Bloodstar and the Art of Richard Corben
Appeared in Bloodstar [Morning Star] (1976), on pg 5-8.
Bloodstar marks a great leap forward for the art of the comic strip through its revolutionary synthesis of ideas and of artforms. In this book, the Imagination and visual power of comic art are wedded to the complexity and depth of the traditional novel, producing an enthralling hybrid which might best be labelled-the graphic novel.
Throughout this graphic novel, classicism blends with modernity as age old themes are brought back to life through a vibrant, new medium. Here, against the mythical backdrop of an earth transmuted into barbarism, the passionate and heroic human struggle for life is played out on an epic scale. In his bright, powerful prose Robert E. Howard dramatizes man’s battle against forces outside his control, recalling the raw and poignant themes of Sophoclean tragedy. The dazzling illustrations of artist-adaptor Richard Corban imbue the hero, Bloodstar, with the throbbing, tormented life force of a Rodin sculpture and animate each panel with the visual intensity of an Orson Welles film. At the same time, he retains a warmth and immediacy which make the characters forever alive and memorable. In this pictorial drama, the power of word and image combine to take the reader on a unique journey in a world of mythic adventure.
The challenging problems of the literary adaptation and illustration of a work as lengthy and complicated as a graphic novel require an artist of many extraordinary talents. Richard Corban is such an artist. His notoriety first grew from his work in underground comic books and then quickly spread throughout the world. Now he is recognized internationally as a central figure in the field of comic strip art. In addition to his cartooning, he has also won acclaim for his sculpture, his designs for wooden puppets, and his oil paintings, which have been reproduced as science fiction book covers, as movie posters, and in magazines. Also, he has made animated films which have merited awards in the United States and in other countries.
When one examines Richard Corban’s comic strip work, the Influences from his involvement with other artforms become apparent. As with many cartoonists, the human figure holds a central position in his work. Corban’s background in sculpture lends his figures a quality of extraordinary mass and plasticity.
From painting, Corban has acquired a masterly understanding of the subtle intricacies of light. This knowledge is utilized to develop the roundness of the forms and to bestow upon them a visual veracity which is rarely found in comic strip art. A grasp of painting also accounts for the strength of Corban’s composition and contributes to his always effective use of mise-en-scème.
Another source from which evolved the artist’s particular approach to mise-en-scène Is filmmaking – both live action and animation. Stories containing scenes of contemporary life or scenes with a minimum of movement best reflect Corben’s use of live action film technique for his comic art. Just like a cinematographer, the cartoonist pans, tilts, and zooms from angles which best accomplish his dramatic purpose. In these scenes where there is little action within each panel, Corben employs “camera movement” to give his narrative a rhythmic flow and a tension. Conversely, the influence of animated film can be seen most strongly in Corban stories which contain a great deal of violent, physical movement. His drawings leap, run, and fight with an extraordinary feeling of authenticitywhich, undoubtedly, arises from his study of the principles of movement in film animation.
Ultimately, the power of Corban’s art must be seen as coming out of the basic physical trueness with which he instills his visual world. The laws of light, space, weight, and mass are painstakingly obeyed by the artist, and, hence, he produces a superb feeling of a naturalism and an underlying reality. This intensely palpable rea/ness in Corban’s scenes serves as a potent foil for a subjectmatter which is most frequently imaginary and fantastic. This infusion of a forceful visual trueness into a fantasy environment creates the striking drama which typifies the artist’s work. It is the fundamental aesthetic concept of his art.
In Bloodstar, Richard Corban takes the concept one step further. Heapplies it to the literary aspects of the story; the characterizations, the motivation, the themes. As with classic myths, the story of Bloodstar, while set in an imaginary, impossible world, becomes utterly real in terms of human experience. Hence, fantasy and reality interact and finally are fused into one.
“Den” 1973, exemplifies Corban’s use of “camera movement.”
“Rowlf”, 1971, demonstrates Corban’s animation of the figure.”
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936)
As with most romantics, Robert E. Howard felt that he lived in the wrong place at the wrong time. Born in 1906, Howard spent the majority of his life in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. There,endowed with a strange, compelling imagination akin to that of a William Blake or an Edgar Allan Poe, Howard lived In a world of dreams which he made real for himself and millions of readers through his adventure writing.
Tales about cowboys, sports, detectives and oriental intrigues were all part of the large Howard repertoire which appeared in the popular pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s-most notably Wierd Tales. However, the genre to which he was truly dedicated and from which he gained his great following Is called heroic fantasy, sometimes referred to as sword and sorcery writing. His heroic fantasy stories were generally staged in a mythic age of the writer’s Invention and often centered on a larger than life hero figure who possessed extraordinary prowess in warfare.
Howard’s most famous hero, Conan, lived in a time which was dubbed the Hyborean Age, an era to have supposedly existed after the sinking of the lost continent of Atlantis but before the beginning of recorded history. In this world of necromancers, slave girls, devils, demons, unspeakable gods and barbarian kings, Conan progressed through a series of thrilling exploits in which he always found victory through feats of enormous strength and courage.
The Image of a savage, sword bearing giant who battles his way through exotic lands in a mythical age of the Earth well exemplifies Howard’s artistic vision. Through his fiction, he wished to recapture and experience the primitive emotions of rage, lust and hatred and the sense of raw physical being, which he believed men must have felt before centuries of civilization diluted the Intensity of human existence. The popularity of his writing during his lifetime and the renewed Interest in it today testify to Howard’s success in evoking for his readers that recognition of elemental passion and being.
The second major character in the work of Robert E. Howard Is Solomon Kane, a brooding, mysterious, puritan adventurer, a contemporary of Sir Francis Drake, who was compelled to wander to the far reaches of the world to seek out and oppose the forces of darkness. King Kull, the ruler of Atlantis, Bran Mak Morn, the lord of the lost race of the Picts, and the fierce warrior, Cormac Mac Art are three other fantastic figures which Howard drew out of his rich imagination.
Regrettably, the personal existence of Robert E. Howard was as much a failure as his creative endeavors were a success. In 1936, the often Isolated and lonely Howard took his own life. However, even with his career cut short, Howard managed to leave a legacy of unique fiction which has never been matched.
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Created: December 31, 2019. Last updated: December 31, 2019 at 22:22 pm