His style is his signature. His images are haunting and at the same time thrilling. He wears his influences on his sleeve and makes no apologies. And Moebius was right when he claimed Richard Corben is “above the moving and multi-colored field of comics, like an effigy of the leader, a strange monolith, a sublime visitor, a solitary enigma.”
He is an idol to me in the world of comics. Why? Because he was my first comics artist who I began to notice possessed a distinct style which was all his own. His style is so unique–far removed from what people in the comics business term a “House Artist”–no matter who he draws for, it is going to be drawn his way. Marvel? DC? No way was he going to conform. It is in his blood because of where his background lies. Unlike many mainstream comic artists, Corben is a product of the Underground Comix movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s–churning out short tales for Skull Comix, Slow Death (sometimes under the pen name “Gore”) and his own self-published Fantagore. From there he moved on to Warren Publications; committing pages to their awesome black and white magazines–Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella–and then he would explode within the covers of Heavy Metal magazine with the cult classic, Den. When I was an impressionable kid growing up, the first naked woman I ever saw was a drawn one and it was drawn by Richard Corben. His style just burned into my mind’s eye to the point I can identify his work at a glance. You know those types of artists–the ones who’s works never leave you. Richard Corben is an artist who never ceases to amaze me and his induction in 2012 into the Eisner Hall of Fame is only shocking because it should’ve happened sooner. But, as they say: better late than never.
For those who are very familiar with Richard Corben’s work, I believe pretty much all of us will agree two of Corben’s biggest passions–and influences–within the graphic, illustrated tales he weaves are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft; having not only adapted these fantastic writers’ weird fiction but their poems as well. Even some his original stories drip with the trappings and atmospheres of Poe and Lovecraft and, yet, they still remain his own. With this said, Dark Horse Comics is publishing Corben’s latest 2015 offering Rat God; giving you newbies a chance to discover this Grand Master for the first time. And I really want you to get your hands on it because it’s pure Corben.
Where it’s obvious Corben gives equal amount of attention to both Lovecraft and Poe, Rat God is submerged in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth for inspiration and it’s given the Corben treatment in grand style! In a completely original story, Corben sets Rat God in the world of H.P. Lovecraft with his main character, Clark Elwood, attending Miskatonic University in Arkham, MA. While there, the Post-Grad meets a young, enigmatic woman, Kito Hontz, who is working on her diploma, and falls in love. He learns she comes from a poor, backwater town known as Lame Dog which she describes as “the armpit of the north…”. Despite this, she seems to Clark to be a very intelligent, erudite, well-spoken woman and even though those from his social standing would not have second thoughts of dismissing her, he is intrigued. He finds himself drawn to her even though he admits he finds her “funny looking”. After a brief courtship, an unfortunate event happens between the two budding lovers causing Clark to feel humiliated to the point of abandoning their relationship. Kito flees to the armpit of the north and after having second thoughts, Clark goes in search of the town Lame Dog. His journey there provides us with the backstory of his relationship with Kito through flashbacks while we witness his hardships to get to Lame Dog to find her. Eventually, Clark makes it to the town and discovers Kito wasn’t exaggerating when she described the rotting, dilapidated town and it’s ominous denizens. For one thing, why do all the townsfolk have very rodent-like features? And why do they keep telling Clark to leave before dark and don’t exit past the graveyard. What happens at dark? And what’s in the graveyard?
Okay. Where’s issue #3? I need it now.
“Corben is pure fun when he puts his stamp on other people’s worlds-“
Corben is pure fun when he puts his stamp on other people’s worlds–practically usurping them from the original creators for a brief moment presented in a few pages of an anthology or a well-crafted mini-series. I especially love his H.P. Lovercraft interpretations and have always loved his adaptation of the short story, The Rats Within the Walls, in Skull Comix #5 (Last Gasp, 1972)–drawn under his now-and-then pseudonym, Gore, during his days working in Underground Comix. He wouldn’t stop there. Corben would continue drawing Poe adaptations for the B&W anthology magazine Creepy, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse and for his own small press, Fantagore. But the best collection he has ever done would be published by Dark Horse Comics, Edgar Allen Poe’s Spirits of the Dead in which Corben not only interprets the classic tales, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Mask Of Red Death–among others–but starts off this anthology with the macabre author’s obscure poems; exposing his genius of adaptation! I highly recommend you newbies get your grubby paws on a copy ASAP because there’s more to discover from this maestro of graphic story telling. Dark Horse would publish a beautiful hardcover edition of Corben’s work for Warren Publications magazine, Creepy, wherein is collected one of Corben’s most often reprinted short tale, Bowser, in which a blob of fleshy colored tentacles is kept by a small boy as a pet and attempts to cover the creatures “transgressions” against the other living creatures in the neighborhood. This tale alone exposes Corben’s love for the classic EC Comics of his youth, further proven by his own inclusion of narrators who introduce his tales like some demented reworking of the Crypt Keeper; giving them names like Gurgy or, more recently, Mag the Hag.
And the hits just keep coming with his creation of his own universe known as Neverwhere which spawned the iconic ultra-masculine fantasy-sci-fi character, Den–which has never seen a conclusion and could well be resurrected by Corben any time. Den is pure Corben and has to be seen–and read–to be believed. Many, many of Den’s stories have been published by Metal Hurlant in France and thereafter Heavy Metal here in the U.S.–some collected into volumes–but are now very difficult to find. Any small press published books of Den’s adventures are almost certainly out-of-print and coveted by any who possess these fanatically sought-after prizes. I myself saw a copy of Neverwhere at a convention for $75 and am now kicking myself for not picking it up. I’ve seen copies of it sell for near a thousand dollars because Corben is that much of a cult figure. To further add to his legendary works, with Jan Strnad, Corben would create the post-apocalyptic Mutant World and its sequel, Son of Mutant World which would continue the nightmarish adventures of the survivors within Corben’s and Strand’s world of doom. Mutant World would echo Den with its heavily testosterone injected mutant heroes protecting and rescuing beautiful–almost always nude–women in distress, which is even further echoed in his male fantasy oriented Rowlf. Rowlf is an adventure fantasy of a faithful dog who journeys to a fantasy world to save his mistress. When Rowlf enters the world, he takes on a humanoid form–keeping his canine head–which is not far off from Corben’s earlier creation, Den. Battling mutants and evil tyrants–just like Den–Rowlf rescues his mistress who resembles most of the nude women Den would rescue or be found in need of rescue in Mutant World. Regardless of their similarities, they are all rare Richard Corben cult classics, should be seen in print again and this should be done very soon. They are masterpieces of the Underground Comix movement and essential in creating the world of graphic novels we see exploding around us in books stores, comic shops and conventions around the globe today.
But if you don’t want to make your brain bleed or lose your wallet looking for Corben’s hidden cult masterpieces on rare book web sites, he did do work for more mainstream comic companies and very recently too.
Marvel Comics picked him up for a mini-series starring the Hulk, Banner, and later on he churned out a few issues of Ghost Rider. But it was when he did The Punisher: The End, for Marvel Knights, I was so stoked. In it, Corben has Frank Castle–dying from radiation poisoning–work his way across a nuclear apocalyptic landscape to find the men responsible for this nuclear nightmare and when he does, kills them. So cool in Corben’s hands. Then Marvel let him adapt some Poe and Lovecraft tales for them in their MAX series Haunt of Horror. I have not read or seen the Haunt of Horror Poe collection but I highly recommend the Lovecraft collection wherein he adapts an awesome version of The Music of Erich Zann and the dripping, slimy horror that is Dagon. Along with the recent mentions of his works he has and is doing for Dark Horse Comics, Corben re-teamed with Jan Strnad and created yet another cult-classic in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe with their dark gothic mini-series, Ragemoor. This Poe inspired tale weaves a macabre saga of a family who are destined to be keepers of the ancient evil that is house Ragemoor–a gothic piece of architecture which the current family inhabitant claims is a living, breathing demonic entity which must be kept under control. To make matters worse, unearthly creatures burrow up from the depths of the earth to come to house Ragemoor in order to worship it causing the family keeper of the house to go insane. It’s a book everyone should read at least once because it is one of Corben’s unexpected swan songs.
I know I’ve gushed a lot about Richard Corben and I make no apologies about it. Corben is a Grand Master of comics for a damn good reason and people need to understand how good it is to see him very active in the field again. I thank Dark Horse Comics for letting him bring us more from his drawing board because the comics world suffers when his pen is dormant. With that said: Go get Rat God. It is a cult-classic in the making.