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Comic Book Heroes!

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Americans have loved their comic books since 1938, when Superman first burst on the scene, launching the Golden Age of comics. Many of the famous characters we love today, including Wonder Woman and Batman, had already debuted before 1944. Of course, superheroes weren’t the only headliners: Archie and his teenage gang burst on the scene in 1942, Richie Rich showed up in the early 1950s, and the Elfquest clan has been going strong since 1978. Originally popular because they provided cheap and easy entertainment, comic books continue to have a major influence on pop culture today. Rabid fans will be interested to learn that several top comic creators just happen to call the Hudson Valley home (a few years back, there was even a comic book creators volleyball game held regularly in Woodstock). In their own words, hear what these comic-book powerhouses have to say about life behind the pen.
 

 

Up first: Herb Trimpe

 

Calling All Comics Geeks

At New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s biggest pop-culture convention, you can browse through thousands of comics books, check out movie and TV screenings, play with action figures — and meet your favorite comics creators. Herb Trimpe, Joe Sinnott, and Jim Starlin will be there; why not come down and say hello? Purchase your ticket on-line to ensure a spot. New York Comic Con. Feb. 6-8 at the Javits Center, New York City; www.nycomiccon.com.

 

 
 Herb Trimpe

Herb Trimpe

Veteran comic book artist Herb Trimpe is perhaps best known as the definitive artist of the Incredible Hulk. “The character changed over the years, but we set a pattern that fans at the time — now they’re in their 40s — really related to,” the artist says. But during his long career at Marvel Comics, Trimpe also put his magic touch on many other iconic pop-culture figures, including G.I. Joe, Godzilla, and the Shogun Warriors. In addition, he was the first artist to draw Wolverine, the breakout star of X-Men. Comic book illustration “was the best job that any human being could possibly have,” he says.

Age: 69 

Hometown: Peekskill 

Hudson Valley home: Hurley 

Starting out: I always loved comics. At 10 years old, I came up with a comic strip about a baseball player. 

Early influences/mentors? Jack Davis was my absolute favorite artist. But Jack Kirby, in my opinion, he’s the king. 

The first thing you remember drawing? In third grade, airplanes in class. Having dogfights with other kids in class by passing the drawing back and forth and each person adding something to it. It was kind of a living comic book. 

Proudest accomplishment: Doing the Hulk as a regular feature for eight years, that was probably the high; it was the most enjoyable. 

Character you still love to draw? The most popular request over the years has been the Hulk, but I think Wolverine has outstripped him in recent years.

Most difficult to draw? The thing I should be able to draw best I have the toughest time with — people. 

Strangest request: I was offered by Playboy to draw Little Annie Fanny [a racy comic strip featured in Playboy for 25 years]. All I could think of was, “Why me?”

A page and the front cover from Trimpe's Hulk vs. Wolverine saga
TM & © 2009 Marvel Comics

Clash of the titans: Two of Trimpe’s signature characters — the Incredible Hulk and Wolverine — first meet in this 1974 issue

Fanatical fans: I’ve gotten letters that have said that such-and-such a book saved my life, or got me through school. I’ve even gotten requests for illustrations from soldiers stationed in the Green Zone in Baghdad. 

Current/upcoming projects? Mostly commission work. I have a backup of about five jobs: a full ink figure Transformer, World War II airplanes, the Hulk facing off Godzilla while standing on his nose. Mostly they range a couple hundred bucks, but some are big. 

As-yet unfulfilled ambition: I have none in comics. The last few years, I’ve been working on young-adult novels. I’ve written a dozen or 15 short stories, portions of which are available on my Web site. I also recently landed representation by a literary agent out of Toronto for a 1930s-era New York City detective novel. 

Free time: For 15 years I had a biplane I used to fly all around the Valley, but I sold it. 

On helping out at Ground Zero after 9/11: I’m an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, so I volunteered for the on-site ward. I was involved in the ritual return of remains from the site. It was an amazing experience. 

On the Web: www.herbtrimpe.com

 

(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists’ works, visit our Spidey’s Web feature.)
 

Up next: Joe Sinnott

 

 
 Joe Sinnott

Joe Sinnott

Artist Joe Sinnott is widely regarded as one of — if not the — greatest inkers in the business. For those not in the know, inkers go over the pencil drawings of the artist with ink, adding shade and depth. “Inking is responsible for the mood and atmosphere of every single panel,” says Edward Murr, an illustrator who teaches comic art at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Sinnott teamed with famed artist Jack Kirby; together they defined the look of almost every major Marvel Comics character — although the high point of their collaboration is considered by many to be the Fantastic Four. “They’re like the Rodgers and Hammerstein of comics,” says Murr. A lifelong Saugerties resident, Sinnott — a minor celebrity about town — says that “people are always asking me to draw things.” And those lucky enough to be on his Christmas card list get to view his latest creations: “I used to do Bing Crosby cards, but lately it’s been Spider-Man.”

Age: 82 

Home: Saugerties 

Starting out: I always drew as a kid, on anything I could get my hands on. Paper bags, whatever. I was first published in the Saugerties High School yearbook. I started professionally as an assistant to one of my art school teachers, Tom Gill [of Lone Ranger fame], who was also working in comics. 

Early influences/mentors: I went to [Tarzan artist] Burne Hogarth’s school in Manhattan. When I was accepted, I thought they were kidding me. I thought they were having trouble getting students. The first thing you remember drawing? At four years old, in my parents’ rooming house, I kept copying an Indian pictured on a box of crayons that a teacher staying with us had given me. 

Proudest accomplishment: Many of the bios I did for Treasure Chest comics: Kennedy, Eisenhower, MacArthur, the Wright Brothers, Babe Ruth. And the Beatles, for Dell in 1964. Later on, biographical comics of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. I’m actually more proud of my penciling than my inking. 

Character you still love to draw? The Thing, because he can be drawn belligerent- or humorous-looking. The Mighty Thor — he’s a good-looking guy with a nice costume. The Silver Surfer — he shimmers, he’s got that surfboard. There’s a lot you can do with him. Spidey, but he’s not all that easy. The webbing on the costume has to be very accurate.

Some of Sinnott's work; Spiderman, the Beatles
Spider-Man TM & © 2009 Marvel Comics. Beatles art TM & © 2009 Dell Comics

All-around artist: Sinnott’s drawing and inking skills have helped depict everyone from Spider-Man to the Beatles

What’s difficult to draw? Traffic on a bridge. 

Other troubles: The deadlines in comics are very tight; you have to know how to pace yourself. 

Current/upcoming projects: I retired in 1992, but I still ink the Spider-Man newspaper strip’s Sunday pages. 

As-yet unfulfilled ambition: I often regretted never doing the life of Bing. 

The Bing thing: My mother was a big fan of his. I met him on the street when I was in the Navy in World War II. Later, I had a Bing Crosby radio show on WEOK in Poughkeepsie with a friend. 

Looking back: People all over the world know my name, but I often wish I had gone into teaching. I’ve worked at home most of my life, and it’s been a bit lonely. I love going to local schools and talking about what I do. 

On the Web: www.joesinnott.com

 

(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists’ works, visit our Spidey’s Web feature.)

Up next: Wendy Pini

 

 
 Wendy Pini

Wendy Pini

Sure, superheroes in the movies are super-hot these days. But they better make room for a few elves. Richard and Wendy Pini, who for 30 years have been publishing Elfquest — the unique and enduringly popular fantasy series which introduced Japanese-style illustration to America long before the Manga and anime crazes — have a deal with Warner Brothers for an Elfquest motion picture. “I’m awfully glad we spent 14 years in development hell,” says Wendy, the artist and creator of the series. “Because the technology has finally arrived to realize every visual need. Richard and I feel totally blessed by the entire experience.” Wendy, who now splits her time between Hollywood and the couple’s Poughkeepsie home, says, “I always pictured Elfquest as a movie in my head. And comic books are the best compromise when you can’t make a movie; it’s the best way to visualize things in a similar way.”

Age: 58 

Hometown: San Francisco 

Hudson Valley home: Poughkeepsie 

Starting out: I wrote a script for Red Sonja for Marvel Comics while I was in my early 20s. I got the opportunity because I was dressing as Red Sonja as part of a traveling road show performing at comic book conventions. 

Early influences/mentors: Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka, the “Walt Disney of Japan” and the father of the Japanese comics style known as Manga. 

First thing you remember drawing? The Giant Book of Faeries and Elves. I drew my own elves into the book at age two. At age three or four, I took rolls of paper towels and drew comics. Each sheet was a panel. I drew on any empty surface. My mother was constantly wiping crayon off walls. 

Fantasyland: Pini’s Elfquest characters struggle to exist on a primitive planet with two moons
A page from Elfquest

 A character you still love to draw? Any of the elves — they just fly out of my pen. Fanatical fans: We had done a story in Elfquest in which a character died and his wife cut off her long braid as a gesture of mourning. Well, we received a box, from Norway I think, and somebody had sent us their long braid as a gesture of mourning. 

Proudest/most challenging accomplishment: The answer to both is Masque of the Red Death (adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story), which I am working on now. It’s as dark and different, emotionally and psychologically, from Elfquest as it could possibly be. It’s adult and erotic. Elfquest doesn’t feel so much like an accomplishment as a channeling. Elfquest has been my life’s mission statement, the love of my life. 

Current/upcoming projects: Currently, Masque of the Red Death is unfolding on-line as a weekly Web comic featuring flash animation. I believe it’s my best work to date. I’m drawing it using a cintiq [a tool for drawing digital images on a screen]. You’re basically painting in light. As a three-year-old, I imagined painting with light while drawing with crayons on the wall. Then it’s back to Elfquest for “The Final Quest.” There’s one more story to tell. 

Cutter, the main character in Pini's Elfquest series

Next big trend in comics? What I’m doing right now: the Internet. 

Free time: Richard and I take our drives to nowhere. We just get in the car and have no destination whatsoever. It’s complete freedom.

On local inspiration: The Hudson Valley truly feeds my soul. Elfquest was born in New York. When I came out here I had never seen these beautiful deep green forests before, and much of this background appears in Elfquest. Especially the fall color palette, I use that a lot. 

On comics being cool: Currently, everybody who grew up reading comics as a major pastime is running Hollywood. That’s why comic books are receiving the current level of respect — and greed — they are being accorded. 

On the Web: www.elfquest.com

 

(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists’ works, visit our Spidey’s Web feature.)

Up next: Jim Starlin

 

 
 Jim Starlin

Jim Starlin

Longtime comics luminary Jim Starlin is “what’s known as a triple threat,” says Edward Murr. “He pencils, he inks, and he writes. He does it all.” This comics all-star has created dozens of the characters you know, including the villain Thanos in the Iron Man series, and brought to life many more. In the 1970s, it was Starlin who revitalized Captain Marvel (and later had the opportunity to kill him off), and brought Adam Warlock — created by his mentor Jack Kirby — to prominence. Since then, he has gone on to draw almost every significant character at both Marvel and DC Comics. But he is best known for his “cosmic” stories. Says Murr: “He thinks about characters, plotlines, and stories on a grander scale.”

Age: 59 

Hometown: Detroit 

Hudson Valley home: Ulster County 

Starting out: My father worked for Chrysler as a draftsman, and he felt one of the fringe benefits was bringing home all the tracing paper that he could. At age eight, I was tracing comics, and I eventually stopped tracing and started drawing. I got hired at Marvel Comics during a major expansion after sending in some samples of my work, the Hulk mostly. 

First thing you remember drawing? Mostly my own characters. My first professional job was a two-page story sold to DC Comics’ House of Mystery while I was still in the Navy. 

Proudest accomplishment: The story that’s probably my best is “The Death of Captain Marvel.” That and Dreadstar, which had a 40 issue-long run. 

Character you still love to draw? Adam Strange. He’s a big favorite of mine. I read them in the back of the station wagon going off on family vacation. And Comet — I’m taking him places they never thought of taking him before. [Comet is Starlin’s modern reimagining of a campy 1950s era sci-fi superhero originally called Captain Comet. “He was completely ridiculous, and he wasn’t the captain of anything,” he says.] 

Sci-fi drama: The character Breed (top figure)
starred in two series of comic books that Starlin wrote and drew
A scene from one of Starlin's comics

Most difficult to draw? Cars and horses — that’s why I do sci-fi. My horses look like bad dogs. 

Strangest request: That’s easy. Early on, in the urinal of the men’s room at a comics convention, two fans came up to me and asked for an autograph. They couldn’t wait until we got outside? 

Fanatical fans: The strangest one was back in the ’80s. A guy claimed to be Captain Marvel, said he was angry with me for killing him, and said he would get me and my family. After some digging, I found a teacher of his and learned that he had stabbed a classmate and been sent to jail. 

Current/upcoming projects? For DC Comics, a miniseries titled Strange Adventures, featuring classic DC Comics sci-fi characters Adam Strange and Comet. 

As-yet unfulfilled ambition: I have one last Dreadstar story I’d like to do. 

Next big trend in comics? Psychedelic, weird stories coming back into vogue again. 

Comics’ place in the art world? Comics and jazz are America’s original art media. But comics are the bastard child in the U.S. In Europe, they have a more respectable status. Here, they’ve basically been reduced to R&D for the movie business. 

On the Web: www.starlin.com

 

(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists’ works, visit our Spidey’s Web feature.)

 

Up next: Victor Gorelick

 

 
 Victor Gorelick

Victor Gorelick

Victor Gorelick has been creating stories about America’s favorite teens since he was just a teen himself. He joined Archie Comics Group at age 17 as an art assistant; in the 50 years since then, he has done everything at the company (headquartered in Mamaroneck) from coloring to writing to lettering, and just about anything else you can imagine. Now the copresident and editor in chief of America’s oldest humor comics company, Gorelick oversees a full-time staff of 20 and a freelance stable of up to 60 writers and artists.

Age: 67 

Hometown: Brooklyn 

Hudson Valley home: Scarsdale 

Starting out: I came to work right out of high school. It was the School of Art & Design. The company came and did interviews at the school and I had been majoring in cartooning and got the job. I started doing art corrections, mostly removing cleavages and belly buttons out of Katy Keene comics. 

Early influences? Little Archie creator Bob Bolling, Sam Schwartz, Bob White, and, later, Dan DeCarlo. These guys were all great artists. I also always loved The Spirit. 

Character you still love to draw? Archie or Jughead. Jughead has always been my favorite character. He walks to the beat of a different drummer. Not that he’s rebellious; he’s clever. 

Most challenging: Custom comics for General Foods, and for the FBI, with Archie characters. It was actually very challenging to do, because it was about peer helping (teens mentoring younger children), but it was really contributing something. Also “Archie Meets the Punisher” (1994) was challenging. How are we going to have the Punisher in an Archie comic and not have him kill somebody? 

Archie covers
TM & © 2009 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. Used with special permission

Girl crazy: Gorelick’s Archie comics follow the typical teenage lives of freckle-faced Archie and his three best friends

Fanatical fans: I met a girl from Mexico at the San Diego Comic Convention who told me she learned how to speak English by reading Archie comics. Also, we get letters from Wall Street guys who tell us they can’t wait to get home and relax by reading Archie comics. 

Changing the classics: We did a major overhaul in 2006. We geared the stories to an older audience and gave the characters a more realistic look. There was a mixed reaction to it, but overall it went over pretty well. 

What’s the gang been up to lately? Well, Archie and everyone have been in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. They’re finally getting around and out of Riverdale a bit. 

Current/upcoming projects: A 40th Woodstock anniversary story: Archie and friends revisit “Riverstock.” 

Daughter help you come up with story ideas? No, she was more into Elfquest. 

As-yet unfulfilled ambition: We’re trying to get Archie into the movies. 

Archie with Betty and Veronica

On dating Betty or Veronica: That’s a hard one, but I’d probably go for Betty. Although most people I ask say Veronica. I guess money talks, especially in this economy. 

Next big trend in comics? Maybe Archie getting married. What do you think of that? 

On the Web: www.archiecomics.com

 

(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists’ works, visit our Spidey’s Web feature.)

 

Calling All Comics Geeks

At New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s biggest pop-culture convention, you can browse through thousands of comics books, check out movie and TV screenings, play with action figures — and meet your favorite comics creators. Herb Trimpe, Joe Sinnott, and Jim Starlin will be there; why not come down and say hello? Purchase your ticket on-line to ensure a spot. New York Comic Con. Feb. 6-8 at the Javits Center, New York City; www.nycomiccon.com.

 

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