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Classic Comic Cover Corner – Incredible Hulk #171

Every Sunday morning we showcase a classic comic cover, complete with compelling pop culture commentary, for your cordial contemplation. It’s the Classic Comic Cover Corner!

Incredible Hulk #171 – January, 1974

Cover art by Herb Trimpe

Incredible Hulk #171 - January, 1974
Incredible Hulk #171 – January, 1974

Last Monday, April 13, 2015, the world of comics lost one of its most incredible contributors when famed Hulk illustrator, Herb Trimpe, passed away. The artist was 75 years-old and there are not many details online regarding his death, but in the end it’s more important how he lived – and Herb was one who definitely earned his legendary status.

There are dozens of tributes out there to Mr. Trimpe and his career, a testament to his amazing life and influence on the comic industry; and it’s with a sad heart that I use my humble little comic commentary column to share my own thoughts on the man, who is one of my personal real-life heroes.

Trimpe is well known for being the seminal artist on the Incredible Hulk comic book series in the sixties and seventies. He didn’t create the Hulk, but when you see ol’ jade jaws on screen in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film (and you know you will), that’s the spirit of the Hulk as Herb Trimpe drew him in the comics.

Rolling Stone - Sept. 1971 - Cover by Herb Trimpe
Rolling Stone – Sept. 1971
cover by Herb Trimpe

Herb also worked on titles as varied as Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Godzilla, and even Ka-Zar; and he’s also the artist that illustrated the Hulk cover of Rolling Stone magazine back in 1971, where the artist was one of the creators featured in the interview the magazine did with the Marvel bullpen (read it HERE.)

Mr. Trimpe served in the U.S. Air Force in the early sixties and was a Vietnam veteran. Soon after his military service he was hired at Marvel Comics and after an illustrious 29 year career with the company he was unceremoniously laid-off in 1996, as Marvel was headed into bankruptcy.

At 56 years-old, he was unemployed and ended up going back to school where he earned a degree and eventually found himself as a seventh-grade art teacher. You can read his journal excerpts about his heart-breaking journey from celebrated artisan to grade-school teacher in his NY Times article, “Old Superheroes Never Die, They Join the Real World” (read it HERE.)

It’s not well known that Herb was also an ordained minister who served as a chaplain for workers at ground zero after the events of 9/11. He wrote about his experiences in a rare, out of print book called, “The Power of Angels: Reflections from a Ground Zero Chaplain” (see it on Amazon), and he won the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award for his efforts to help during the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

On a personal note, I first saw Herb Trimpe in person at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years back, where he was on a panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of several marvel characters, including the Hulk. I noted that despite having every reason to carry a grudge against his former employer, he was simply proud of his contributions and happy to be involved with the festivities, unlike some from his era who, justifiably, carry a chip on their shoulders.

I first got to meet Herb in person at Phoenix Comicon last year (2014) and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had. I was stuttering and almost speechless at meeting this man who I had admired since I was able to read his credit in a comic book (and that’s a lot of years mind you.) He was very personable and seemed like a genuinely good guy. (Heck, he even won a “good guy medal” when he was in high school – read the Rolling Stone article mentioned above.)

Herb Trimpe at Amazing Arizona Comic Con - February 2015
Herb Trimpe at Amazing Arizona Comic Con
– February 2015

After shaking Herb’s hand I immediately went to my buddy’s booth (Amazing Arizona Comics creator and fellow Nerdvana contributor, Russ Kazmierczak), where I shook his hand and excitedly told him that I had just shook hands with Herb Trimpe. The hope was that Trimpe’s midi-chlorians would rub off on him, like some weird nerd blood ritual.

A few months later (last February, 2015), the East Valley Tribune’s Get Out paper ran an article I wrote on the upcoming Amazing Arizona Comic Con and it featured a photo I had taken of Mr. Trimpe, who was making an appearance at the convention. I was able to get him to autograph the paper next to my byline (now one of my most treasured possessions), and he appeared sincerely happy to have received the attention. He asked for a copy of the article and I had fortunately brought an extra one for him.

I can still remember being a kid and walking over a mile from my Aunt’s house to the Circle-K convenience store in Gilbert, Arizona, and coming back with a stack of comics that included Incredible Hulk #171, with the cover and interior pencils by Mr. Trimpe.

Both then and now, this book is one of my all-time favorites, and most definitely my favorite cover by Herb Trimpe. It also contains one of the greatest Hulk stories, written by Steve Englehart and Gerry Conway, where the hulk is being attacked simultaneously by the Rhino and the Abomination. The comic was even turned into a book and record set that was released during this same era. (See it on YouTube HERE.)

At the last second, the Jade Giant simply walks out of the way as the two villains smash into each other, knocking themselves unconscious. The battle scene is set up with a narrative statement about, “…an immovable object meeting an irresistible force.”

Incredible Hulk #171 - January, 1974
Incredible Hulk #171 – January, 1974

Well, I’m not sure about the immovable object part, but Trimpe’s art is an undeniable irresistible force that will directly influence the Hulk character across all mediums and entertain fans for generations to come.

Rest in peace, Mr. Trimpe, and thanks for all of the jolly green memories that make so many of our lives so much happier.

Recommended Reading: Next July (2015) TwoMorrows Publishing will be releasing a book about the life and art of Herb Trimpe, titled, of course, “The Incredible Herb Trimpe.” You can place an advance order HERE.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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