Sunday, February 15, 2015

Unknown Herb Trimpe Art

In 1970 Herb Trimpe was artist/co-plotter on The Incredible Hulk, a title he had taken over two years earlier, following in the footsteps of many exceptional talents including Marie Severin, Gil Kane, Bill Everett, Steve Ditko and, of course, co creator Jack Kirby. Trimpe had a coarse, gritty style perfectly suited for the exploits of a rampaging monster; he continues to be associated with the character decades after his tenure on the title ceased. In addition to his duties on The Hulk, Trimpe also worked in the production department at Marvel, assisting John Romita and Marie Severin on various chores; drawing covers, primarily for the western titles, (Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, Ringo Kid, Mighty Marvel Western, Rawhide Kid and Western Gunfighters) and making corrections on interior panels and pages. I'll point out a few I've recently discovered.

 Herb Trimpe's uncredited splash page art to "The Beast from the Bog!", Chamber of Darkness # 5, June 1970. 

  While the splash page to "The Beast in the Bog!" is credited to Paul Reinman, a careful examination reveals that it is actually the work of Herb Trimpe. To the best of my knowledge Reinman's original page has never turned up, so I can only speculate as to why it was replaced. One possibility is that Reinman drew the creature on the splash and Stan Lee wanted his image to be a surprise to the reader. 

Editor Stan Lee had a history of being picky about splash pages dating back to the Timely/Atlas era. There are numerous instances of Lee using a different artist to redraw a splash page, usually because he felt a more powerful image was needed to pull the reader in. When there was time and the original artist was available they produced the new art (examples include Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers) but when deadlines were pressing he usually had a staff artist handle the re-do. In the 1950s it was often Joe Maneely, his talented and versatile right hand man, who made the alterations; later Lee usually turned to Jack Kirby, John Romita, Marie Severin or Herb Trimpe. 

Another clue that this is an alternative splash is by observing the lettering. While Jean Izzo was credited, and her style is evident by its stylistic resemblance to her father, Artie Simek, the splash (and any corrections in the story) was lettered by staffer Morrie Kuramoto, who tended to be far less precise and attractive than Marvel's main calligraphers, Sam Rosen and Artie Simek.   

For comparison here is page two of the story, drawn by Paul Reinman. Note the difference in the way Reinman draws trees, using a scratchier line than Trimpe, and how the hand in panel 6 echoes the splash page.

Seven months earlier Herb Trimpe drew his own swamp related monster in the pages of The Incredible Hulk # 121, November 1969. Notice Trimpe's depiction of foliage, overhanging trees and the swamp, particularly the final panel which has a hand rising from the bog. Both pages point to Trimpe's distinctive style.   

 Uncredited Trimpe splash to the Gunhawk feature, from Western Gunfighters # 1, August 1970. Note that Jerry Siegel, the co creator of Superman, was the author of this tale.  

Two months after providing the new splash in Chamber of Darkness # 5, Trimpe again does the honors, as seen by the pose and facial expression on Gunhawk, and the wispy, almost coloring book style backgrounds. Western Gunfighters was a 25 cent title that featured mostly new material. The interior story is penciled by Werner Roth and inked by Sal Buscema. Roth's experience on westerns dated back to the 1950s, on the Apache Kid and Matt Slade. Trimpe drew (and apparently lettered the title) to Gunhawk's introductory page, a new character who was prominently featured on the cover.

                            Gunhawk Pin-Up from Kid Colt Outlaw # 227, December 1978

In this instance I believe I've discovered the original splash page, which found its way into print 8 years later in the back of a western reprint title. While the pencils are incorrectly credited to Al Hartley, they are actually the work of Werner Roth, who drew the original story. Aside from the faces, figures and poses that point to Roth's involvement, other factors are evident. Sal Buscema is the inker of this drawing:he inked the original story. Werner Roth had passed on in 1973, so this was not new art, as was the case with other pin-ups in this period. Finally, the open space above Gunhawk would have been where the copy and story title appeared. In both splashes Gunhawk is posed center stage, holding his guns, but Trimpe's version has Gunhawk as the central figure, eliminating the fleeing townsfolk and buildings that appear in Roth's version. The addition of the Hawk in the foreground and the mountains in the background direct the readers eye directly to Gunhawk.    

                      Herb Trimpe at work. Photograph from the 1970 Marvelmania Portfolio.   

 In a case of serendipity I wound up discovering this photo of Herb Trimpe making art corrections AFTER I noticed his splash in Chamber of Darkness # 5. Since I had been researching Marvel's late 1960s/early 1970s mystery-anthology titles (Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows) I looked closely at the page Trimpe was working on and realized it was one of Barry Smith's stories. Smith was relatively new to comics, his earliest work consisted of pin-ups for the British based company Odhams Press in the mid-1960s, which reprinted Marvel's superheroes on a weekly schedule. You can view some of these on Kid Robson's highly entertaining blog:

A short time later Smith was given the opportunity to contribute to Marvel directly, drawing X-Men # 53 (January, 1969) followed by fill-ins on Daredevil, The Avengers and a host of mystery shorts. His early efforts, which combined Jack Kirby's dynamism with Jim Steranko's contemporary look, had an almost unprofessional appearance but his enthusiasm and sense of pacing showed real confidence. Smith's first ongoing title was Conan the Barbarian, teamed with writer Roy Thomas, where he had the opportunity to expand his abilities, adding meticulous detail and becoming a recognized fan favorite.

Zooming in on the page I noticed the panel Trimpe was working on and checked through my issues of Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness. I could tell that this story was inked by Vince Colletta, and if I recalled correctly he only inked one of Smith's mystery tales.

 I found the story, "The Scream of Things", scripted by Allyn Brodsky, which appeared in Tower of Shadows # 7, September 1970. Looking closely I observed a few lettering corrections (which were likely rendered by Morrie Kuramoto, not Trimpe) and also noticed the figure of the woman in panel four was reversed in the published version, presumably because the powers that be thought the panel to panel progression flowed more smoothly. 

Here is a close-up of the final panel.Trimpe's alterations include the addition of a statue on the upper left side, a more decorative style to replace the traditional brick work Smith drew on the terrace and "faces" on the trees, which were originally normal looking. I assume the trees were changed to make the scene look eerie (it only looks silly to me!). What I find fascinating is the production process, and how each comic was closely looked at before final publication. It's also wonderful to have evidence of Trimpe working on an actual page of original art.

While the work Herb Trimpe did in a production capacity for Marvel may not be as noteworthy as some of his better stories or covers, I believe the "little" details give us a better understanding of what it takes to put a comic book together.

I wanted to briefly make note of my 100th post and express my gratitude, not only to family, friends and my online colleagues, but in particular those strangers who shared information, corrected an error or took the time to write a comment. I've piqued the interest of more people than I ever expected in my exploration through comics esoterica, and the response has been rewarding. My goal has been to explore the back alleys and side streets of the industry, even when discussing the work of giants like Kirby and Ditko.Think of this as the equivalent of an old bookstore that offers a surprise or two on its shelves. I don't know what my next 100 posts will be about, but I'll do my best to keep the wheels rolling and hope you come along for the ride.        


Kid said...

Congratulations on your 100th post, Nick and thanks for the plug and kind words. I don't even mind that you mixed up my surname with that of a famous singer.

Incidentally, I noticed that DC used to get Curt Swan to draw some of the splash pages of the stories that Al Plastino drew, so it wasn't just a Marvel thing. (Not that you were claiming it was.)

I still find it hard to grasp that Werner Roth died in 1973. His Lois Lane mags were still turning up on spinner-racks in Britain in '73, and I was shocked to find out only a few years back that he died so long ago.

Joe Yurek said...

Thanks, Nick!

I'm always checking in with the hope that you have some thing new or to reread an older article.

I am never disappointed in what you come up with.

The delineation on the hawk is quite some thing(on the first Gunhawk page)

You also described, better than I could, one of the tell tale signs of Trimpe's art.

The "coloring book" outline of the back grounds. It's a simple effect but the foreground (or subject of the art) can really benefit from a simple background.

Some times the background can be too simple and the lack of detail (or "Hay", as Joe Simon called it) in the splash page almost begs for more from the colorist.

The background fills up most of the panel in a splash page and if it's too sparse the colorist really needs to come through. If not the splash really would look like a coloring book page! Using a darker shade over a brighter shade of color, for example, can help.

One of the qualities of a finished Herb Trimpe page is the large swatches and brightness of the color.

Although it is a common and well-known technique, not all comic book and panel artists aim for that simplicty (exceptions are many, one being R. Crumb and Neal Adams). One of the rules (and rules are made to be broken, re; Crumb and Adams) of comic book art is that it be bold but simple(and quick!). I think Trimpe's art had that in spades in the 1970's and some times I take it for granted. I do the same thing with Kirby, come to think of it.

Also, I notice that often the blacks put on top of the Trimpe artwork to depict shading can look wrong because of the starkness of the color. I always thought Serverin was Trimpe's best inker although Severin very often overwhelmed Trimpe's pencils. I don't think that was/is a bad thing. You had Trimpes layouts, which were always dynamic and often very well thought out, under Severin's polished draftsmanship, and the finished work was some of the best I've seen.

Any shot I see through my minds camera of the Hulk landing in a forest is drawn by Trimpe. Ha! There are not many artists that "stick" like that.

I'm sorry if I rambled. I may have cabin fever. I'm in New England surrounded by walls of snow.

No rescue needed yet!

Nick Caputo said...


I corrected your name. At least I didn't call you Kid Colt, or Edward G. Robertson!

Roth passed away at an early age which is a shame. He was a very good artist. I had the pleasure to write about his work in an issue of Alter Ego years ago and the greatest pleasure was in tracking his son Gavin down and publishing some of his thoughts. Sadly, Gavin also passed away a few years later.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the kind words and the thoughtful discussion. I'm glad you're enjoying my posts and will do my best to continue not to disappoint.

Trimpe's deceptively simple approach worked very well on the comic book page. I once interviewed him and mentioned a resemblance to Crumb's work. He noted that it was coincidental since he didn't get a chance to follow a lot of the underground artists. Both men followed some of the EC artists, though, so that is probably what I was seeing in his work.

Trimpe has always mentioned that Stan Lee didn't think he was the best artist but more importantly to him, he was a great storyteller. Some of that is missing in modern comics, unfortunately.

I hope the weather clears up in your neck of the woods soon. I'm in NY and we have some bitter cold weather this week but hopefully that will pass soon and we'll be complaining about the heat!

Bob Rivard said...

I'm not sure Weisinger had Swan re-draw Plastino splash pages. I think what happened on those occasions is that Swan drew a rejected cover which was repurposed as the splash.

Barry Pearl said...

I hate to disappoint you but this was only your 99th blog. Take a look back and your friends did a guest blog for you. So you've only done 99. I can't wait to see the real 100th

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks a lot, Barry (trouble-maker) Pearl! I may have technically written 99 but I POSTED 100, so don't think you're getting another special edition! Keep complaining and I'm going to start numbering like the current comics. Blog post 00.1 coming up soon!

John Caputo said...

Nick,congratulations on your 100th posting (never mind Barry "The Troublemaker" Pearl.You know I have always appreciated Herb Trimpe's work. I am simply astounded that you are able to identify lettering.Keep up the great work looking forward to the next 100.P.S. I like your dig at the new comics numbering,which is totally ridicules.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks, Brother, for the kind words. I'll do my best to keep some interesting posts coming. Trimpe has done some very good work over the years and I've written about him quite a bit here.

Hey, if you can't beat them with the numbering, join them. Look forward to my next post # 100.1. Collect them all!

Ted Ignacio said...

Great observation. In his early Marvel years, Smith emulated Kirby, but I often thought his style was more similar to Trimpe. They collaborated on the covers of Captain Marvel #11 and (maybe?) Silver Surfer #17.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the kind words. Both Smith and Trimpe were copying Kirby's style, although there are also traces of Steranko in his layouts. According to Smith he wasn't involved in the cover art to Silver Surfer # 17, although the two may have done some other covers together, and the two worked together on the 1984 Machine Man mini-series.

Anonymous said...

Another great blog post, Mr Caputo!
Have you seen the Herb Trimpe (I think) hippies in Thor 154 (pp 17 & 18 - I have scans)?
I assume Jack didn't draw them the way Stan wanted.
I asked Herb (Roy Thomas joined the conversation too) about this at a London Comic Con 2 years ago.
Herb didn't recall doing it.
But it certainly looks like his work, and he admitted it would be either him or Barry Smith.
July 68; too early for BS surely?
Guy Lawley

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Guy,

Some of the pencilled pages appeared in Jack Kirby Collector some years ago and it looks like John Romita roughed out the figures and Trimpe likely finished the pencils. It is a little too early for Smith. Good catch!

Levko Velet said...
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