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Corben Insight

Corben Insight by Dixie

Appeared in Infinity [I] #5 (1973).

I remember the first time I ever came across a Corben strip, at The Magic Village, in Manchester; 1970. I picked up a copy of SLOW DEATH #2, ”Far out!” I cried. (We used to say things like that in those days.) I thought, “I wish I could draw like that,” and 14 years later I still wish I could draw like that.

Corben, to me, is a constant inspiration, the better I think I get, the better he gets and so it goes on… I hate him!!

Richard Corben was born in Sunflower, Kansas U.S.A- in 1940. He was a normal all American boy, apart from his extreme shyness, a trait which exists today: he is still regarded as being somewhat of a recluse.

He was encouraged by his parents to develop his drawing skills, and after a brief spell of duty in the army, he went straight into art-school. From there he went to work at Calvins, an industrial graphics and animation company. It was during this period that Corben started sending strips to Warren. Jim Warren saw his potential and allowed him to expand on his colour-work, filling in for artisits such as Jeff Jones and Fernandez.

Parallel with his Warren work Corben had produced his own stripzine with a friend, Herb Arnold. This was the now legendary FANTAGOR. The first issue didn’t even break even, but fortunately a copy fell into the hands of Ron Tiner, the man behind Last Gasp Comix, the underground group that were putting out titles such as Bill Griffith’ s YOUNG LUST BINKY BROWN and LEGION OF CHARLIES by Rick Vietch. San Francisco based Ron took over publication of FANTAGOR and gave Corben pretty much of a free hand on SLOW DEATH and SKULL, his bestselling titles. This was in 1970 and inspired by his childhood E.C. artist hero? Graham Ingels (who used the pseudonym GHASTLY) Corben was now signing his work GORE.

Unfortunately the income from undergrounds was hardly enough to keep himself and his family fed. At the same time the undergrounds in general were suffering a crisis due to over exposure and resulting bad sales figures, forcing Corben to return to Warren where he remained for several years. He contributed regularly to all the usual titles, CREEPY, EERIE etc., as well as COMIX INTERNATIONAL; the comic that was, and still is regarded as the Corben showcase comic. Indeed some of his finest work appeared in these issues, his adaptations of the POE classics have become classics themselves.

In the mid-seventies bootlegs of American undergrounds, especially the APEX novelties titles, ZAP, ZIPPY THE PINHEAD, and of course Gilbert Sheldon’s FREAK BROTHERS were flooding Europe. A publisher of some repute Jean Pierre Dionnet of Les Humanoides Associes had established a new style of comic from Paris, METAL HURLANT. Slick design, high quality full colour printing and a compliment of top international artists, had made a startling effect on the European market. Dionnet had seen Corben’s underground strips and contacted him with regard to buying a story. Corben returned two chapters of a strip that had been destined for SLOW DEATH before it’s demise: DEN.

This series led to fame and a little fortune in Europe and Corben was already enjoying ‘superstar’ status when HEAVY METAL hit the streets in 1977. MH and HM were the perfect vehicle for his work and he has since been turning out strips at an alarming rate. NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, BLOODSTAR (arguably his best work to date) DEN 2, the amazing MUTANT WORLD and, of course, the highly acclaimed BROOD.

Of late, Corven has been contributing to Pacific Comic’s new titles, TWISTED TALES etc., and his latest strip (at time of writing) is one of a seires of CORBEN SPECIALS, the first issue of which, being Edgar Allan Poe’s FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

Corben’s style is unmistakable, I could never imagine, for instance, Corben Batman or Justice League of America. His work is overall, too violent, erotic and graphically complex to be acceptable to the major comic houses in the U.S. All artists have to discipline themselves in self-censorship, and even with the brakes on, his style just wouldn’t fit into the ‘kid’s pulp’ category. (This is not a personal view, merely an unfortunate fact.) To quote Corben on violence: “There’s all kinds of violence I portray. It’s only graphic in a stylized way. To portary pain in impossible. It takes some imagination on the viewers part, it might require more exaggeration, more distortion, more abstractions than I put into the stuff. My characters are never violent for the sake of being violent, it’s always forced on them, or it means to an important end.”

And on sex: “It’s a alright to repress sex among children, it’s not alright in adults. They should be able to look at anything they want, within reason, as long as they’re not hurting anybody. It’s almost incredible the way people repress sexuality. I think it creates more problems than it solves. It seems criminal how comic-books reinforce a repressive mentality. You can’t win by logic, it’s just not logical, it’s something you have to put up with or sidestep in some way.”

Certainly Corben’s work is controversial. Discussing Corben art a mart, I found the Bolland worshippers considered Corben’s work “badly drawn,” …too much T&A, lacking style”… (Judge who?…) Whereas others members of the fraternity considered Corben to be THE major contributor to comic art this century.

Corben is most emphatically an ‘artists artist’ French cartoonist Moebius comments, “He uses the body, it’s sexuality in a free and beautiful way, he’s not afraid to show it; he’s completely free and shows things as they really are. His work is erotic, but not in the traditional way… There’s a joy of sex, not hidden but very much as it is. He uses style, but is not over-stylised,” and from Jack Kirby: “He’s a hard worker someone in search of a hero. While his hero is a Conan type… one with a lot of muscle but not a modern type Superman… Corben is his own opposite. He’ll never function that way but would like to.”

Style is a word you hear a lot when discussing Corben. But what about the technique? The majority of comic artists are fairly secretive about their ‘tricks and the trade’, but Corben’s methods are such hard work that I don’t think that anybody else would really want to try them. He uses photography, sculptures, models, chemical mixes and various other aids. Corben explains: “What makes my technique different from that of most other cartoonists is that I start out in line and, but I render them in tone. I can’t think of any other artist who does that to the extent that I do. Photography is a tool for me, I use it in my drawings. I select a number of poses for a strip and I photograph the model, then draw from the pohtographs. I change the image to suit my purposes. The sculptures I make (which I use photographically) have influences that come especially from Michaelangelo and Rodin. There’s a certain bodily proprotion. The emphasis on limbs hands and feet. It’s relevant to how I see the figures. The hands are emphasized because to the characters they’re the most important tool. I try to be inventive in everyway, not only in the stories I do but the techniques I use. I invented a technique… my system of colour overlays… which apparently nobody can understand, but it’s really very simple. The luminescent quality of my overlays is derived from the way I combine the colours. I shoot the photomechanical separations myself to a slightlyu higher contrast. This makes the colours appear brighter. I’m excited when I finally do see the colours, I can see if my ideas work out well or not so well.”

As you can see INFINITY is printed in B&W so if you want some examples of Corben’s colour work, you’ll have to go out and buy some (hurts don’t it!) Corben is not the kind of artist you treat with indifference. You either love him or hate him, but his influence on comics today is undeniable, and like him or not we must respect the great love of comics that has kept him producing increasingly high standards of work throughout his career. I’ll leave you with a comment from Jim Sternako:

“There have been significant advances in the comic form over past fifteen years or so, these advances are, however, attributed to a small core of individuals who have set their own standards and generally their own pace. Corben is one of these artists, a true original who is still able to create the unexpected even for those who know his work intimately. Equally remarkable is his ability to tie the tails of over and under ground comics together, producing material highly acceptable to both.”

Copyright © 2019 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!,
Created: January 3, 2019. Last updated: January 3, 2020 at 17:42 pm

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