On Monday we lost one of the big ones—particularly for those of us who came of age in the 70s and early 80s. Herb Trimpe has passed just about a month before what would have been his seventy-sixth birthday.
Trimpe made his mark on the Hulk book, which he penciled in a virtually uninterrupted run from 1968 to 1975. Other notable work from this period includes the creation of the World War I flying ace the Phantom Eagle (which allowed Trimpe to indulge his interest in classic planes), and his Ant-Man run (in Marvel Feature).
Back when I started this blog, I made note of my early encounter with Incredible Hulk #164 in a local barbershop. This was my first exposure to both the Hulk and Herb Trimpe. As I wrote at the time, I loved the weight and bulk Trimpe brought to the Hulk.
Some of my favorite scenes from the issue include one early on where the Hulk punches a submarine. Yes, you read that right: he punches a submarine. My juvenile imagination ran wild over just how awesomely powerful the Hulk was. Oh how I fantasized about wielding such strength myself… schoolyard bullies would have been cast into orbit by the dozens.
I give Trimpe a lot of credit for the power he put into his presentation here, but his skills did not begin and end with this. He also gave us an awesome splash page with some giant lizard-fish-things (called “toad-whales”) in this issue. No doubt, this went a long way toward getting him that assignment on the Godzilla comic a few years later.
Then there was the action with Captain Omen’s sumo-like crew. Again, as I said before, when the Hulk and this collection of brutes faced off, you could almost feel the ocean floor shake beneath them in Trimpe’s pencils.
It’s a shame it takes a tragedy like this to open one’s eyes as to just how awesome a talent Herb Trimpe was. In addition to his interiors, he also did some fantastic covers. 13th dimension has a terrific gallery of some of them here, if you’d care to take a look.
One misattribution I’ve seen in a few obits: I don’t think Trimpe can really be considered a co-creator of Wolverine. Though he did draw his first comic appearances in Hulk 180-181, the original Wolverine designs were actually done by John Romita Sr. (Trimpe’s work in these two monumental issues was still superb, of course.)
Anyway, after that barbershop copy of Hulk #164, my next encounter with Trimpe’s Hulk was the Power book-and-record set of The Incredible Hulk at Bay, which featured ol’ jade jaws duking it out with two of his most powerful foes: the Abomination and the Rhino. Another great example of Trimpe’s skill at presenting powerful action. (And it also helped me learn to read!)
Things get a bit blurry here as far as the timeframe is concerned, but at some point after this I picked up Hulk #122, possibly from one of my older cousins; possibly from a garage sale. Now I’ve always seen a strong Kirby influence in Trimpe’s work, but particularly so here—I guess because it features a battle with the Fantastic Four.
Trimpe does his usual awesome job on the transformation sequence, followed by the Hulk bulling his way into the Baxter Building’s elevator shaft.
The sequence becomes even more dramatic on the next page when we see the Thing descending in the elevator to head him off. The Hulk retaliates by punching the elevator clear through the roof of the building—with the Thing still inside! This leads to the comical reappearance of the Thing when he climbs back down the shaft and pokes his head in, upside down.
…Modern superhero comics sorely miss the whimsy and humor of this earlier time.
By this point I was a full-fledged Hulk nut, and what a great time it was for Greenskin’s fans. In his regular title, you got pencils by the great Sal Buscema; and in his reprint book, Marvel Superheroes, you got classic Trimpe. It was also around this time that the Hulk TV show took off, which led to the character getting spotlighted in several additional titles, including Marvel’s oversized Treasury Editions. Two I remember quite fondly are volumes 17 & 26.
No. 17 reprinted a classic battle with the Glob that I loved. In fact my affection for swamp monsters may have been born here.
Another classic reprinted in this volume was Hulk #150, which featured Trimpe pencils with John Severin inks. The story had one of the Hulk’s most outrageous feats of strength: lifting a friggin’ mountain. Yeah, it’s ridiculous, but who cares? This was such fun and brought so much joy to the eight-year-old me that I can’t even begin to capture it in words. So what if it defied all laws of mass and gravity and physics? I loved it.
Again, this was Trimpe at his height. It may very well have also been the Hulk at his. This whole era was classic Hulk pitted against classic villains behind classic comic-book covers.
Less famously but more personally, I also have very fond memories of Trimpe’s work on Shogun Warriors. At the time, this was a very popular toy line of 24” plastic robots. If you got yours at the Toys ‘R Us in Scotch Plains like me and most of my friends, you took home mighty Mazinga. The other two characters featured in the line (which never seemed to be in stock at the Scotch Plains store) were Dragun and Raydeen. The comic, however, due to some convoluted legal entanglements, only had Raydeen from the toy line. The other two warriors were replaced by Combatra and Dangard Ace.
While it was a disappointment to not see my own Mazinga in the comic, I still loved it. I’m pretty sure it’s established science at this point that all young boys go nuts over giant robots. Even moreso when said robots have human pilots riding inside of them. (And moreso still if the robots can change/transform.)
With all his great work on the Hulk, Trimpe’s work on Warriors might be even more impressive. I mean, these robots have a lot of weird detail to them and Trimpe really doesn’t skimp on any of it.
I keep hoping against hope that we might see this stuff reprinted someday, but it looks like a pretty big longshot at this point. (On the bright side, titles like this, Godzilla, Micronauts, and Rom do keep the back-issue business alive. And they’re not terribly expensive.)
Later on, Trimpe would become the regular penciler of Spider-Man’s adventures in Marvel Team-Up. In all candor, I wasn’t a big fan of Trimpe’s work here. I don’t think he was a great fit for Spidey—which is no great shame, as even the great Jack Kirby didn’t seem able to capture the character very well. (Also like Kirby, Trimpe’s pencils started to feel more and more stiff to me as he got older.)
I will say though, that he did handle the pencils on one of the great Spidey stories of the era: “Pawns of the Purple Man” from Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 in 1981. This story really demands a blog post of its own, as it’s an example of Frank Miller’s best work as strictly a writer and Trimpe holds up his end of the job quite well.
Two of my favorite sequences: Purple Man making Spider-Man sing Elvis Costello…
And then trying to get Moon Knight to eat his own cape…
Trimpe would also go on to do some excellent work on G. I. Joe and then the Machine Man limited series with Barry Windsor-Smith.
On a more personal note, Trimpe’s journal excerpts that were published in the New York Times several years back touch me very deeply when I go back and re-read them now. A stark reminder of how callous and cruel the comics business can be to those who have given so very much of themselves to it.
R.I.P., Herb Trimpe.