Herb Trimpe: A 75th Birthday Retrospective!
Yesterday, May 26th, Herb Trimpe celebrated his 75th birthday. The prolific and talented penciller is often referred to these days as the artist of Wolverine’s first appearance, and while that is certainly one of his many accomplishments, it’s far from the whole story — he has compiled a singularly impressive CV over a comics career that spans seven decades, and built a reputation as one of the medium’s most distinctive and reliable professionals.
Trimpe loved comics practically from the moment he could read, and got his start in the industry in the early 1960s, assisting with inks for various Dell books while attending the School of Visual Arts in New York. After a four-year stint in the Air Force, he was hired as a production assistant for Marvel in 1966, and quickly became one of Marvel’s most valuable utility players, working on Kid Colt Outlaw and various Western titles, co-creating high-flying WWI hero The Phantom Eagle in Marvel Super Heroes #16, and pencilling the finale of the first Nick Fury solo series (in a story that featured a guest appearance by seminal psych-rock band Country Joe & The Fish).
But it was his work on The Hulk that truly made Trimpe’s name in the industry. After inking a few short Hulk stories in Tales To Astonish, he rejoined the book once it was renamed for its jolly green cover star in 1968, taking over pencils from Marie Severin with issue #106 and continuing as the regular artist for the next 85 issues.
During his run, he was responsible for co-creating many new characters and inventing many enduring elements of the Hulk’s mythos, including Doc Samson, Jim Wilson, The Glob, Jarella, the Hulkbuster squad, and the ridiculously awesome Umbu the Unliving.
And though he didn’t have a hand in the actual creation of Wolverine (who was cooked up by Marvel EIC Roy Thomas and art director John Romita, and developed by writer Len Wein), his art for the character’s debut in The Incredible Hulk 180-181 established the diminutive Canadian as a force to be reckoned with.
During his Hulk tenure, Trimpe also handled numerous other duties related to the character, designing the classic “brickwork” Hulk logo that featured on the the title’s cover from 1968-1970 (and has been revived and referenced a number of times since), and contributing art for Rolling Stone‘s famous 1971 cover story on the Marvel phenomenon.
Through the ’70s and ’80s, he remained one of Marvel’s hardest workers and heaviest hitters, taking on Iron Man and The Defenders, co-creating Captain Britain for Marvel’s UK arm, drawing a memorable quartet of Super-Villain Team-Up issues, pencilling a few scattered What If? tales, delivering some brilliantly bizarre Killraven stories, tackling a year-long stint on Marvel Team-Up, and filling in issues when and wherever he was needed. His straightforward storytelling, forceful figures, and dynamic action were instantly identifiable, and he garnered acclaim from fans and collaborators alike.
Trimpe launched Marvel’s Godzilla title in 1977, and while a revolving door of writers struggled to integrate a 30-story radioactive thunder lizard into an already-crowded continuity, he guided the book through an endless succession of wonderfully insane ideas: battling Devil Dinosaur, getting shrunk down to human size and wrestling S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and generally rampaging in spectacular fashion all around the Marvel Universe.
Once Godzilla ended with issue #24, Trimpe became the company’s go-to guy for their licensed properties, working on titles including Transformers, Shogun Warriors, U.S. 1, and Indiana Jones.
While all this was going on, he somehow found the time to design a successful series of animated ads for Crest toothpaste starring the heroic Crest Team and the villainous Cavity Creeps.
He also had a hand in one of the flat-out weirdest comics I’ve ever run across, a 1980 giveaway from the US Department Of Energy that teams Captain America with the canned-soup spokespeople Campbell’s Kids, in a battle against a ragtag group of power-wasting miscreants called “The Energy Drainers”. (Trust me, it’s even more bizarre than it sounds.)
But most famously, Trimpe was the artist Marvel tapped to kick off the publisher’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series in 1982, contributing characters and designs that remain popular to this day.
Trimpe has remained active for the last few decades: working on various Marvel books; drawing an ill-fated Dinosaurs Attack series in 1988 (that IDW finally completed and released last year); pencilling short stories and pin-ups; and producing covers for IDW’s G.I. Joe titles, maintaining a connection with the franchise he’s defined for generations of readers.
So this week, as “Happy Herbie” turns 75 (and the top two spots at the US box office are held by movies featuring characters he’s closely associated with), it’s the perfect moment to re-acquaint ourselves with some of his work — copies of original Godzilla issues or Marvel’s 2006 Essential Godzilla collection can be tracked down fairly easily and inexpensively, and the introductory Wolverine tale is easy to find, as it’s been reprinted many times in a variety of formats.
And once you read those, I’d recommend checking out his entire Hulk run. I inherited many of the Trimpe Hulks from my older siblings growing up, old beat-up copies that I read and re-read over and over, and they remain among my very favorites — they’re some of the wackiest, most energetic, most comic book-y comics ever printed.
Ofttimes we fall into a trap of appreciating artists only after they’re gone, and forgetting to honor them while they still walk among us. One of the things I love most about the comics community is the accessibility of the men and women whose work has given us so much enjoyment, and Mr. Trimpe is one of the few Silver Age creators who’s still out there attending conventions, doing sketches, and drawing as well as he ever has. So next time you see him at a show, stop and say hello, get some books signed, purchase some art, and thank him for all the years of great comics…
And on behalf of all of us at Comics Alliance, I’d like to wish the happiest of (belated) birthdays to the man himself. Happy 75th, Mr. Trimpe, and here’s to many more!