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The Strange Case of David A. Trampier

February 18, 2013

Grognards and other fans of 1st Edition D&D will remember some of the greatest illustrations in role-playing being drawn by David A. Trampier (aka ‘TRAMP’ or ‘DAT’). The original cover of the 1st Edition Players Handbook, plus plenty of monsters in both the 1st Edition Monster Manual and from the Gamma World Series were his creations. He designed or played a role in design of several games, like Titan and Divine Right, and was the creator of the long running Dragon Magazine comic strip Wormy. I was always a fan of his work, but never connected the dots that this illustration and this comic and this game all were from him, until much later. Trampier was not only in on the ground floor, but was moving to publish his own collected volume of Wormy, when something strange happened in April of 1988…

He disappeared.

Kim Mohan (editor of Dragon Magazine) advised that checks sent to Tramp’s house for work completed were returned uncashed. Phil Foglio (who worked on another strip in the magazine at the time What’s New with Phil & Dixie, and now best known for the excellent web comic Girl Genius) said later, “When an artist’s checks are returned uncashed, he is presumed dead.”

So what happened? Hit by a bus? Suicide? Those paying attention were baffled by Trampier’s disappearance, though Tom Wham (designer of Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Snit’s Revenge) indicated that he believed he was alive. Tom’s sister, Nina Wham, was married to Trampier at the time, indicating he had reason to know Trampier was still drawing breath. Still, Wham indicated that he himself had not been in touch since 1982.

Barbara Manui & Chris Adams, known for their work with another Dragon Magazine comic “Yamara” started information gathering and discovered the possible reason for the disappearance, which they posted from a verified source (name withheld) on their site here.

To summarize, it states that Tramp appeared to be upset, and perhaps delusional or paranoid in regard to events occurring at Dragon Magazine at the time. It goes on to state that he was an uncompromising and perhaps antagonistic artist that made life difficult for himself at the magazine.

While interesting, it still leaves us the mystery of his disappearance. As I began to research the issue, there still were no leads.

Then, in 2005, a reporter named Arin Thompson with the Daily Egyptian wrote a story titled, ‘Coffee, cigarettes and speed bumps: A night with a Carbondale cabby.’ It showed a picture of a bearded man, arm draped over the door of his cab. It was Dave Trampier, back from the dead.

trampier

This was groundbreaking. This not only proved that Trampier was alive, but that he was living or at least working in Carbondale, Illinois.

Within a short period of time, Trampier’s home address was accessible through the Jackson County, Illinois public records.

It appears that with this reemergence, a number of individuals attempted to contact Trampier. An individual identifying himself under the handle of “Baj” on the message board of Paizo.com indicated that they had contacted Trampier to discuss the purchase of original artwork. This initial contact began friendly, with Trampier expressing an eagerness for others to view his work, but became more withdrawn and negative over time.

Jolly Blackburn of Knights of the Dinner Table fame indicated that he contacted Trampier to make an offer for publishing his original Wormy strips.

“David was very polite but made it very clear he wanted nothing to do such a project and more importantly nothing to do with gaming and asked that I not contact him again. I got the impression his phone number had been passed around in the industry and I hadn’t been the first to call.”

Wizards of the Coast stated in their 30 year retrospective, “Thirty Years of Adventure” that Trampier was alive and well, but no longer worked in the gaming industry.

And that is where it appears it will stay for the foreseeable future. Luke Gygax posted:

“Tramp was a great old school artist and I wish he still contributed his artwork to the genre. Unfortunately he has no interest in gaming or art at all. I do not know what his reasons are, but I know two folks that have tracked him down and offered him work- one is his brother-in-law. He flatly refused both of them and asked them not to contact him again on the subject.” For reasons entirely his own, Trampier does not plan on submitting his work for publication or self-publishing in the foreseeable future.”

Despite this, his devoted fans remain surprisingly active. The Dave Trampier Fan Club Facebook page counts among its members Luke Gygax, Ernest Gary Gygax Jr., Jolly Blackburn and David Kenzer of Kenzer & Co., and Troll Lord Games. It’s a lot of fandom for an artist who hasn’t published a new piece of art in 25 years.

Others pay tribute through homage and imitation, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics featuring of numerous references or parodies of Trampier’s previous work, recalling classic Trampier art to evoke images core to fantasy role playing.

Whatever Trampier’s reasons for leaving, it is clear that his work is loved and appreciated throughout the gaming world, and should he choose to return, he will be welcome with open arms.

EDIT: We are sad to report that Dave Trampier died March 24, 2014 in Carbondale, IL at Helia Healthcare.  He was 59 years old.  Tragically, it appears that immediately prior to his death, he made plans to exhibit some of his artwork at a Carbondale Con called Egypt Wars 2014.  He advised the organizers that he was suffering from cancer, but that he was overcoming it and would need transportation to the convention.  A sample of the art he planned to exhibit is shown below.

The fact that just too late he started to return to the people and fans that loved his work so much absolutely breaks my heart.  But with his passing, we see many in the gaming community that loved him, and with it the promise that Dave Trampier will not be forgotten.

Tramp Art

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