De Letra Em Letra, Vol. 3, No. 1

De Letra Em Letra, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2016)

2016. Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil. Color. 256 pgs. []Pgs 216-228: Article, “O Corvo – Intertextualidade, Técnica e Tecnologia nas adaptações da Obra de Edgar Allan Poe por Richard Corben” aka “The Raven – Intertextuality, Technique and Technology in the Adaptations of the Work of Edgar Allan Poe by Richard Corben” by Rodrigo Stormberg Guinski. No picts. In Portugese only.

Google Tranlsation from Portugese to English:

O Corvo – Intertextualidade, Técnica e Tecnologia Nas Adaptações Da Obra De Edgar Allan Poe por Richard Corben

The Raven – Intertextuality, Tecnique and Technology in the Adaptations of the Work of Edgar Allan Poe by Richard Corben

Rodrigo Stromberg Guinski
Texas A&M University

O objetivo desse artigo é discutir determinados aspectos das adaptações para quadrinhos de poemas e contos do escritor Edgar Allan Poe realizados pelo artista Richard Corben. Corben publicou essas adaptações em diversos períodos de sua carreira e por diferentes editoras. Serão analisados aspectos como o da transposição do material textual para outras mídias, nesse caso as histórias em quadrinhos, e como isso estabelece relações intertextuais entre os quadrinhos de Corben com obras de outras mídias. Outros aspectos abordados são o uso expressivo de cores, a exploração de variadas técnicas de ilustração, a relação entre a arte e o conteúdo narrativo, e como a evolução da tecnologia de impressão offset influenciou no trabalho de colorização realizado por Corben, com atenção especial aos métodos de separação de cores anteriores e posteriores ao uso do computador pessoal para a realização dessa tarefa a partir dos anos 80.

Palavras-chave: Histórias em Quadrinhos; Literatura; Tecnologia

The aim of this paper is to discuss certain aspects of the comic book adaptations of poems and short stories by the writer Edgar Allan Poe made by the artist Richard Corben. Corben published these adaptations in various periods of his career and through different publishers. Issues such as the transposition of textual material for other media, in this case comics, and how this establishes intertextual relations between Corben’s work and other media, will be examined. Other aspects covered are the expressive use of color, the exploration of several illustration techniques, the relationship between artwork and the narrative content, and how the evolution of offset printing technology, with special attention to methods of color separation before and after the use of the personal computer to perform the task in the 1980s influenced Corben’s color artwork.

Key words: comics; literary; technology

See the original Portugese text (on pgs 216-228), []

Google Translation from Portugese to English:

During his career, the comic artist Richard Corben adapted the tales and poems of the writer Edgar Allan Poe for publishers Warren in the years 1974 and 1975, Pacific Comics in 1984, Marvel Publishing in 2006, and Dark Horse between 2012 and 2014, totaling 28 stories, with its own script or by Richard Margopoulos. The poem The Raven was adapted three times, and the poems Conqueror Worm and Sleeper and the tales The Fall of the House of Usher, The Oval Portrait, Shadow and Berenice were adapted twice each.

Corben’s first contact with Poe’s literature occurred during high school in the second half of the 1950s (CORBEN, 2014b). Later, while attending college at the Kansas City Art Institute, Edgar Allan Poe’s film adaptations were made by producer and director Roger Corman. Corben states that these films were a great influence on his work and that although he did not think they were the “best movies” he studied them to see how he could make them differently (CORBEN, 2012). Researcher Francisco Saez de Adana, in his paper on Corman’s influence in Corben’s House of Usher, even refers to this as Corman’s alter ego in comics (ADANA, 2013, p.106).

Corman released eight films based on Poe’s works between 1960 and 1964: House of Usher (1960); The Pit and the Pendulum (1961); The Premature Burial (1962); Tales of Terror (1962) containing three short stories: Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar; The Raven (1963); The Haunted Palace (1963); The Masque of the Red Death (1964); and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). From Corman’s short stories and poems, Corben did not adapt The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Tomb of Ligea, which he planned to adapt to Dark Horse, but this did not carried out (CORBEN, 2014a).

For Adana, the first milestone in Poe’s adaptations to comics were the stories published by EC Comics horror magazines in the early 1950s. These stories were not identified as adaptations and did not mention the authors of the source texts. Adana draws special attention to the work of the designer Graham Ingels, who adapted The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar in The Living Death (Tales from the Crypt, No. 24, 1951) (ADANA, 2013, p.106). The stylized and detailed manner of Ingels depicting decomposing bodies was a major influence on the horror designers of the Corben generation, which claims that Ingels is one of his favorite artists of this period (CORBEN, 1981a, p.11).

The Living Dead, pg 7 by Graham Ingels (Tales from the Crypt #24, 1951)
Bright Eyes!, pg 7 by Richard Corben (Eerie #43, 1972)

This period went into decline in 1954, with the publication of the book Seduction of the Innocents, the psychologist Fredric Wertham. In this book, comics are condemned as a negative influence and cause of juvenile delinquency. In April and June of the same year, a subcommittee of the US Senate launched investigations into the comic effect of juvenile delinquency. In October, a group of publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and created the Comics Code Authority and its seal of approval. The code did not allow the use of the words horror and terror in comic books titles and also banned vampire characters, zombies and werewolves. Distributors refused to work with comic books without the seal of approval causing a drastic decrease in the sales of the comic books that did not conform to the code. EC Comics has decided to cancel all its titles of horror, crime and science fiction. The last issue (February / March) of Tales From the Crypt comic book was published in 1955 (NYBERG, 2014).

In 1955, EC Comics began publishing Mad Magazine in magazine format (22 x 28 cm) and black and white, to escape the restrictions of Comics Code, which only had authority over colored comics in the format known in Brazil as American format (17 x 26 cm). William Gaines, editor of EC, claimed that Mad was not a comic book, but a magazine, even if 90% of the content was comics, managing to distribute his magazine without the need and seal restrictions (ARNDT, 2013, 44).

The publisher James Warren in 1964, following the publication of three comic adaptations of classic films of Universal in its magazine of Monster World cinema to go unnoticed by Comics Code, began the publication of a magazine totally dedicated to the comic books of terror, Creepy, in revised format and in black and white to avoid the restrictions of Comics Code (ARNDT, 2013, page 5-6). In 1970, after publishing underground comics, Corben began to illustrate stories for Warren’s magazines. His first adaptation of Poe, The Raven, was published in 1974 in issue No. 67 of Creepy magazine during the era of William Dubay as editor, during which period the magazine began to publish colorful stories. In 1975, Creepy’s 69th and 70th editions were entirely dedicated to Poe, with six stories each, all with screenplay by Richard Margopoulos, Corben contributed respectively to The Oval Portrait and Shadow. The two editions of the magazine featured “Edgar Allan Poe’s” (by Edgar Allan Poe) written about the title. The practice of naming the writer on the title of magazines and stories was maintained with varying emphasis on Corben’s subsequent publications, proving the notoriety and commercial appeal of the writer. On Poe’s commercial appeal, Roger Corman, in his autobiography, claims that a Poe-based product has a built-in audience, as it is read in every high school in the United States (CORMAN, JEROME, 1990, 78) . Corben states that the decision to adapt Poe left editor Dubay and Margopoulos. Corben recalls that in this time he had read only a few stories of Poe and watched the Corman films but later began collecting films and comic book adaptations (CORBEN, 2014b).

Corben published in 1984 the adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher in A Corben Special: House of Usher #1 by Pacific Comics, publisher and independent distributor who published comic books owned by its creators, unlike publishers like Marvel and DC that made their artists sign contracts giving them the right to own their creations. As Pacific was also an independent distributor, owning even a chain of stores, its comics did not need the seal of approval of Comics Code, allowing the comic books to be published in American format and in color (SANFORD, 2004). By the author’s nature we can assume that this adaptation was based on Corben’s will and not on an editorial decision like in Warren.

Richard Margopoulos and Corben rejoined again years later to make literary adaptations, this time for the publisher Marvel. The result was two collections of stories entitled Haunt of Horror, the first by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 2006 and the second by HP Lovecraft in 2008. In the credits of each story in this series Poe is presented differently for comic effect, for example, “note: this is not exactly …”, “insanity provided by …”, “sublime horror brought to you by …”, but on the cover of comic book reads “Edgar Allan Poe’s Haunt of Horror”. The adapted tales are: The Tell-Tale Heart and Berenice; and the poems: The Raven, The Sleeper, The Conqueror Worm, Spirits of the Dead, The Lake, Eulalie, Israfel and The Happiest Day. The title Haunt of Horror had been used by Marvel for the first time in 1973 in a series of books containing prose and illustrations that lasted two editions. Later the title was used in a series of horror comics that lasted 5 numbers between 1974 and 1975.

The series was published in American format and in black and white by Marvel’s Max label, created after the company abandoned Comics Code in 2001 and established its own rating system. Max is equivalent to the R classification, in which a comic book can only be purchased by persons over 17 years old, or minors accompanied by those responsible. To avoid confusion, the design of the covers is different from the lines aimed at young readers and does not contain the Marvel logo (Rosemann, 2001). In addition, the covers carry the message “Warning to parents: explicit content”. In the ear of the jacket of the bound edition reads in the paratext that “Some adaptations offer new approaches for familiar tales; others take the material in new and bizarre and subversive directions never before imagined,” adding that Poe’s original texts have been reproduced as bonuses so the reader can compare the origins of the 19th century with their descendants of the 21st century (CORBEN, MARGOPOULOS, 2006). Thus, condescendingly, the paratexts prepare the reader for something that may be different from Poe and provide the originals in case any reader is dissatisfied with the lack of fidelity of the adaptation.

Corben hoped to recapture the old enthusiasm of working with Margopoulos, but says that this time something did not work, that the ideas of the two were no longer intertwined. Corben says he was not very satisfied with the results and resents the lack of creative control (CORBEN, 2012). The direction of the scripts was established by Margopoulos and the editor Alex Alonso who decided to transport stories to the modern age (CORBEN, 2013a, 69). Corben kept all his other adaptations in the historical period in which they occur in the original text or in which the text was written in the nineteenth century in the case of Poe, and says he no longer intends to carry stories for the present period, since part of the fun is to draw the vintage clothes (CORBEN, 2014a). The fact that several of the adaptations of the Haunt of Horror series happen at different times from the original stories may be one of Corben’s motives for being dissatisfied and having decided to revisit Poe’s adaptations in the Dark Horse series.

The first attempt to do a work based on Poe’s work for Dark Horse took place in 2012, in the miniseries Ragemoor. For this project, Corben invited screenwriter Jan Strnad. Corben says he was satisfied with the result, but that the jointly created story was not exactly what he wanted to tell. Corben wanted more control to realize his vision of Poe’s work. Encouraged by editor Scott Allie, Corben decided to write his own stories. His goal was to perform the Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a title widely used for collections of Poe’s short stories from 1902 (CORBEN, 2012). In Brazil, similar books were published under the title of Contos de Imaginação e Mistério. Corben published these adaptations in American format and color, not as a series, but through several independent comic books and the anthology magazine Dark Horse Presents. In own comic books Corben published: The Fall of the House of Usher (2013, two volumes), Conqueror Worm (2012), The Raven and the Red Death (2013), Premature Burial (2014, including The Cask of Amontillado) Morella and the Murders in the Rue Morgue (2014). In Dark Horse Presents: The City and the Sea (vol 3, no 9, 2012), Berenice (vol 3, no. 16, 2012), Sleeper (vol 3, no. 17, 2012), Shadow (vol 3, no 18, 2012), The Assignation (vol 3, no 28, 2013), and Alone (vol 3, no 29, 2013). All these stories will be compiled under the title (changed to) Spirits of the Dead, with publication scheduled for October 2014. As the Comics Code Authority was officially extinguished in 2011, magazines published with Corben stories by Dark Horse do not present information on age rating.

Within this context, the present text proposes a discussion about the intertextual dialogues of these adaptations with other works in a variety of media. It will also discuss the technical evolution of Corben’s art and its relationship with the technology of production and reproduction of images.


Semiologist Julia Kristeva introduced the semiotic notion of intertextuality by referring to texts in terms of two axes: a horizontal axis (author-reader) and a vertical axis (text-context). The vertical axis establishes the relation of the text with other texts (Kristika 1986: 37): it points out that “every text is constituted by a mosaic of quotations; all text is the absorption and transformation of another” (KRISTEVA, 1986, p. 39). For her, intertextuality also denotes the transposition of one or more systems of signs to another(s), which requires a new articulation of the enunciative and denotative positions (KRISTEVA, 1986, p. 111). During the adaptation process, Corben perceived this need for a new articulation, stating that faithful copying is impossible and that transposition requires changes, since the literal translation of the text into images does not produce the same effect (CORBEN, 2014b). On the process of adaptation of Poe’s short stories and poems, Corben comments: “I do not try to create an exact visual adaptation of his words. I think I get a better effect by analyzing what I like in a particular story, to find out what inspires me, and then I use that as a starting point.” (CORBEN, 2014b). In his attempt to preserve the effect of the original text, Corben developed an authorial intent in his adaptations. The search for the representation of this effect also led to adaptations made by other artists, some of which will be combined with Poe’s text in his comics.

Corben’s comics dialogue with works in a variety of media, these works end up cohabiting their stories. This relation of co-presence between two or more texts, that is, the presence of one text in another is also defined as intertextuality by the literary theorist Gérard Genette. For him, the most explicit intertextual form is citation, some less explicit forms are allusion and pastiche (GENETTE, 1997, p.2). Corben’s adaptations explicitly point to his intertextual relations with Poe, less explicitly to other adaptations of the writer’s work, to other works in a variety of mediums that do not relate to Poe’s work and to his own work. Examples of intertextual dialogues between Corben’s comics and other works are shown below:

The first pages of House of Usher (1984) present the protagonist riding through a desolate landscape, of dry vegetation and surrounded by mist. Arriving at his destination the knight finds the house in a wide frame reminiscent of the cinemascope format of the film made for the same tale by Corman. This sequence is also very similar to the beginning of the film. Inside the house, the face of the protagonist is revealed in more detail and we can notice the similarity with portraits of Edgar Allan Poe, which is confirmed by Roderick Usher when that calls Edgar. In addition to sequences similar to those of the film, Adana emphasizes that Corben’s approach to Corman’s film occurs mainly in the visual aspect, which he inherits elements introduced by Corman due to economic needs such as the use of fog (Adana, 2013, pp. 108-109) and colors to create psychological meaning (Adana, 2013, 115). This relationship will be discussed in the section Technigue and Technology.

In Haunt of Horror (2006) Corben seeks to evoke the atmosphere of the old horror films with their art in black, white and shades of gray, for the editors of the magazine the choice for black and white was made with intent to honor the era of Corben in the underground comics (CORBEN, 2013a, p.70). The stories of this series combine in pastiches with various eras and different genres, among them: Western (The Raven), vampire/zombie (The Sleeper), post-apocalyptic science fiction (The Conqueror Worm, Dead) and gangsta rap (Izrafel, Israfel’s incorrect spelling refers to rapper names).

About the series for Dark Horse, Corben said he wanted to create a complete horror anthology with sinister host (CORBEN, 2014b). Corben expressed no intention of imitating the EC’s comic strips, but of “imagining what it could have been like if they had set their goals a little higher,” and his limited hosts, he said, to clever dialogues and satirize the suffering of the characters. According to him in anthological series the stories usually do not relate and the host creates an element of familiarity and a sense of continuity between the stories and magazines. Corben says that he tried to use the host parsimoniously so that he did not separate the reader too much from the emotional content of the narrative. In some stories, Corben uses Mag the Hag not only as narrator and commentator, but as a participatory character (CORBEN, 2014a).

EC Comics’ horror magazines, such as Tales from the Crypt, were compilations of short stories by three sinister hosts: Crypt Keeper, Old Witch, and Vault Keeper. Creepy magazine followed this format with Uncle Creepy. None of Poe’s adaptations published by Creepy magazine in Nos. 67, 79, and 70 use the host in history, as was common in other Warren and EC stories. Uncle Creepy, designed by Bernie Wrightson, only features the magazine. In the series Haunt of Horror Corben created the ironic Uncle Deadgar, an E.A Poe decomposed to present the magazines. For the adaptations for Dark Horse he created Mag the Hag. This method of using a presenter to connect the stories was also used by Roger Corman in Tales of Terror, where this is done with the voice of Vincent Price.

In 2013, Corben revisited The Fall of the House of Usher for Dark Horse, combining it with The Oval Portrait as in the French film La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928), directed by Jean Epstein and the script of Luis Buñuel. Corben affirms that in some way his adaptation is an adaptation of that film (CORBEN, 2014a) and also an adaptation of his previous adaptation. Corben redesigns a whole page: Roderick Usher’s succession of sleeping sound, singing The Haunted Palace is the same in both versions, like the same story and composition, barely the characters are different. In The Masque of the Red Death, Corben expands history as the use of the poem The Haunted Palace, just like Poe and Corman did. Poe included the poem in The Fall of the House of Usher as a song written by Roderick Usher. That same poem has been used as a title for one of the films of Roger Corman, which in fact is an adaptation of the Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P Lovecraft. The title of the film was altered to explore the success of Poe’s adaptations to justify this move was included as a dinner by actor Vincent Price reading the poem. In the case of Premature Burial, in the last picture of his adaptation, Corben redesigned an illustration of Harry Clarke accompanying the 1916 edition of the story anthology Tales of Mystery and Imagination. In The Conqueror Worm, a person examines a corpse infested by worms reciting “A certain assembly of political worms deals precisely with”, by Hamlet by William Shakespeare. As it is common in the comics, the citation is indicated in the footnote.

The Raven deserves special attention because it has been adapted three times by Corben, perhaps because it is Poe’s most famous poem. The verse of the quadrinet can be seen as a palimpsest, a text that overlaps with another semester or hiding it, but allowing it to be displayed (GENETTE, 1997, p.399). Relation is established not only as the original poem and its illustrations, but also as each of the adaptations of the poem by Corben, as with each new adaptation preserving elements from the previous ones.

In the first version, for Creepy magazine (1974), Corben transformed the poem into pictures, interpreting it, not bypassing the original content. The rhyme poem was transformed by Margopoulos into a prose dialogue, paraphrasing, but maintaining the original content. In the dialogues, the personage goes to the crow, who responds barely “Nevermore”. The story begins as a full-page image, a house surrounded by snow and dry vegetation and onomatopoeia “Tap! Tap! Tap!” indicating the presence of the crow. This feature was also used in the next version, published by Marvel. In the third version, for Dark Horse, the onomatopoeia is replaced by the first verse of the poem and three paintings as a monologue of the character and commentaries by Mag the Hag. The portrayed house was replaced by Alfred Hitchcock’s movie house Psycho (1960). The storyteller is the same in the three versions, which can be noted for his costelets, and the variation happens in Corben’s design style.

In the version for the Haunt of Horror, the only story written by Corben for the series, the text is totally rewritten, keeping few quotes from the original text. The crow, nesse case, remember the narrator who was ele quem, I fed an alcoholic, killed Lenore. The protagonist strikes himself in the crow, but the bullet ends up revealing Lenore’s broken body, which leads him to suicide.

In the third version of the poem, Corben chose to transform the conflict with the bird into something physical. Lenore’s presence recalls Gustav Doré’s illustrations for the poem, published in 1884, in which he portrays Lenore present in the scenes but ignored by the narrator. In this adaptation, Lenore is present in imagined form and interacts with the narrator until the raven emerges (in his eye a skull) and brings the narrator back to reality, making Lenore disappear. He shouts, “Monster, you startled her.” In revenge against the raven that destroyed his illusion, he attacks with intent to kill him. The raven, in this version, becomes anthropomorphic like that of Roger Corman, who turns into a harmless wizard portrayed by actor Peter Lorre (with a feathered costume and black wings), but unlike him, he becomes a supernatural monster of bones and feathers. Corben admits a literal interpretation of the metaphor to illustrate the phrase “Take your beak out of my heart”, with the crow attacking the narrator with pecks (CORBEN, 2013c). The last two frames of the final page resemble those of the first version, in which the character contemplates the shadow of the raven (and his soul) on the ground, with the difference that here the character is fallen in the shadow, bleeding, dying and extending his hand toward the crow. The following chart creates continuity and ambiguity with the character’s hand extended toward the stone, in a similar shape (cross) in the shadow of the previous frame, creating a formal (cross) and meaning (death) link between crow, shadow and the headstone. In the first version this association of the form of cross, crow, shadow and tombstone was also made in a more subtle way.


Corben developed his own system of colorization to achieve results that were impossible by budget constraints of publishers. This new system allowed him to explore colors more expressively, producing effects and shaping the narratives according to the possibilities and impossibilities of the medium, in this case offset printing. Corben says he tries to be inventive not only in the stories but also in the techniques he uses, which makes his interest in technology a necessity of the craft (Corben, 1981b: 11). Corben expands:

As adding color to comic pages can completely alter their meaning, many artists would like to have maximum control over this aspect of their art. But the comic industry is a business in which it is advantageous to subdivide the different stages of production to be performed by specialists. Thus, the product can be finalized more quickly. Many designers accept this division of labor and concentrate on drawing. Few, like me, insist on having control of all possible aspects of the process. This means developing the necessary skills and dedicating time to the job. I’m willing and I appreciate that job. (CORBEN, [2012])

Offset printing is capable of reproducing dashed or halftone images. For reproduction of tonal variety, it is necessary to convert tones into dots through a photographic process in which a screen composed of a grid of lines, placed between the lens and the film, that decomposes the image into dots producing a photolith in mid-tone. Image resolution is determined by the number of lines per centimeter. The less rows the printing coarser. The print quality of Creepy magazine may be considered coarse when compared to the high resolution of magazines currently printed by Dark Horse, for example, in which the grid points are almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Reproduction of color originals requires the color separation through the photographic process through filters for the production of photolites from each of the four colors of the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) printing process. (BANN, 1989, pp. 34-40)

Tonal variation can also be obtained by the use of decals of decal manufactured by companies like Letraset, better known in Brazil, or Zip-A-Tone, used by Corben. According to Beatty, comic colorers in the period prior to electronic color separation were limited to the use of 25%, 50% and 75% grains also combined with color at 100%. This is one of the determining factors of the limited color palette used prior to the use of computers in the 1980s. Some independent artists, such as Corben, have decided to color their own stories because of the wide variety of dot patterns available by such companies, including gradients. This process allowed the combination of reticles with different densities and patterns to be directly photographed, without the use of filters or screens, to generate the photolite (BEATTY, [201-?]).

The lack of publisher funding for photomechanical separation (CORBEN, [2012]) led Corben to develop his own technique of graticule overlapping to create a more complex color for three-dimensional volume representation. For this, Corben created a different art in black and white for each of the four colors CMYK and, unlike the industrial standard, uses a variety of shades and gradients creating rich tonal combinations. For more control of the process, Corben bought a machine to record his own photoliths, allowing the own regulation of exposure. He attributed the vibrant tones of his coloring to the photoliths that he recorded in contrast higher than the industry standard, producing a greater saturation of colors, but also a slight loss of resolution in the image (CORBEN, 1981b, p.11). The use of this system of creation of color by means of the combination of arts in black and white produced unexpected results, being seen only in the printed magazine when the budget did not allow the drawing of evidence and the adjustment of colors, also, the common errors are added (one or more colors are printed offset from one another). Corben admits that sometimes the results were disastrous (CORBEN, [2012]).

Part of the appeal of the coloring technique created by Corben may be due to the advent of color television and the color photocopier, technologies that have aesthetic similarities to their work. Corben goes as far as to remark that the color he created is like a television image with the intensity set at maximum (CORBEN, 1993, page 51). Like Corben’s art, cathode ray tube television and color photocopying exhibit high color saturation and low resolution grainy textures. The effects and defects of this experimental process join the techniques of illustration and themes to create a fantastic and unreal atmosphere. Unreal as the images created by the color disqualification and contrast in photocopy; and by distortions, mismatches, transmission failures, tuning and deterioration of magnetic tape in television images. What we can say for sure is that Corben’s coloring technique had enough appeal to be hired to color works of other Warren artists, such as reissues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. The following will be discussed some works of Corben that exemplify its use of techniques and technologies, and also their intertextual relations:

In The Oval Portrait (1975), Corben uses a variety of illustration techniques, including photographic collage, airbrushing and dashed line drawing. Photographs of sky and clouds were used as background in various outdoor scenes. Airbrush was used in portraiture; the young woman is portrayed in soft gradients in shades of gray creating a three-dimensional modeling next to photographic realism, while the rest of the story was drawn to traces and hatches with more limited shades of gray. The same portrait was reproduced photographically throughout the story.

Corben also used the copying and reproduction of images expressively in a sequence in which the character admires the portrait. His face is progressively enlarged until it reveals the face of the portrayed woman reflected in his eye. The image continues to be enlarged and the sequence ends with the image of the character’s face as in the first frame, but now reflected in the eye of the person portrayed. The cycle idea created by this sequence amplifies the illusion that the portrait is so realistic that it seems to be alive to the character, showing that the portrait also looks at it. The interesting thing about this sequence is that Corben enlarges the images by photographic process instead of redesigning them and, like the artist Pop Roy Lichtenstein, he enlarges the reticle points exposing the nature of the mechanical reproduction of images.

There is a great contrast between the portrait and the other drawings, the portrait being more worked up and illuminated in a diffused way with soft shades of gray, while the rest of the drawings are more simplified than the art that Corben produces regularly. There is no way to know whether the design was intentionally simplified or whether it was a matter of time for a more elaborate drawing, regardless of the motif, the result is true to Poe’s tale, in which the narrator describes the portrait as almost alive. The portrayal of Corben compared to the characters presents itself as greater than life, which accentuates the effect of the process of de-characterization of the portrayed character. In his tale Poe uses himself by surprise revealing the fate of the woman portrayed only in the last sentence “She was dead,” Corben shows the process step by step creating an intertextual dialogue with Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray, in which the portrait aging progressively in place of the character.

The shade variation in the airbrush art and in the photographs used in The Oval Portrait was reproduced by the halftone process; in Shadow, the grafting overlapping process was used both for the original black and white version (1975) and for the the reissue in color (1985). The striking difference between the two versions is on the final page of the color version, in which Corben adds layers of reticles to create a cadaverous face for the shadow that gives its name to the tale, transforming the metaphor for Poe’s pestilence, amorphous in the original version, in an anthropomorphic monster.

The first version of The Fall of the House of Usher (1984), was published in color in the period in which the Pacific Comics publisher starts to print on a white paper that allows higher printing quality (SANFORD, 2008), allowing greater subtlety and variety of tones, plus higher resolution in details. The colors are softer and more varied than the primary and saturated tones that dominated Warren’s magazines, denoting an evolution in Corben’s graticule superimposition technique, which was performed here by his assistants Herb and Diana Arnold. The coloring refers to the dream sequences of Corman’s films, where he uses gels over the lights or colored filters on the camera lenses to dye the blue and magenta scenes, mist to create a haunted atmosphere and blurred edges to move the images of reality. All of these effects were reproduced by Corman in his sequences in which the character dreams and hallucinates. The effect created by fog, illumination and blurring is reproduced by Corben due to the absence of the pattern, predominance of the blue and magenta colors in low contrast and the transformation of the black from the drawing to the stroke in lighter colored tones. The coloring also creates an intertextual dialogue with the Italian giallo horror films. Under the influence of Corman’s films, directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento also use mist, filters and gels to create a sense of unreality in their scenes in films such as The Whip and the Body (1963) and Suspiria (1977) respectively.

With the popularization of the personal computer, Corben began to color with the aid of software, directly on the computer or by scanning the colored art and using the computer for retouching and separation of colors (CORBEN, 1993, page 58). The Haunt of Horror series was published in black and white, with grays created using software. One of the characteristics of Corben’s work is not simply coloring or, in this case, applying grayscale only to the white areas of the paper. With the use of software he also transforms black ink details of his art into lighter shades to create lighting, blur and shaping effects. Grayscale is used in a variety of ways: in The Raven, it creates graffiti-like textures to detail the exterior and interior of the house, creating a decrepit and contrasting environment with characters modeled in smooth gradients for three-dimensional effect, reminiscent of his work with airbrush. This modeling is also used in The Lake poem. In the rest of the stories, the focus is placed on the dashed design and the shades of gray are little used for three-dimensional modeling, the number of shades is limited. The preference is for graded tones and gradients, which in some cases are so soft that they become almost imperceptible. Gray tones, in this case, work to group and separate elements, create depth of field and guide the look.

One of the reasons for the series published by Dark Horse to be colored was the low sales volume of the previous series, Ragemoor, printed in black and white by Corben’s decision against the editors’ recommendation (CORBEN, [2012]). Corben admits that on many occasions in his career the decision on color was a result of costs or the market, black and white for when the budget is low and colorful for the market share that would not buy black and white comics (CORBEN, 1993, p. 57). The coloring of these stories is more naturalistic, but has a relationship with Corman’s cinema because of the predominance of ash and ocher in contrast to vivid red details such as Roderick Usher’s (similar to Vincent Price’s in the film) outfit and blood. Corben uses a wide range of techniques from the use of color plating to three-dimensional modeling. A wide variety of textures is used to represent different materials, such as skin, bones, wood, rocks and fabrics. The effect of these textures is expressive in the representation of the process of decomposition of the house of Usher.

Corben used several types of models and models for the development of studies. He created clay models of the Usher brothers’ heads for illumination and anatomy studies, and claims to have used living models dressed as characters for reference to certain paintings (CORBEN, 2013b,
24). Corben also created scenarios in 3D programs for lighting and perspective studies, and, prior to using
software, he built mock-ups for this purpose (CORBEN, [2012]).


The analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s adaptations of short stories and poems by Richard Corben reveals a shift in the artist’s approach to literary adaptation to comics. Initially, Corben sought to represent the text visually, without deviating from the original content; then he develops authorial intentions in which the text becomes a starting point from which he does not seek to reproduce the content accurately but rather to reproduce the effect created by the text. In the search for this effect, Corben studies other adaptations in several media, among them: literature, illustration, comics and cinema. Some of these works studied by him ended up cohabiting their stories, creating intertextual dialogues not only between Corben’s work and Poe’s, but also with other works, of which the most striking presence in the visual aspect is Roger Corman’s cinema. These intertextual dialogues present themselves in a variety of ways, among them the redesign of illustrations, the pastiche with other narrative genres, the appropriation of narrative structures of other texts and the use of colors and shades of gray inspired by lighting and cinematographic effects. Moreover, during the forty year period between the first and last adaptation, we can observe several changes in the technology of production and reproduction of images, having as main factor the popularization of the personal computer, which provided greater fidelity and resolution in the reproduction of original art, wider color palette and greater practicality for colorization and separation of colors. Corben kept up-to-date with these new technologies to maintain maximum control of his art and took advantage of them by adapting his laborious techniques of colorization, lighting and three-dimensional modeling to the practicality of digital media.


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Created: December 28, 2017. Last updated: August 8, 2020 at 6:44 am

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