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September 20, 2010

Stuart Hample, 1926-2010


Stuart Hample, a children's book author, theater performer, television entertainer, ad man, cartoonist, writer and illustrator perhaps best known in comics circle for his noteworthy run on the newspaper comic strip Inside Woody Allen, passed away on September 19 from complications due to cancer. He was 84 years old.

Hample was born in Binghamton, New York. He served in the U.S. Navy straight out of high school during the second half of the Second World War as a member of the Submarine Service. He attended college after the War, graduating in 1950 with a degree from the University of Buffalo, a time during which he also worked, first in advertising, then as a writer and star on a pair of television shows in Buffalo, New York. He substituted on the NBC network show Birthday House when they needed an artist, and would go on to fulfill that role on the CBS television show Captain Kangaroo in the 1950s.

He was briefly an assistant for Al Capp in the mid-'50s, and in the early 1960s began his initial run as a children's book author employing the pseudonym Stoo Hample with 1961's The Silly Book, under the legendary Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Row's juvenile decision. Hample's book was successful enough to spawn an LP follow-up, and the author created a total of seven books during that decade. In 1967, Hample took over writing chores on Bob Lubbers' cult classic comic strip Robin Malone from Paul S. Newman and may have kept that job until the strip's conclusion in 1970.

Hample was in the midst of a return stint in advertising when he had the opportunity to try another comic strip, Rich And Famous. Signed to an exclusivity agreement on that strip, he had the idea of doing a strip with Woody Allen as its lead, drawing on the comedian's signature comedic persona which had by this time widespread recognition through his movies. Allen agreed, gave Hample a bunch of his joke books for adaptation, and would receive a share of the monies earned. Hample tried to continue with Rich and Famous by using the pseudonym Joe Marthen, but the earlier strip soon came to an end and he put his own name on the newer feature one year in. Inside Woody Allen launched in 1976 and would run until 1984, giving a second life to many of Allen's jokes and providing him with an audience that may have been older than those heading to the multiplex to see Sleeper and Annie Hall.

Although never a breakout hit, Inside Woody Allen had a large enough client list to be a profitable venture and to draw attention to syndication warhorse King Features for its modern, more youthful appeal. One could also argue that by drawing directly from Allen's source material, it was, with the possible exception of Doonesbury, the strip that engaged a wide variety of adult subjects in the most direct fashion. According to a profile at PW, Hample eventually grew less excited about the strip, and when he started writing for the television show Kate & Allie he was in a position to end the trip.

Like his friend and fellow cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Hample was also a prolific playwright. He was both published and produced, starting with Alms For The Middle Class and running through the course of his life. Seven plays, including an adaptation of one of his children's books, are listed here. He reinvigorated his authorship of children's books during the Woody Allen run, and also kept that career track alive for the remainder of his days through new books and select re-issues. In 2009, Abrams published a collection of Hample's best work on the Woody Allen feature, Dread & Superficiality, a book that included a lavishly illustrated section about its creation and modest but well-remembered run.

Robin McConnell interviewed Hample during the publicity tour for Dread and Superficiality and remembers a genial raconteur. "Stu had a genuine old school charm that grabbed your right away. During the interview, Stu was constantly throwing zingers at me, like a polite version of Evan Dorkin. He had a true love for comics, from his time working under Al Capp, to his years with Woody Allen. He was as proud of his friendships with Jack Davis and Jules Fieffer as any part of his storied career. I was struck by charismatic charm and being able to recall the most obscure details from his career, including a great yarn about Al Capp and an awkward date. These stores are the gems that interviewers want, and Stu had an endless supply."

Hample was working on a graphic novel aimed at a teenaged girl audience. It is unknown if it was completed or will be published.

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