Strip Teasers: Book Reviews

Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip
By Stuart Hample
Abrams ComicArts, 2009
Hardcover, 11 x 8, 240 pages
ISBN 978-0-8109-5742-8

“Inside Woody Allen” was a comic strip that ran from 1976-84. It never appeared in many papers, which was as it should be since, frankly, it wasn’t that great a strip.

The feature starred the famed comedian/filmmaker who was at the time riding high on a string of smash hit movies. Although Woody’s persona was all there — the neuroses, the philosophy, the skirt-chasing — in the comic strip he was scrubbed so clean, so innocuous, that it may as well have been a strip about Bob Saget.

What makes the book a worthwhile read certainly isn’t the strips, which are reproduced in great abundance, and it certainly isn’t for the intro by R. Buckminster Fuller, whose bizarre attempt at a comic strip got the best of me after a few pages. The highlight of the book is a 16-page introduction by cartoonist Stu Hample which traces the development of the strip and its travails with the syndicate. This is a great insider narrative that provides insight on the way syndicates, newspapers and comic strip creators interact. I felt this alone was worth the price of the book.

Not to give too much of the story away, but it turns out that if Woody and Stu had been given free reign on the strip it might well have been a classic. Hample reproduces many notes from Allen that show that Woody, genius that he was and is, had a keen understanding of what makes a great comic strip. Syndicate executives, on the other hand, were like a broken record — make it inoffensive, dumb it down, don’t make the grannies angry. As usual, the suits won. A pity…

One interesting design choice in the book should be mentioned. The nearly 200 pages of strips are all reproduced from original art, with corrections, blue lines and margin notes intact. The strips are all photographed in color, despite all the originals being in black and white. I can see reproducing a selection this way, but it seems an odd choice for an entire book. The production costs for all that color (even though the only actual color is just cream colored paper and blue pencil) explains the $35 price tag.

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