Longtime comic book artist Herb Trimpe passed away unexpectedly on April 13th at the age of 75. I was a big fan of Trimpe’s work and I’ve written about him a few times previously on this blog.
Trimpe may not have been the most flashy, dynamic artist. But he was definitely a great storyteller, drawing effective interior layouts and striking covers that grabbed your attention. Like many others of his generation, Trimpe had an amazing work ethic, keeping a monthly schedule on numerous titles during his career.
In his early 20s Trimpe briefly worked as an inker for Dell and Gold Key. After a four year stint in the Air Force from 1962 to 1966, he began to get work at Marvel Comics. Among his earliest assignments at Marvel were such Western characters such as Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid. He also inked Marie Severin’s pencils on the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish in 1967.
In 1968 Tales to Astonish was retitled The Incredible Hulk beginning with issue #102. Four months later Trimpe became the book’s penciler with issue #106. This was a start of a mammoth run on the series that would last until issue #193 in late 1975. During that seven and a half year run, Trimpe missed a mere two issues. His work on Incredible Hulk resulted in his depiction of the Jade Giant becoming one of the most identifiable, iconic renditions of the character.
While on Incredible Hulk, Trimpe sometimes inked his own pencils, and he was also paired with inkers John Severin, Dan Adkins, Sal Buscema, Sam Grainger, Sal Trapani, Jack Abel and Joe Staton. He illustrated stories written by some of Marvel’s most talented writers, namely Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart and Len Wein.
One of the most memorable Hulk stories that Trimpe penciled was “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom” from issue #140. Plotted by science fiction author Harlan Ellison, scripted by Thomas, and inked by Grainger, this was the introduction of Jarella, the green-skinned princess of a sub-atomic world. Jarella is undoubtedly one of the Hulk’s true loves. All these decades later this bittersweet tale is fondly remembered. Trimpe’s layouts on the final few pages are extremely impactful, driving home the tragedy of the ending.
Trimpe also became the very first artist to draw the now-popular mutant Wolverine in print. Wolverine’s look was actually designed by John Romita. But it was Trimpe who penciled his first three published appearances in Incredible Hulk #s 180-182, which were written by Wein, with inking by Abel.
In later years Trimpe would be commissioned on numerous occasions to draw re-creations and re-interpretations of that first historic battle between the Hulk and Wolverine. One of those pieces, with a background illustration by Gerhard, was used last year as the cover for Back Issue #70 from TwoMorrows Publishing, the theme of which was “Incredible Hulk in the Bronze Age.”
During his lengthy stint at Marvel Trimpe drew many of the company’s characters. His credits include Iron Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain Britain, Ant-Man in Marvel Feature, Killraven in Amazing Adventures, Captain America, Avengers, Son of Satan in Marvel Spotlight, Defenders, Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, Machine Man, and several stories in What If.
Trimpe and writer Gary Friedrich created the World War I flying ace Phantom Eagle, who made his debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (Sept 1968). The character obviously tapped into Trimpe’s longtime love for airplanes, and his artwork for this story was very dynamic. Although the character of the Phantom Eagle never really took off (so to speak) he did make a few subsequent appearances over the years, including in Incredible Hulk #135 once again drawn by Trimpe.
Beginning in the late 1970s Trimpe drew a number of Marvel titles featuring licensed characters. He penciled nearly the entire two year run of Godzilla. This was a wacky and offbeat series written by Doug Moench that integrated Toho’s famous monster into the Marvel universe. Trimpe illustrated Godzilla’s encounters with Dum Dum Dugan and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Champions, Devil Dinosaur, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. In issue #17 Moench, Trimpe and inker Dan Green even showed Godzilla getting shrunk down in size by Hank Pym, a condition that persisted for the next few issues!
Trimpe also drew Shogun Warriors, Transformers, and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. He was the first artist on the successful G.I. Joe comic launched in 1982. He penciled the first several issues, and also plotted a few of them, with G.I. Joe writer Larry Hama scripting. On issue #8 Trimpe even flew solo, plotting, penciling, inking and scripting “Code Name: Sea-Strike!”
Interviewed in 2001 for issue #53 of the Godzilla magazine G-Fan, Trimpe reflected upon his work on these various licensed titles:
“It’s funny, because you have a point about that. I never realized it before, but I have worked on a lot of licensed projects… I believe that it was probably because all of those titles involved the military, big vehicles and machines. [Marvel] knew I enjoyed drawing that stuff. Even the Hulk fought the army a lot. So, that’s no coincidence. I’m a big airplane freak. That’s really the connection there. I loved airplanes as a kid. I used to build models. I eventually got my pilot’s license, and even owned my own airplane for a number of years.”
Trimpe soon departed from G.I. Joe as he was not fond of drawing its (literal) army of characters. Five years later he returned to work on the spin-off series G.I. Joe Special Missions which was also written by Hama. With its smaller casts and self-contained stories, the book was more appealing to Trimpe. “I actually liked doing the Special Missions better than the regular one,” he stated in Back Issue #16.
Plus, within the pages of Special Missions, Trimpe got to draw airplanes… lots of them! On his Facebook page Hama fondly reminisced “Fave way to make Herbie happy was to give him a script with lots of airplanes in it.” Trimpe drew nearly the entirety of the 28 issue run of Special Missions.
The 1990s was a major decade of transition for Trimpe. He began drawing in a manner reminiscent of the then super-popular Image Comics founders, particularly Rob Liefeld. This new style was most notably on display within the pages of the giant-sized quarterly title Fantastic Four Unlimited which was written by longtime Marvel scribe, and Trimpe’s former Incredible Hulk collaborator, Roy Thomas. Mike DeCarlo and Steve Montano inked the first few issues, with Trimpe himself embellishing his pencils on the later stories.
Many people thought that Trimpe was being pressured into altering his style to conform to the flavor of the month. However, as he explained to Brian Cronin on Comic Book Resources in 2009, this was not the case:
“Truth was, it was a lark–but a lark with a purpose, all devised by myself. No one at Marvel suggested I change the way I draw or ink. I looked at the new guys’ stuff, and thought, hey, this is great. Very exciting. You can always learn from somebody else, no matter how long you’ve been doing a thing.
“I did, however, think the style might lead to new work at a time when Marvel was already in trouble, and it did. FF Unlimited was my last series at Marvel, and contrary to what a lot of fans think, I think it was the best work I’d done–and, I had a whole lot of fun doing it. Very expressive. I think the newer influences in comic book art brought out a better me. Like I said, most of the fans of the earlier stuff would not agree. On one occasion, I inked a whole story with a brush, which is what I was raised on, and the editor objected asking me not to do that anymore. But in general, no one pressured me into a change.”
Looking over Trimpe’s artwork on FF Unlimited, it is undoubtedly offbeat. The anatomy of his figures is wonky. Trimpe may have enjoyed this particular stylistic experiment, but as a reader I do not think it was entirely successful. Having said that, his layouts and storytelling on those issues are dramatic and imaginative. Despite the odder aspects of Trimpe’s early 1990s art, I enjoyed the stories he and Thomas told in FF Unlimited.
Unfortunately, with the comic book industry experiencing a huge downturn due to the collapse of the speculator market in the mid-1990s and Marvel declaring bankruptcy, Trimpe found himself out of work. It was an extremely difficult period of time for him. Trimpe would document his feelings on being unemployed in a journal. His writings would later be published as “Old Superheroes Never Die, They Join the Real World” by the New York Times in 2000. They can be read on Jim Keefe’s website.
Reading Trimpe’s journal entries, I have some identification. I was laid off in late 2009, and since then have worked a series of temp positions, with periods of unemployment in-between. I have yet to find a new permanent job. If this is stressful for someone in their 30s, I can only imagine how much more so it was for Trimpe, who was two decades older, and who had been at the same job for over a quarter of a century. Eventually he was able to make the difficult transition into a new career, working as a high school art teacher.
I regard Trimpe’s experiences in the 1990s as yet another reminder that, for all its excitement, a career in the comic book industry is also one that is fraught with uncertainty. Trimpe’s story is sadly not unique. Many others older creators have had similar experiences. I am just glad that eventually, after much hard work, he was able to land on his feet.
In 1992 Trimpe had been ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. A decade later, in the months following the September 11th terrorist attacks, he performed volunteer work as a chaplain in lower Manhattan.
Within the last several years Trimpe began working in comic books again. A number of creators who were fans of his work when they were growing up started to hire him to draw various covers, fill-in issues and short stories. In 2008 Trimpe drew the first issue of the BPRD: War on Frogs miniseries published by Dark Horse and a back-up story in the King-Sized Hulk special.
In 2010 IDW began publishing G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero which continued the continuity, as well as the numbering, of the original Marvel series. Larry Hama was once again writing the series. A few issues into this revival Trimpe began contributing covers for the series based on layout sketches from Hama. Trimpe’s covers were featured on the series for nearly two years. He was also one of the pencilers on the 2012 annual.
Savage Dragon creator and Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen is a longtime fan of Trimpe’s work. As he recently explained, “The first comic book I ever bought with my own money was The Incredible Hulk #156.” In 2010, when Savage Dragon was approaching its own 156th issue, Larsen approached Trimpe to draw a variant cover paying homage to that Incredible Hulk issue. Working from Larsen’s rough layout, Trimpe illustrated a great cover featuring two versions of the Dragon facing off against one another.
Four years later, for Savage Dragon #200, Larsen asked Trimpe to contribute to two of the back-up stories. On the first one Larsen inked Trimpe’s pencils; on the second Trimpe inked Larsen. I really enjoyed how those came out.
Within the last decade Trimpe became a regular guest at comic book conventions, especially in the Tri-State area. This was when he started to realize just how much his work, which he had always been somewhat critical of, meant to people. In his 2008 foreword to Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Vol. 5, Trimpe wrote:
“…what finally sunk into my thick skull, was that hundreds, if not thousands, of comic book fans loved the stories I drew. And worse than that, they loved the style I had grown to dislike (I won’t use the word hate). Many a dear comic-book folk described emotionally to me how meaningful those stories had been to them. I’m sure many artists and writers in this crazy business have heard these same sentiments, but when you experience it for yourself, it is mind-blowing. One fellow described to me how a particular issue I had drawn had saved his life! How does a guy who worked to make deadlines and get the paychecks respond to that? I was flabbergasted, and I continue to be flabbergasted by the many thanks I have received for the work that I have done.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Trimpe at several conventions over the years. He always impressed me as a genuinely nice person. It was always a pleasure to see him. I was able to obtain a few pieces of artwork by him over the years, and they are a much-treasured part of my collection. They can be viewed at Comic Art Fans…
Given the tremendous, widespread responses to Herb Trimpe’s passing that have been seen on the Internet within the past week, both from fans and former colleagues, it is readily apparent that he was both a talented creator and a good person. He will certainly be missed by me and by many others.
Here are some previous pieces where I’ve written about Trimpe:
- A marvelous G.I. Joe Reunion at IDW
- Strange Comic Books: Captain America #291
- Comic book reviews: Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk Vol 5
- Copyright Calamity: Marvel’s Bronze Age Licensed Titles
- Savage Dragon hits the big 200
Thank you for taking a look. This post is dedicated to the memory of Herb Trimpe.