Friday, May 6, 2011

Wormy Collection - David Trampier

Here are several panels from David Trampier's Wormy cartoon, these from the February 1980 issue of The Dragon magazine. Wormy ran for roughly 100 issues before Trampier withdrew from public life.

The story (or at least the speculation) of Tramp's mysterious disappearance is well-known among old-schoolers. Several years ago Tramp briefly resurfaced, as a taxi driver. My thoughts turn to Tramp now and then, particularly when i'm looking at some of the D&D artwork from the late 70's and early 80's.

Here's an interesting tale about one fan's encounter with Tramp in 2002. This story is completely unverified, and can be found near the bottom of the second page of a thread on the Paizo website, here.

I'd like to think that the story is true, if only because it is comforting to think that Tramp still retains the rights to Wormy, and has additional pages of Wormy that will, someday, be shared with the world. Take the story, below, with a grain of salt, obviously.


Hello all,

I stumbled on your Trampier discussion and, as someone who recognizes your hunger for news Tramp, have decided to contribute some information. Essentially this comes from my own experience with Tramp from about five or so years ago.

I do respect those of you who believe in letting sleeping dogs lie, respecting Mr. Trampier's privacy, etc. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have done this, and I am deeply sorry if I did cause Mr. Trampier any agitation.

Here's what I can tell you. I managed to track Trampier down and got in contact with him. At the time I was collecting original fantasy art and I really wanted to buy some original Wormy pages from him. The good news is that he wasn't selling any because he still is attached to them and still has the dream of publishing them all someday. So if any publishers are reading this, I know Trampier has a rocky past history with TSR, but in all likelihood a publishing deal could be worked out to reprint Wormy and he still has all the originals to print from (save 3, see below). At least as of five years ago he still held out that dream. While I don't know if he truly finished the second story arc (there were two - the first ended with the Wizard Gremorly and Solomoriah the winged panther's failed attack), he does have finished pages that were never published (which I never saw but he told me about). Even an incomplete trade edition would be a classic.

Trampier said he does own the rights to Wormy, completely. He said his self-published compilation never happened because he couldn't raise enough money to make it happen.

Trampier's voice is exactly how you might imagine it to be - gravely and warm with the smoky flavor of someone who prefers to "roll his own". At the time that I called Trampier was involved in trying to set up a tobacco shop, but I have no idea if that ever panned out.

Trampier is a big Pogo fan. He cited Walt Kelley's classic strip as the primary influence for Wormy. This isn't entirely surprising, given the art style and political subtext of several Wormy strips. In a way the Wormy material is a classic American retelling of slavery - just read the episode where Rudy has a long conversation with a caged troll if you don't believe me. Wormy isn't as heavily political as Pogo, but it's there.

I noted that there were no female characters in the strip and asked him why (although this isn't unheard of in many boy's adventure comics - women are kept at a bare minimum, say, in Tintin). He said it was because an early strip with Irving dreaming of a bare breasted female centaur made TSR uneasy about offending readership, so as a joke he decided to remove women altogether. I don't own that issue of Dragon myself, but I've seen it online and it does seem to be the only episode with a female character.

The only pages of Wormy that Trampier does not own, so far as I am aware, I own. I purchased these from a former TSR employee. When I called Trampier I told him about the pages and offered to return them, since I wasn't sure of their provenance (i.e., purchase history.) Trampier graciously allowed me to keep them, which I am grateful for. The three pages in question feature Otis and Rudy looking in a river cave mouth for trolls, then getting spooked at the thought that a kraken might be lurking. Afterwards Catfish and Bender (the Salamander) pole through on the back of a belly-up, dead Long-bellied Mudsucker fish. If anyone ever does want to publish the run of Wormy and needs these pages to reproduce (with Trampier's permission, naturally), I am entirely willing to lend them to the cause.

I'm bringing up the art because, frankly, it's gorgeous. Trampier used a special kind of magic marker to color his work (I can't remember the name he told me, but apparently that brand is no longer made), but the way he used them made his work look like it had been painted with watercolors. If you've ever looked at original comic art, even the big names will "cheat" using white-out, etc., so that often the final printed product looks more perfect than the original. Not so with Trampier. Every line is perfect, every color vibrant and nary a corrected mistake visible. I've seen a fair amount of original comic pages and I haven't seen anything to rival Trampier's sheer craftsmanship and painstaking labor. The pages practically glow like stained-glass windows.

Trampier confirmed to me that he had had a falling out with Mohan and company at TSR, and was surprised to learn the company had been purchased by Wizards of the Coast. He was entirely unaware of the interest expressed in his work on the internet, as he didn't have a computer or an internet connection at the time. He was happy to hear that the interest was there. Incidentally, at the time someone was posting Wormy pages and had stirred up controversy for doing so since they are Trampier's intellectual property and this person (not me, no relation, etc.) had not obtained permission. By the time I called Tramp they had capitulated and taken the images down. Trampier's words to me were that "I WANT people to see Wormy" and that this internet posting sounded fine. For the record.

The first call was really magical. Trampier was good humored, informative, and appreciated my compliments, and there I was, talking to a legend who had really impacted my childhood. Frankly I pretty much subscribed to Dragon back in the day just for the Wormy strips.

Things sadly went downhill from there. Without getting into it too much, Trampier withdrew, and stopped responding to my letters and inquiries into work that he had previously stated he was willing to sell (at the time, the pencil drafts for the Wormy pages, not the finished pages. And if anyone is curious, he doesn't have any of the classic Monster Manual drawings. Artist Tony DiTerlizzi does have the original of the Pseudodragon, but the rest are currently in oblivion. Apparently Trampier never got those drawings back from TSR, unlike the Wormy pages.) From my experience I do believe speculation that Trampier has some personal issues is likely true. I also want to stress that Trampier was never anything but polite to me when we did talk.

People can make of this what they will. I hope at least that this satisfies some curiousity about the David Trampier of five years ago. I understand why this could be read as a cautionary tale for would-be seekers, but I do hope that someone at TSR, paizo, etc will seek him out with a serious offer to collect and publish his Wormy material. He may have his quirks, but those strips are some of the most accomplished ever produced, they have a powerful base of nostalgic fans, and Trampier himself still holds the material, the copyright, and the will to have it published. He probably could use the additional monetary support too, frankly. It is certainly worth inquiring.

How to track him down? I'm sorry to say that you are on your own. I've moved, had several computer crashes, and no longer have Trampier's number or address. But I found both the old fashioned way in the first place, and so could anyone, no detective experience required. Personally, I hope that a publisher WILL contact him and at least make the attempt while it could still benefit Trampier himself - who knows what will happen to the Wormy material after Trampier does pass on. It could be lost, sold and scattered, or destroyed (Tramp's wife doesn't really seem to appreciate that part of his life). Simple fans just wanting to pay homage like I did should probably tread more lightly.

So there you go. That's my story. I hope it was helpful to you. And somebody, anybody, one way or another, please publish this classic of American pop culture.

By the way, for interests of privacy, my email address is bogus. I will try to respond to questions posted here for awhile if anyone has any, but I think I've already told you everything I know.


I have a respectable, if incomplete selection of old Dragon magazines, so I don't need to pay for a Wormy Collection. But if Paizo somehow convinced Tramp to allow them to reprint all of the Wormy cartoons, along with any other artwork he has stored away, i'd be buying that. Particularly if the proceeds went to provide a comfortable annuity for Tramp. Anyways, here's my $100, waiting to be spent on a Wormy Collection.


Padre said...

When I picked up my first Dragon magazine, it was the Wormy cartoon that made me want to buy the next issue more than any article. It was a great cartoon.

christian said...

The imagery from those Wormy strips was unreal. I'm sorry to hear that it seems he has some personal issues.

With POD so accessible, he'd easily be able to make a print only compilation of his work with little to no outlay of funds. I'm sure there are tons of gamers working in graphic design who would lay the project out for nothing more than a copy of the book.

biopunk said...

I'll buy a Wormy Collection.

The pages with the wizard and bounty hunters at the well with the columns is etched into my memory.

Great stuff!

Stuart said...

It's a real shame that so many people would love to see more of his work, but (I guess) he's just not at that place in his life anymore. I loved the Wormy comic and his other work - he's got genuine talent.

ze bulette said...

There's a good collection of old Wormy's here.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how he feels about Phil Foglio?

Seems like Foglio's Airship Entertainment, which publishes Girl Genius, would be a good partner for online and print publishing of a Wormy collection.

Assuming, that is, that Phil isn't part of what went wrong for Tramp at TSR.

Anonymous said...

You know,Jolly Blackburn (of Kenzer & Company) told me he made Trampier an offer to do a Wormy compilation once,and even talked to DAT over the telephone about it,after painstakingly tracking down the telephone number.Unfortunately,he wanted nothing to do with it whatsoever,but said that he wasn't rude about it or anything,he just said' he didn't want to discuss it and to never call him again.'

Bob said...

I personally would love to see not just a collection of Wormy but of Tramp's art in general. He has always been the defining artist of D&D for me.

Al said...

The loss (or more accurately, witholding) of Wormy is certainly a tragedy. Doubt we'll ever see it in print.

I've debated whether or not to share my Trampier story on my blog or not for a long time now. Still undecided, he's an odd fellow, and I have yet to figure out how to tell the story without coming off as disprespectful ;)

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I suspect he is suffering from some sort of psychological affliction. Perhaps someday we'll hear your story.

I wish I had the time and resources to gather all of those revealed and unrevealed stories, along with the complete Wormy and other Tramp art, and publish it all in support of Trampier.

I'm not sure how the laws work in the US and Canada, but perhaps setting up a charity or trust, with donors rewarded with a copy of the Trampier collection.

Akrasia said...

Trampier's work is amazing, and shaped the way in which I envision fantasy scenes to this day. I have a copy of his "Emirikol the Chaotic" tacked onto my wall.

It is sad that a 'Wormy' collection is unlikely to ever see print. But I'll keep a 'Borden' ready just in case...

A Paladin In Citadel said...

A Borden, that's good, i've never heard it called that before!


DnD Dad said...

Rest in Peace, David. We are sad to know you have moved on, but are hopeful you have found fantastic worlds beyond ours.