Just a day after returning home from that calendar peak of G.I. Joe excitement, the annual G.I. Joe Convention, I learned the sad news that someone very important in the history of G.I. Joe, Herb Trimpe, had died.
Herb Trimpe is best known in comics for drawing a seven-year run on The Incredible Hulk, including the first appearance of some obscure, unpopular X-Man with claws, but to G.I. Joe fans, he’s best known for drawing G.I. Joe issue #1 in 1982. (Well, it was published in 1982, so let’s say it was drawn in 1981.) Trimpe drew most of that first year (and wrote issue #8), and signed on to draw the wonderful spin-off Special Missions, almost all of its 29 issues, between 1986 and 1989. He also pencilled the tepid 4 issue G.I. Joe and the Transformers crossover in ’86, and about the only interesting that that can be said about that miniseries is that Herb Trimpe pencilled it. He returned for issue #99 of the regular monthly G.I Joe, a fill-in that let the series’ then-regular artist get ahead for the double-sized issue #100, and Trimpe came back one more time to draw and write issue #120, another fill-in between the end of one artist’s run and the beginning of another’s.
I interviewed Trimpe (“TRIM-pee”) in April of 2002, probably only my 8th or 9th interview for the book. He was pleasant and lively, and had a few good anecdotes from his various jobs. I was mostly interested in the one that involved drawing comic books, but I was struck to learn that since Marvel had stopped offering him work, his teaching career (which I had heard about) had transitioned to volunteering at Ground Zero. Remember, this was seven months after September 11th:
“After leaving the comic business, I spent three years in school and went straight into the job. I never really stopped to think about what I actually wanted to do when I grew up. So I got my BA and I got a masters degree in humanistic education over that three-year period. And during those classes, I met a lot of teachers. And they said, ‘You know, you really should get your teaching certificate.’ Because, you know, you can always do it once you do it. So I did. I went ahead and did my student teaching and got my teaching certificate, and got a job right away.
“…I taught two years in public school. Technically I’m on leave of absence right now. I took a year’s leave of absence to work out some projects that I hadn’t been able to finish, do some commission work that had been building up. And also I was very fortunate to be able to work as a volunteer down at the Trade Center in New York. So I’ve been going down there once a week. It’s an ongoing thing down there. Since early October I’ve been down there.”
This was interesting. Just a few weeks after the attack, Trimpe was there, digging. And Trimpe was in a transition state in his life — having gone from a decades-long regular gig at Marvel, to school, to commissions and volunteering. I had worked at an animation studio for a year and a half, and was hitting a state of transition of my own — about to quit and go back to school to teach. So we sort of had something in common.
Trimpe didn’t have much of note to say about drawing G.I. Joe — it was part of his quota at Marvel and he did his job. But he had enjoyed working with Larry Hama and did get many toys shipped to him from Hasbro, a theme that has come up a few times in interviewing artists.
Five years later, I commissioned an original piece of G.I. Joe art from Trimpe. It was to somehow encapsulate that original run, which meant including a ton of details: the original 13 Joes; and also a nod to issues #6 and #7, the Oktober Guard team-up, with that iconic cover of issues #7 (Joe and Oktober Guard, back to back, surrounded!) and that amazing cliffhanger at the end of issue #6 (“Line up all the prisoners at the edge of the ravine — and kill them!”). And include the MOBAT (to nod to the cover of issue #1) and the VAMP (because it needed another vehicle). And a bit of Cobra stuff, like a helmet. Maybe even a subtle nod to the 1984 Missile Defense Unit, with some shot-out brick wall. This was a tall order, to cram all that into one image.
It turned out great. Click to enlarge.