Comic book artist Tom Palmer passed away at the age of 81 on August 18th.
Palmer started in comic books in 1968 at Marvel Comics, at the tail end of what fans generally refer to as the Silver Age. Although he initially worked as a penciler, Palmer soon transitioned into inking. He quickly established himself as one of the great inkers in the industry. In addition to his work as an inker / embellisher, Palmer was a colorist & painter. Palmer had runs on X-Men inking Neal Adams, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula inking Gene Colan, Star Wars inking Walter Simonson and Ron Frenz, X-Men: The Hidden Years inking John Byrne, and Incredible Hulk inking John Romita Jr and Lee Weeks.
However, the title which I most personally associate Palmer with is Avengers. He initially inked & colored several issues in the early 1970s, first over John Buscema and then Neal Adams. Palmer returned to Avengers with issue #255 in 1985, and he remained on the book thru to issue #402 in 1996, doing inks / finishes for nearly every issue during that 12 year period. Just as Joe Sinnott had previously played a key role in defining the look of Fantastic Four for over a decade and a half via his strong, characteristic inking, so too did Palmer do the same for Avengers.
Here are some highlights from Palmer’s work on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:
Palmer really hit the ground running on Avengers #255 (May 1985). In addition to once again doing a great job inking John Buscema, who also returned to the series with this issue, Palmer produced a stunning painted cover that spotlighted the then-current Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau.
Another striking Avengers cover by Palmer is issue #273. The comics released by Marvel with a November 1985 cover-date marked the 25th anniversary of the debut of the Fantastic Four, and each cover had a portrait of its main character, or for the team books, one of the prominent members, surrounded by border artwork by John Romita. Avengers #273 had a portrait of the Black Knight by Palmer, who rendered the character in rich textures.
More often than not Buscema was doing loose pencil breakdowns on Avengers during the second half of the 1980s. It was Palmer’s job to produce the finished artwork, a task he did with incredible skill, rendering some very stylish, detailed pages.
This pages is from Avengers #277, the final chapter of the now-classic “Under Siege” storyline written by Roger Stern, which saw Baron Zemo form a new Masters of Evil to try to destroy the Avengers. Buscema & Palmer did great work on the final battle between Captain America and Zemo.
Buscema left Avengers with issue #300. Following a short stint by Rich Buckler, the new penciler on the series was Paul Ryan, with Palmer remaining on inks.
This amazing poster featuring most of the Avengers members up to that point in time was drawn by Ryan & Palmer. It was released in 1989, and was probably done by them around the same time as when they were working on Avengers #305 (July 1989) which contained a very similar scene.
Larry Hama had a short, underrated stint writing Avengers in the early 1990s, during which he shook up the team’s line-up and introduced some offbeat villains. Chief among these was the strange other-dimensional entities the Tetrarchs of Entropy. Ryan & Palmer certainly did an excellent job depicting those bizarre entities, as seen in issue #329 (February 1991).
Bob Harras became writer on Avengers with issue #334, and the next issue he was joined by penciler Steve Epting. Palmer remained on as inker, and for the next several years they were the creative team on the title, bringing some much-welcome stability to the book.
Palmer once again also began coloring Avengers with issue #343. He would hold the dual roles of inker and colorist on the series for the next three years. Here’s the splash page to Avengers #345 (March 1992), part of the “Operation: Galactic Storm” crossover, featuring Palmer’s inks & colors over Epting’s pencils. Left to right we have Quasar, the Eric Masterson version of Thor, the Vision and Sersi of the Eternals.
Palmer’s coloring was also on display on several Avengers covers such as this one, issue #375 (June 1994), the finale to Harras’ long-running Gatherers storyline. This great wrap-around cover, penciled by Epting and inked by Palmer, is definitely enhanced by Palmer’s vibrant coloring. I always felt Epting & Palmer did a fine job rendering the Black Knight and Sersi on Avengers, and that’s certainly on display here.
This is definitely one of my favorite Avengers covers from the 1990s. Click on the image to see the cover in all its full-sized glory!
Mike Deodato began penciling Avengers with issue #380 (November 1994). It’s interesting to see the very slick work of Deodato embellished by palmer’s highly textured inking, but I think it worked, really making the art stand out from the various other jobs the very popular Deodato was doing at that time. Palmer also does the coloring. The two of them definitely did good work on this dynamic double page spread featuring Quicksilver and Crystal.
Avengers #384 (March 1995) is another rare example of Palmer’s full artwork. Harras wrapped up a long-running plotline involving the ruthless machinations of the Greek gods in a genuinely heart-wrenching finale that left Hercules devastated. Palmer’s cover really captured the tragedy of Harras’ story.
All good things must come to an end. So it was with Avengers volume one, which concluded with issue #402 (September 1996) as the “Onslaught” crossover send both the Avengers and Fantastic Four over to an alternate reality for the year-long “Heroes Reborn” event. Palmer departed in style via an incredible painted cover.
I think it really speaks to Palmer’s skill as an illustrator that he does such a good job with this particular odd team line-up which had, among other things, the Wasp transformed into a humanoid insect and Thor wearing an overly-complex costume that just screamed “grim & gritty.”
This marked the end of Palmer’s regular association with the team, although he would return to the team from time to time, such as inking Will Rosado on the eight issue Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II miniseries in 2007 and inking John Romita on several Avengers issues in 2011.
I was fortunate enough to meet Palmer on a few occasions at comic cons and store signings. He always came across as a good, polite person who made time for the fans.
The news of Tom Palmer’s death is sad. We’ve lost way too many incredible talents in such a very short time.
Henry Martinez is a penciler whose work for Marvel Comics in the early to mid 1990s really stood out for me at the time as a teenager reader. Considering how many new artists there were bursting onto the scenes during that period, that really says something about Martinez’s art that it lodged itself in my mind so indelibly.
Earlier this year I learned that Martinez was once again working in comic books, and still producing great art. We became Facebook friends, and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I am very grateful to him for providing such interesting, detailed answers to my questions.
This interview was conducted by e-mail between September and October 2021.
Henry Martinez will be at Table O-5 in Artist Alley at New York Comic Con from October 7 to 10. If you’re going, please stop by and say “Hello!”
BH: Hello, Mr. Martinez. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?
Henry Martinez: Hello Ben, and thanks for having me on. My parents fled Cuba in 1966 and I was lucky enough to be born here within a month of them arriving in New Jersey. We lived there for a few months then moved to Queens, NY where I spent most of my childhood. They were always very supportive of me, buying me comics and cheap art supplies at the local Woolworth’s (who have been out of business for years now). So I was always sketching, coloring and building things with Play-Doh. I remember the books I bought then were Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, I loved the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Human Torch as I recall.
The only other interests then were reading and all things Star Trek and Space: 1999. I loved Trek so much I actually wrote the paperback publisher a letter which they replied to! It was an embarrassing letter from a kid who asked about the phasers on the show. What the hell did a book publisher know about how phasers work? I don’t remember their response, but I was so excited to get that letter.
BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field? Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to find work in?
Henry Martinez: I went to public school where I got to draw during art class. Like most pros will tell you, I was that one kid that could draw, and everyone would go to get drawings done. Later on in life as you move on to other schools you learn that you are not the only one! I learned that when I was lucky enough to get into the High School of Art & Design, whose alumni include Tony Bennet, Neal Adams, Larry Hama (who I later wind up working with) and others.
I’ve always wanted to be a comic book artist, and going back to my supportive parents, they bought me a cheap drafting table and the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which I still use today. It’s the comic book bible that I refer to as I always seem to learn something new every time I open it. I set up my room then as I imagined my art hero John Buscema had his.
BH: According to the Grand Comics Database, your earliest professional work was drawing the “Spider-Femme” parody in Spoof Comics Presents #1 published by Personality Comics in 1992. Is that correct? (Just double checking, since the GCD is sometimes inaccurate.) How did that job come about?
Henry Martinez: Yep, that’s right. That was a fun time. I was submitting to everyone while working a fulltime job at an ad agency and they responded first. They wanted to meet me in person and asked if I’d work in their studio for a day, which I thought was unusual, but what the hell it was a new experience. So I asked for the day off from work, went out to Long Island and worked in the studio with Kirk Lindo who would later become my boss when he formed Brainstorm, featuring his book Vamperotica. It was a fun series to work on and they gave me three books all with Adam Hughes covers. I also did a few covers for them. I didn’t realize those books still have a following until I found a group on Facebook. One of the publishers is trying to gather the art to do a Kick Starter of the covers, I think.
BH: A year later you were drawing Sparkplug and League of Champions for editor Dennis Mallonee at Heroic Publishing. How did you come to work for Heroic? Did you enjoy penciling those comics? Were they what you might call a good “foot in the door” for your career?
Henry Martinez: One of the publishers that got back to me was Heroic Publishing. To this day I am still very proud of the work I did for them. I saw the work as gateway books, a chance to prove my chops to the Big Two, as they involved long stories and in the case of League of Champions, a team book. I loved the story, written by Lou Mougin, who really should be getting more work, as he is a great writer who is well informed and researches everything. We’re trying to work together, but it’s been difficult. I still work for Heroic, but finances make it difficult. Otherwise I would work for them regularly, as I really like the characters; I’ve even designed a few.
BH: Later on in 1993 you did fill-in pencils on Morbius the Living Vampire #13 for Marvel Comics. How did you get that job? What was it like getting work from Marvel only a year into your professional career?
Henry Martinez: At that time, I was still working fulltime at an ad agency. The hours are insane, lots of late nights and weekends, and I was still sending out packages to the Big Two. One day I get a letter and a script from Bobbie Chase telling me I am being given the opportunity to do a fill-in on Morbius.
I flipped out! My dream of working for Marvel is coming true. I couldn’t leave my job on a fill in with no promise of future work, so I would work full days and OT, then go home and pencil until 3 AM, sleep 3 hours then go to work and do it all over again for a month. When I turned in the last pages, my pals took me to the Blarney Stone to celebrate. I had to pull an all-nighter to make the deadline though, so I was half-asleep during dinner, then slept for 2 days. Sacrifice kids!
At that point I was offered Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance with the promise of getting Blaze since SoV was being cancelled, along with a few other books. I then had a decision to make…do I try to keep this impossible schedule and turn in subpar work or take a chance on a dream that may only last a few months? Advertising offers security and good money, but Marvel! I took the plunge and have no regrets. I would’ve been very happy staying there on any book but that was when the industry bubble burst. So many books were cancelled, and so many people lost their jobs. For some this was all they knew and they spent alot of money thinking it would last forever, but all things come to an end. I was lucky, I had storyboards to fall back on, others weren’t so lucky.
BH: Towards the end of 1993 you became the regular penciler on Ghost Rider / Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance beginning with issue #16. The previous penciler on SoV had been Adam Kubert, with his father, the legendary Joe Kubert, even contributing to a couple of issues. Was it intimidating following in their footsteps?
Henry Martinez: Oh yes. Those were beautiful books that I appreciate even more now that I have been revisiting them. There is so much action, energy and the story is even better than I remember. I could only do my best and hope that the reader liked it. I’ve been fortunate in that the work was received well and I still get comments on how much readers enjoyed my run.
BH: On your first two issues of Spirits of Vengeance you were inked by Keith Williams, but for the remainder of your run, through the book’s end with issue #23, you were paired with inker Bud LaRosa. How did you find their inking? Any particular preference between the two of them?
Henry Martinez: Everyone contributes in a different way. So, when I say I liked them both I’m not trying to be polite, but I really do like them both. Keith’s inking is more organic than Bud’s if I were to differentiate between the two. At the risk of offending a friend, I prefer organic inking.
BH: Following on from Spirits of Vengeance, you penciled the first 8 issues of the Blaze solo title. How did working with writer Larry Hama on that compare to working with Howard Mackie and David Quinn on SoV? I do remember I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t stay on Blaze for the entire 12 issue run. Was there a specific reason why you left the series?
Henry Martinez: I loved penciling Blaze. Larry wrote in characters that hadn’t been seen in a very long time that I loved and I will always be grateful to him for that. Just working for Marvel was amazing, but to start a new book?
Howard, David and Larry are incredible writers, and have different styles as a writer should. I loved working with all of them. They are all great world builders who can tell large stories involving many characters while still getting very personal with individual characters. That’s a very specific toolset. I don’t have a preference since they all have a unique voice that I like. And since you mention David Quinn, I really enjoyed that issue, it was a break from the SoV storyline, a quiet break. Although this break involved vampires!
I reluctantly left Blaze frankly because I was burning out. My father was a hardworking man who put in long hours, rarely slept and never complained. I thought the same way and just kept working, barely sleeping and my work suffered as did my personal life. Comics are out there forever, so there is so much pressure to do the best you can, within reason. You still have to make that deadline after all.
What a lot of people may not understand is how much work is involved in creating a comic book. There are so many people involved who depend on each other to deliver on time. You are only as good as your last book, so if you miss a deadline or two, you may not get another issue from that editor and even develop a bad reputation. So when I read reviews or comments like “he/she sucks!” It hurts, knowing now hard so many creators work, how much they sacrifice to do the best they can under the restrictions of a deadline. So I decided to stop, take a break and go back to advertising, especially considering he industry was suffering. I do wish I could have finished the title, though.
Fortunately, right after Blaze, Malibu Comics offered me a fill-in issue of All New Exiles, where I got to draw the Juggernaut. That was followed by 3 issues of Mantra which I loved working on. It was looking like I was going to be the regular penciler on that book when Marvel (who had bought Malibu) shut them down, and those characters never saw the light of day again. In the meantime, I had 3 issues and a half-finished 4th when I was told the news. I had also designed some characters for a storyline they were developing. Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with the Malibu folks today. I just finished a story with my editor then, Roland Mann. I also did a 6 page proposal with him to bring back his characters, Cat & Mouse.
BH: In 1996 you drew a few stories for Vamperotica for Brainstorm Comics. Any particular thoughts on those? I know in the years since a lot of 1990s “bad girl” comic books have been the subject of much ridicule. For myself, as a fan of sci-fi and horror B-movies, I find that sub-genre to be similar, entertainingly cheesy. I thought you did solid work on Vamperotica. Your aptitude for rendering beautiful women that you previously demonstrated at Heroic and Marvel certainly served you well here.
Henry Martinez: Thanks for the kind words. That’s another book I was very proud of, I did my best work (at that time) then, I always try to give you my best. As I mentioned earlier, I would be hired by Kirk Lindo the publisher of Brainstorm who was the studio artist at Personality Comics. That’s why it’s always good to maintain good relationships with people, you never know. I have never been opposed to doing any genre as long as I enjoy the work, and I had a good script to work from. I was looking forward to doing more wok for them, but I think they were struggling at the time and went under. It was a storyline that had great potential and could’ve gone on for a while.
BH: You left the comic book field in 1996. This was around the time when the industry unfortunately imploded, so I am going to guess that was the reason for your departure. What types of work did you do over the next decade?
Henry Martinez: As I mentioned I went back to adverting for security, but as a freelancer, so I had more control over my schedule and was able to tackle other things. I’ve been working for Heroic Publishing just to keep doing comics, I can never stop doing comics. I’ve also done some character design for them that never saw the light of day, and some editorial work for Muscle and Fitness magazines. There is also some commission here and there, you never know what people will ask for.
BH: In 2004 you returned to comic books, once again doing work for Heroic Publishing. What brought you back to the industry?
Henry Martinez: I wouldn’t say it “brought me back” as much as I pop in when I can. I approached Heroic because I always liked their characters and Dennis is easy to work with. I still get to draw superheroes, and as sophistified as I pretend to be, I really enjoy drawing superheroes, despite doing some serious stuff, here and there.
BH: Those covers and stories for Heroic gave you your first opportunities to ink your own work. What prompted you to switch from penciling to doing full artwork?
Henry Martinez: To be honest, it was finances. I always say I would never begrudge someone from earning a living, but I came to a realization that there are a handful of people whose inks I like over my work. And outside of those creators, I do like my inks, so I made the offer to Dennis which agreed. I can ink my own work and get extra income, so why not? There are still times that I want a certain someone to ink my pencils, so I always ask first. There are two people I would love to have ink my work, one is my friend from high school, Jose Marzan Jr., (for those that don’t know, Jose is known for inking a popular Flash run and Y The Last Man) and I am lucky that Dennis agreed to his rate, so Jose and I will be working together on League of Champions which I am currently penciling.
BH: As a fan of your work at Marvel in the mid 1990s it’s been good to see you back in the biz. I certainly enjoyed your variant cover for Tragedy #1, where you were once again inked by Keith Williams. What other projects have you been working on over the last few years?
Henry Martinez: I really loved Keith’s inks on that cover, and I hope we can collaborate again soon. I requested him and writer/publisher Phillip Russert made it happen. He’s a good guy, always looking out for the artists.
As for my most recent projects, I did the first two issues of Cult of Dracula which was well received, and as I mentioned before I am penciling a League of Champions story, wrapping up a storyline that will lead to a full-sized issue right after. The cover is already done. I am also working on a Kickstarter of my own and a book to submit to Ben Dunn @Antarctic Press.
BH: Finally, I know you’re available for commissions. How should people who want to get work done by you contact you?
Henry Martinez: Thanks, I’m always open to commissions. My social media links are:
Happy New Year! To celebrate the occasion, today I am taking a quick look at the comic book adventures of Machine Man and Iron Man in the distant, far-off future year of, um, uh, 2020 AD… Okay, yeah, I can’t believe it’s 2020 already, either!
Machine Man was created by none other than the legendary Jack Kirby himself, debuting in, of all places, the 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book series, which had been inspired by the film / novel by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. First known as Mister Machine, aka X-51, he appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey #s 8-10 published in mid 1977.
Mister Machine was a robot who gained sentience, with one of the mysterious alien Monoliths from the movie playing a role in his evolution towards becoming almost human. Following the cancellation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book, the character, renamed Machine Man, received his own ongoing series in early 1978. Kirby wrote & penciled Machine Man for nine issues, with Mike Royer providing inks.
By late 1978 Kirby had become disenchanted with mainstream comic books, and he left Marvel Comics to go into the animation field. The storyline begun by Kirby in Machine Man was concluded by writer Roger Stern and penciler Sal Buscema a few months later in Incredible Hulk #s 234-237. This was followed by a revival of the Machine Man ongoing series, picking up from the original numbering, with another Silver Age legend, Stave Ditko, as the artist. Issue #s 10-14 were written by Marv Wolfman, with Tom DeFalco then writing #s 15-19.
In the early 1980s Machine Man made the occasional guest appearance here and there. He was once again given the spotlight in 1984 with the Machine Man four issue limited series, set three and a half decades in the future, in the year 2020. Tom DeFalco returned to wrote X-51’s future adventures. The first three issues had pencils / breakdowns by Herb Trimpe, with finished art & colors by Barry Windsor-Smith, an unusual pairing that nevertheless worked very well. BWS took over the full art chores for Machine Man #4, also co-plotting that final issue. Michael, Higgins, Diana Albers, Janice Chiang and Jim Novak lettered an issue apiece, and the whole thing was edited by Larry Hama.
DeFalco’s story is set in a dark industrialized dystopia where corrupt corporations have seized political power (so, yeah, not too different from our actual real-world 2020, amiright?) and bands of anarchist scavengers hope to find a free, independent existence under the radar. One of these groups of Midnight Wreckers, searching through a dumping ground belonging to Baintronics Inc, discovers a box containing the dismantled Machine Man. Evading the Baintronics security forces, the Wreckers return to their base and re-assemble Machine Man.
Baintronics is run by Sunset Bain, an industrialist & socialite who moonlighted as the masked arms dealer Madame Menace, clashing with Machine Man on more than one occasion back in the day. Now in 2020 she is allied with Miles Brinkman, a former US Senator who is another old foe of X-51. Brinkman had previously waged a McCarthy-esque campaign of fear-mongering against Machine Man, hoping to ride a wave of robotphobia to greater political power.
DeFalco has an interesting approach to the future incarnations of Bain and Brinkman. At this point they have basically won, having amassed tremendous political & financial power, yet they are seemingly unable to enjoy their spoils, having grown old & tired, reduced to worn-out shadows of their former selves. And once they learn that Machine Man has been reactivated they are consumed by uncontrollable paranoia that this former adversary will seek to destroy them. The pair are defeated as much by their own failings as they are by Machine Man and the Midnight Wreckers.
DeFalco shows that Machine Man is actually more human than either Sunset Bain or Miles Brinkman, who in their fear and panic project upon him their own ugly motivations of hatred and vengeance. Machine Man, as well as his onetime love, the silver robot Jocasta (rebuilt by Bain to be her aide, but ultimately serving as her conscience), are more capable of feeling compassion and expressing forgiveness than their human foes.
The miniseries introduced Arno Stark, descendant of Tony Stark, the Iron Man of the year 2020. Arno is an amoral mercenary, and he is more than happy to accept an assignment from Sunset Bain to hunt down & destroy Machine Man. Iron Man clashes twice with Machine Man, and in both encounters he is defeated by his robot opponent.
This leads into the events of the Iron Man 2020 special, which was published a decade later, in 1994. It was co-plotted, by Bob Wiacek & Walter Simonson, scripted by Simonson, penciled & inked by Wiacek, with Will Rosado penciling the second half of the book over Wiacek’s layouts. This was one of the all-too-infrequent penciling jobs by Wiacek, who is best known for his work as an inker / embellisher. Rosado, who was early in his comic book career, also did good work here. The special was lettered by John Costanza and colored by Christie Scheele.
As a tie-in, Marvel re-issued the Machine Man miniseries as a two double-sized issues. That was certainly helpful to me, as I hadn’t been reading comics regularly in 1984, and so missed the original release.
The Iron Man 2020 special opens very soon after the events of the miniseries. Much like Bain and Brinkman before him, Arno Stark is a haunted man: haunted by his defeat at Machine Man’s hands, haunted by the burden of keeping the financially weakened Stark Enterprises afloat, and haunted by the seeming impossibility of living up to the legend of his ancestor, Tony Stark, the original Iron Man. As the old saying goes, heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.
Desperate to save his company, Arno accepts an offer from Marcus Wellington, one of his biggest competitors. Arno is hired to rescue Wellington’s daughter Melodi, who has been kidnapped by terrorists and is being held for ransom. Arno dons his Iron Man suit and sets course for the terrorists’ island stronghold. Of course, as is often the case with corporate machinations, the situation is much more complicated than it initially appears, and Arno soon finds himself in the middle of more than one double cross.
The end result of these events are that they push Arno Stark towards, well, not necessary becoming a hero, by any means, but at least to start walking a slightly less avaricious, brutal path.
Hey, everyone loves a good redemption story. Certainly Wiacek & Simonson make this one more believable than most by showing that it’s only just the beginning of Arno Stark’s path away from villainy.
I’ve met Bob Wiacek on a few occasions at comic book conventions. A decade ago at a February 2010 show he did a drawing of Iron Man 2020 in my villains sketchbook. It is a distinctive costume, a sort of retro future look, almost steampunk with those big gears, and he renders it well.
I didn’t want to get into too many specific details about either the Machine Man miniseries or the Iron Man 2020 special, because I think they are both worth tracking down and reading. Marvel published an Iron Man 2020 trade paperback in 2013 collecting both, along with several other stories.
Also, for those interested in Machine Man’s various Bronze Age incarnations (the original Kirby stories, the Ditko-drawn revival, and the 1984 miniseries) I recommend checking out Back Issue #25 from TwoMorrows Publishing. “Call Me Mister… Mister Machine!” written by Allan Harvey is offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes info concerning Machine Man’s adventures in the 1970s and 80s.
And of course, since it’s now 2020 in the real world, Marvel Comics is bringing back Arno Stark. It seems that Tony Stark is going to die (what, again?!?) and Arno, who in “mainstream” Marvel continuity is Tony’s long lost twin brother (yes really!), will become the new Iron Man… at least until the inevitable resurrection. Still, with writing by Dan Slott & Christos Gage, it sounds like it could be a fun ride.
Once again, happy new year to all of you. Let’s hope 2020 is a good one. Or, as the Midnight Wreckers might have put it, “YAH-ZOO!”
Comic book artist Paul Ryan passed away on March 6, 2016 at the much too young age of 66. Ryan was a prolific artist whose career spanned from 1984 until the time of his death.
A lifelong comic book fan, Ryan did not made his professional debut until the age of 35. He submitted a story to Charlton Comics which was originally scheduled to see print in the anthology title Charlton Bullseye, but the company folded before it could be published. Much of Charlton’s unused inventory was acquired by AC Comics head honcho Bill Black, and Ryan’s debut finally saw print in the AC title Starmasters #1.
Shortly after Ryan met professional artist Bob Layton at a comic book convention. Layton had recently moved to the Boston area and was looking for an assistant. Layton recounted on his Facebook page…
“I trained him as my apprentice, inking backgrounds for my various Marvel projects. All that time working together, Paul worked on his penciling samples for Marvel.”
Eventually accompanying Layton on a trip to the Marvel Comics offices in Manhattan, Ryan was introduced to the editorial staff. This led to Ryan receiving assignments from the company. His first job was inking Ron Wilson’s pencils on The Thing #27 (Sept 1985).
Shortly afterwards Ryan was tapped to take over as penciler on the 12 issue Squadron Supreme miniseries written by Mark Gruenwald. Ryan penciled issue #6 (Feb 1986) and then issues #9-12. Ryan was paired with inker Sam De La Rosa, and also had the opportunity to work with his mentor Layton, who inked four of his five covers.
After completing Squadron Supreme, Ryan again worked with Gruenwald, co-creating D.P. 7 which debuted in November 1986. D.P.7 was considered one of the high points in Marvel’s very uneven New Universe imprint. Ryan was the penciler for the entire 32 issue run of D.P.7. It was on D.P.7 that Ryan was first paired with Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi as his inker. I really appreciated the rich, illustrative quality that Bulanadi’s inking gave Ryan’s pencils. They made a great team.
During this time, in 1987, Ryan penciled Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, the historic marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
After D.P.7 came to an end, Ryan became the penciler of Avengers with issue #305 (July 1989). He was teamed with writer John Byrne and longtime Avengers inker / embellisher Tom Palmer. After Byrne departed, Ryan worked with succeeding writers Fabian Nicieza and Larry Hama. Ryan and Hama introduced the African American teenage hero Rage who, after a short stint as an Avenger, joined the New Warriors.
In late 1989 Ryan also penciled the first six issues of the ongoing Quasar series written by Gruenwald. Ryan was inked by Bulanadi on these.
Ryan was an incredibly fast artist, and in 1990 at the same time he was penciling Avengers he was also working on the Avengers West Coast spin-off series. Ryan inked Byrne’s pencils on issues #54 -57. He then penciled issues #60 – 69, working with writers Roy & Dann Thomas, with Bulanadi once again inking him.
After departing AWC in early 1991, Ryan was once more paired with Byrne, this time on Iron Man. Bob Wiacek inked Ryan on these issues.
Later that year Ryan & Bulanadi joined writer Tom DeFalco to become the new creative team on Fantastic Four. Their first issue was #356 (Sept 1991). Two months later, in the giant-sized FF #358, the series celebrated its 30th anniversary. Among the numerous features contained in that issue, Ryan & Bulanadi illustrated an amazing double-page pin-up featuring many of the heroes and villains of the Marvel universe.
In an 1997 interview Ryan stated that FF was his favorite Marvel title. He had bought the very first issue when it came out back in 1961 when he was 11 years old, and was “very excited ”to be working on the series 30 years later.
Ryan began co-plotting Fantastic Four with DeFalco beginning with issue #260. He remained on the series until issue #414 (July 1996). He penciled 59 consecutive issues, one month short of a full five years. Ryan would undoubtedly have stayed on FF even longer if he and DeFalco had not been given the boot to make way for “Heroes Reborn.”
Reader reaction to DeFalco & Ryan’s time on Fantastic Four was decidedly mixed. I personally enjoyed it, but I understand why others were less enthusiastic. Looking back, it is obvious that DeFalco & Ryan wanted to emulate the classic Lee & Kirby era, but they were also attempting to make the book competitive at a time when X-Men was Marvel’s hottest property, and everything else was falling by the wayside. They wanted to give FF a retro Silver Age feel and make it appealing to teenage readers, i.e. sexing up the Invisible Woman and making her more ruthless, giving the rest of the team a more gritty look, generating numerous long-running subplots & mysteries, introducing a younger “next generation” of FF-related heroes, and tossing in lots of stuff involving time travel & alternate realities. At times perhaps those styles did not mesh well, but DeFalco & Ryan were clearly giving it their all.
Understandably annoyed at being tossed off Fantastic Four, Ryan left Marvel and went to DC Comics. He worked there from 1996 to 2000. His main assignments at DC were the quarterly Superman: Man of Tomorrow and the monthly Flash series. He also penciled issues of Superboy, Aquaman and Batman: Gotham Knights, as well as a four issue Legion: Science Police miniseries.
One of my favorite DC issues that Ryan penciled was Superman: Man of Tomorrow #9 (Fall 1997), written by Roger Stern and inked by Brett Breeding. As Superman is busy adjusting to his new energy powers, Jonathan & Martha Kent recollect on their son’s life. This provided Ryan & Breeding with the opportunity to illustrate many of the key moments in Superman’s post-Crisis history up to that point in time.
Notably, Ryan was one of a number of artists to work on the Superman: The Wedding Album in 1997, penciling 11 pages of this giant-sized special. By his involvement in this, he had worked on both the wedding of Clark Kent & Lois Lane and the wedding of Peter & Mary Jane.
I was glad to see Ryan receive work at DC. I was a regular letterhack back then, and I wrote in to the Superman editors with the following…
“Paul Ryan is a superb penciler, and I’m glad you guys got him to work on this book. It’s nice to see that you guys can appreciate true talent.”
Yes, that was something of a swipe by me at Marvel for their treatment of Ryan the year before.
After his time at DC concluded, Ryan penciled a handful of fill-ins for CrossGen. He worked on several issues of Crux and Ruse.
In 2001 Ryan began working on The Phantom comic books published by the Swedish company Egmont. This was the start of an association with Lee Falk’s legendary comic strip hero that would last for the next decade and a half. Ryan was tapped to take over The Phantom weekly comic strip in 2005, working with writer Tony De Paul. Two years later Ryan also assumed the art duties on the Sunday comic strip.
Ryan was a longtime fan of The Phantom. He produced quality artwork on both the comic books and the newspaper strip. He was still working as the artist on the daily strip at the time of his passing.
I really feel that Ryan was an underrated talent who was too often eclipsed by the “hot” artists of the 1990s. Unlike many of those guys, Ryan was a very good penciler with strong sequential illustration skills, an artist who turned in quality work while consistently meeting deadlines; in other words, a true professional.
I was a fan of Ryan’s work ever since I first saw it in the late 1980s. Over the years I corresponded with him by e-mail on Facebook. I was fortunate enough to meet Ryan once, back in 2000. He was a guest at a major comic convention held at Madison Square Garden that was organized by Spencer Beck. Ryan drew an amazing color sketch of Beautiful Dreamer for me at that show. I had always hoped to one day meet Ryan again so that I could obtain another sketch from him. Sadly that is no longer possible. But I am grateful that I had that one opportunity to meet him all those years ago.
Comic book creator Alan Kupperberg passed away on July 16th at the age of 62. I was fan of Kupperberg’s work, had met him at a few conventions, and was friends with him on Facebook. I knew from his recent status updates on FB that he had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago. Kupperberg had really been fighting his illness, and for a time it was hoped he would recover. So it was unexpected and sad when his passing was announced by his brother, writer & editor Paul Kupperberg.
Like so many people who came to work in the comic book biz in the 1970s, Alan Kupperberg was very much a fan of the medium. As he related in The Jack Kirby Collector #29 from TwoMorrows Publishing, in 1970 while still a teenager Kupperberg “was a regular pest – er – visitor to Marvel’s small, six room, dozen-person office” doing various odd jobs in the Bullpen. A year later he was working in the production department of DC Comics, learning the intricacies of the business. Kupperberg also worked at Atlas Comics during their very brief but still-memorable revival in the mid-1970s.
In the late 1970s Kupperberg was once again at Marvel. Over the next decade he worked on numerous different series in a variety of capacities: writer, penciler, inker, letterer and colorist. Kupperberg could do it all.
Kupperberg’s first ongoing assignment was the World War II superhero series The Invaders. He came onboard as the new penciler with issue #29, cover-dated June 1978, replacing the outgoing Frank Robbins. Kupperberg remained on The Invaders until the final issue, the double-sized #41 (Sept 1979) and he penciled the majority of those issues, working with both writer & editor Roy Thomas and writer Don Glut.
I imagine that The Invaders was not the easiest of series to pencil. It was a team book set in the early 1940s. This required Kupperberg to present clear storytelling so that the action was balanced between the numerous characters in action sequences. He also had to render historically-accurate depictions of the people and the settings of the Second World War. I think that he did very good work on the series, penciling some memorable, exciting stories written by Thomas and Glut.
Looking at Kupperberg’s time on The Invaders, one of the highlights is definitely issue #s 32-33, which had Hitler summoning Thor from Asgard and manipulating him into attacking the Soviet Union, bringing the thunder god into conflict with the Invaders. Another noteworthy issue was the finale of the series, as The Invaders faced off against the so-called Super-Axis, a team of fascist supervillains. Kupperberg, paired with inker Chic Stone, did very nice work on that climactic battle, helping Glut and Thomas to finish the series in style. The issue concluded with a wonderful double page pin-up drawn by Kupperberg featuring every hero who had ever appeared in The Invaders.
It was while penciling The Invaders that Kupperberg had an opportunity to collaborate with Jack Kirby. He drew a rough layout for the cover to The Invaders #32. The published cover artwork, based out his layout, was by the superstar team of Kirby & Joe Sinnott.
As Kupperberg recounted in The Jack Kirby Collector…
“I’d never been fond of drawing covers, but when I was asked to provide a cover layout or rough sketch for Invaders #32, I didn’t hesitate a tick – because it was for Jack. I’d be interpreting Thor, Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch – for their artistic father!
“The Jack’s pencils arrived. They blew my tender little mind – Kirby interpreting my interpretation of Kirby.”
Aside from The Invaders, Kupperberg never had a particularly long runs on any Marvel titles. He was briefly the penciler of Thor and worked on several issues of What If. Aside from that, Kupperberg was one of Marvel’s go-to guys for fill-in stories in the late 1970s to mid 80s. He drew issues of Avengers, Captain America, Dazzler, Defenders, Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-In-One, Moon Knight, Star Wars and Transformers. In 1984 Kupperberg penciled a four issue Iceman miniseries written by J.M. DeMatteis.
As a fan of Captain America, I liked Kupperberg’s depiction of the character in The Invaders, Avengers, and Cap’s own book. Kupperberg penciled a trio of fill-in stories for Captain America, which were in issue #s 240, 260 and 271. The first of these, “Gang Wars,” is noteworthy for the collaboration between the two Kupperberg brothers. Paul plotted the issue, Alan penciled & scripted it, and it was inked by the talented Don Perlin. I think this was the only time that Alan and Paul worked together.
Another of my favorite Marvel stories that Kupperberg worked on was Avengers #205 (March 1981). Kupperberg and inker Dan Green did excellent work on this issue. The second chapter of a two-part story plotted by Bob Budiansky & scripted by David Michelinie, this issue saw the Avengers attempting to thwart a plot to conquer the world by the diabolical Yellow Claw. The cover to this issue by Kupperberg & Green, featuring the Vision in fierce combat with the Claw, is really dynamic. As the saying goes, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
In the mid-1980s Kupperberg began doing work for DC Comics, as well. He became the penciler of the offbeat Blue Devil series written by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohen. Kupperberg started on issue #12 (May 1985) and remained on the book until its conclusion with issue #30. He also worked on Justice League of America and Firestorm. Kupperberg’s guest pencils on All-Star Squadron #66 in Feb 1987 (the penultimate issue of the series) saw him briefly reunited with writer Roy Thomas, who had spent the last several years chronicling the adventures of DC’s superheroes during World War II.
Anyone who has ever met Alan Kupperberg or read an interview with him will definitely realize that he had an amazing and unconventional sense of humor. That was certainly reflected in his comic book work. He worked on a number of humorous, not to mention unusual, projects throughout his career.
Somehow or another Kupperberg became associated with not one but two evil clowns during his career. The first of these was Obnoxio the Clown, created by Larry Hama in the pages of Crazy Magazine. In early 1983 Obnoxio landed his very own one-shot. Written, drawn, lettered and colored by Kupperberg with edits by Hama, this bizarre special had the cigar-chomping Obnoxio running rings around the X-Men, getting summoned for jury duty, answering fan mail and just acting as rude as possible. All these years later I am still amazed that this issue got published!
Kupperberg also illustrated the misadventures of Frenchy the Clown, the star of the “Evil Clown Comics” feature in National Lampoon. Devised by writer / actor / comedian Nick Bakay, Frenchy was a violent foul-mouthed alcoholic womanizer in greasepaint. Several years ago Kupperberg was working on reprinting the “Evil Clown Comics” stories in a collected edition, but unfortunately this didn’t come to fruition.
Doing much more family-friendly humor work, between 1988 and 1990 Kupperberg drew a number of all-new five-page Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham stories that editor Jim Salicrup ran in the back of the Spider-Man reprint series Marvel Tales. These were written by Michael Eury, Danny Fingeroth and Kupperberg himself, with Joe Albelo inking many of the installments.
One of my favorites of these Spider-Ham stories from Marvel Tales was his encounter with Frank Carple aka the Punfisher (obviously a fishy funny animal version of the Punisher). Eury, Kupperberg & Albelo pitted the uneasy alliance of Spider-Ham and the Punfisher against the tentacle menace of Doctor Octopussycat!
I highly recommend visiting the official Alan Kupperberg website which was set up by Daniel Best. This fantastic site has numerous examples of Kupperberg’s art. There are several articles wherein Best speaks with Kupperberg at length about his work. It is an amazing resource. Additionally, on his blog 20th Century Danny Boy, Best interviewed Kupperberg regarding the “Evil Clown Comics” stories.
As I mentioned before, I was fortunate enough to meet Kupperberg on a few occasions when he was a guest at comic book conventions. He struck me as a genuinely nice guy. I’m glad I was able to talk with him and obtain a couple of sketches by him. I will certainly miss him, as will many other comic book fans who grew up reading his work.
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.
“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:
This installment of Strange Comic Books, my occasional look at the more odd & offbeat comics in my collection, was indirectly inspired by the recent news that the original artwork for two complete Amazing Spider-Man issues drawn by Steve Ditko had resurfaced after nearly half a century. Specifically, those two stories are “The Coming of the Scorpion” from ASM #20 and “The Final Chapter” from ASM #33. That later issue features the iconic sequence by Ditko & Stan Lee where Spider-Man struggles to lift up the massive pile of wrecked machinery that he is buried under. This, in a very roundabout way, brings us to Marvel Tails #1 and only, published by Marvel Comics in 1983.
Marvel Tails #1 saw the introduction of probably the most famous, as well as clever, Spider-Man pastiche ever, namely Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. This porcine parody of Spider-Man was devised by Tom DeFalco and Larry Hama. DeFalco would, of course, soon after become well-regarded for his work on the actual Amazing Spider-Man title, as well as Thor and the long-running cult classic Spider-Girl. But Spider-Ham was one of his earliest associations with all things arachnid. As for Hama, though best known for his writing on G.I. Joe and Wolverine, he is also a huge fan of Carl Barks’ work, so it’s quite natural that he was involved in devising Marvel’s first funny animal character.
The title Marvel Tails is itself a pun on Marvel Tales, a long-running series which reprinted the Silver and Bronze Age Spider-Man stories. In the days before Marvel had any sort of trade paperback program, Marvel Tales was the best way for younger readers such as myself to get caught up on the Spider-Man comics of the 1960s and 70s.
“If He Should Punch Me” is written by DeFalco and edited by Hama, with artwork courtesy of penciler Mark Armstrong and inker Joe Albelo. In addition to introducing Peter Porker / Spider-Ham, we meet Steve Mouser, aka Captain Americat, and their boss, curmudgeonly Daily Beagle publisher J. Jonah Jackal. Porker and Mouser are sent by Jackal to cover the story of the Masked Marauder, a mysterious figure who is sabotaging the massive Video City arcade. There they meet Bruce Bunny, the arcade’s chief electrical engineer. While Peter and Steve are busy touring Video City, the Masked Marauder locks Bruce Bunny inside a broken “Gamma Gambit” video game. The rays from the game transform Bruce into the Incredible Hulk-Bunny, who bursts out and embarks on a rampage.
The exploding video game attracts the attention of Peter and Steve, who slip into their Spider-Ham and Captain Americat costumes. Cap comes across the Masked Marauder, while Spidey tangles with the Hulk-Bunny. During the battle, the Hulk-Bunny knocks out a support beam, causing a bunch of video games and soda machines to topple onto him.
And, yes, this is where that sequence by Ditko from “The Final Chapter” comes into the picture. DeFalco, Armstrong & Albelo give us a playfully humorous parody of that classic scene, as Spider-Ham, pinned down by the huge pile of rubble, is inspired by his sense of responsibility and finds the strength to free himself. Of course, in this version of events, after lifting up all of that wreckage, the weight causes the floor under him to collapse, dropping him on top of Captain Americat. (Click on the above scans to enlarge for maximum humorous effect.)
The story soon wraps up, as the Hulk-Bunny is defeated and the Masked Marauder is, well, unmasked. I won’t give you all the details, since it’s worth reading the story for yourself. Marvel Tails was collected in the Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man digest-sized trade paperback published in 2010. So go get it.
Rounding out Marvel Tails is a five page back-up starring the supernatural cyclist Goose Rider written & drawn by cover artist Steve Mellor. It’s a ridiculously bizarre yet humorous set of gags that make absolutely no sense, but in a good way.
A year and a half after Marvel Tails hit the newsstands, Spider-Ham graduated into his own ongoing series. Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham ran from May 1985 to September 1987, lasting 17 issues. After that, Spider-Ham became a periodic back-up feature in, appropriately enough, Marvel Tales. And then there was the story in What The–?! #3 which featured Spider-Ham facing off against Raven the Hunter in a send-up of “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” More recently Spider-Ham and his daughter Swiney-Girl showed up in Spider-Man Family, and there was a 25th Anniversary Special in 2010.
For an in-depth look at Spider-Ham’s creation and publishing history, I recommend picking up Back Issue #39 published by TwoMorrows and edited by Michael Eury. Incidentally enough, Eury was one of the writers of Spider-Ham during his time in Marvel Tales. BI #39 is topped off by a cool cover penciled by the late, great Mike Wieringo and inked by Karl Kesel.
I don’t think the first Spider-Ham TPB sold especially well, since there unfortunately haven’t been any subsequent volumes. In the absence of further collections, I think that Spider-Ham is definitely worth tracking down in the back issue bins. It was a funny, clever series that offered some witty, good-natured Marvel self-parody.
By the way, getting back to our starting point, you can view scans of the original Ditko artwork from Amazing Spider-Man #20 and #33 on the website of Mike “Romitaman” Burkey. It’s really fantastic to see.
It’s the Fourth of July, American Independence Day, and so today I’m going to do a rundown of what independent comic books I’ve been reading recently. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m just going to consider anything that is not Marvel or DC as an independent. And I’ll be covering graphic novels in a later post, because otherwise this one is going to be way too long!
I’ve already written an in-depth review of The Grim Ghost before, but I wanted to mention it again. Written by Tony Isabella, with artwork from Kelley Jones & Eric Layton, for my money The Grim Ghost was the best superhero comic book of 2011. This six issue miniseries published by Atlas Comics unfortunately ran into some distribution problems with the final issue. As I’ve heard it, Diamond Distributors decided to cancel (or, as they would say, “re-solicit”) the shipping orders for a number of small companies at the end of last year, so that they could focus their resources on sending out the copious amounts of DC’s New 52 titles that were being ordered by comic shops. That’s the problem when it comes to dealing with a monopoly, folks, you’re at the mercy of decisions like that. Anyway, I was eventually able to obtain a copy of #6 by ordering it online from the Atlas Comics website. It was a great conclusion to a fantastic story.
As I’ve posted before on this blog, I’m currently following Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon and his revival of Supreme, both published by Image Comics. Larsen is one of my favorite comic book creators, a total fountain of colorful characters & imaginative ideas, and I really look forward to seeing what he does next on each of these titles.
Additionally, there is another pair of books from Image, written by Joe Keatinge, that I’m reading. The first is the re-launch of Rob Liefeld’s Glory, which Keatinge is doing with Ross Campbell. The other is a brand new series, Hell Yeah, with artist Andre Szymanowicz. That one is really interesting, as it looks at “the first generation raised in a world where superheroes exist,” to quote Keatinge himself. The protagonist, Benjamin Day, learns that across myriad alternate realities, other versions of him are being murdered. The identity of the killer is revealed within the first few issues, so it’s not a whodunit but rather a “whydunit,” so to speak. Keatinge’s writing is very riveting, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next. The artwork by Szymanowicz is very well done, having the feel of something out of Heavy Metal.
Steve Mannion is an artist with this incredibly wacky, zany, sexy art style. His work is somewhat reminiscent of EC Comics, both Wally Wood’s sci-fi spectacles and the offbeat humor of Mad Magazine. I first discovered Mannion’s artwork when he drew an utterly baffling, but nevertheless very funny, issue of Captain America about twelve years ago. Mannion went the self-publishing route for a while, but in recent years he’s had his books coming out through Asylum Press. His signature character, Fearless Dawn, has been featured in several books. The most recent have been Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp and Fearless Dawn in Outer Space. I haven’t had an opportunity to pick up the second of these yet, but The Secret of the Swamp was an insane riot, just lots of crazy fun. Mannion continues to grow as an artist, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Over at IDW, there are a few licensed titles I’ve been picking up. The main one is G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, written by Larry Hama. That’s the series which continues the continuity from the original comics published by Marvel back in the 1980s and 90s. It seems like Hama is having a lot of fun writing this book, and it’s definitely an exciting read. I’ve also been picking up some of the Doctor Who books, which do a good job of capturing the feel of the series. Right now IDW is publishing the improbable but entertaining Star Trek / Doctor Who: Assimilation miniseries, which has beautiful painted artwork by J.K. Woodward. This one is more of a natural fit than you might think, as the Borg are really pretty much the Cybermen with a bigger budget. So it makes sense to combine those two cyborg menaces, and then have the crews of the Enterprise and the TARDIS come together to confront them.
IDW is also publishing Godzilla. I bought the first few issues of their initial title, Kingdom of Monsters. That had nice art, but the writing just never clicked for me, and I ended up selling them on Ebay. I was much more impressed with the five issue miniseries Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths, written by John Layman, with artwork by Alberto Ponticelli. That was an incredibly deft blending of the kaiju genre with a noir hardboiled crime story. Layman wrote some very compelling human characters. Ponticelli’s art was stunning, offering stunning giant monster action sequences, as well as more human moments. Gangsters & Goliaths was published last year, but it has been collected into a trade paperback, which I highly recommend picking up.
I got the first two issues of the new X-O Manowar series published by Valiant. So far so good. The writing by Robert Venditti is very well done. He appears to have done a great deal of research into the historical era that the initial story arc is set in. The artwork from Cary Nord & Stefano Gaudiano is quite impressive. I really enjoyed the original Valiant books in the 1990s, so it’s nice to see them return. X-O Manowar is definitely a great initial title for their reboot. Hopefully I will have the funds to continue picking this one up.
I certainly cannot close out an entry on independent comic books without mentioning Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics Books. Since around 2001, I gradually began reading Love and Rockets through the collected editions. And within the last four years, I’ve really got into the series, as my girlfriend is a huge fan of the works of Los Bros Hernandez. Having someone I could discuss these stories and characters with really made them come alive for me even more so than in the past. As I have written previously, the Hernandez Brothers have both created large casts of interesting, multi-faceted, nuanced, compelling characters. I often find myself talking with my girlfriend about these characters and the plotlines they are involved in as if they were real people & events. And, of course, both Jaime and Gilbert are incredibly talented artists who not only draw amazingly beautiful women but also know how to tell a story through pictures.
For the last few years, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez have been releasing Love and Rockets as a giant-sized, hundred page annual publication. Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 came out last autumn, which hopefully means the next edition will be on sale in a few months. In New Stories #4, Jaime continued the story of Maggie and Ray’s on-again, off-again tumultuous romance, as well as the tragic tale of Maggie’s brother Calvin. Jamie’s story had a really dark, heartbreaking occurrence, followed by an ending that seems deliberately ambiguous. It reminded me of his classic tale “The Death of Speedy,” where Jaime left it up to the reader to decide exactly what had happened at the conclusion.
In his half of the book, Gilbert appears to be continuing his recent practice of creating graphic novel adaptations of the B-movies that his character Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez has acted in. Fritz’s niece Killer (at least, I think that’s how they’re related… I’d love if Gilbert would put together a family tree for his characters, there are so many of them) follows in her aunt’s cinematic footsteps in New Stories #4, starring in a very strange vampire story. There seems to be a great deal of subtext and symbolism to Gilbert’s recent stories, and they no doubt benefit from repeated readings. I think that at times his work is perhaps too obscure. But at least it does require you to think it through, and work to interpret it.
This is an aspect that both Gilbert and Jamie’s work possesses, that their stories are not something you can just breeze through. There is a very substantive quality to their works. Love and Rockets is not the easiest read out there, but it is worth taking the time to try and figure out what the Hernandez Brothers are attempting to articulate through their stories. In other words, they really make you think, definitely a good thing.
There are obviously a great many more really good independent comic books currently being published besides the material I’ve covered in this blog post. Unfortunately, financial and time constraints prevent me from picking up more of the books out there. Just remember that those books do exist. They may not be as easy to find as the latest big events from Marvel or DC. But it is well worth it to take the time to seek out all the great stuff being published. The creative future of comic books really doesn’t lie with the Big Two any longer, but with the creators working on new & exciting projects released through the smaller independent publishers.
I’ve been enjoying the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series that IDW has been publishing for the past couple of years. The main drawing point has, of course, been the return of writer Larry Hama to the characters he made such a phenomenon in the 1980s.
(I previously did a review of the first two IDW trade paperback collections on Yahoo Contributor Network, but that’s no longer online. One of these days I should re-post it on this blog.)
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has continued to be enjoyable. The recently-released 2012 annual was definitely a highlight. Hama took a break from the monthly storylines to present a stand-alone tale focusing on a rogue Cobra Crimson Guard unit attempting to carry out a terrorist plot, with both the Joe team and Zartan’s outlaw Dreadnoks racing to thwart them. The writing may not have been nearly as strong as Hama’s work on the monthly book, but it contained an abundance of his trademark dry wit & deadpan humor.
(I don’t think Hama likes the term “deadpan humor” but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it. Well, whatever you want to call it, it works very well.)
The main selling point for me was the line-up of artists. Ron Frenz, Ron Wagner, and Herb Trimpe shared penciling duties, with Sal Buscema inking the entire story. In service of the multiple artists, Hama cleverly structured his storytelling to shift focus between the three groups. The Guardsmen pages were penciled by Frenz, the Cobra and Dreadnoks pages by Wagner, and the G.I. Joe pages by Trimpe. Buscema’s inking gave the overall book a certain uniform feel, so that the transitions back and forth between the trio of pencilers were not jarring.
The annual was something of a mini-Marvel Comics reunion, both in terms of the G.I. Joe title and in a broader sense. Each of the four artists produced a large body of work at Marvel in the past. In regards to G.I. Joe, Trimpe was the book’s original artist in the early 1980s. Even though he has drawn numerous covers for the IDW series, this annual features his first interior work for the revival. Wagner also worked on G.I. Joe, penciling the book in the late 1980s.
Additionally, both Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema had momentous, nearly-uninterrupted runs penciling Marvel’s Incredible Hulk series. Trimpe was the artist on the Hulk from 1968 to 1975, while Buscema drew the Hulk between 1976 and 1985. So you have two men who are almost universally regarded as the definitive illustrators of one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters. And, as far as I am aware, they have only worked together on a handful of occasions in the past (I believe Trimpe was inked by Buscema on a few issues of Incredible Hulk way back in 1971). So, for a long-time Marvel fan such as myself, it was a thrill to see the two collaborating on this annual.
Of course, I would be even happier to see Trimpe & Buscema together again on a Hulk story. I don’t know if Marvel would even be interested in such a project. But occasionally they do publish a “retro” special or flashback sequence, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Until that happens, this G.I. Joe annual serves as a nice reunion between the two comic book legends.
In any case, considering the very unfortunate tendency of Marvel (as well as DC) to offer less and less work to older artists such as Trimpe and Buscema, or even to such talents as Frenz or Wagner, who both had regular monthly gigs as recently as the 1990s, I certainly appreciate them being given the opportunity to produce new work. For that reason alone, the 2012 G.I. Joe annual is well worth picking up.