Comic Book Classics # 19
The underground comix movement in 1960s America threw up a number of great comic book virtuosos: Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Vaughn Bode, even Harvey Kurtzman and Mad magazine can be attributed to this abandonment of mainstream comics by the brightest and best new artists and writers. Towards the end of that period, Richard Corben begins to make his mark as an artist in the underground press.
His first successes came in fanzines including Grim Wit, Slow Death and Fantagor. Soon he moved to the more established Warren Publishing where he contributed to horror and fantasy titles (Creepy, Eerie, 1984 and Vampirella). In the mid 70s he approached the editors of French magazine Metal Hurlant [see Comic Book Classics #13]. There he developed his very distinctive style. The culmination of this new direction is his adult fantasy series Den.
Den is the tale of a nerd who finds a gateway to a new dimension; Neverwhere. Once there the nerdy kid is transformed into an over-endowed muscleman hero and goes on a series of violent and erotic adventures. A strong vein of humour runs through the series, something that runs through the rest of his oeuvre. Den soon proved an extremely popular series and featured prominently (ahem) in the Heavy Metal film.
Further Corben works include collaborations with Harlan Ellison, artwork for The Punisher, the adapting of classic tales by Robert E Howard, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe and artwork for album covers. From 1986 to 1994 he ran his own publishing imprint, Fantagor Press. In addition, he has also developed further solo projects (Rowlf, Jeremy Brood, further volumes of Den etc.)
Comic Books have an odd habit of projecting distorted mirror images of the societies that spawned them. America, where ¾ of the population are obese, poor and treated like shit, has given the world the superhero. Additionally the Japanese,who enjoy the highest average age of any nation of earth, produce manga; a form where every single character – regardless of age or gender – has the face of a seven year old girl. When contemplating Richard Corben’s work you are often drawn to such psychoanalytical explanations because… well, look at this:
His depiction of exaggerated physical /sexual characteristics has certainly sparked controversy . Anyway, putting aside the shock value of the subject matter his artwork certainly deserves plaudits. The realism of his work (he pioneered the use of airbrush illustration) offers up landscapes that are almost photographic in quality. The fantasy worlds he creates are similarly rich, detailed and filled with exotic plants, animals, people and monsters. He also has a nifty ear for dialogue and brings a light humourous touch to his stories and characters. His ability to make such imagined worlds real makes his work truly great.