Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leaving You Behind, the Mysterious Vanishing Act of David A. Trampier

In the spring of 1988 a strange thing happened, after 132 appearances in Dragon Magazine the comic strip Wormy suddenly stopped. The strip had first appeared in the magazine in September 1977 and had been a regular feature ever since. Understandably, fans of the long running strip were upset.
Dear Dragon:
I am not a regular subscriber to DRAGON Magazine, but I try to read it as much as possible. However, in the past two issues, I have missed “Wormy.” Was there some announcement, or has the strip been cancelled?
                                                                                                    Jon Busky
                                                                                                     Baltimore, MD

We regret to announce that “Wormy” will no longer appear in DRAGON Magazine. We are looking into the possibility of adding another graphic series in the future. (Dragon 136, pg. 3)
Officially that was as far as things went. Wormy was gone, and so too was David A. Trampier, the man many credit with taking the art of Dungeons and Dragons from a novice exploration of the hobby and into the professional realm. For years fans of Trampier’s work expected to find his familiar signature gracing the cover of some new supplement and eagerly awaited the publication of a Wormy collection. Neither materialized; and neither did Trampier which left many of his friends and colleagues bewildered.
“. . . I don't remember how Tramp and I hooked up. I "think" it may have been at GenCon at Parkside. I do know that of the four . . . [artists] you mentioned, Tramp and I were by far the closest friends; it was as though we had always been friends forever. I don't even remember if someone introduced us, if he walked up cold, whatever. It was instant recognition... He spent many an hour with me in my basement playing games. playing miniatures on my sand-table (mostly WWII micro-armor, which we both LOVED, fooling with TITAN, partying together and racing slotless HO racecars for hours on end. My wife really liked Dave and thought he was one of the more "normal" seeming of all my gaming and industry friends. I loved Wormy from the very first time I saw it; giving Dave a place to publish Wormy I rank as one of the finest things I did with the magazine . . . The two pieces of original Tramp art that I have are perhaps my two most treasured keepsakes from that period; one is the Holiday back cover, the other is the only wraparound cover I ever published. I can't begin to tell you of my sadness and dismay for Tramp's present circumstances and apparent state of mind . . .

What happened is one of the more bizarre mysteries in our hobby's past.

After I left TSR, Tramp was the one person I kept in touch with. Like I said, I felt we became great friends.

After I started ADVENTURE GAMING Magazine, he did a couple pieces of art for me, and I did a cover story article on TITAN that he added and published some advanced rules in. We had a project in work right at the very end, then he simply stopped writing and answering my letters . . .” (Tim Kask, Tim Kask Q&A Thread)
After he cut off all contact with TSR and his friends in the industry rumors began to circulate that Trampier had died and seemed to be confirmed by fellow Dragon cartoonist, Phil Foglio.
. . . [Phil] had noticed when Wormy stopped running, and called Kim Mohan to ask what happened. Kim, then editor, told Phil that payments for the strip were returned unopened. "When an artist's checks are returned uncashed, he is presumed dead," Phil drily stated . . . (Trampier’s Wormy Bootwebbed).
Even with clear indicators that David Trampier had died some persisted in believing that he wasn't dead. Some said he was living in his car, while others said he went off the grid, and still others claimed he had been institutionalized. The rumors continued unabated for years as what happened to Trampier remained a mystery.

For fourteen years the mystery remained tantalizingly unsolved with little to nothing to go on. Then an article appeared in the spring of 2002, Coffee, cigarettes and speed bumps: A night with a Carbondale cabby by Arin Thompson, that brought hope for those who still looked for the elusive artists. The article featured a picture of the cab driver and, by all accounts, it seemed to be David A. Trampier. 

David A. Trampier, making that Taxi look good.
A search for the elusive artist had been reignited and several sources began to offer hope that this might have been the same man, or at the very least, that Trampier was still alive. In 2003 Wizards of the Coast was able to confirm that David Trampier was alive and well (Dungeons and Dragons FAQ, Whatever happened to SnarfQuest, What's New?, Wormy, and Yamara?), though they did not confirm that the man in the picture was Trampier. That following year Tom Wham, Trampier’s brother in law, confirmed that Trampier was still alive and living in Illinois (Tom Wham’s Gangster Game).

Evidence was mounting and some intrepid fans attempted to contact the cab driver and discern if he was the same man. Yet for all their persistence precious little made its way out onto the net. Until a Paizo forum member, Baj, came forward and claimed to have actually made contact.
". . . 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 . . .

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 . . .

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 . . . 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 . . .” (Where’s Wormy).
While this post by Baj seemed to confirm that the Dave Trampier in the article was the same one as had drawn Wormy, it would not be until Jolly Blackburn confirmed it that we could be sure.
“. . . that article . . . [Coffee, cigarettes and speed bumps: A night with a Carbondale cabby by Arin Thompson] was how I tracked him down several years ago by phone (Jolly would later confirm that he did this in 2003 -- Charlie). Was nice enough but it was clear pursuing the matter (regarding art/Wormy) wasn’t going to be fruitful. When I talked to him he was a bit annoyed anyway. Apparently that newspaper article sparked four or five others in the industry to track him down as well . . .

Last I heard he was no longer driving a cab by the way. But that was a few years ago . . .” (Jolly Blackburn comments on Photos from Frank Mentzer's post in David A. Trampier Fan Club, 2013)
In the end we've been able to confirm that Trampier still lives, but in doing so we're left with so many questions unanswered that may never be answered. Why did he walk away from the industry? Why has he never published a compendium of his work when so many of us clearly want one? Perhaps most importantly, though, why did he cut off contact with so many people who cared so deeply for him? 

16 comments:

  1. I recently found another TSR product in my basement, graced with a piece of Trampier's work that I haven't seen else where. I've put a scan of it here.

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    1. What a great find! Thanks for sharing that.

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  2. I've always liked Trampier's work. When I came back to D&D, I was disappointed that DAT's work no longer appear in D&D. Trampier's AD&D Player's Handbook cover with the demon idol was always a favorite of mine.
    I understand that people who knew him back in the day have told him about the interest by the public in his work or his reasons for leaving the RPG game business. I don't know why, but I think it's clear that he is not interested in communicating with RPG fandom or collectors. I think we should respect that and hope that people give the guy his privacy.

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    1. I'm hoping so too, though from what I've read several people have contacted him over the years. :(

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  3. Hrrmmm? Dave Trampier left TSR when he wasn't allowed to play games at work anymore. After 1985 Gary Gygax was no longer the largest stockholder, being ousted by Lorraine Williams. Everything really went downhill at TSR after that.

    Dave didn't have a lot of stock, but he did tremendous amounts of artwork, and when he wasn't able to work on what he liked, he left.

    I'm pretty sure the whole not sharing thing by the executive staff didn't go over very well with the rank and file. It's not like they couldn't afford to profit-share. They just didn't.

    When Dave figured this out, he left. I probably would have as well.

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    1. Are you speculating or do you know all of this first hand? Either way it's pretty interesting narrative.

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    2. That seems reasonable, but where did you get this information?

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  4. Doing any art professionally requires a strong ego. Just imagine what a weird ride DAT must have had, drawing pics for games he loved, being lifted into professional game artist mode when TSR rose, then falling out of it. I've known artists who've had similar rollercoaster rides and given up their art totally, finding work as far from it as thy could. I'm married to a great musician whose sung in bands but now slogs away in offices. I wouldn't be surprised if DAT went through much the same ego bruising and doesn't want to go through it again...

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    1. This could be if he was a Keenan Powell or Greg Bell, an amateur just sketching in the classroom or the basement. But his work is solid and drips with style. I think many would love to have one of his originals in a wall or get new work from him published.

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    2. "I think many would love to have one of his originals in a wall or get new work from him published. "

      Absolutely.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. I hope this notice isn't him ;the age (59) seems to match, as well as the Carbondale location. :(
    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thesouthern/obituary.aspx?n=david-trampier&pid=170356694&fhid=8429

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    1. Son of a bitch. It might very well be him.

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  7. Tom Wham confirmed it:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=669614789773020&set=a.122477454486759.20351.100001735149483&type=1&relevant_count=1

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    1. Yeah, I found that yesterday when I was able to break the story. Wham was the second confirmation that it was the same Tramp.

      Sad day all around.

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