Bruce Costa interview on Aliens: Alchemy for Dark Horse Comics
I normally look forward to my monthly conversations with Dark Horse solicitations editor Kris Young. Not only is she lots of fun to talk to, but she gives me the niftiest assignments. I normally look forward to the interviews I get to conduct. This time, though, it was different.
"Richard Corben?" I could hardly believe it. "You want me to talk to the Richard Corben!?"
A week later, it was all I could do to keep from gushing through the phone. Every young comics fan has a defining artist -- a creator who was the first to enable you to have name recognition associated with a particular artistic style. For me, that creator was Richard Corben. While he's perhaps best known for his work in Heavy Metal and as the creator of Den, I first became aware of his illustrations of Robert E. Howard's Bloodstar as adapted by Morning Star Press. I'd followed his career right along. Finally, an opportunity to discuss it with him, along with other topics -- like Aliens.
Bruce Costa: I've got to confirm my own awareness of your career, Mr. Corben. Can you encapsulate it prior to Aliens: Alchemy?
Richard Corben: Okay, but I'm warning you -- it's a long career! Before I worked on comics I was an animator for an industrial movie company here in Kansas City. No Hollywood stuff, just animated titles and animated cutaways of engines and things. When I first did comics I started doing underground comix and Warren horror comics at about the same time.
Costa: How did you fall into comics?
Corben: I was crazy about comics! I'd done my own comics for many years, so I just started sending them around. As a matter of fact, in underground comix, there was a fellow in San Francisco who ran a comics shop named Gary Arlington. I had never heard of underground comix. He sent me a couple of them and said, "This is where you should be." I agreed, so I started doing stuff for them. At the same time I sent stuff to Warren horror comics and finally convinced them that I should be there, too.
After that there was a slick underground comic being produced in France called Metal Hurlant. They were paying as well as the underground stuff and they said I should be in that, too. I agreed [laughter]. I was in that for a while when an American publisher wanted to do an American version of Metal Hurlant called Heavy Metal. He wanted all of the same cartoonists in it, so I was in that. After Heavy Metal I started doing my own publishing for a while. We published a comic series plus a collected edition. The comic series was A Rip In Time which was an adventure going back to the days of the dinosaurs. We also did Children of Fire and Den, both of which were Den stories. I also did Son of Mutant World and Horror in the Dark.
Costa: I remember! This was a few years ago, wasn't it?
Corben: Yeah, it was about 5 or 6 years ago. [Self publishing] was a good deal for a while, but the surge started to die down, so we had to start working for other publishers -- DC and Dark Horse. That brings us about up to date.
Costa: What made you get involved in Aliens, specifically, for Dark Horse?
Corben: [laughing] I was always afraid of Aliens! When you're really afraid of something you're kind of obsessed by it, too. I wanted to do an Alien because I was afraid of him, but I also loved him because he was so horrible. In fact, I think he affected a whole generation of people, he's such a profound monster. Getting to do a comic of it is a way of finally working out my fears. [laughter]
Costa: So you're a big fan of the Aliens movies.
Corben: Oh, yes. He's about the ultimate monster, for me. No monster since the Alien has been uninfluenced by him, in its actions and in the way it looks, even. [The Alien is] my favorite.
Costa: How did the connection to a Dark Horse Aliens project come about?
Corben: I had been off and on with Dark Horse on several projects. Randy Stradley mentioned that I might be good for Aliens, and I jumped on it. It's been a couple of years in the cooking, but finally it took off last fall.
Costa: Please give me a story synopsis of Aliens: Alchemy.
Corben: This version is related more to the first Alien movie than the others. There's one horrible menace on a remote planet where the castaways that are on the planet [have been there] for a couple of generations. I wanted to emphasize the suspense and horror over the violent action . . . although it does have its share of gore here and there. [laughter]
The monster is a servant of the church. He's their enforcer to make [the castaways] frightened, so that they'll all do exactly what [head ministerial Legate] Muir says. But things get out of hand toward the end of the second issue, proving that he's not really in control at all. [laughter]
Costa: Yes, I noticed. This becomes evident particularly in the case of Toch, the spiritual leader who seems a bit more in touch with reality. He meets with his untimely demise in the second issue . . .
Corben: Actually he meets it in the first issue, but we don't realize it until the second issue.
Costa: Good point. Can you talk about the religious overtones of the story?
Corben: This is what John Arcudi put in. It's a big force in the story.
Costa: Legate Muir is on a different level of thinking from the rest of the characters, it seems.
Corben: I had a hard time trying to visualize him. John said to think of one of these television religious fanatics. [laughter] But he's hardly related to the other people in that all he thinks about is more power for the church and keeping the people in line.
Costa: How did you enjoy interpreting the creature and its environment?
Corben: I liked it. Of course I loved the creature, but from a drawing standpoint, even though it was H.R. Giger who designed him first, he's not quite the same each time you see him. You have to resolve all the details, and the Alien is very highly detailed. That can be a problem here and there because you have to resolve the details in each version. Actually I came up with my own version that is related to all of them.
Costa: I certainly noticed the cover on the first issue -- man! That's a Corben Alien! To a fan of yours it's pretty cool!
Costa: I liked how you continually worked with the creature's saliva. Getting blood splattered on you isn't the only way to experience the creature's acidity. There are all kinds of ways to get dripped on in your story! People die without even knowing what was there!
Corben: [laughing] Yeah, right! I didn't want him to just be a rip-'em-apart hoodlum, a monster. I wanted him to be so scary, like the kind of thing you'd be really afraid of as a kid. Something that's always in the shadows. I could draw all of the detail on him, but I still wanted him to be obscure and half seen most of the time, so that you'd be afraid of the unknown with him.
Costa: And please know that I picked that up -- in spite of it being so hard, I think, to have fear come across in a comic book.
Corben: Yes it is. It's because it's so easy to put it down. [laughter]
Costa: But you still pull it off because your blacks are so black. There's so much shadow -- even in the preaching scenes, there are deep shadows absolutely everywhere.
Corben: Sometimes the black patterns come across unconsciously. I think of the scene and then they appear. But other times I try consciously to make a pattern in black go across the page, so that it will lead the eye around. It helps continuity. In this case it just sort of did it itself.
Costa: It worked beautifully. I mean, the planet has two suns, for crying out loud, and it still seems like a dark planet!
Corben: Yes! [laughter]
Costa: What was it like to work with Fox?
Corben: Each step of the way has to be approved. The synopsis has to be approved, then each script has to be approved, then my pencils, or actually, the inks have to be approved. There hasn't really been any problem.
Costa: They didn't ask you to go back and redo anything?
Corben: Not this go around. A year ago I did some covers for Alien vs. Predator and I did have to make some changes on those. But so far so good this time.
Costa: What was it like to work with John Arcudi?
Corben: He's a great writer. The scripts work -- they have good depth. They actually work on several levels. I have to make sure I understand it before I can go ahead and emphasize what I'm going to emphasize.
Costa: Did he present you with thorough scripts?
Corben: Yes, and in some cases he had some specific ideas on background items where he had sent some reference materials for me.
Costa: I'm just amazed at the level of detail you can accomplish. I always feel as though I'm looking at a sculpture when I see your work.
Corben: Actually I did do a little sculpture of the Alien, plus I already had a few of other characters that I used.
Costa: Describe your other research. Did Fox provide plenty of material?
Corben: I already had a lot of research on hand. Of course I reviewed the movie once or twice. And then, when the movie came out, they did some books. They did one book that had every scene from the movie in it. That was a great help in getting details as well as atmosphere.
Costa: You keep referring to the "movie," singular.
Corben: Oh yeah. For me it's far more related to the first movie than the ones that followed.
Costa: And you say that why? Because there's one Alien?
Corben: There's one Alien. To me, one Alien is much scarier. One is scary, the rest are just statistics!
Aliens: Alchemy #1 is the first 32-page issue of three in a full-color miniseries. It is written by John Arcudi and drawn by Richard Corben. The first $2.50 issue ships September 24th.
Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series,
Created: March 28, 2001. Modified: July 20, 2015.