PLUS: An appreciation by ALL TIME COMICS writer Josh Bayer…
When Herb Trimpe died suddenly last year at the age of 75, the comics world mourned the passing of one of the great Marvel workhorses of the Bronze Age.
Little did most know that he was working on a new project at the time: All Time Comics, an imprint merging of old-school talent and new-school vision that will be published by Fantagraphics, starting next spring. It’s basically an over-the-top homage to the kinds of comics that feed the souls of pretty much anyone reading 13th Dimension on a regular basis.
The project — which was announced at EW.com — is the brainchild of the Bayer brothers: underground comics creator Josh, who’s writing the series, and Samuel, a video director who’s worked with legions of major acts, from the Rolling Stones to Nirvana. Other creators involved in the project include inker Ben Marra and illustrators Jim Rugg and Noah Van Sciver. Click here for more info.
Here’s the splash page for Crime Destroyer #1, which includes Trimpe’s last comics work:
I also wanted to share this moving piece that Bayer — who discussed the project with CBR, here — wrote about Trimpe shortly after he died. It first appeared on his Tumblr. If you’re a fan of Trimpe’s work — and if you’re reading this, you almost certainly are — then I think you’ll appreciate this:
By JOSH BAYER
Last year I contacted Herb Trimpe and asked him to draw a book for a line of comics I’m editing and writing. We were able to offer him a decent page rate and astonishingly he said yes and I’ll be publishing what is (as far as I know) his last comic.
Trimpe’s work was everywhere when I was growing up, in reprints and in current books on the stands, and his swaggering, cartoony, monolithic, half-rickety, half-fluid characters were synonymous with what I thought comics were. He maybe was one of the first people I saw who liked to make his characters WIDE, the chunkiness that is so fun for cartoonists to express (everyone from Frank King to Crumb to Gary Larson is part of this tradition) is intact in Trimpe’s pencils. The mouths were wide, the faces were wide, the fingers were wide. He was a Kirby protégé and was smart and humble enough to be proud of his ability to swim alongside his heroes without seeming to aspire to greater heights. It seemed to be fulfilling enough to be a steady artist, a provider for his family, a vet who served in Vietnam, and a deacon in his church.
Kirby was a leader, and Trimpe was like a soldier, but as much as he might have recognized himself as merely a professional, skilled at drawing everything from technical equipment to horses to architecture to sweeping urban panoramas, he wasn’t merely a dependable illustrator. He also drew with the inventiveness and enthusiasm of a kid. A freedom that many artists will never have. Looking at his work, you know his personality as much as you know R Crumb’s. It’s warm and familiar. The correspondence he creates between the reader and the work is more like Crumb or Basil Wolverton than many of his slicker, smoother peers. And like Crumb, his stuff might reflect the real world at times, but it’s never gonna let you forget it’s a cartoon.
As photocopies of his new pages began to arrive in my email last year, I was so heartened that in his seventh decade he was doing such peak work, full of the transitions, lighting and sequencing he was known for. “I have to tell you, I’m having a ball… it’s the most fun I’ve had doing non mainline work”, he wrote to me, and I was so glad. I would be happy for days every time I heard from him. I kept looking at the work. The lines were confident and powerful, his storytelling brimming with the sort of visual inventiveness that results from having completed thousands and thousands of pages of work before we connected.
To me, getting approval from him, and from other professionals like Rick Parker and Al Milgrom, has been everything I’d hope for in comics, a seamless circle between the past and future. Only in a lopsided industry like this one could someone in my position at the low end of the ladder attract a string of creators with decades of experience and accomplishment behind them.
Trimpe’s work helped to keep the American industry afloat, in a very visible way. He was one of the top six artists at Marvel and one of the most steady and visible. He slowly was eclipsed by younger artists, but his contributions were undeniable and should have set him up for life. Last year, a page of art appeared on the market by a collector who had been hoarding it for 35 years, the final page of Hulk #180, showing the first appearance of Wolverine, which was inscribed to the collector by Herb. Apparently it had been given to the collector by Herb himself in 1983.
The art resold for over $600,000, breaking a record for original comic-art sales set a few years prior by a Frank Miller Batman page. The collector had said he was going to give a large portion of the money to an organization for older artists and I’d been hoping he secretly was going to give the money to Herb Trimpe to counterbalance the way he never took part in the massive profits his life work generated for the industry. I don’t know what the result of the sale was but it would be so satisfying for Herb to know his work had brought about a long-term security for his family that was the dream of almost everyone in his generation.
A lot of my own comics are about creators of the past. I’ve always been fascinated with how people face age and the changes life brings on in its third act, and the difference between the face of public figures and their interior life. I’ve done stories interpreting a fictional version of the Marvel Bullpen, showing my versions of Steve Ditko, Bill Mantlo, Bill Everett and Stan Lee, and mostly they are protest cartoons about the way creators are treated as disposable. The whole time we worked together I wondered if Herb ever saw the comic I did about him, “Trimpe Survives” (earlier published as “Trimpe Loses”), that I did in 2011, a year or two before I contacted him. I kind of doubt it, but you never know.
It detailed a metaphorical battle by Herb to stay alive in a barren wasteland, surrounded by flesh-eating, original Image Comics-style adversaries. The comic ends with Trimpe, determined to outlive the younger predators waiting on the horizon and drawing –as he did in 1992 — an issue of Fantastic Four Unlimited in the style then made popular by his younger competitors. This instance of a creator of his stature attempting to stay current when work was disappearing is just wrong. I never forgot it.
When we began to collaborate, I was afraid he’d think I was making light of a painful period of his career, and that I was taking a shot at him. I never broached the subject. The vibes were running positively and I didn’t want to screw it up. But I’d always thought I would eventually get a chance to tell him how much admiration I have for him, how his career is a testament to the triumph of personality over slick modernization.
I never wanted to explain that I meant no disrespect portraying him as a man whose head was attached to Godzilla’s body, since that could have been seen as a jab at him, you know, the “old dinosaur” of comics. I was responding to the portrait of himself he’d etched in his article in the NY Times, in which he described a world that had left him, at age 56, seemingly condemned to obsolescence. It seemed traumatic but I thought he fought back with resourcefulness, self-reflection and bravery, and I always wanted to tell him. But I thought there’d be time later. Clearly Herb had many, many good years left in him.
Man, I’m so consumed with loss right now. I’ve been sad all week. I never met him, but I feel like I’ve lost a friend.