Herb Trimpe, famed artist on the Hulk and GI Joe, co-creator of Wolverine and one of the last remaining Silver Age artists, died Monday night at age 75., a reported by his nephew on Facebook. Trimpe had spent the weekend at the East Coast Comicon, where many greeted him and enjoyed his company as they had at many other conventions, little knowing it would be the last time. He’s survived by his wife Patricia and two children by his first wife, Linda Fite.
Trimpe’s comics career goes all the way back to Marvel in the sixties, where he got a job following schooling at the School of Visual Arts and a stint in the Air Force. Starting out in the bullpen he quickly moved to pencilling, leading to what would be an 85-issue run on The Hulk starting with issue 106. While Trimpe had a good approximation of the Kirby House Style at Marvel, he brought his own flair for dynamic anatomy and grounded storytelling. Most famously he drew Wolverine’s debut appearance in Hulk #181, and went on to draw Godzilla, and the much loved G.I. Joe comic for Marvel. Patrick A. Reed has a fine obituary at Comics Alliance, and even more importantly, an earlier retrospective on the occasion of Trimpe’s 75th birthday. As Reed recalls:
But the thing that sometimes escapes notice, when rattling off all the accomplishments and accolades, is a sense of Herb Trimpe himself. After writing the tribute last year, I was surprised to receive a note from the man himself, thanking me for the birthday wishes. We corresponded a bit, and I went on to speak with him and interview him at a few different conventions over the following months, and he impressed me with his kindness, his gift for telling stories, and his sincere modesty – confident in his achievements, comfortable with his place in history, never attempting to claim more than what he believed he was owed.
For example, he was quick to correct anyone who credited him and Len Wein as the creators of Wolverine, explaining that while they developed the character, the actual creation was handled by Roy Thomas and John Romita.
While Trimpe’s contributions to the most loved period of classic Marvel were indisputable, they didn’t mean he’d always have a job. In 1998 he famously wrote a piece for the New York Times that begins
In 1996, after 29 years as an artist for Marvel Comics, I got fired — 56 years old, two children still in college and no job.
The story goes on from there as Trimpe completes his art degree and eventually gets a job as a n art teacher. It was an inspiring story of career reinvention for anyone, let alone a man at the age where most would just decide to give up.
Luckily the story gave Trimpe something of a second wind as both an artist—he’d drawn a piece for Savage Dragon and more GI Joe work for IDW in recent years—and also as a popular and much loved convention guest. With most of the Silver Age Marvel artists deceased or otherwise out of commission (Ditko, Marie Severin) Trimpe was a living connection to the era that defined pretty much everything that the world loves about Marvel Comics.
He was also a gracious, humble and intelligent man, as the many, many tributes pouring in make clear, and the awards he won make clear. He won the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award in 2002 for his work as a chaplain comforting victims of 9/11—and as an ordained minister was available to perform weddings at conventions if needed. He also won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hero Initiative last year—it was presented at the Harvey Awards and the ovation he received from the crowd was another testament to how much he was admired. I chatted with him and Patricia at many cons and he was never anything less than gracious and just enjoying the experience. He was also hale and hearty—many’s the time I saw him swinging boxes as easily as a man half his age—and looked way younger than his years, so hearing about his death is a shock.
Trimpe is rarely listed among the “art for art’s sake” creators of his era but as this gallery of some of his Hulk covers at 13th Dimension makes clear, his work was gorgeous and iconic and spoke directly to the reader in a way only the greatest artists can muster. (I have to note that Marie Severin’s colors on these covers is also world-class, and makes me want to go off on a rant about horrible 3D coloring, but this is not the place.)
There are a ton of tributes up for him, as I mentioned, including comments from Axel Alonso at CBR and Mark Evanier’s remembrance. I’d like to quote just one of the longer pieces, by cartoonist Fred Hembeck, who, like so many, saw him over the weekend.
Lynn and I were stunned to learn of Herb Trimpe’s passing. We saw Herb and his wife Patricia at the East Coast Comic Con just this past Saturday. I recognized his familiar voice call out from behind me as I was checking in, and turned to be greeted by a wide smile and a big hug. Although I had met him briefly several times at various parties going back a few decades, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that we became good friends under somewhat unique circumstances: wife-to-be Patricia was our daughter Julie’s 10th grade Spanish teacher and class counselor. Not long after the couple tied the knot, Herb presided over a once a week, full day cartooning class at the school for a semester, and he asked me to be guest instructor for a day. I agreed, but was admittedly very nervous at the prospect, as I didn’t really know him all that well, and trust me, I am NO teacher. But the day went just swell, and Herb invited me to come back again at the end of the semester for another go at it. From that, a really nice friendship was formed. A year or so later, we shared High School Graduation Day together, as Patricia’s daughter Natalia was in the same class as Julie. It was a small private school, and each graduating student was given the chance to make a short speech. I recall being touched by the sincerely warm remarks Natalia made about her new step-dad during her turn at the podium. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though–EVERYBODY loved Herb. After that, Lynn and I got together with Herb and Patricia a few times for some very enjoyable dinners–though in the past few years, we’d only managed to spend several scant happy minutes together at one comics convention or another (I was lucky enough to be in attendance last fall when Herb received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Harvey Awards Dinner). But finally, stopping by Herb’s table late Saturday afternoon on our way out, as he was still producing sketches for a swarm of appreciative fans, we made tentative plans for dinner the weekend after next. And now, mere days later, this awful, awful news. Herb was a truly wonderful guy, and losing him has saddened me tremendously. Our hearts go out to Patricia, her daughter Natalia, and to all the other members of Herb’s family, as well as to his many, many friends and fans. A more likable guy you’d be hard pressed to find, and it was truly an honor to consider him my friend.
Here’s another tribute:
Herb forever. This weekend I got to meet one of my favorite cartoonists. His name was Herb Trimpe. He passed away yesterday at 75. He was very kind to me. I asked him about doing a cover for a future issue of Revenger and he gave me his email. Sadly I won't get to write to him. I'm pretty shocked right now. Herb wasn't the kind of artists that comic nerds would name check as legendary. But they are wrong in that regard. I discovered his work a few years ago and immediately latched onto it. I can't describe very well why it did but it just did. He was a workhorse that spent years churning out pages for marvel. His work dried up though as soon as he was out of style. A story all too common. Like I said I just met him. He seemed perfectly healthy and happy. Anyway. I am going to do a zine of his drawings to raise money for either his family or the Hero Initiative. If you have a favorite page or panel that Herb drew, feel free to scan it and send it my way. Long live Herb.
Herb Trimpe was truly one of a kind in this business, as an artist and a human being. I’m really going to miss him.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.