The Heavy Hitter: Celebrating the Legendary Herb Trimpe!
Over a career that spanned seven decades, Herb Trimpe compiled a singularly impressive CV and earned a reputation as one of the medium’s most distinctive and reliable professionals. He was one of Marvel's first-string creators for many years, he was the first person to draw Wolverine for publication, he launched Marvel’s iconic G.I. Joe series, he pencilled long runs of offbeat titles like Godzilla and Shogun Warriors, and he defined the look of The Hulk for a generation of readers.
“Happy” Herb Trimpe (who, like many Marvel staffers, was given an appropriately alliterative nickname) drew nearly every one of Marvel’s top characters at some point over the course of his career, but it was his sense of design and dynamics that really set him apart from the pack --- his pictures bounded off the page and grabbed your attention, demonstrating a dynamism that has rarely been equalled.
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 Nick Fury's first solo series.
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.
Trimpe also handled numerous other duties related to his signature character, designing the classic “brickwork” logo that featured on Incredible's cover from 1968-1970 (and has been revived and referenced a number of times since), serving for a year as penciller of Hulk-starring team title The Defenders, and contributing the cover art for Rolling Stone‘s famous 1971 story on the Marvel Comics phenomenon.
Through the ’70s and ’80s, he remained one of Marvel’s hardest workers and heaviest hitters, taking on Iron Man and Marvel Team-Up, 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, 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 went on to become the company’s go-to guy for their licensed properties, working on titles including Transformers, U.S. 1, Indiana Jones, and providing the pencils for all 20 issues of the fondly remembered Shogun Warriors series.
While this was going on, he conceived and designed a successful series of TV ads for Crest toothpaste, and took on a number of other special projects for Marvel, such as a Captain America And The Campbell Kids comic that simultaneously promoted energy conservation, patriotism, and canned soup.
And in what might prove to be his greatest contribution to popular culture, Trimpe helped lay the foundation for the G.I. Joe franchise in the '80s, creating numerous characters and designs, launching Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic and drawing most of the title's first year, then becoming the primary artist for the company's spin-off title G.I. Joe: Special Missions in 1986.
Through the '90s, '00s, and '10s, he remained an active and vital force in the medium, pencilling comics for a variety of publishers, producing covers for IDW’s relaunched G.I. Joe series, and making regular appearances at conventions --- meeting and greeting all comers with a cheerful enthusiasm, treating each person he met with an attitude that quickly transformed awestruck fans into lifelong friends. When he passed away in 2015, he left behind a lifetime's worth of not only amazing artwork, but also countless fond memories from those who were lucky enough to know him.
So today, on the occasion of his birthday, we at ComicsAlliance are proud to celebrate "Happy" Herb, and offer this small tribute to his life and ongoing creative legacy.
Herb Trimpe's Greatest Comic Book Covers