DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHICAL NUDITY AND ADULT THEMES.
IF YOU ARE UNDERAGE, PLEASE LEAVE NOW.
Guys who have been around as long as I often have heard this statement:
“Richard Corben is the best comic book artists in the world!”
This usually comes qualified by “ The whole wide world” or “the best and greatestest” or “he is the schnitzel, son!”
Now, as I always do, I ascertain who is making these statements and the majority of the time I find that is usually someone who just discovered adult-themed comics, and is trying to sound ultra-cool. You know, the type of individual who over-hype every statement they make, thinking that everything they say actually matters to anyone?
But Richard Corben IS among the greatest and most under-appreciated comic artists in the world. He is also a great illustrator on his own merit. What he is NOT is a good self-promoter, and he is NOT a great marketing maven. If he were, he would’ve taken the comic book scene by storm long ago.
But he does not deserve the obscurity he is covered in.
He has become something of a cult figure, someone that annoying nerds (emphasis on “Annoying”) and hipsters trying to sound more cultured than they actually are keep mentioning, much like some teenagers like to mentioned obscure bands as their favorites just to show how indie, hip and “against the machine” they are.
Here is the Wikipedia link, for those of you too lazy to type it on the search engine
Now you are up to speed on what everyone knows about him.
Now let me give you a few coherent reasons that may pike your interest on this wonderful artist.
Richard Corben belongs to the ahead-of-its-time generation of authors that never found enough recognition during the height of his career.
Joining the ranks of Wally Wood, and Ron Embleton, Richard Corben was equally adept to picking up the inks as he was painting luxurious illustrations and covers.
He finds work in Warren Publications in the early 70’s and gets exposed to a world of adult-themed comics (Again, let me clarify that ADULT does not necessarily mean EROTIC, here), under the imprints of Creepy, 1985, and Comix International.
Richard Corben is credited with coloring one of the greatest covers I have ever admired, the one that merited a blog entry all for itself (I have neglected this project, but other extra-blog activities are keeping me really busy. I shall resume them soon)
Corben also submitted his work to the magazine Métal Hurlant in France, and as a consequence he started gaining a following in Europe. When warren folded in the 80’s a Spanish editor, Josep Toutain bought the rights to the Warren publishing for Spain, and started publishing Richard Corben’s work, where it received an astounding acclaim and recognition.
And here lies the heart of the matter. The international recognition, versus the home-grown indifference.
Richard Corben has been published in so many European countries, and continues to get reprinted and republished, that leaves us wondering… what happens in the US?
Because after a short run he had with Catala communications in the early 1980’s and then with Fantagor Press press in the early 1990’s when the Den saga saw the light and the presses, we haven’t seen any publishers show interest in Richard Corben.
But then you get guys like Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Moebius (Jean Giraud), and Alan Moore make public statements about how much they admire the master.. and that leaves you wondering.
The Den saga may be his most expansive and representative work, I could surmise. Full of fantasy and hedonism, set in worlds that are a crossbreed of the Hyborian age, Neverland and Oz, the Den series don’t shine because of his innovative stories, or amazing fantasy. They stand out because we get to see an amazing artist break new ground in illustrative techniques, and taking something that has been done many
times before and since, and presents it to us a new light. The light of acrylics, of shimmering inks, or colors never before seen in the world of comics, using airbrushing and metallic inks, daring to go to new realms of artistry, and daring us to follow him.
For me, that is what I see in Den.
Had any other artist illustrated that scripts, I would’ve breezed through it, shrugged and went “Meeh”
But Richard Corben gave me panels that I had never seen before.
He painted landscapes that were sometimes beyond photographic, not in the quality of his technique, but in the mastery of the interpretation, and the power of the vision.
One successful colorist told me not too long ago the following (and I am Paraphrasing):” Richard Corben has to be studied and idolized by every colorist worth his/her salt. But it can not be imitated by said colorist. Why? Richard Corben an amazing penciler, and amazing inker, an amazing graphic-storyteller, AND an amazing colorist. You can’t imitate what he brings to the table, because he brings it as a whole package, not as a single skill.”
Richard Corben also worked for advertisement and for the movie industry, and his contributions there stand out on their own merits. He did covers for a Meat Loaf album, and another for a Jim Steinman album.
He did posters for movies and particularly “Corbenesque” is the cover for the movie Spookies. If you find it in a store, buy the movie, throw the tape, keep the case.
But in contrast, in most of Western Europe, Corben is considered a god of illustration and comics.
Now this is not a fluke, like the French loving Jerry Lewis. This is more the case of the US audience remaining in love with guys flying around in pajamas, and lack of maturity and respect for the industry. A consequence of creating comics as disposable culture, I guess.
In France, Spain, Germany and other western European countries they keep re-publishing and re-issuing series from Richard Corben.
I happen to have The Werewolf Saga in Spanish and Edgar Alan Poe’s tales in French (I think. Maybe the other way around, not sure now)
In the good old US of A, you have to rely on E-bay to find some of his titles, or specialized stores (very rare ones).
In my scarce conversations with published authors I’ve been trying to plant the seeds to see if IDW or Darkhorse would pick up the idea of publishing an omnibus edition of Den or some other compilation of Corben’s work, but I also understand that in these precarious economic times the comic publishing community would rather see publishers supporting new projects and trying to promote new talent rather than republishing old material.
And the fact that Richard Corben doesn’t do much self promotion in the states is another issue altogether.
All I can say is that if you didn’t know about this great underrated artist, you should do a few searches and try to pick
up some of his stuff as soon as you can.