Twilight Sun. John Kelly Talks with Richard Corben
Appeared in The World of Fandom Vol. 2 #31 (1998), pages 100-103
Table of contents:
- Frank Frazetta
- EC Comics
- The Underground and Warren periods
- Sensuality and sexuality
- Favourite artists
- Den and Neverwhere the Movie
- 3D Modeling
- European Comicdom
- Future Plans
- The Best Works
- The Favourite Movies
- Jim Warren
- Unpublished Works
My first real heavy exposures to Richard Corben’s work came at The Great Escape, a great old times comics store in Nashville, Tenn. I used to spend many hours there pouring through their quarter comics boxes, finding some great comics. I eventually made my way over to their “first printings” Underground comic box. It was there that I picked up Skulll #2 drawn to it by Gilbert Shelton’s wild cover. But it was the inside story by Corben. Lame Lem’s Love that completely took the top of my head off! This story simply blew me away, l had never seen comics like that before. And this was way before I was ever exposed to EC comics so I did not even grasp the history that had gone before. I just knew for some reason Corben’s work contained mystery and magic for me, in untold quantities.
Each week, while my mom shopped, and dropped me off at The Great Escape for upwards of eight hours I would discover more Corben work lurking there! I would look through the boxes and find new Undergrounds, with unknown Corben works. To my young mind these comics seemed like long lost gems, or weird obscure documents. I completely absorbed them, and they blew me away. Titles like Slow Death, Skull, Death Rattle, Weird Fantasies, Up From the Deep, Fever Dreams, Grim Wit, Fantagor and others were all read and studied. Often a concerned comics clerk would relieve me of a Corben Underground (I was around 10-12 at this time), only to see me in line with my mom who would then buy me the same Underground comics! (“Mom, sure there is some nudity, but it has some Corben work I haven’t seen”) It was there that my life long fascination with Corben’s work becan. A fascination that continues to this day as Corben continues to do some great work, such as the Alien: Alchemy comic that recently came out. excellent work. And this is my humble tribute to Corben: a true master of comic art.
Word of Fandom: What are you currently working on, and what are some plans for the future?
Richard Corben: OK, well I have three projects that I am currently working on. One is the last book of the three book Alien series. Also, I’m doing a weird crime for DC, actually it’s not a weird crime, it’s title is called Gangland, I think. And doing a ten pages color strip foe Frank Frazetta’s Fantasy Illustrated.
W.O.F.: And what kind of story is that going to be for the Frank Frazetta book?
R.C.: Well, it’s one I’m writing myself, and in homage to Frank Frazetta it’ll be a sort of barbarian take.
W.O.F.: What are your opinions about Frazetta, the artist?
R.C.: Oh! Well, talk about a profound artist. he has probably had the single greatest influence on illustration and comics for the last 20 years or so.
W.O.F.: And has he had a big influence on you?
R.C.: Yes. I try not to let it show too much, but yes.
W.O.F.: I wouldn’t say it shows too much.
R.C.: I feel it wouldn’t be right to copy his style or work. But if it comes through in subtle ways that’s not too bad.
W.O.F.: I agree with that. Now the Aliens comics, that is Aliens: Alchemy, is that the name of it?
W.O.F.: What do you feel about Giger’s work?
R.C.: Well, yes, when it comes to monsters, he created a monster that really effects people. It’s hard to describe the effect. It touches the subconscious. He creates images that are really scary.
W.O.F.: What are some early memories of comics, and why and when did you decide to become an artist?
R.C.: Back even to preschool days I was interested in comics. Back in those days, comics were much bigger than they are now. I guess I was interested in Superman, mainly, and Batman, back in the 40’s! (laughter)
W.O.F.: When did you pick up on EC, if at all?
R.C.: Well, yeah. I did. When I became a teenager, back when 10, 11, or 12 I was an EC collector, I collected the horror and the science fiction lines.
W.O.F.: Do you think it’s had an impact on your work?
R.C.: Oh, I’m sure it has.
The Underground and Warren periods
W.O.F.: There is a dreamlike aspect to your art, do you work your dreams into it at all?
R.C.: If it is dreamlike, it is probably because it has more of a logic of a dream, and some things don’t always make “real” sense, in a dreamlike way they might?
W.O.F.: You did some very good work in the 70’s, the Underground work, the Warren work, how do you look back on that era?
R.C.: Things like that are usually a product of everything happening right at once. I was ready to do it, and the market was there. The Underground comics just came into being, so everything happened together at once, so that’s why it happened.
W.O.F.: Did you feel a part of the Underground comix movement?
R.C.: In a sense. I wasn’t part of the drug culture. I did feel a kindship with the other artists in that they made this medium that had this extreme freedom of expression. You could do anything you wanted, and I thought that was wonderful. That’s why I jumped into it.
Sensuality and sexuality
W.O.F.: How did you stan introducing the sexuality and sensuality into your work? Did you just start doing it, or was there an influence?
R.C.: I think my stuff was sort of leaning in that direction already. I just didn’t go to extreme that the opportunity afforded.
W.O.F.: Do you think you have toned down your work somewhat since then?
R.C.: Oh, I think I go in phases (laughs). Sometimes it will be extremely sensual, or sexual, and sometimes not at all. In fact the work I’m doing for Dark Horse and DC is not erotic in any sense.
W.O.F.: Yeah, it is very G rated. It is some very good work too. You like to exaggerate the human body in your work, is there any reason for this?
R.C.: Well, I feel that is my expression. It’s like when you give, uh, I hate to make comparisons to great arists, but just for illustration: when you give the sculptor Rodin a piece of clay, well his figures aren’t realistic, but they have force. And the same thing with Frazetta, his drawings are not all that realistic, but they have such tremendous force to them, and that is what I wanted to try and get into my work. That is my conscious goals.
W.O.F.: There is force in your work, but in a way, it is more subtle. Who are your favorite artists in comics?
R.C.: Oh, l don’t follow comics anymore! (laughter)
W.O.F.: Today you don’t follow them? What about art in general? I mean through the history of art.
R.C.: Well, I think my favorites would have to do with the EC phase. I like Toth, Wally Wood, John Severin, those guys.
W.O.F.: What about artists in general? Was Parrish ever an influence?
R.C.: Oh yes, yes. He was a conscious influence. The clarity of forms. He created an ambiance that was so fantastic yet real.
W.O.F.: Some of your work in the past had a strong erotic content, did you feel a need to unleash this side of your artistic personality?
R.C.: I didn’t feel a need, but when the opportunity came, it just sort of exploded! (laughter)
Den and Neverwhere the Movie
W.O.F.: Do you identify with the character Den, do you feel he is somewhat an alterego?
R.C.: Possibly. That is kind of a stretch of the imagination, but yes. In fact before he was a comic book, he was a character in a movie I made in the animation department of an industrial movie company in Kansas City, and I made a movie on my own. A 15 minutes movie called Neverwhere. That is where Den first came into being.
W.O.F.: When you first left Calvin (Calvin Communications, the industrial movie corporation Corben worked for in the 60’s) and you were, I don’t know if you would call it freelancing, of just working in comics, did you feel this gigantic freedom in being able to do what you wanted to do?
R.C.: Yes, I felt a sort of freedom, but it’s also kind of scary in that I had no regular paycheck coming in. We had to hope the work would be there when we needed it, and there were times when it wasn’t.
W.O.F.: And l’m sure the Undergrounds couldn’t have paid much money.
R.C.: I thought everything looked wonderful when I was doing the stuff, but then when I was waiting for the money to arrive, the other side of the coin came around. Sometimes they didn’t pay much, or they just took forever.
W.O.F.: Are you going to be doing any more stories with Den?
R.C.: I have no plans right now. l wouldn’t say never, but I wouldn’t say in the near future.
W.O.F.: You have done a lot of different kinds of art, such as paintings, photography, sculpture, puppetry, movies, and comic book artwork, which do you enjoy most?
R.C.: I wouldn’t say I enjoyed any of them the most. There is just many things I like to do. In fact there is so many things that I like to do that l have to use discipline to control stuff like that. I like to collect things, and that gets impossible. You know, that in collecting art, what a harsh master that can be. (laughs)
W.O.F.: It’s an obsession, really.
R.C.: Yes, it is.
W.O.F.: Or an addiction.
R.C.: At the very beginning I could see where that was going, so I said “no, l can’t do it all”. I just have to say no to some things.
W.O.F.: What kinds of things do you collect?
R.C.: I collect old radio tapes, old radio programs.
W.O.F.: Oh, the Shadow, or Green Hornet?
R.C.: Yeah, yeah, the Shadow, and Lights Out, and Inner Sanctum.
W.O.F.: That’s interesting.
R.C.: In fact, l think the comics were influence by the radio shows back in tile 40’s and 50’s.
W.O.F.: Well, definitely EC was influenced by Inner Sanctum, I think they acknowledged that in the interviews.
R.C.: Yeah. the humorous horror hosts.
W.O.F.: Have you been doing any sculpting lately?
R.C.: Just mainly figures and faces to help me in my drawing. And then I’m doing 3D modeling in the computer now.
W.O.F.: For your comic book stories?
R.C.: Well the 3D modeling on the computer is more of a teaming process. But from a practical standpoint l used it in making fantastic castles or temples that l used in some of the stories. lt might be a chore to draw, but once you get them in the computer, you can get them from any angle, and it renders out.
W.O.F.: It’s interesting you mention the castles and temples, and I have noticed from the various years of your work, that is one of the main facets of your backgrounds. You draw these very fantastic temples and castles. Are you intrigued by that, or interested in that?
R.C.: Yeah, because I think that is probably one of the most important things. The ambiance of the story is so related with the manmade objects there. That is important to my expression.
W.O.F.: Yeah. I have a Terror Tomb (story from Warren) page, I don’t know if you remember, but do you remember the fantastic temple you drew in that story?
R.C.: Is that the mummy? With the mummy? Yes.
W.O.F.: Yes. There is a giant inner sanctum, absolutely incredible, temple. It’s very breathtaking to look at (laughter). I feel your work is more admired and understood in Europe than here in the United States. Why do you think that is?
R.C.: Well, it may have been when the Heavy Metal surge was going on, but I think they’ve forgotten all about it. (laughs)
W.O.F.: Do you think so?
R.C.: Well. there is probably a small following just like here.
W.O.F.: I think they’re more interested in the artform of comics over there, and I think they have a longer memory.
R.C.: Yeah, I think you’re right. They’re not so taken up with the child fantasy of the violence. Costume hero violence (lauhgts).
W.O.F.: Right, exactly the superhero hangup, y’know. Would you ever do a superhero story? I know you did Batman, but would you ever do anymore?
R.C.: You mean like somebody with real superpowers?
W.O.F.: Like a Superman type thing?
R.C.: I can’t see that happening. But I wouldn’t say never.
W.O.F.: Right now, you are freelancering, do you fell at all comfortable working for a mainstream comics company?
R.C.: I have no problems with it whatsoever. I thought that there might. be, but no it’s like working for anybody else.
W.O.F.: Do you still feel you’re doing your own art, the way you want to?
R.C.: Yes. Yes, I do.
W.O.F.: Have you ever given any thought to doing more adaptations of classic authors such as Poe, Lovecraft, Howard and Bierce?
R.C.: I would love to do such a thing if the opportunity came along.
W.O.F.: You are doing covers for various H.P. Lovecraft fanzines right now, right?
R.C.: Uh, huh, yes I am.
W.O.F.: Are there going to be any more of those?
R.C.: Yes, in fact several waiting to be published. And the Necronomicon Press is publishing a third volume in their Clark Ashton Smith series, I’ll be doing a cover and a frontispiece.
W.O.F.: I noticed on those Lovecraft drawings you’re doing you’re signing them “Gore”, is there any particular significance?
R.C.: Oh well. that is just…
W.O.F.: A homage to the 70’s, a look back?
W.O.F.: Yeah, because I like that a lot. I think your adaptations of Poe’s work, especially the ones that appeared in Warren in particular, are very strong and on target, and I think Poe would have liked those. Do you feel a kinship to Poe’s work at all?
R.C.: I think he was the first horror writer really. And he invented the detective story. I think his horror, it has a lot to do with internal psychology, and that is where horror really lives for me.
The Best Works
W.O.F.: What art of yours are you most proud of?
R.C.: There are a few things, but l think my best is yet to come.
W.O.F.: Alright. Is there anything from the past that you look fondly back on?
R.C.: I think maybe a couple of the large paintings. Or maybe one of the longer strips.
W.O.F.: Yeah, I was looking at New Tales of the Arabian Nights the other day, and that in particular is an outstanding achievement.
R.C.: Yeah, I like that. But, in some ways there were some other ones ahead of that.
W.O.F.: Do you want to name those?
R.C.: Well, I think maybe the first Den series, and before that Bloodstar was one of my better efforts.
W.O.F.: Are you doing any more movies?
R.C.: I’m trying to learn to do movies with the computer. I haven’t done anything extensive, but I’ve done quite a few pieces.
The Favourite Movies
W.O.F.: What movies are your favorites, what kinds of movies do you like?
R.C.: Oh, I like the old 40’s and 50’s horror. I don’t think they’re great movies, but it’s more of a nostalgia thing.
W.O.F.: Did you see Mars Attacks, the recent one?
R.C.: No, I haven’t seen that one.
W.O.F.: You should definitely see that.
W.O.F.: Because that is a tip of the hat to the old 50’s movies. And also, Ed Wood. Tim Burton did both or those. They’re both really good. Was 2001: A Space Odyssey a big influence on you?
R.C.: Yes, it was. Yes. l think that is a great movie.
W.O.F.: I very much admire your Warren period. What was Jim Warren like, and why do you think you created such strong work at Warren?
R.C.: Well, he created a place for the kind of work I wanted to do, and he had other talented artists working there, so I think that is how it came together. Jim Warren himself was a kind of tyrant, but l guess he created a good magazine for a while. But then what happened, why did he leave it all? Well, I don’t know. (laughs) Where is he now? I have no idea! (laughs)
W.O.F.: Well, I was talking with somebody and they said he surfaced in Philadelphia, but I don’t know what he is doing, but really towards the end it really kind of went into the crapper, the artwork got-
R.C.: Yeah, he just got tired of it, and it really showed. And then it was just doing the same thing over and over and over, and it was very bad.
W.O.F.: Did he give you creative freedom?
R.C.: Sometimes he did, and then sometimes he didn’t think it was up to par, he had no problems with making me do it over! (laughter)
W.O.F.: l understand you don’t sell much of your artwork, is there any reason for this?
R.C.: Well, they’re like my children l sort of like to look back on them once in a while.
W.O.F.: You did an adaptation of a Harlan EIIison story, is this going to come out?
R.C.: Well, it might? I did it a couple years ago.
W.O.F.: What was the name of it?
R.C.: “Man on the Juice Wagon”. It isn’t a horror or science fiction story, more like a men’s adventure thing. lt’s a guy driving a dynamite truck, you know an 18-wheeler.
W.O.F.: Are there any comic book stories that you have completely finished that have never been published?
R.C.: Yes. Back when we were doing our self publishing we did From the Pit, it was going to be four or five issues. Well one issue was published, the second issue was never published, so it’s just sitting there. And we couldn’t sell it to another publisher because they weren’t interested?
W.O.F.: Dark Horse wasn’t interested?
R.C.: They said they were, as it comes down to the line, no they’re not (laughs).
W.O.F.: Are you ever going to be bringing Fantagor Press back?
R.C.: Well, l don’t know. There are no immediate plans for it.
W.O.F.: What is your general philosophy on life? (laughter)
R.C.: That one’s still forming!
W.O.F.: So, it’s an ongoing process?
W.O.F.: Alright, thanks for the interview, Richard!
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Created: December 25, 2019. Last updated: April 3, 2021 at 15:32 pm