Herb Trimpe’s reaction to a roomful of avid fans wanting to hear about his days drawing the Hulk was bemusement more than anything else. “I can’t remember all that stuff,” he complained.
But prompted by moderator Mark Evanier, Trimpe did manage to remember quite a bit, starting with his earliest jobs. “Tom Gill was my instructor at the School for Visual Arts in New York,” he said. “He did comics — they called it ‘continuity art’ back then — and he needed somebody to ink his backgrounds and stuff. So that’s how I started, at Dell. Doing mostly Westerns., and also licensed books, like the adaptation of the movie ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.'”
“Did you want to work in comic books? Was it something you considered as a career?” Evanier asked.
“Not really,” Trimpe admitted. “I wanted to work in comic strips, syndication. My heroes were Chester Gould with ‘Dick Tracy,’ Milt Caniff with ‘Terry and the Pirates’… the adventure guys.”
The Vietnam War, where Trimpe served in the Air Force as a weather observer, interrupted his art career. Upon his return stateside, Trimpe got a call from Marvel production manager John Verpoorten. Soon he was working in the production departmnent at Marvel doing corrections and paste-up work, as well as redrawing the occasional hand or foot. “It was before computers,” Herb said. “We did it all by hand. More fun than computers. Used a big… Itek, I think it was — a big camera, really, we used all the chemicals and developer and so on.” When Evanier pressed him for details, Trimpe laughed. “This is like therapy, you’re bringing up all these things I’m tryin’ to forget!”
Asked about other influences, Trimpe was quick to praise his former co-workers in the Bullpen. “Johnny Romita and Gene Colan were total pros. Back then you had to make your deadlines or the printer’s union would hit you with late fees. That was the kind of thing that could get you fired. But Romita and Colan were always on time with great stuff.”
Evanier reminded Trimpe of another episode. “It was one of Marvel’s horror books, ‘Chamber of Darkness,’ ‘Tower of Cream Cheese,’ I don’t know what it was. But an inker had blown through it so fast, an inker whose name shall not be mentioned — and when we say that, we mean Vince Colletta — that he’d left out all the backgrounds. So Herb was sitting there in the Bullpen, putting in the backgrounds… do you remember any of this?”
“No…” Trimpe replied, then added “Your Honor.”
“Well,” Evanier continued in a judicial tone, “I have here — this photo!” And then Evanier pulled out a picture that he’d taken of Trimpe when visiting the bulllpen as a young fan in the 60’s.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Trimpe said, and burst out laughing. “That is me. Check out that dark hair,” he added ruefully, and ran a hand through his now-silver hair.
Oddly enough, the book for which Trimpe is most fondly remembered, “The Hulk,” he almost didn’t get. “I did like, three or four pages, and Stan saw them and made Frank Giacoia do the layouts. It wasn’t my storytelling, there was a good flow there, but it was too E.C. for Stan. I loved E.C., the dark atmosphere and clean lines of it. I have a drawing Jack Davis did for me. But it wasn’t right for Marvel.”
Trimpe also worked on “G.I. Joe Special Missions” and “Shogun Warriors,” then, rather suddenly, disappeared from comics. “I just got tired of it,” Trimpe said. “It was time to do something different. So I went into teaching. I’ll tell you this — teaching, you never get old. The kids take a lot of energy, but they give you energy too, you borrow youth from them.”
Then after the attacks on September 11th, Trimpe ended up as a volunteer chaplain for the Episcopal Diocese at ground zero, helping to identify the dead and counsel the survivors. “We needed counseling too,” he added. “Me, what I did was write in my journal. I found it a great way to unload… decompress.” These journals later appeared to much acclaim in The New York Times.
“Severely edited,” Trimpe added with a laugh. “They don’t like four-letter words at the Times.”