It was a late summer’s eve in 1971, scant days before I was scheduled to start my freshman year at college. My buddies and I had hopped onto the Long Island Expressway and made the fifty plus mile trek into The Big Apple for the evening. After catching a Marx Brothers flick at a Greenwich Village revival house - or maybe it was Humphrey Bogart classic - we found ourselves roaming the teeming streets of Manhattan in search of some grub.
All thoughts of something so pedestrian as food left my mind entirely when my eyes suddenly spotted a startling image hanging from the side of a newsdealer’s magazine booth.
The Hulk! On the cover of Rolling Stone magazine! (Number 91, September 14th edition, to be precise) My good golly gosh, but was I ever stunned! I’d first come across the fledgling music magazine with its 19th issue, but didn’t encounter it again until number 27’s special “Groupie” edition somehow made its way out to our sleepy little town of Yaphank - at which point, I decided to leave nothing further to chance and began a subscription that, yes, still exists to this very day! But if all you know is the RS of today - or for the last 30 years, for that matter - you’ve gotta understand, Rolling Stone once was an amazingly vital, truly cutting edge publication, one I’d gleefully devour cover to cover as soon as each bi-weekly issue arrived in my mailbox - and then I’d proceed to reread the stuff that REALLY interested me! About the only thing that held my attention as steadily as the exotic doings reported in the Stone was (uh huh, you guessed it) comic books! And ESPECIALLY Marvel Comics!
So when I spied my two primary obsessions intermingled as never before, just dangling there from a small metal clip on the bustling streets of NYC, I knew I HAD to have a copy, and I had to have one IMMEDIATELY! Knowing full well that a copy would soon be delivered by my local postman, I nonetheless went right ahead and dipped into my not-overly-impressive finances and shelled out the sixty cent cover price for the privilege of reading Robin Green’s affectionate examination of the Marvel Bullpen a few measly days sooner than I would’ve otherwise (and YOU can read it now, for free, by going here!).
To satisfy my curiosity alone, it was well worth it - plus, I eventually wound up with TWO copies of that must-have collector’s item! Besides, sandwiched between cover shots of George Harrison on stage at The Concert For Bangla Desh (RS 90) and Jefferson Airplane (RS 92), Herb Trimpe’s illustration of the gamma-irradiated cover boy remains (in my mind anyhow) one of the most iconic images ever produced of the Green Goliath! “Hulk smash puny Wenner’s counter-culture rag! Cream’s Wheels of Fire deserved much better review - bah!”
I giddily related this otherwise rather pointless personal anecdote to the artist himself last week in an Italian eatery by the name of Goodfellas (found not on the mean streets of New York City but in the comparatively tranquil environs of Poughkeepsie) as I sat with Herb Trimpe and wife Patricia Vasquez, munching down a sausage and peppers sub for lunch shortly after putting in time as a guest speaker at the weekly cartooning central studies class the couple presides over at Poughkeepsie Day School (which institution - if not class - my daughter Julie not-so-coincidentally attends.).
(For those of you who may’ve come in late, a central studies class is generally one dealing in art, music, or theater - though there have been courses rooted in both math and science - that meets three times a month on Wednesdays from 8:30 until just past noon, and for the entire day the fourth Wednesday. The courses run for nearly half a year, with a short, five week CS rounding out the second semester (providing juniors the time to take a mandatory college prep course). Herb and Patricia (who, in the 9th and 10th grades, taught my daughter Spanish - or at least tried to; like her dad’s long-ago doomed attempts to master German, foreign lingo has consistently been Julie’s glaring academic Achilles Heel - as well serving as her student adviser the latter year) first introduced the course during the final five week slot last May, and since it was so well received, the duo brought it back for a lengthier run commencing this past January.)
And then, somehow, I got involved!
Actually, it was simple enough - Patricia had queried Julie at school as to the possibility of yours truly coming in one week and speaking to the students. To share my (ahem) expertise, such as it is. Well, sir, I was both flattered AND terrified by the request. Terrified because I am NOT - nor will I ever be - a comfortable public speaker; and flattered because hey, this was Herb “Incredible Hulk” Trimpe asking, y’know? Which he did, formerly, over the phone, a day or so following Julie’s passed along invitation from her former instructor. Truth is, there was a part of me that just wanted to decline and save myself the inevitable stress I’d suffer as the date of my classroom cameo drew inexorably closer, but I did my level best to shunt those feelings of doubt aside, deciding instead to step squarely up to the plate. There were several reasons why I was willing to accede to Herb and Patricia’s wishes - not the least being Mr. T’s assurance of this being pretty much a very low pressure situation for even the most skittish of speakers (i.e., me) with a good group of truly motivated students - but aside from that, a primary one definitely was the rare opportunity to spend a little time inside the walls of PDS during an actual school day!
Y’see, going all the way back to the days when Julie was attending pre-school, I’ve made a point of volunteering to chaperon as many field trips (or assist with as many holiday parties) as possible, all in not only a selfless effort to help, but (okay, I’ll admit it) in a selfish effort to get at least a small glimpse into what goes on in my daughter’s life during those otherwise mysterious school time hours. In the course of my efforts, I’ve been to an awful lot of pumpkin patches, served up a plenty of Valentine’s Day cake, and seen my share of historical landmarks, but in the two plus years Julie’s been at PDS, I’d somehow never managed to get myself involved in ANY classroom activities whatsoever! NOW was my chance! Okay, sure, my offspring was gonna be down the hall, lurking around in the dark in her photography class - nothing ever works out perfectly, y’know - but c’mon, did I mention that Herb “Phantom Eagle” Trimpe was gonna be in attendance?
(A totally irrelevant aside: one of my favorite chaperoning anecdotes dates back to Julie’s kindergarten days. The class was planning a half day trip to the now shuttered Catskill Game Farm, and the mother of virtually every kid involved volunteered to go along for the ride, myself included. Inasmuch as the teacher clearly didn’t seem to like Julie very much - long story, but happily, the only discernible instance of that happening in the kid’s classroom career - I was somewhat surprised when I learned that I was one of the lucky few chosen to accompany the wee ones on the trip! My delight soon faded when I discovered the TRUE reason for making the final cut: the teacher needed at least one adult male to come along to perform the all important job of accompanying, as needed, any and all of the gaggle of five-year old boys to the men’s room! Yes, friends, it’s true - I was selected primarily for Potty Patrol! And lemme tell ya, I was exhausted like never before - and rarely since - after THAT particular sojourn!
My chaperoning days came to an apparent end during a trip to one of George Washington’s wartime headquarters when Julie was an eighth grader, her last year in public school. The lackluster attitude evinced by most of the students on that trip was a long way from the sort of wide-eyed wonder kids just a few years younger had shown in the past, which I found a tad dispiriting. So a chance to spend some time in PDS with kids maybe a smidgen more lively than the bunch we had to basically drag from one Revolutionary War landmark to another that cold wintry day three plus years back sure looked mighty appealing to me by comparison…).
But WHAT was I going to say? What was I going to DO? Once before, when Julie was in the fifth grade, I was presented with a similar situation - my daughter’s art teacher got wind of my cartooning, and asked me to come in and address her students. I did, and it went reasonably well - only with those kids, I could start with the absolute basics, kill a little time that way, and then eventually just draw whatever they shouted out. Herb and Patricia’s class, however, had undoubtedly zipped way past the basics long ago, leaving me…what? A Ted Baxterish monologue? “It all began in a 5000 watt radio station…”? Oh yeah - THAT’D sure go over like gangbusters! Ultimately, I simply gathered together a handful of my originals - including some published versions of same for comparison - and decided to concentrate on three key areas: humor; doing the entire job on your own; and creating autobiographical comics. I emailed Herb with my tenuous plans, and, a few days later, he phoned back the night before my appearance to give me the thumbs up. We both agreed that I could do a lot worse than simply winging it…
Now, I’d like to blame my two cats, Mario and Luigi, because they often wake me up in the dead of night to go outside, then maybe an hour or so later, wake me again to come back in, and that evening was a particularly active one for the ol’ feline go-round (and no, I CAN’T just ignore them - their incessant yowling would allow for no rest whatsoever, trust me), so maybe THAT was why I got less sleep than usual, and it wasn’t at all due to a case of the nerves. Nope. Not at all. Well, whatever - I was wide awake when the alarm went off, and after dressing and gathering all my goodies, Julie and I were soon off to school together, just like old times - if you consider “old times” to be all of ten days ago! Y’see, now that Julie has secured herself a driver’s license, she’s begun to drive herself in, rather than hitch a ride with her mom three days a week, or have me make the early morning round-trip on the two days Lynn generally works at home. I’ve gotta admit, it’s quite an adjustment, having your kid drive off in a car, and you’re not with ‘em. But it also saves everyone a whole lotta time and gas, so we’re trying our best to weigh the clear benefits against typical parental worries, and so far, so good. But this bright and beautiful Wednesday morning, father and daughter were once again driving into school together. I after all had me a very important appointment with Herb “Godzilla” Trimpe!
Once we arrived in the pot-hole riddled parking lot, Julie and I split - she headed for morning meeting, sort of (as Herb “G.I. Joe” Trimpe later described it) a daily military style briefing for the entire student body, while I set out for the school’s other building, where Herb and Patricia’s classroom was located. I signed in, and a very nice woman by the name of Sarah walked me upstairs to my destination. As I strolled in, there was Herb, going through the class’s work (Patricia was, as usual, attending the aforementioned morning meeting ceremonies). After exchanging niceties, Herb proudly showed me what the class had been working on: they’d broken up into several small teams, with each putting together a comics strip (three to nine pages) as a group. The subject matter was wildly diverse, and while not up to professional standards - hey, these are eighth, ninth, and tenth graders, after all - the work WAS brimming with enthusiasm. And for that matter, so was Herb! The goal of the day, he informed me, was to put the finishing touches on this assignment, and then moving on to the next: solo work by each student. Which was part of the reason why my visit had been timed for this particular Wednesday, inasmuch as I regularly do the entire job on my own. But before I could spend any more than a few brief moments going over my plans with Herb, the first few students began slowly wandering in. It was eight-thirty, and Professor Fred’s lecture de jour was only minutes away. Oh boy…
After a few opening remarks from Herb and Patricia - who’d accompanied the teen-aged throng as they made their way over to the upper school building after the mandatory AM get-together - Herb introduced me to the students (there were sixteen to begin with - though several more ambled in over the course of the morning - fully six of which were female, a pleasantly surprising percentage in an area of interest that stereotypically skews male). When asked if anybody knew who I was, several chimed in that they in fact did, but I’m guessing that was mostly due to Julie serving as my advance agent amongst those kids she knew personally enrolled in the course. So, directed to the board in the front of the room - a majority of the students were sitting around a large table, with several off to the side, ensconced in a deep and incredibly cushy couch (there were no individual desks) - I began my spiel.
For days beforehand, I went over and over in my head just exactly what I was going to say: I had some amusing personal anecdotes, a handful of pre-planned quips, even a few motivational rants all at the ready. Naturally, none of my carefully crafted exhortations made it past my lips - mostly, I just showed the class the artwork I’d brought along. I had some originals from a Petey story (you can read all the adventures of Peter Parker Long Before He Became Spider-Man by going here), several pages of Little Freddy (the entire autobiographical canon of Growing Up In The Silver Age of Comics can be accessed through this link), a couple of stories that AREN’T (yet) posted over at my home site, Hembeck.com (including my lone “official” Hulk outing, a five pager from the Gamma Glamourpusses’ 1999 Annual - hey, how could I possibly walk into a class presided over by Herb “Thunderbolt Ross” Trimpe and NOT bring a Hulk story along, huh?…), and a handful of stand-alone illos, including this commissioned piece I did of Barry Allen racing with Jay Garrick…
I used this to explain funny: young guy, running along casually; old guy struggling to keep up. As someone getting inexorably older by the minute, maybe this gag isn’t quite as humorous as it might’ve seemed in times past, but at least it served the purpose of demonstrating how facial expressions and body language play a key part in effective cartooning. And speaking of facial expressions, both Herb and Patricia were somewhat taken with this piece (which I brought along in its original black and white state)…
Dig this - the pair borrowed the artwork overnight so as to make copies for future use! Herb intends to use it in the cartooning class, natch, but Patricia also hopes to get some mileage out of it with her Spanish students! HOW exactly, I’m not sure - perhaps she intends to have her classes guess as to exactly WHICH facial expression best suits the phrase “Aye carumba!” Whatever - I’m flattered at the mere notion that my cheery little cartoon checkerboard will live on, dutifully serving the lofty goals of higher education. Or at least, help people learn how to draw silly pictures…
Well sir, I’m not sure exactly how long my scatter-shot meanderings rambled on, but once I sensed I wearing on the patience of my still groggy audience, I asked for suggestions as what to sketch up on the board.
For a moment, I thought I had somehow been transported behind a table at a comics convention, but I was quickly informed that this was a running gag with the class, who were well aware of their instructor’s history with the character. Before I had a chance to doodle up a Logan likeness, the consensus was for me to draw Petey instead - which I did, using the opportunity to show how a few simple lines around the eyes and mouth can change expressions entirely. All the while, it was Q&A time as well, and I fielded a few queries from the kids, and a bunch more from Patricia and Herb. Somehow, during the ensuing wide-ranging discussion it came out that daughter Julie has never actually read ANY of my comics, as - irony alert - she’s one of those poor, sad souls who, for whatever reason, simply can’t read comics! When word got back to her later about my inadvertent confession, she mockingly scolded me for blabbing her business (hey, at least I didn’t bring along this comic strip that I did of her as a baby, hanging out with both Cartoon Dad and Superman - be thankful for THAT, junior!…).
Herb offered a little confession of his own, and while it may not be my place to reveal it here, aw, what the heck - it’s included in his introduction to the next, upcoming volume of Hulk Marvel Masterworks: artist Trimpe, y’see, never actually READ the finished product after the books came out! Hey look, by that time, he was three stories ahead of the game, and he already knew what had transpired anyway, so Herb just kept charging ahead without looking back! Since Marvel recently sent him copies of the tales to be included in the new collection for him to review, he FINALLY took the opportunity to peruse stories I first read when I was still back in high school! Now it was MY turn to profess mock-indignation, and quickly drew a picture of the Hulk up on the board, expressing his profound disappointment in Herb as only ol’ Greenskin could: “Herb not read my comics. Hulk sad…”
After a little over a half hour of being the center of attention, it was finally time for me to take a seat and let the class progress in its normal manner. I’d survived my latest bout of public speaking, and Herb, Patricia, and, yes, the class thanked me with a small round of 9-in-the-morning-applause. I honestly enjoyed myself, I really did - and as is always the case in these sorts of situations, I always look back very fondly on the talk - AFTER it’s over! But since I wasn’t going anywhere, I settled in for the duration, and observed the goings on. A couple of short presentations given by a pair of students topped the list. The first concerned the Fox animated cartoon, Family Guy. Herb and Patricia seemed unfamiliar with the program, but were clearly intrigued by the unbridled enthusiasm for the show evinced by the student giving the talk (who at one point referred to creator Seth MacFarlane as “some sort of genius”). Said student spent a fair amount of time the rest of the morning attempting to call up clips from the cartoon comedy on YouTube to show both his teachers.
I didn’t have the heart to throw any sort of wet blanket on his parade and confess that I’d watched the show when it initially aired for about six weeks, but eventually crossed it off my must-tube schedule. I DID however make a pitch for my own favorite later in the morning, briefly talking up the always magnificent SpongeBob (and should you so desire, check out the details of my animated aquatic obsession by looking over episode 81 of The Fred Hembeck Show, friends!).
Next up was a short but concise dissertation on Peanuts by Charles Schulz (who somehow managed to duck the genius appellation) by a second student, after which it was time for a fifteen minute break before the kids got down to working on their projects, either finishing up the old one or beginning the new one. It was at about this point that my daughter wandered in from the dark room down the hall. So, for laughs, I drew a cartoon version of her up on the board, adding several potentially embarrassing word balloons just to get a reaction out of her! And I certainly did - said reaction being, “WHERE’S THE @#$%ING ERASER??”. Hey, bring your dad to school at your own risk, sweetie - you pretty much gotta expect trouble, y’know? Well, she quickly erased the offending portions (no, I won’t say what they were, save that it was little bit funny…), but left the drawings alone, including the blurb that identified her as Julie Hembeck - which was noteworthy in that it was still on the board the next day, when the room served, as per usual, to host her very own English class! She tells me it’s gone now, but ah, the memories will last forever (heh)…
After the class had reassembled, Herb further explained the new solo project to the kids, and then left them mostly to their own devices for the balance of the morning. However, since the room wasn’t really big enough for all 16 (or was it 18?…) students to stretch out to do their drawings (the actual more spacious art room downstairs was being used for - you guessed it - another art-centric central studies class), Herb sent two groups down the hall to a pair of empty rooms. At just about this time, we were joined by a young fellow from nearby Vassar College who was sitting in on a variety of PDS classes. Herb and Patricia explained the course to him, and then, like myself, he wandered in and out of the three work areas. In one, we found an enterprising trio putting the finishing touches on their nine page manga story. The plot was very excitedly explained to me - I seem to recall something about a quest for potato salad, and a big finish that included the execution of a Power Puff Girl! Yup, when in doubt, stream of consciousness non sequiters always work! Truth is, the thing had a lot of energy, not to mention charm - and hey, who, after all ISN’T on a quest for potato salad?…
Mostly, like our Vassar visitor, I observed. Oh, to justify my temporary pretend teacher status, I contributed the occasional pithy observation, but largely, I stayed out of the way - I figured, hey, these teens really don’t need some virtual stranger hovering over their shoulders, telling them “why not draw that nose a teensy bit larger, and don’t forget - five fingers per hand” and such. Instead, I spoke a bit with some of Julie’s past teachers who’d spotted me roaming the halls (Donna, it seems, is almost as surprised as we are to see Julie consistently behind the wheel of a car), as well as both Herb and Patricia. After relating to me how he’d done several recreations of his famous Hulk #181 cover, Herb demonstrated up on the board (right above Petey and Cartoon Julie) how exactly he’d drawn Wolverine’s noggin alongside his signature on a series of signed comics some years back.
I didn’t have a chance to explain to Herb how I too, um, do cover recreations…
EVERYONE loves that Wolverine debut issue, but I’ve gotta wonder, has Herb had a chance to revisit Hulk 170 yet? I have…
We got to talking about web-comics, something I’ve only recently dipped my ink-stained toes into (see The Fred Hembeck Show Episodes 91 and 95), but that didn’t prevent me from encouraging Herb to start one over on his very own website! He’s got some pretty nifty notions for a strip - I figure, if he serializes it, soon enough, he’d have enough pages for a full-blown book, one I’m sure some enterprising publisher out there would be more than happy to get behind! If, like me, you’d like to see such a thing come to funny book fruition, well, go on over to Herb’s site (yes, Virginia, this is the link) and utilize the contact option found therein to drop him a line, urging the affable artist to share his heretofore unseen creations with the world!
The rest of the morning zipped by, and soon, noon beckoned, which signaled clean-up time, followed immediately by lunch. I said good-bye to the class (and to Julie as well - I reluctantly had to skip her offer of a quick tour of the art room downstairs, as Patricia was pressed for time, needing to get back from lunch by one o’clock for some further, non-cartooning connected, duties. Next time, kiddo - promise!…), and so the three of us piled into Herb’s car for the short drive over to Goodfellas. Geez, what a day it was - Poughkeepsie set a new temperature record for the date, with the mercury topping out at a balmy 75. Which made the juxtaposition of rapidly melting snow leftover from weeks before all the more bizarre - and considering we were slapped with a full foot up brand new snow less than forty-eight hours later, even more memorable! Some people blame such extremes on global warming, but MY money’s on Flash’s old foe, The Weather Wizard! Makes as much sense as anything else, I’m thinking…
On the way out, incidentally, Herb noticed a student who reminded him of Michelle on 24, commenting on the resemblance to Patricia. I didn’t see the girl myself, but I took Herb’s remark as an opening to query the pair about what long-time readers of my Fred Sez blog will recognize as my favorite current television show during lunch (which they so graciously treated me to - thanks again!). Turns out that Herb just sorta stumbled into the show way after the fact (unlike yours truly who’s been tuning in since day one), watching each season via the DVD route. Luckily, I discovered this fact before I blurted out any spoilers about the most recent episodes! Truth to tell, Herb, Patricia, and Natalia (Patricia’s teen-aged daughter) have only made it through the first four seasons thus far, though I was assured that they have day five sitting at home, merely waiting for the opportunity to be viewed. I’m anxious to hear what they think about it myself because, in many ways, it was the series best season to date. A lot of startling stuff took place on Jack Bauer’s fifth really, really bad day, and I’m curious to learn their reactions. Y’know, that sub I had for lunch was scalding hot, but I think the reason my tongue was sore afterwards wasn’t so much from superficial burns as it was from biting it so hard!…
All too soon, lunch was over, and Herb dropped Patricia off at school, and me near my car in the parking lot. I think now would be as good as time as any to say a few words about Mr. Trimpe. Y’see, while I’ve known Herb for probably twenty years plus - I THINK I first met him at one of Berni Wrightson’s once-annual-but-lamentably-no-more Halloween Parties, and I KNOW I saw him at one of Joe and Hilarie Staton’s spring gatherings shortly after Julie was born - until last week (including a pair of quick run-ins at PDS last year), I’d likely never spoken to the guy for more than five minutes at a time, if that! Partially, this was my own doing - whenever I encounter anybody who was involved in producing the comics I read while growing up (particularly during the sixties), I’m automatically deferential to the point of being downright intimidated. It’s some sorta deeply ingrained “I’m not worthy!” syndrome at work, I suppose. But I’m here to let you in on something that’s no secret to anybody who knows Herb - he’s one heckuva guy! Amiable, enthusiastic, and just masterful at putting folks at ease - I can readily see how he’d make a great teacher. After, for the first time ever, spending so much quality time with him, the final results are in: Herb Trimpe, Marvel Bullpen Legend, also turned out to be Herb Trimpe, swell guy! And kudos to Patricia for making me feel so comfortable in unfamiliar environs as well! When the pair invited me to return later in the semester for a second go-round, I accepted without hesitation. I have absolutely no idea just WHAT I’ll be teaching the class (maybe how to write a really long-winded blog entry perhaps?…), but I’m sure I’ll think of something. Otherwise, I’ll just fake it, and spend my most of my energy on figuring out more ways to embarrass my offspring!
As a sort of postscript to the above, I feel compelled to explain how my exciting day wasn’t over when I disembarked from the Trimpemobile, not by a long shot! Before it was time to drive Julie home from school, I had about ninety minutes to (deep breath now) drive to Staples to make some copies, drop in Best Buy to look for the new Neil Young CD (which they didn’t have in stock yet), pick up some organic cabbage and the like at the local health food store, zip on over to the regular supermarket for some corned beef and my annual six-pack of beer (for the then impending St. Patrick’s Day meal), and finally a quick peek into Barnes and Noble, arriving back in the PDS parking lot only moments before Julie exited from class and headed for my (or as she likes to call it, “her”) car. We spied a smiling Herb “Shogun Warriors” Trimpe parked not far away, awaiting a pair of passengers himself, and gave a hearty salute to our cartooning colleague as we left.
You’dve thought that woulda been it for me, but no - in a bit of unintentionally ironic scheduling, the College Night prep lecture for parents of eleventh-graders was that very evening! So, after not setting foot inside PDS for over a year, this very day I was roaming those hallowed halls not once, but twice! Originally, the plan was for Lynn and me both to attend the evening’s discussion - and maybe I could’ve even begged off and sent my wife instead, save for one undeniably salient fact: Julie had a big pre-calculus test the next day, and considering the difficulty she was having with the subject, she needed SOMEONE to help her study. Given her options - and how I’d likely come in, at best, in a four way tie with our rabbit and two cats as to who’d be the most assistance to her - it was best that Lynn remained at home to help Julie. So, yeah, as wiped out as I felt - I even succumbed to a very atypical hour-long nap around five, feeling nearly as exhausted as I did after chasing kindergarteners around at that game farm over a decade earlier - I went back at seven for the nearly two hour talk. Sarah, who had first signed me in almost twelve hours earlier, jokingly wondered if I had even bothered to go home - at that point, it sure didn’t seem like it!
But while I learned a lot of valuable information during that evening’s Q&A, not a single person requested a Wolverine sketch from yours truly, so I won’t bother to go into any further detail. Suffice it to say, when you send your kid to college, you end up with (as our friend the Hulk might put it) “Puny bank account!”…
(I’ve already plugged Hembeck.com to death, but it’s customary to end these things with a link, so who am I to buck tradition?…)
-Copyright 2007 Fred “Petey” Hembeck
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