Dread and Superficiality

Summary: Woody Allen’s classic neurosis, humorous life philosophy, and complex relationships, are embodied in the classic comic strip “Inside Woody Allen,” syndicated daily by King Features from 1976 to 1984, illustrated by Stuart Hample. Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen as Comic Strip is a compilation of 220 of the best of the comic’s comics, all reproduced from the original art, along with sketches, photographs, and development work.

An all-new preface by Hample provides a rare glimpse into the creation of this material, revealing a long-overlooked facet of Allen’s career that is smart and funny and as timeless as the man who has inspired a generation with his unique vision.

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Dread and Superficiality, by Stuart Hample 7.5

Though it may not be self-evident (since I haven’t fully explored his oeuvre in reviews), I’m a HUGE fan of Woody Allen’s brand of comedy. I was a late bloomer but, when I finally tried him on for size, I became a die-hard; it’s hard not to when an entertainer is as prolific and consistent as he is.

Yes, I’ll grant you that he frequently retreads the same material from different perspectives, and I’ll freely admit that his style isn’t appealing to everyone; Woody Allen is an acquired taste for some and it’s unpalatable to others. But if you appreciate his unique qualities, you want all you can get.

That’s why I see his latest picture every year with one of my besties, why I’ve bought every one of his films, including the ones that he’s only written (but didn’t direct or act in) and the ones that he only stars in (but didn’t direct or write), picked up his comedy albums, and have a few Woody Allen books.

So you can imagine my excitement when, while on a used media buying binge at my local library’s bookstore, I stumbled upon this hardcover collection of Woody Allen comic strips. I knew there was such a thing, but since it stopped being published well before I was aware of his existence, I hadn’t read any.

‘Dread and Superficiality’, which was released in 2009, is a set of some of cartoonist Stuart Hample’s favourite “Inside Woody Allen” strips from his eight-year run on the series. It covers the gamut in over 200 pages, collecting the strips by themes, which include existentialism, romance and much more.

Truth be told, I was surprised by the series because it doesn’t always conform to Allen-esque humour. Though Hample was fortunate enough to regularly discuss the series with Allen, and get his input, he injected his own brand of humour into the mix, which frequently devolves into more lowbrow fare.

Admittedly, this was essential in order to garner a readership: cartoon readers aren’t always going to want to read Allen’s musings. But I really didn’t expect some of the corniness found here. Thankfully, thanks to Allen’s guidance, Hample fought against his publisher’s wish for even broader comedy.

The collection naturally begins with a preface by Stuart Hample. Called “Cartoonist walks into a bar…”, it explains how he actually first met and got to work with Allen, and the whole process involved in making the strip a reality – including the pressure to make his strip marketable but faithful.

It was an interesting and fairly in-depth look behind the scenes that was then hampered by a peculiar intro by author and genius R. Buckminster Fuller, who drew a cartoon that propels readers into his beliefs about our universe and Woody Allen’s place in it. It’s über abstract and beyond my abilities.

I couldn’t even finish it.

Thankfully, the opening “Inside Woody Allen” strips were exactly the kind of material I’d been expecting, being substantially Allen-esque. The middle was less so, especially the relationship stuff, and I had to plod through it to get to the latter parts, which were more appealing and worth the effort.

Though it collects over 300 strips in a fairly cohesive manner, ‘Dread and Superficiality’s greatest weakness is that it’s impossible to perceive the series’ growth from 1976 to 1984. Was it initially better, losing steam over time? Did it have to find its groove? Or was it relatively consistent from day one?

And, aside for providing pointers, what did Woody Allen think of it?

This collection doesn’t answer these questions, but it does represent the body of work nicely. And though it’s not nearly as sophisticated as Allen’s own oeuvre, it’s quite enjoyable in its own right. However, I suspect that the variety of humour in its pages will tickle different funny bones quite differently.

It’s so scattershot that, ultimately, it may not be entirely satisfying for anyone.

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