Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Herb Trimpe: Harsh Words For Corporate Comics

I want to start this post by admitting that before today, I had no idea Herb Trimpe co-created Wolverine. That leads into the topic of this post, which are Trimpe's comments about "corporate comics." In short, he recently told a reporter at a Boston comic convention:

* Today, "decisions are made by people who don't know a lot about comics. It's all very corporate."

* Businessmen are "not very human" to the artists and will dispose of them when fresh and hipper talent walks through the door.

* Artists are the ones who should be telling the stories first, like in the early Marvel days -- not scripters.

Certainly, more and more people from outside the comic book industry are being pulled into the business. They are, in some cases, actively being sought out. Part of this is the result of the increasing synergy between comics and other entertainment mediums. And part of this is because I don't think mainstream comics has done enough to build editorial talent from within, resulting in a deficit of assistants and associates ready to take on the job via natural succession (though I have recently heard of some promotions that made me very happy and restored my faith in this business).

Then there is Trimpe's point regarding of what I call "the flavor of the month" phenomenon. I've heard too many stories first-hand of artists and writers this is happened to to dispute Trimpe's claim. On the other hand, I am happy to see classic artists and writers like Jim Starlin, Keith Giffen, and Roy Thomas having new books on the stands.

Lastly, I have to quibble about artist-driven versus writer-driven stories. I think it really depends on the artist in question, and whether they have the facility for great visual storytelling.

Postscript: There is some debate as to how much of Wolverine Herb Trimpe created. Dave Cockrum came up with a rough idea, then John Romita drew a few designs.

What is clear is that Trimpe did draw the very first Wolverine story.

Anybody who has more information on the subject feel free to correct me.


  1. I like that early mask design a lot more than the current wolverine's.
    Looks more feral and consequently, fits better with his name, in my opinion. I would've done the costume in brown and black or something but still...

  2. Nothing against Trimpe personally, but I really hate the "either/or" mentality when it comes to doing comics. I can understand his frustration with the current way of things (and I think a lot of the writers today are given WAY too much leeway) but I don't believe that his idea of "the good old days" was any more conducive to producing the best possible comics.

    I've always felt that the artist is the one that makes you notice the book but the writer is the one who keeps bringing you back.

  3. I think Trimpe's comments are too artist oriented. I think Marvel and DC are now only licensing houses keeping superhero comics in print just to keep the rights and I think, from a financial standpoint, the content is inconsequential. I think the audience for comics from Marvel and DC will continue to shrink and eventually when someone says, "comic store," they'll be referring to the manga section at Barnes & Noble.

    I think Trimpe's comments are understandable. He comes from an era when comics were selling well enough to be the primary concern of the publishers and the content mattered, but I think those days are gone.

  4. He had me then he lost me. Granted I am clearly biased, being a writer with no artistic talent to speak of. But the 90's taught us that not all artists can or should try to tell stories with the writer just hanging around for plot ideas. It's a collaborative effort.

  5. Doc Smoke is...smoking drugs. That old Wildcatish mask is rubbish.

  6. I think we need to contextualize Trimpe's "artist-directed" comment.
    He comes from an era which innovated the "Marvel method": the artist and writer sit down and hash out a story, the artist goes and draws it - deciding, the pacing, layout, and possibly some plot points - and then the writer adds dialog, giving the story context and meaning.
    Given, not every artist is a storyteller - I'm looking at you Bart Sears - but not every writer is Alan Moore, and needs every panel to tell the story. Some writers just have too many pages of talking heads. *coughBendis*
    Part of being a good comic artist should be more than just drawing pictures, it needs to be storytelling, pacing, and ability to depict action. And if the artist can't do it, you get someone else to do those things for him, like Giffen on 52.

  7. I agree with some of Kenny's points but not his conclusions. Maybe the superhero comics are just there to keep the copyrights up so the media companies can make profits from other revenue streams...

    But why would they accept the diminishment of one possible revenue stream/profit source in order to do so? I'm sure their "creative" decisions are designed to drive sales. Where they fail is what Trimpe's getting at, and we can debate that aspect endlessly.

    But I've seen this "printed comics are just a loss leader" idea presented more than once lately and I think it fails to take into account the need for corporations to make profits, especially publicly-traded companies.

    If DC or Marvel hit on a formula that sold 2 million comics a month all up and down their catalogs, I'm sure they'd run that sucker into the ground.

    They're trying to make money with comics, they're trying to do good work. That's why they sign people from TV shows like Alan Heinberg and Adam Beechen or authors like Brad Meltzer... or more artistically successfully than any of those, Joss Whedon. It gives them a big media burst if they can trumpet a "NY Times bestselling author" or a "top TV producer/writer." And hopefully brings non-comics fans of those creators' works into comic shops to buy, buy, buy.

    And I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing- except in the case of Beechen and Heinberg- but they need to let the creators loose to do what they do best and not lash them to big crossovers that obliviate their strengths and unique voices.

    Certain core elements should be constants, though. Strong writing and art, better stories. If those are the old school methodologies Trimpe represents (and I think he does), I'm all about that. But I don't think it's an either-or situation, either. The writer and the artist both bear huge responsibilties in telling a comics story. You can't count on every writer to be able to think visually, so that's where the artist has to overstep his or her mandate sometimes and fix things. The writer should understand the necessity. I suppose ideally an editor is the one facilitating that exchange.

    Currently, however, mainstream and specifically superhero comics storytelling already suffers too much from the "same old same old" syndrome, repeating story ideas endlessly. Capt. America dies, same as Superman's death. DC can't stop regurgitating "Crisis on Infinite Earths" lately. For how long did the various X-titles cannibalize "Days of Future Past?"

    Yawn. They need to harness the craft of artists like Trimpe to new ideas to reinvigorate the mainstream if they want sales up. And I think it's counterintuitive to think they DON'T want sales up.

  8. To further contextualize Trimpe's comments: he is someone who worked for Marvel for nearly thirty years and was laid off without any sort of pension or retirement in the late '90s. Wikipedia says that he was laid off when Marvel went bankrupt, but I believe that is inaccurate, and that he was laid off before the bankruptcy more out of a desire to thin the herd of older artists out of step with the Image-esque art of the day. If I remember correctly Trimpe had twisted himself into pretzels becoming a sort of Liefeld clone by the time he was fired, probably in a vain attempt to keep the job. Somewhere I have the column Peter David wrote about Trimpe's firing at the time, I'll have to dig it out and check some of the facts of my recollection.

  9. Reread the original quote:

    "Stan Lee, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, decided that artists should be the ones telling the story before writing the script," Trimpe said. "Now the scripts are written first, which limits the artists' creativity."

    Trimpe is basically referring to the lack of collaboration. There is a difference between creating the plot (which I think was collaborative, esp with Kirby, but also the 2nd gen Marvel artists) and writing the script.

  10. Isn't the current editor-in-chief at Marvel -- Joe Quesada -- an artist? I'm not sure what Trimpe's point is.

  11. I think Trimpe is talking about his last days at Marvel when there was a lot of corporate maneuvering between Ronald Perelman, Issac Perlmutter and Carl Ichan.

    There is an excellent and exciting book called Comic Wars that goes into all of it. I'm sure it was hell for anybody working at Marvel (like Trimpe was) when all that stuff was going down.

    Lots of top down decisions were being made by people who never read a comic book. They were treating the company like any other widget producing company.

    Cut whatever was deemed non-essential, do some sort of marketing to spike sales, then try selling the company at a much higher price.

    There is a lot more to it than that, but I can understand his frustration.

  12. gee, thanks moridcai.
    I was just stating my opinion.
    learn some manners, why don't you.

  13. Joel,

    I just read your comment replying to mine, and maybe the discussion has already moved on, but I thought I'd lay out an assumption of mine just for fun, if nothing else....

    I think the comics market is capped at about 330,000 people (Dirk Deppey repeated this stat just last week). I think that's it, I don't think sales are ever going to raise above 330,000 again. I agree with you that if Marvel or DC could find a formula to sell 2 million books they would, but I think those days are gone.

    The assumption is an opinion on my part, but I thought I'd share it anyway.