woody Allen as comedy influences. During World War II, he was a submarine sailor in the U.S. Navy. Back in civilian life in 1946, Hample was a musical cartoonist for children's audiences during concerts. While the musicians performed, he made drawings to the beat of the melodies. In the late 1940s, Hample was host and screenwriter of the TV comedy show 'Cartoon Capers' and the childrens' program 'Junior Jamboree' (1947-1957), both broadcast on the local New York station WBEN-TV. Nationwide, he appeared on the early years of 'Captain Kangaroo' (CBS, 1955-1984) as "Mister Artist" and on 'Birthday House' (NBC, 1963-1967).

Hample studied English and drama at Williams College and the State University at Buffalo, where he graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor in Arts. From the 1950s until the mid-1970s, he worked as a designer for TV commercials. He thought up the catchphrase "That's Italian!" for Ragú spaghetti sauce.

Writings
From 1968 on, Hample had a weekly humor column, 'The Apple', in New York Magazine. A year later, another humor column by his hand, 'Fellow Citizens', debuted in the New Times Magazine. Both features were illustrated by Seymour Chast. Hample was a productive playwright and penned seven plays, most of which weren't successful. He additionally wrote and illustrated several children's books, starting off with 'The Silly Book' (Harper & Brothers, 1961).

Children's Letters to God
Of all his writings, 'Children's Letters to God' (1966) became his most popular title. Co-edited with Eric Marshall and illustrated by Yanni Posnakoff, the book features real letters by children addressed to God, though all are unintentionally funny because of their innocent questions and remarks. Later editions featured new artwork by successively Esther Szegedy and Tom Bloom. 'Children's Letters to God' was an instant bestseller and was globally translated. It spawned a sequel, 'More Children's Letters to God' (1967), with illustrations by Yanni Posnakoff. Between 24 June 1968 and 1976, 'Children's Letters to God' also ran as a daily newspaper cartoon feature through King Features Syndicate, illustrated by Stuart Hample. 'Children's Letters to God' was also adapted into a NBC TV special and a 1991 Broadway musical with lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen and music by David Evans.


'Children's Letters to God' daily panels from 1970.

Work with Al Capp and Bob Lubbers
After noticing 'Li'l Abner' creator Al Capp in a synagogue, Hample approached him, being a huge fan of his work. A collaboration ensued, including Hample helping out the cartoonist with 'Li'l Abner' and Capp working with Hample on ads for Wildroot Cream-Oil hair tonic. Between 1958-1959, Hample and Capp's brother Elliot Caplin were ghostwriters for Bob Lubbers' comic strip 'Long Sam' (1958-1962), about a hillbilly mountain girl, syndicated by Al Capp Enterprises. Over the decades, Hample's admiration for Capp's work remained, but his respect for the man himself diminished. He noticed how the veteran cartoonist grew into a frustrated conservative who ranted in private, in public as well as in his comics. In 1972, Capp's public image got irreparably damaged by a sex scandal. Around this period, Hample left him to seek new horizonts. Between 1967 and 1970, Hample worked with Bob Lubbers again, succeeding Paul S. Newman as the final writer of the newspaper comic 'Robin Malone'.

Inside Woody Allen, by Joe Marthen
Debut strip of 'Inside Woody Allen' (4 October 1976).

Inside Woody Allen
In the 1950s, a still unknown comedian named Woody Allen wrote jokes for comedians and TV talk show hosts. By the next decade, he performed stand-up in Greenwich Village, New York. As one of his earliest fans, Hample often went to see him. By 1965, Allen went to Hollywood, but lack of creative control motivated him to become an independent director. Throughout the 1970s, Allen made several witty slapstick movies which did well at the box office. The comedy was far more contemporary, daring and clever than most Hollywood films at the time. Allen made jokes about sex, relationships, religion, philosophy, psychology, politics, Jewish identity, neuroticism and frequently referenced literature, works of art and arthouse movies. It gained him a cult following among college students and intellectuals. Since he played the starring role in nearly all of his films, he became one of the most unusual film stars of all time. Especially since he operated outside the Hollywood system and refused to dumb down his style or go to award shows.

In 1976, Hample approached Allen with the idea of making a comic strip about him. This wasn't the first time the director appeared in a comic, though. E. Nelson Bridwell and Mike Sekowsky had used Allen as the model for Merryman in issue 71 (1967) of the DC comic book 'The Inferior Five'. But Hample didn't intend a throwaway cameo: he felt that Allen's style of comedy could work as a newspaper gag-a-day strip. After all, Jules Feiffer's comics featured very similar reflections on psychological issues, and these predated Allen several years. In fact, Feiffer once said that Allen seemingly took a lot of inspiration from him. The comedian accepted Hample's proposal. Allen envisioned his celebrity comic as something with the witty satire of Al Capp's 'Li'l Abner' and Walt Kelly's 'Pogo'. After reading a few try-outs he gave Hample permission to borrow material from his stand-up days. When going through Allen's documents, the cartoonist discovered many of Allen's notes just featured a couple of catchwords, phrases and funny associations, so he frequently had to ask Allen for more thorough explanations. Every Saturday, they met at Allen's Fifth Avenue penthouse to discuss upcoming episodes. To come up with new gags, the cartoonist also hired other writers, including his sons Joe and Henry, Allen's publicist Richard O'Brien and the future writer David Weinberger - who was still a philosophy student in Toronto at the time. Weinberger was a fan of Woody Allen, but nevertheless once wrote a parody of his style, '50 Woody Allen Jokes', which he tried to get published in various papers. The New York Times refused it, but suggested sending it to Allen's manager, which landed him a job as one of the comic strip's ghostwriters.

Inside Woody Allen, by Stuart Hample

Syndicated by King Features, the first episode of 'Inside Woody Allen' appeared in newspapers on 4 October 1976. Since Hample's other comic strip, 'Rich and Famous', debuted at a rival syndicate one month later, early episodes of 'Inside Woody Allen' appeared under the pseudonym Joe Marthen, a contraction of the names of Hample's children Joe, Martha and Henry. After 19 September 1977, when 'Rich and Famous' was discontinued, 'Inside Woody Allen' ran under Hample's real name. In the earliest episodes, Hample drew Allen with a small nose, but he later gave him a larger, more bulbous nasal organ. The comic strip portrays the comedian according to his public image: a neurotic New York intellectual who struggles with existential problems. His parents induce him with guilt, his relationships are rarely satisfying and he frequently visits psychiatrists. However, other gags portray Allen more like the real-life celebrity. We see him appear in talkshows, deal with obnoxious fans or argue with his slick agent Bernie. Other side characters are his bearded psychologist dr. Hrolf Helmoltz and cynical female therapist Dr. Fobik.

'Inside Woody Allen' was quite an unusual newspaper comic in the sense that it dealt with very philosophical, often cynical jokes. Contrary to most self-important media stars, Allen didn't mind being ridiculed in his celebrity comic, which likely helped it stay fresh. He encouraged Hample to move beyond the gag-a-day format and the celebrity gimmick. The comedian suggested to make more use of the secondary characters and develop strong narratives with substance. Still, King Features pressured Hample to keep the tone light-hearted and free from controversy. Jokes about religion or death had to be treated with caution. Allen advised the cartoonist to ignore the syndicate's requests. Interviewed by The Guardian on 18 October 2009, Hample recalled that Allen insisted: "We will gain more than we will lose by establishing an identity: my tendency would be to risk being more offensive. I always believe that if I love a thing, 90 percent of the time there will be some people out there who also like it." When informed that one California newspaper dropped the comic because it dealt with religion and negative topics, Allen took it as a compliment: "Never underestimate the audience, despite Nixon."


Dutch translation of 'Inside Woody Allen'. Allen: "Ha, that Marilyn. Oh, how I love her!" Woman: "Did you KNOW her?" Woody: "She played various guest roles in my daydreams." Allen: "Dad, can you cash this cheque for me?" Father: "Sure, son." Mother: "Psst, Walter... Bzz Bzzz Bzz". Dad: "Right, dear. Can you identify yourself?" 

Thanks to Allen's fame, 'Inside Woody Allen' received a lot of media attention. Hample was lucky too, as his comic strip happened to start just when Allen's movies underwent a major stylistic change. His earliest films were easily accessible slapstick, but his next picture, 'Annie Hall' (1977) was more of a tragicomedy, with Allen toning down the amount of jokes in favor of a more dramatic story arc. It not only surprised fans, critics and viewers, but also won the Academy Award for "Best Picture", rising public interest to even higher levels. 'Annie Hall' also had a short animated sequence, in which Allen's character mentions he always had sexual feelings towards the Evil Queen in Disney's 'Snow White'. Allen appeared in a cartoony version of himself, modelled after the way Hample drew him in the newspaper comics. As a result, people often incorrectly assume that he was the animator. In reality the scene was done by former Disney animator Chris Ishii.

After 'Annie Hall', more newspapers were interested in a Woody Allen comic strip. Over 460 U.S. papers ran it. 'Inside Woody Allen' was translated in Dutch ('De Vrolijke Frustraties van Woody Allen'), French, German, Danish, Spanish ('A Vida Privada de Woody Allen'), Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian ('La Vita Secondo Woody Allen', and in Linus as 'L'Ego di Woody Allen'). At the start of the episode 'Een Zakje Chips' (1981) of the series 'De Kiekeboes' by the Belgian cartoonist Merho, Woody Allen has a cameo, drawn in Hample's style. Mary Beth Hurt, who had a role in Allen's film 'Interiors' (1978), once phoned her mother to tell her she was in a Woody Allen movie. She assumed her mum wouldn't be familiar with him, but to her surprise she knew who he was, albeit "from the funny pages". In another anecdote, Hample once showed Allen a copy of the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, where his comic strip ran in Portuguese. The cartoonist was quite enthusiastic about it, but Allen merely remarked wryly: "Why am I always popular in countries where they torture people?" (referring to the fact that Brazil had a militaristic junta at the time). Later Allen mellowed this joke down to: "Why am I always popular in countries with a low crop economy?"


'Inside Woody Allen' (12 December 1981).

'Inside Woody Allen' managed to last eight years, no doubt thanks to the fact that Allen always remained subject of media attention because he released a new movie every few years. At one point, CBS considered adapting the comic into an animated TV series, but Hample's agent Jack Rollins felt it would be better not to overload the cartoonist with extra work. Indeed, the cartoonist eventually grew tired of the comic and when he was offered a job as scriptwriter for the TV sitcom 'Kate & Allie', he was in a position to terminate 'Inside Woody Allen'. The final episode was printed on 8 April 1984.

A first book collection was published under the title 'Non-Being and Somethingness: Selections from the Comic Strip Inside Woody Allen' (Random House, 1978), with a foreword by Buckminster Fuller. Thirty years later, a new compilation was released, 'Dread and Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip' (Harry N. Abrams, 2009), with a foreword by Woody Allen himself. Other comics that have dealt with psychoanalysis as a major theme were Nicholas P. Dallis & Marvin Bradley's 'Rex Morgan M.D.' (since 1948) and the EC comic book 'Psychoanalysis' (1955), edited by Al Feldstein. In the Netherlands, Peter de Wit explores the theme with his humor newspaper comic strip 'Sigmund' (since 1993).


'Rich and Famous' (12 December 1976).

Rich and Famous
Only one month after the launch of 'Inside Woody Allen', Stuart Hample started an additional comic strip: 'Rich and Famous' (1976-1977). It went into circulation through Field Enterprises on 1 November 1976. It centers around talent scout Bruce Rich, his long-suffering wife Daphne and the various wannabe entertainers that they have to endure. The comic strip made Hample neither rich or famous and therefore came to an end after five months, on 12 March 1977.

Tiger's Tales
In the dawn of his career, Hample drew a monthly cartoon for the cat lover's magazine Cat Fancy, called 'Tiger's Tales' (2006-2010).

Death
Stoo Hample spent his final years working on a graphic novel for teenage girls. Unfortunately, it was still unfinished when the 84-year old cartoonist passed away from cancer in 2010. His son Zack Hample has enjoyed some fame as a collector of baseballs.


Stuart Hample with Woody Allen in 1978.

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