A Brief Trampier Biography
TSR GamesIn 1977, sometime around his 23nd birthday, David A. Trampier became one of the early artists working for TSR illustrating Dungeons & Dragons and other games. He created some of the most iconic illustrations in D&D. His influence is still felt in countless homages across the role playing industry.
Trampier's grizzled, bearded face and 6' 3" frame often appears in his own illustrations, such as the above piece of three successful adventurers from AD&D's Players Handbook. Even Trampier's monstrous manticore face feels like a self-portrait.
Around 1981 or so, Trampier's work disappeared from TSR games but his Wormy comic continued to appear in TSR Periodicals' Dragon magazine.
With co-designer Jason B. McAllister, Trampier self-published the fantasy "Monster Slugathon" board game Titan under the name Gorgonstar Publications in 1980. Tramp created all the artwork for the game box, board, components, rulebook and advertising. 1981's expansion Battlelands of Titan added new features to be incorporated into all future printings of the base game. The game eventually became a hit, one of the seminal fantasy board games of the 1980s.
Supposedly, TSR was given first crack at publishing the game but refused. In 1982, Avalon Hill published the game as part of their Bookcase Game series. Strangely, the box cover featured art by Avalon Hill's Kenneth Nishiuye. Nishiuye's purple painting of a titan, unicorn and dragon was functional and iconic but ran counter to Trampier's distinctive style seen on the game components. I'll discuss more about a possible Trampier Titan cover in the next post.
Beast Lord in 1991 followed by a sequel in 1992. In 2008, Valley Games, Inc. created a high-quality reprint with an iPad edtion appearing three years later. A German edtion appeared in 2012. It is unknown if Trampier continues to profit from these reprints.
Tramp started worked for TSR Periodicals in 1977, illustrating Dragon and Little Wars magazines. Dragon started publishing his Wormy comic strip about a cigar-chomping, snooker-hustling, wargaming dragon and the strange being that inhabit his world. Much like Cerebus the Aardvark years later, Wormy began as something of a "funny animal" comic, a parody of gamers just as Cerebus parodied the Sword & Sorcery genre. Wormy's story matured over the years as Trampier's skills as artist and storyteller improved significantly, much like Dave Sim with Cerebus. Unlike Cerebus,* Wormy continued to be funny. It remained a parody of the very gamers flipping to the back of each new Dragon magazine to read the latest installment.
Sadly, Wormy's second storyline was abruptly truncated in 1988. A cryptic announcement informed us that Wormy would no longer appear in Dragon. Trampier's brother-in-law, game designer Tom Wham, had no contact with him since 1982. Trampier seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, leaving fans to wonder what happened to the artist who was an influence on so many.
amid rumors of his death, it turned out he was working as a cab driver in Illinois. The Daily Egyptian, a Southern Illinois University newspaper, posted a short piece about the life of a cab driver in Carbondale named David Trampier. There was that grizzled, bearded face last seen peering out from behind a shield on the AD&D Dungeon Masters Screen. TSR insiders confirmed that this was the very same David Trampier.
For whatever reason, he wanted to be left alone and get away from art and the gaming industry. Attempts to contact him about his art were politely declined.
Rare Trampier Art
Over the next several posts, I will examine some of the lesser-known Trampier works. The illustrations from the Monster Manual and Deities & Demigods are all well-known. Jason Zavoda is doing an admiral job at exploring the art from Dragon magazine. I will share the rarer, published pieces I've discovered along with any pertinent information I know about them.
* I am quite a fan of Cerebus and read each and every issue (yes, even the prose with almost no illustrations, even when it seemed like he'd never get out of that bar). I admire Dave Sim's ability to self-publish and do what he wants with his creator's rights. Lord Julius remains one of the best interpretations of Groucho Marx I've ever seen (take that, M*A*S*H-era Alan Alda). I just wish Wormy had a chance to see a 6000 page storyline published, like Cerebus did. Who knows, It could've degenerated into a misogynistic diatribe with Wormy worshipping an amalgam of the Abrahamic religions at the end.
Fantastic! I never even imagined that Titan was Trampier's work. I look forward to what you post next.ReplyDelete
One neat aspect of Tramp's Titan is that every single game counter is unique. No two centaurs look alike; no two minotaurs look alike. Each unit is an individual. The units are only drawn in silhouette but that makes it easy to differentiate units from across the board (unlike the Valley Games version).Delete
Even the legion markers are cool. They are like Trampier clip art.
Here is one of the counter sheets, complete with trolls that would easily fit in Wormy's world: http://boardgamegeek.com/image/394897/titan?size=original
bi-polar is what i'm thinking. treat kindly.ReplyDelete
I only plan to examine Trampier's artwork, not speculate on the causes of his odd behavior. There are many possible reasons for the events that transpired in his life and I wish him the best, hoping he finds the strength to return to the field he is so skilled at.Delete
The original Gorgonstar boxed set oozes Tramp, Jason. I'll take some pictures sometime if you're interested?ReplyDelete
(Unless of course you're already planning to cover that art, Tony?)ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, I do not have the original Gorgonstar edition of Titan. I'd love to see some good scans of that printing, especially if there was some artwork not used in the Avalon Hill edition.Delete
Looking forward to this series.ReplyDelete
Really excellent Tony. thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
I have a large version of his green demon-face from Tomb of Horrors tattooed on my left arm. Turned out very well, and has always been my favorite piece of his.ReplyDelete
It's always great to see more of the Tramp's amazing work brought to light. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
I feel obliged to point out that sadly, Dave Trampier passed away in march of this year.
From his Wikipedia entry:
In late 2013, several misfortunes struck Trampier. He suffered a mild stroke, he lost his job when the Yellow Taxi Company went out of business, and he discovered that he had cancer. Needing money, Trampier contacted Scott Thorne, the owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books, and offered to sell eight of his original pieces of artwork, including the original cover art for the 1979 Dungeon Master's Screen. Thorne bought the artwork, and tried to convince Trampier to have his Wormy comics republished. Trampier was suspicious of the offer, and wanted to ensure that TSR would not have any part of the publication; he seemed surprised by the news that TSR had been taken over by Wizards of the Coast almost 20 years previously. Thorne suggested that Troll Lord Games might be a good publisher to approach.
Trampier accepted an invitation to display some of his original artwork at Egypt Wars, a local games convention; it would be his first public connection to fantasy gaming since his disappearance 25 years before. Representatives of Troll Lord Games were also scheduled to be at the convention, and Thorne hoped Trampier might talk to them about a publishing deal. However, Trampier suddenly died on March 24, 2014, three weeks before the convention.
Yup, I broke the news here on this blog a few days after he passed away. It was a big shock, especially just after I started this retrospective of his rarer artworks.Delete
The Trampier "illustrations from...Deities & Demigods are all well-known." Are they? I don't spot any signed by him, though he's credited, and I haven't found any I'd immediately ID as Tramp.ReplyDelete
Sorry to bug you about a year old post, but if you have a moment could you elaborate?
Sure thing. Trampier illustrated some of the American Indian and Central American mythos. Take another look at Hiawatha, Shakak, Snake-Man, Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca and you'll recognize his distinct art style. I believe that the "totemic" images of Raven, Coyote, and Thunder Bird may also be his.Delete