The Richard Corben Interview, Part 2(3)

by Brad Balfour
Copyright © 1981 Brad Balfour. Here on this web site by courtesy of the author.

Appeared in Heavy Metal #52, July 1981 (vol. V no. 4), pages 8-14,
the Table of Contents, Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!, SidSid Keränen.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

The Richard Corben Interview, Part 1(3)

The Richard Corben Interview, Part 2(3):
   A Brother and Two Sisters
   Iin Adolescence
   Art School, Army & at Calvin's
   Warren & Wolf Man
   Dog Man & Mummy
   Fantagor, fandom & "Gore"
   Bill Griffithf, Vaughn Bodé
   Metal Hurlant and Oversea's Bootlegs
   Den as Full Feature Story
   Vic & Bloodstar
   Heavy Metal Magazine and Movie

The Richard Corben Interview, Part 3(3)
Richard Corben's Answer for Interviewer

Top of page

Maybe the flatness of the Kansas landscape dulls the brain into midwestern mundaneness, but Richard Corben has overcome such environmental hazards. Not even a stolid childhood in Sunflower, Kansas (pop. 800), where his father moved from the farm Richard was born on the work at the ordnance factory during World War II, deterred Corben from becoming one of fantasy illustration's creative giants. His history - which is not fraught with a particularly tragic childhood like Error Flynn's or the emotinal fiveworks of, say, a Shelley - is that of one who has risen above the terminal ennui to superstardom in the most subdued fashion and done so without having to go much more than fifty miles away from home. He's not had the desire to work in New York or lounge in LA; Corben's self-imposed isolation hasn't really mattered for his success. He had his own internal worlds of grandeur to visit.

- B.B.

A Brother and Two Sisters

BRAD BALFOUR: It seams a lot of science-fiction people have grown up in an isolated setting. Living in a town of 800 people seems to follow suit. Do you feel you were isolated?

RICHARD CORBEN: No, I had a lot of friends and thought my life at the time was just normal.

So, what went awry to make Richard Corben such an extraordinary artist?

I don't know. What I became is not because of any weird experiences; it's just the German within me, I think. [Mr. Corben's correction, #5]

What do you remember reading first?

Comic books, I imagine. I was a superhero fan. I collected Superman, Captain Marvel - they were the only superheroes at the time. Outside of comics, I can't remember collecting. I had toys, but I don't remember them as collector's items, just toys. I had a brother and two sisters, and so everything they got was shared with everybody. My brother is in his early forties; my sisters are two years and four years younger than me. We all fought constantly.

So, that's where the source of conflict comes into your work - the violence. But you were quite a loner and quiet kid. Did you spend a lot of time by yourself, drawing?

Yes, not so much reading, but mostly drawing. After we moved to Kansas City we had an upstairs apartment that had this cedar linen closet, an oversized closet, that was just adjoining my brother's bedroom. I sort of moved into this closet and put my desk in there. It was really secluded, and nobody bothered me or anything. So that was my hideaway.

When did you first start to feel a difference, something going on with you as an artist?

Well, my parents encouraged me and they thought I was good at it, but I just thought it was parents - until gradually people at school started noticing I was better in drawing than other students.
I guess it was early grade school. They started having me do posters and things for school, but nothing remains of those. I wanted to draw comics even then and also, after I moved to Kansas City, I had somehow discovered animation. I was making good books and 8mm animation. I could show you some of those but I don't have an 8mm projector anymore. I have samples of my early films, made when I was eighteen.

What was the first cinematic experience that you remember?

I don't know, they must have been serials. I was a Tarzan fan, always went to Tarzan movies. Believe I saw Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan at the time. There were a few serials and there is a Tarzan serial, I believe. I admire Tarzan, but earlier I admired Superman. That fantasy didn't last with me. It seemed less and less real to me.

In Adolescence

So, how did the young Corben feel about young women as he hit his adolescence? Any early girl friends as you start on from age twelwe?

Well, I was pretty much a loner. I lad few friends, but when I was left alone it didn't bother me. As for girls, I noticed them but was always extremely shy, and so I would have fantasies about them, but that was about it. I didn't go out with my girls... I guess it was my extreme shyness.

Do you feel it's every impeded you in any way?

Yeah, constantly. But for that I believe I could have conquered the world at a much earlier age.

You grew up at the time the young Elvis Presley made it. Did you identify with Elvis?

Yes, I did identify with Elvis for a while. I combed my hair like him, wore shirts with the collar up and with suede shoes. I guess it wasn't Elvis in particular, but some of his contemporaries.

What kind of car did you drive?

I didn't drive car. That was one of the things that kept me apart from my firends in high scool. Everyone was mobile excpet me. I wasn't allowed to have a car. I didn't have a car until I bought one after I was already in my twenties.

Art School, Army & at Calvin's

When do you feel you first started to come into your own as an artist?

When I went to Kansas City Art Institute - before, I thought I was better than average at drawing. But when I went to art school, I realized I was better than the average art student in drawing. In fact, if I have a superiority complex about any particular thing, it's about my artwork. I mena, they went off on weird tangents, but I feel I still had the techniques over them. That gave me confidence to pursue things - like getting an art job - whereas I know my father had in the back of his head this was a waste of time. Interestingly, I'd have become a carpenter like him, but I did get an art job at Calvin. That was a relief to him too.

"The kid's not a bum, for God's sake!" Let's see, you went straight from high school into the art school.

Well, a short stint with the army, the reserves; that was about '58 or '59.

How do you feel, looking back on having been in army? is it strange to you?

It was a test of endurance.

Do you think there's an antiwar tendency in your work?

No, I feel war is inevitable when negotiations break down, and if one side can't get what it wants any other way - well, then it's war.

Do you remember any stories - anything that affected you profoundly there?

No. After active dity, I came back to Kansas City and started to look for a job; that's when I panicked! My dad was kind of worried. I didn't have any immediate acceptance for work; I had to go alone with him. I had gone to Calvin and was interviewed there. They were interested but lost my name and address. Later on, I checked up on them and they hired me. So I worked at Calvin for about eight or nine years doing industrial animation, titles, and backgrounds. By industrial work, I mean lines on maps that grow and bar graphs that grow and cutaways of catepillar tractors and how they work. I feel that if I had stayed there four or five years, it would have been a good experience. I stayed around just because I didn't pursue my goals very aggressively. Even when I was working there, I wanted to get into something more creative. Then I finally started sending my work to Warren Publications in New York - publishers of Creepy and Eerie. Thus, I began to get jobs from them. I discovered the undergrounds around 1970, I think. I was working on my films too. My other great goal was to become an animator. I'm interested in animation but I don't want to be employed as an animator. I want to direct animation. Everyone wants to be a director, but nobody want to do the work. I continued the film work after I quit Calvin. It was more difficult, because I didn't have much equipment or facilities to help me. But I still foreged ahead with my films, a change of quality at this point. I think I have overcome that guilt.

Warren & Wolf Man

What do you think of Jim Warren? He's got a hell of reputation.

Jim Warren was a fair with me, I know. He gave me a place to display my work when I really needed it. He gave me the color section, which I desperately wanted to expand. Sometimes his attitude pissed me off, but I feel that's common in presidents of companies.

Sense of humour has seemed to be important to your work, but maybe it isn't apparent to some people.

I can be taken seriously in some ways and in some way it's ironic or has amusing aspects to it. When I do a takeoff on some current event without even knowing it, for example, like in writing a script, I will add a phrase or a line by Steve Martin or Belushi and not realize it until after I have written it - and then there it is! It's sort of tongue-in-cheeck.

What do you think you're satirizing or characterizing? Comics in general?

Not just comics, but many popular media.

What stories have you done that you feel are sort of a takeoff on the whole very serious gothic-horror business? This is the menace, and then you look back on it now and se it and say, "That's a horror film? Who would be scared by that?"

Well, the first one I did was for Warren. The first color one was "Lycanklutz," which is a takeoff on the Wolf Man. It was inspired by the horror movie. That one was sort of half-inspired by the forties Wolf Man series and half by the Hammer Films Wolf Man. I mean, to make it more related to the earlier ones it should have been done in black and white. But it was Warren's hot-to-be-color desire at the moment. I can do color better than anybody at his office.

You have used other horror figures as well.

To me, the horror figures weren't really horrific. They're amusing and interesting to me. I was never really terrified of the Wolf Man. Actually I was terrified of the Wolf Man when I was very young, but I'm not terrified anymore.

Corben as the Dog Man & Mummy

Did you ever want to be one of them?

No, but I identify with the Beast Man, dogs. One of my stories was a dog man ["Rowlf," HM, Now. '79, Dec. '79, Jan. '80] and looking back to my very first drawn story when I was home. It was based on a pet dog we had and his name was Trail. I still have some Trail comics.

Are you a cat or a dog person?

I'm a dog person, but there are other people in the house who are cat people. I relate to dogs much more than to cats. In fact, that's why I've written many of my stories to dogs and wolves - the "Beast of Wolfton" [HM, Feb.-Apr. '80] as well as "Rowlf."

Tell me about the Mummy variation you did for Warren in the seventies.

I was going to mention Bil Stout, who's a cartoonist in Los Angeles. I met him last summer. He's got a large collection of weird items, including two Mexican mummy heads and a thinning Egyptian mummy's hand. He showed it to me and he opened it up. It had kind of a sweet, musky smell. It was treated with some kind of chemical. It was sort of inspiring.

Like, in reaction with that you were saying, "Can't imagine anybody being caught by the Mummy because of the smell," and you were saying in your story...

Well, he's not very fast, either. He sort of shuffles along, and it's not very likely anybody would be caught unless they just fell down and fainted!

That one was classic Corben; it's certainly wry and ironic, which is perfect. You take a classic horror thing and instead of doing a whole souped-up, straight horror story, you play on it. And, of course, playing on the Mummy is playing a joke on a joke!

Well, even the title is sort of a takeoff. It was called "Terror Tune," which is like saying there are cartoons called "Terry Tunes."

Fantagor, Fandom & "Gore"

So, Warren bought your first stuff. Ron Turner of Last Gasp Comix in San Fransisco took interest in your work shortly thereafter. This was 1980 - you've made these films and so on.

I was also producing Fantagor at just about that time too. Fantagor was my own magazine, with strips by me and a friend, Herb Arnold. It was just a fan project, and we wanted to see if we could publish something and make it break even. It didn't break even. In fact, if I had been more careful in some ways - like finding the right printer - I might have worked out better financially, but as it was I didn't even pay the printer's bill from the cover price!

And now the irony is that it's worth twenty dollars a copy at conventions! Doesn't that piss you off?

Stuff like that used to. That's just natural but I accept it now. It's the way collectors are. I wanted to become a collector, but I could see, after collecting for a while, you become obsessed by the collection. Other goals take a backseat to your obsession; also, they take up space. Once you collect the things you have to take good care of them, and I decided collecting wasn't that important to me. I tried to collect stuff I had, and that's about it. And things I enjoy I collect, but I try not to be a fanatic about it.

How were you exposed to fandom?

I had a pen pal in Texas who was in fandom and he turned me on to fan editors - a fellow named Rudy Franke, in particular, who lived in San Jose, and I started sending him drawings. He published some and then he started showing them to this underground-cartoonist friends. They wrote me and said this is where I should be. I agreed and so I quickly did up a story. It was freedom, seeing my stuff printed at last and then being with kindred spirits of other cartoonists.

Why did you start off with the name "Gore" in the early seventies?

The cartoonists who were working on Skull were inspired by the old E.C. horrors. They said come on our studio and work for us and you can make up your own horror host character. One of my favourite cartoonists from the old E.C. horrors was Graham Ingels, and he never signed his real name; he always used to sign "Ghastly." So I did a sort of takeoff on him and I decided to use "Gore." There was another part of me that was a little weary of these weird cartoonists and I was halfway disassociating myself professionally from them.

Your own stuff was being published there and there wasn't censorship.

Probably. I had enjoyed myself a great deal doing those and I thought it was good training, I was getting good experience, and I was getting a little money for it - around twenty-five dollars a page - but the financial value of the work was that I owned it and I couldn't foresee how valuable that would be in the future. When I became more popular, the demand for this work became greater.

Bill Griffith Pisses off, Vaughn Bodé Dosen't

During the sixties, did you sympathize with some of the ethnics or the issues of the counterculture?

Yes.

But you never really identified with them by growing your hair longer - why?

What difference does the hair make? My hair still isn't very long, in fact. I may cut it short anyway. There were times in the sixties when I felt like we should burn down the establishment.

Where did you want to start?

With Calvin.

What happened with the undergrounds? Did you have various people make their pilgrimage to Richard Corben's house?

Some of the underground cartoonists are like nomads, and as they traveled across the country, knowing I was in Kansas City, they would stop by and see me for a while.

Did any of them piss you off? Whose name would you mention?

There was another underground cartoonist who attacked me in print a few years ago. I feel he's got something coming! [Mr. Corben's correction, #6]

Who's that?

Bill Griffith.

Why did Bill Griffith attack you? Do you know him?

The most apparent reason is that he is jealous of my talent and popularity. He attacked me specifically, and other underground cartoonists who did horror or science-fiction stories in general. I would like to meet him face-to-face sometime!

When did the Corben/Bodé collaboration get done?

I had seen Bodé's work before, so I sort of halfway introduced myself at a convention. When I said who I was he knew me right away. We discussed the possibility of a collaboration then. It took a while to do the collaboration because he was tied up with some other things.

The Richard Corben Interview, Part 2(3), in Heavy Metal #52, June 1981, by Brad Balfour (CONT...)

Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!,
Created: Feb. 20, 2001. Modified: July 22, 2013.