Girls, monsters, mutations
The bizarre worlds of Richard Corben
By Achim Hildebrand
Still waters are deep, they say. The drastic illustrations and stories of Richard Corbens, who gave the depths of the human soul a very unique, unmistakable look – frightening and fascinating at the same time – have captivated comic fans all over the world …
Richard V. Corben was born on October 1, 1940 in Anderson, Missouri, and grew up in Sunfiower, Kansas, a working class community of the Sunflower Ammunition Factory. He started drawing comics as soon as he could hold a pen. The earliest results of this tendency are the stories about Trail, the family dog, as well as adaptations of popular adventure stories like Tarzan.
His shrewd manner made him shy away from moving to New York to make money from comic drawing and animation. After a few odd jobs, he found a job in the animation department of the advertising agency Calvin Workshop in Kansas City, where he worked for seven years and finally met his wife.
Corben occasionally still drew for fanzines and regretted not having followed his tendency to draw comics, but he was lucky. Because in 1968 the era of the underground comix began with the publication of the magazines “Eerie”, “Creepy” and “Vampirella”. Corben jumped on the steaming train and counted several stories for “Creepy”. Unfortunately, all were rejected and it was only the personal encounter with the editor James Warren that brought him some orders. From then on, however, his career went steeply uphill. The underground magazines were also booming in Europe and soon he was able to give up his bread job and feed the family – meanwhile he had become the father of a daughter – solely with his work as a cartoonist. He made his worldwide breakthrough as a cult artist in 1975 when the French magazine “Metal Hurlant” published part of “Den”. His well-known classics such as “Bloodstar”, “Mutant World”, “Jeremy Brood” and “New Tales of the Arabian Nights” followed. His hero Den even made it into the cinemas, where he was allowed to play an episode of the cartoon “Heavy Metal”.
At the end of the 1970s, the U-Comix wave began to subside and Corben founded Fantagor-Press, which was previously dedicated to the publication of his works. Despite his status as a cult artist and a committed fan base, Corben was forced to work for mainstream comics like Marvel and D.C. to subscribe to make a living, which he still does today. Sometimes he uses pseudonyms such as Gore, Darf and Harvey Sea. Even in his late sixties, he still made small animations in his free time and regularly attended drawing courses.
Throughout his life he loved the “trash” theme of fantasy, horror and science fiction, but he also gained respect and admiration outside of these genres. Comic icon Will Eisner said of him: “Corben stories are unique in their humanity. Arousing pity for monstrous mutants in a fantasy world is a tremendous achievement.” (In: “Who is Richard Corben?”, Will Eisner, Volksverlag, various editions). The French artist Moebius even calls Corben’s work “a revelation”.
Style and technology
Above all, two special features establish the distinctive character of Corben’s style. On the one hand, this is his early interest in animation techniques, which was initially expressed in the production of flipbooks and never let go of him. His final project at the art college was an animated film about the tasks of Hercules, made with his father’s 8 mm camera.
The second aspect is Corben’s profound knowledge of kickboxing. The passion for this sport is the reason that in Corbens Comics not only sword and ax are used as weapons, but also prefers your own, well-trained feet.
Of course, Corben is also a draftsman who doesn’t leave his readers in the dark about where he just didn’t feel like. At least the impression is obvious. Because you can often find well-composed action scenes with breathtaking perspectives and spectacular lighting effects in the same panel alongside spartan scribbles with a clear stick figure character. One reason for these style breaks may also be that Corben likes to use many different techniques in parallel and experiment with them.
Corben’s great strength is dealing with light effects, subtle color nuances and elaborate reproduction techniques. They create the basket-typical 3D effects and the legendary “basket light”. Hardly any other artist creates dark moods and an unreal ambience as convincingly and tangibly as Corben.
© 1978 by Richard Corben and Volksverlag GmbH, 8531 Linden, U-Comix Extra No. 3
U-Comix special volume 3
Ronald Gauler in Romanian