Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)
You Don’t Want To Make The COVER OF THE DAY Angry! Herb Trimpe got his first job at Marvel—if you believe Wikipedia—not long after he was discharged from the U. S. Air Force, taking a production job SHOOTING A STAT CAMERA! My first gig out of art school was very similar, pasting-up ads and shooting a stat camera for an ad agency, back in the day, one of the essential tools for working in the graphic arts (nowadays you kiddies can just scan art as a bitmap image, but the stat camera was a more versatile tool and scanners today in some specific respects still have a ways to go before catching up with that cumbersome but important ally). This wasn’t Trimpe’s first experience in comics. Before he entered the service he had assisted one of his instructors at The School of Visual Arts—comic artist Tom Gill—as an inker at Dell Comics, working on westerns and licensed books like the many movie adaptations Dell did in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the stat camera gig allowed Trimpe an entrée to freelance at Marvel as a penciller and/or inker. Not long after his first projects as a penciller (on a pair of issues of Kid Colt Outlaw in 1967; then working with writer Gary Friedrich on the creation of a WWI aviator hero, The Phantom Eagle in 1968—see Marvel Super Heroes #16—which was incredibly beautiful, with an almost Bill Everett-like fluidity), Trimpe was assigned to what would become his signature work—The Incredible Hulk. He began by doing pencil-finishes on Marie Severin layouts in issue #106 (Severin had been the title’s lead penciller) then followed that with a seven-year run on the book until issue #193 in 1975 (supplanted by Sal Buscema, which annoyed the heck out of me when I was 14 years old!). Trimpe would work on most all of Marvel’s major characters (and a few minor characters): The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Kazar (on Astonishing Tales), Thor, Ant-Man, Machine Man (including an excellent mini-series in 1984 inked by Barry Windsor Smith), The Rawhide Kid, and The Amazing Spider-Man; as well as a number of high-profile licensed properties (movie adaptations or toyline spinoffs), Godzilla, Indiana Jones, Shogun Warriors, G.I. Joe, The Transformers, and Star Wars.
However Trimpe is still best remembered as the defining artist on the Hulk—though not a spectacular draftsman in the manner of the Hulk’s visual creator Jack Kirby or a John Buscema (Sal’s older brother), Trimpe was still no slouch in terms of drama and possessing excellent narrative skills as a visual storyteller. As Trimpe has recalled in interviews, Stan Lee would have the artists begin drafting the stories based on a broad outline (mindful I imagine of any long term story arcs) and not a finished script—as is common today now that comics are more of a writer’s medium—then a finished script would be finalized more for the benefit of the letterer. Trimpe has stated that this process was the most fun since the collaboration between artist and scripter allowed for mutual creative input and give-and-take. Trimpe has described his style as being patterned after the EC artists, heavy on mood and psychological dissonance—his earliest pencil drafts had been rejected by Stan Lee because of it (the EC-look not being Lee’s idea for the “Marvel style” wanting Trimpe to “be more like Kirby”). Yet, timing was everything, and the work being introduced to Marvel in the late-1960s had dark psychological currents with psychedelic flourishes—Jim Steranko’s cinematic bravura and Barry Smith’s Kirby-influenced surreal edge, not to mention the flights of cosmic imaginings Kirby himself was undertaking in the pages of The Fantastic Four—which made for the right kind of environment for Trimpe to flourish in. Trimpe’s panels were action-packed and his never-a-dull-moment pacing did not betray the subtlety of a character’s anguish. I felt the Hulk’s loneliness and isolation even as bullets were flying and rocks were being pulverized into powder. Is it no wonder the psychedelic black light posters done with Marvel comics panel art by the poster company Third Eye included a Herb Trimpe Hulk splash? Or when Rolling Stone did a cover story on comic books, that cover was by Trimpe illustrating the Hulk?
It was always my feeling that Trimpe was an underrated talent in his day—but appreciation of his work has grown more in recent years among fans and comic art enthusiasts. Ironic, in that after Trimpe and other holdovers from Marvel’s “old days” were terminated in the middle-1990s, they could not find work in a changing and fickle industry—not perceived to be on par with the look of Image Comics, then perceived to be au currant and the future of comics (the aftermath of which the industry as a whole is still trying to wash the stench off of themselves). Trimpe—in middle age—was forced to go back to college to finish his bachelor’s degree—and later his master’s—and eventually became a teacher at a middle school.
However, even as I heap praise upon Trimpe’s oeuvre, at his best—the 1960s into the early 1970s—his work was strongest with the right inker (including himself). By the mid-70s, and into his later years at Marvel, his work (and his enthusiasm) seemed to suffer more with a bad or inappropriate inker finishing his pencils (Marvel was never very good in figuring out when to stick with what worked best as the Bronze Age came to a close—trying to keep up with perceived trends instead of leading as they had done in the 1960s). Towards the end of his run on the Hulk, Trimpe’s work suffered with unimaginative inking (compare Jack Abel’s tight, generic brushwork on the mid-70s Hulk to Barry Windsor-Smith’s superlative work on the aforementioned 1984 Machine Man mini series and you’ll see exactly what I mean). So as I espoused yesterday on the Hall of Fame calibre work of the siblings Severin, I showcase a particularly effervescent collaboration from 1968—Herb Trimpe inked by John Severin.
As I noted yesterday, it was John Severin’s inking on Trimpe in the pages of the Hulk that alerted me to his work as a child—making me a lifelong fan of the octogenarian artist who died Sunday. The rapid-fire pacing of Trimpe’s pages were enhanced by Severin’s spectacular, crisp brushwork. Though only his inker for a brief early run in 1968, issues #108-110, Severin was paired with Trimpe for a longer stretch beginning in 1971, issues #141-155 (with Dick Ayers standing in for Trimpe for a couple of the issues, and one issue with Frank Giacoia inking Trimpe with a cover by Trimpe and Severin). Trimpe was an excellent cover artist and his sense of drama and perspective made for many an intriguing cover (another pity of the Marvel of the mid-1970s onward was their increased reliance on a separate cover artist—perceived to be more sellable almost to the exclusion of everything else—despite the obvious talents of those individuals, usually art director John Romita or the visionary Gil Kane, and sometimes both). With this cover for Hulk #109 the illustrated masthead and cover blurb done by Trimpe and Severin took this cover to another level. Looking at it made you feel it was a special story, not to be missed—a more deliberate evocation of “graphic design” than what was standard. With the following issue, Trimpe crafted what would become the most iconic of the Hulk mastheads—the dimensional sans serif lettering seemingly built of stone blocks—running for only 19 issues but immortalized in our memory. I devoured every issue of these—they were a joy of my childhood and played their role in influencing my career in the graphic arts.
For more of Herb Trimpe’s work on The Incredible Hulk, take a look at The Grand Comics Database:
In 2008, Trimpe worked on BPRD: War on Frogs, one of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy miniseries. Un
late-Marvel’s attempts at altering Trimpe’s style, here he seamlessly enters Mignola’s (Kirby-influenced) world and looks as fittingly contemporary.
(The Incredible) Hulk, No. 109
Marvel Comics, November, 1968 issue
Illustration (penciller): Herb Trimpe
Illustration (inker): John Severin
— with John Severin.