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The Jan Strnad Interview (text version)
by SidSid Keränen
Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!
Interview was made in February, March 2001.
- Mr. Jan Strnad,
- you are well known American writer, who has got roots in Czech. There is interesting interview of yours on Czech web site; we do not cover those questions here. But still I have to ask you some general questions for the beginning. Tell us a little bit of your past. Where did you live in early 70's? You started collaboration with Mr. Richard Corben in your first, own fanzine Anomaly and through years you did keep in touch with him, regularily publishing stories till we come present day to your very newest Internet web animation "Bludd". How you did met each other? Are you childhood's friends or so? Did you perhaps live near by? I know you lived in Wichita in eraly 80's, which is relatively close to Kansas City.
I lived in Wichita, Kansas and Corben lived in Kansas City, Missouri, about four hours away. I was a fan of his artwork before we met. We came close to meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, at a science fiction convention where I was selling my fanzine Anomaly. He signed up for a subscription while I was away from the table. When I got home and I discovered that I had Richard Corben's address, I wrote to him and asked if he would contribute to Anomaly. He kindly agreed and our friendship was born.
- I know you have done a big variety of writings, but here we do concentrate mainly on comics and Richard Corben ones particularly. Let's start from that already mentioned Anomaly. You started it around same time as Mr. Corben his Fantagor. Since I have not seen your fanzine, can you light about it a little. The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide (1982) by Jay Kennedy says, first three issues were fanzines, until on Anomaly #4 (Nov. 1972) it was published by Bud Plant. You've got same developing with it as Mr. Corben had with Fantagor. Was early Anomalys in comic book format or was there written stories or so?
Anomaly was devoted to science fiction, fantasy and comic books. It was professionally printed and contained articles, prose fiction and later some comic book fiction. It was magazine size. I had $1000 to invest in it and had blown through that money by issue #3. Issue #4 was an underground comic published by Bud Plant.
- Your first collaboration with Mr. Corben was in Anomaly #3 (1971) story called "A Brief Encounter at War", though there was some drawings/comics of Mr. Corben already in Anomaly #2 (1970). Would you tell more about that story. I know there is at least two different versions of that piece of art. It appeared even in Anomaly #4 (1970) once again, where it was shorteded as "Encounter at War".
It also appeared in a science fiction comics magazine edited by Roy Thomas which was titled, I think, Incredible Worlds of Science Fiction or something close to that. It tied in with a prose story I wrote and published in Anomaly #2 whose title escapes me.
- Actually "Encounter at War" appeared later in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #4 (1975) and in color in Den [III] #4 (1988).
Mr. Corben did some drawings in Anomaly #2 (1970). There was seven picts on pgs 2 to 8. They were named as "Buifra the Darkk - Sand of Quanam". Was it illustrated story (written by you, maybe...)?
The story was written by Stanley Wiater III, who is now a figure in horror fandom. I believe it was his first published work.
- In Fantagor #2 (1971) you have got a story "To Spear a Fair Maiden". You did several sequels to Mr. Corben's other stories. This one was second story in trilogy of stories of Razar the Unhero. Which one of you wanted to go on with Razar? Was there meant to be more stories to come with him?
There was no long range plan. I liked the Razar story and somehow we ended up doing another one.
- There is one more special question about this very story I always wanted to ask. The main plot is that rich father is worried about his daughter's virginity. Evil sorcerer needs a virgin to his rite and Razar is brought to castle to spoil sorcerer's plan. Now comes the best part: rich father asks Razar to screw with his daughter - he (i.e. father) would do it by himself (with his own daughter!), but he is too aged for that kind of act! There is even red, erected finger to point that line. Was it your idea? Did you mention the finger in your script or was it from Mr. Corben?
We can credit that finger solely to Corben.
- Anomaly #4 (1972) has one more story with Mr. Corben, "Alice in Wonerlust". This one joke story is compact, sharp, fast and pleasantly short and it is based on rabbit's need for copulation. Did Mr. Corben draw it as you wrote? It is extremely visual story.
He drew it as I wrote it.
That story cost me a girlfriend, by the way. I'd ridden with her to Kansas City to pick up the artwork from Corben and we were on our way home when she lost control of the car and slammed into a guardrail on the freeway. We both ended up in the hospital and her parents found the artwork in the car. They were offended and said she couldn't see me anymore.
- In Fantagor #3 (1972) appeared story "Kitten for Christian", which I never really liked. The story is good, but it sounds like it is more interesting as written, not in comic format. There is several Corben themes I like, as the house. Mr. Corben can do very impressive houses (as he did in very recent "The House on the Borderland"). But house does not help here. Comic has not very successful coloring. Did you adapt this comic strip from short story? It feels like it is part of the longer story (story similar to, say, "Vic and Blood").
No, it was an original. Yes, the coloring is strange. Corben was just perfecting his technique of creating color with black and white and this one is pretty rough. The technique involved drawing black and white overlays...twelve of them, I believe, for various densities of color... and then using those to burn color printing plates. When printed, the coloring emerged, though Corben worked only in black and white.
- In 1972 there was also undergound comic book Fever Dreams, into where you did story "To Meet the Faces You Meet". Comic book is published by Kitchen Sink, issue is divided exactly half with Mr. Corben and Mr. John Richardson. Did Mr. Corben book from you that long story, or how did you end up like this? Maybe Kitchen Sink gave you those limited pages? I like this story very much. I found it early 80's; it's my one of the first Corben comics.
I really don't remember the exact origin of Fever Dreams. I may have pitched it to Denis Kitchen at Kitchen Sink. The standard length for underground comix was thirty-two pages because that was the most economical length to print.
- During Mr. Corben's Warren period you had possibility to make only one story. At least they did not published anything but "Bowser". It appeared sereval times, Creepy #77 (1976), Vampirella #54 (1976) and Comix International #4 (1976). Heavy Metal later reprinted it in The Best of Richard Corben from Creepy and Eerie (1998), which shows how popular it was. Your story is almost silly with May-day fritter pet. But story is less SF than it looks like on first sight, it is story of problem to have a pet. It is more "softer" than stories on Creepy used to be, it is about family values. Is there link to your own life? Do you have kid or new pet at that time? I found it a different, interesting story. Story's inner logic is also refressing - it is normal to whole family that pet has habbit to attack on people.
I just wanted to have fun with the typical "little boy and dog" story and decided it would be funny if the pet were a deadly, neighbor-eating monster. Corben has a marvelous comic (as in funny) touch that he rarely gets credited with, and it shows up very well in "Bowser".
- Inside of Warren Mr. Corben did some works to SF magazines. In 1984 #4 (1978) appeared the story "Ogre". I have seen only the sequel for this story ("Ogre II"). Would you like to tell a little about this story. It was called photographic art. Mr. Corben has done several comics with photo collage technique.
Gosh, I hardly remember this one at all. Did I write it? I remember that he experimented with photographing clay models but that people preferred his illustrations.
- As a matter of fact, you indeed wrote it. Mr. Corben was about to make "Ogre II" in the same photo collage technique, but a disasterous production develoment forced him to abandon his graphic experimentations and draw the story in more regular way.
- You started first full feature story with Mr. Corben in 1984 #1 (1978) to #8 (1979). It was called as "Mutant World" and it ran through several difficulties. It did appeared later as Album under Fantagor Press with original texts. Your warm relationship with this story is evident. Your introduction in 1982 Fantagor Album was touching to read. How did you realize that editor of 1984 did not like dialogue of the story? Did he say it out, or did you found it out from the pages of 1984?
We discovered that the dialogue had been rewritten by Bill DuBay when we received our copies of the magazine. We protested loudly. He ignored us. When the series was finished in the magazine, they wanted to issue a graphic album and we said, "No way." That got Warren Publishing mad at us. Mutant World remained out of print for several years until a French publisher issued it in several different languages and I was able to restore the original dialogue.
Bill DuBay pissed off a number of creators by bastardizing their work for 1984, including the late Wally Wood. He's out here in Los Angeles now, where I currently live, and lots of people simply won't work for him. He screwed himself royally.
- "Mutant World" is full of different, new characters in the field of the post-hologcaust stories. The brutal faith of girl was horrifying to follow. Also Dimento did not go through the best possible life. Like that it is more "real" life for them than just dancing on flower fields; you wrote in the above mentioned introduction, quote "I wanted to portray the warm, nutring aspect of human personality, to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man. I failed dismally." It was about your script for "Mutant World". Don't be sorry. You did splendid story.
More about the story, specially I liked rats; they appeared in the very beginning, sewers and somewhere in the end biting tv cabel broken. You put out a Barsoomian eight legged wolfmonster, which was also on front cover of original Mutant World Album. What is your relationship with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars/Barsoom series? That very same book series was my first touch to SF.
I loved ERB's Mars stories and bought all of the books when I was younger. He was very popular with fans when I was active in fandom and many comics artists and painters of the day illustrated his work.
- Dimento's story got surprisingly sequel more than ten years later as "Son of Mutant World" in a comic book series bearing the same name (1990). You must have been enchanted to go on with the story.
Yes, it's one of my favorites.
- Here in Finland we have very active amateur SF movement. In the middle of Finland (where I lived ten years), we founded Jyvaskyla Science Fiction Society 42 (you know fourty-two and that Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hikers Guide to Galaxy books). We published a fanzine called Alienist. Why I started to talk about it is, because that very fanzine (I used to make it) is "numbered" very particular way: all numbers have name, not number. First number was just simply "42", and numbers after that "The Return of 42", "The Revenge of 42", "The Bride of 42", "The Son of 42", "The Mum-in-law of 42", "Daughters of 42", "The Hound of 42", "The Left Hand of 42" etc., which leads me brilliantly back to "Son of Mutant World". Why story is called "Son of Mutant World"? Dimentia is actually DAUGHTER? Who is "Son of Mutant World"? The story?
As with your fanzine, the title was a joke. If there's another one, it'll be Bride of Mutant World but I won't guarantee that there will be a bride in it.
- Wolf is back in the story. This time mutant wolf has a couple of extra, blind eyes. But the most interesteing animal in "Son of Mutant World" is anyway the bear. It was unexpected and because of story, there could not be any other animal. Did you choose it for certain reason?
There's a sexual tension between women and bears that I wanted to exploit. A lot of women have "bear" fantasies and the match between the bear and Dimentia just seemed natural.
- And again there is family values (scare trapper with brave son). Actually story does not have much common with original "Mutant World"; there is no prev. story's religious people or militants or down underground living people kinds of characters. This time story is focused to small fortress on island. And of course the end of the world. Was it expedient choise to draw it away from "Mutant World"? To make it happen in smaller circles?
It was indeed a very loose "sequel."
- Did Max has for purpose six finger? There was never any "underlining" of it (which is good). But was it only because he was mutant (they all were)? I did pay attention on it mainly because Dorra had on cover of #4 kind of 5+6 fingers (you cannot say for sure), but she used to have just ten fingers all together.
I just wanted Max to be a mutant, because otherwise people would be wondering why he was completely normal. I didn't notice Dorra having any extra fingers and didn't call for any in the script.
- Have you seen "Son of Mutant World" totally in color? Comic book versio of "Son of Mutant World" was in color only in two first chapters, three last ones were forced to draw in B&W. One of Corben fan send me scans to verify, that the Album version of "Son of Mutant World" (which was never published in English, I pressume) in Germany were totally in color!
Yes, the album is totally in color.
- Now, back to the end of 70's. There was "Den" in Heavy Metal while "Mutant World" was in 1984. Before we saw sequel for "Den" or Mr. Corben's "Bloodstar" adaptation (which was IMHO much better in B&W than in colors), you brought out "The Last Voyage of Sindbad" (1978-1979). What I like in this story is that it is not rerun of "1001 Arabian Nights", it's fresh, new story. What I don't understand in this story is, that it appeared under several different names (even in Heavy Metal it had several alternative names). Was it your or Mr. Corben's idea to make that famous story again?
The story was originally New Tales of the Arabian Nights, but when it was re-published later I just thought that The Last Voyage of Sindbad was a catchier title. We're both fans of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, mainly for the special effects, and I wanted to do a "Sinbad" story that would have unusual effects but be (I hoped) a little better written than the Sinbad movies. I guess I hoped Harryhausen would see it somehow and go, "Hey! This guy should write my next Sinbad movie!" It didn't happen.
- Dog does again visit in the story. Some movie directors have dog obsessions. David Lynch has in every single movie a dog (do you know his "Angriest Dog in the World", a comic strip story with always same strip, only story in bubble changes?). Ethan and Joe Coen have dog in every they movies. Do you have a special relationship with dogs? They do appear in stories of yours time after time.
Yeah, I love dogs. I love their simplicity and their goofiness. I based my most-nearly-famous, non-Corben comic book character, Dalgoda, on dogs. They're such a big part of our lives that I just naturally put them in stories.
- "Sindbad" has some remarkable scenes full of action without any dialogue! You do not see that kind of art in Mr. Corben's works nowadays.
One of the nicest things about working with Corben is that I don't need to "cover" the action with words. His art often speaks for itself, so I just describe the scene and let him go to it!
- "Jeremy Brood" has incredibly beautiful beginning of story on planet Eden. The escape of Brynne is my favourite. The very same pages appeared in Epic #15 (1982) as an ad of the story. "Jeremy Brood" was planned to be a trilogy. The original first Album had five picture pages, where Mr. Corben explanes the backgrounds and plannings he made with Stan Dresser. What really happened?
Jeremy Brood was planned as a three-issue series. The first one didn't sell well and so we had to cancel plans for the rest of the series. We didn't feel right about leaving readers totally up in the air, so I wrote a short "ending" that feels to me kind of like, "And then they all got hit by a truck."
- Did other chapters ever appeared on "paper" as it was planned? Did thrid chapter ever saw daylight?
No, that was all. There's no "missing Brood" out there.
- What ever happened in original second chapter? How about third? What did we miss with shortened version? How shorteded story sits in original story? Does it cover totally "planned stories"? Is the end we can see really the end of "thrid" chapter?
Sorry, I don't remember how it was supposed to go. I do remember that it was going to be more of an epic somehow, but the ending is totally different from what was planned.
- As general, what kind of way you used to make stories together? Do you see "penciled" version of Mr. Corben's art before inking and coloring? You prob. can ask some changes for pictures? Is dialogues collaboration?
I write a script, usually a full script that breaks the story into panels. I write all of the dialogue ahead of time. Then Corben does his thing and the next I see of it is when it appears in print. He might send character designs for my approval, but his penciled pages are so loose that it's pretty hard to tell what he has in mind!
- Does Mr. Corben follow your story faithfully? Or did he want any changes in it?
He's extremely conscientious about following the story whenever we work together.
- How dod you name certain stories places and people? Like for example Dimento and Dimentia. From where you found them?
Usually, I just make up names from thin air. "Donna" and "Dick" from "Such Pretty Little Toes" are exceptions. I based a couple of minor characters in Mutant World on a pair of animation editors I knew briefly, but I don't want to say who because they might sue me!
- In Heavy Metal #75 (1983) was "Doomscult" (1980), a photo-collage presentation, and there was as additional photography by Jan Strnad. What does it mean, really?
Sometimes I've provided Corben with background photography. I shot some clouds that appear in one or more Creepy or Eerie stories, and I videotaped some beach scenes for his Dagon film.
- "Doomscult"'s story is moderately close the presentation of video "The Dark Planet". Both stories have Bruce Jones and Stan Dresser in them. Why you were not in video production?
I didn't really know Corben at the time those were filmed.
- What kind of relationship you have got with Bruce and Stan?
I'm friends with both, though I haven't seen Stan in ages. Bruce recently moved from the Los Angeles area back to Kansas City, but I'm hoping we can keep in touch.
- After "Doomscult" there was longest break before next collaboration. 1986 Mr. Corben started his Fantagor Press comic books series, five issue "Rip in Time" with Bruce Jones was first of them. He went on with "Children of Fire" (three issues) and then ten issue comic book "Den [III]". In Den [III] #8 (1989) appeared short story "Such a Pretty Little Toes", sort of Hansel and Gretel variation. This little story has magical atmosphere. I like it. By the way, it was first additional story in Den [III], which was not reprint. Why you made this story? Was it only because of bigFOOT? Was it tailored specially for Den [III] or did you do it before?
Corben and I both do various things and so sometimes it works out that we can collaborate and other times not. I wrote "Such Pretty Little Toes" as a short film and as a comic story, but I honestly can't recall which came first. It eventually became a feature length script called Maladjusted, which my friend Steve Vance was going to produce. Instead, we optioned it to someone else and the movie was never made.
- I am maybe uneducated but I did not figured out what did you mean by "sacajawea". Would you give a clue?
She was an Indian guide who led explorers Lewis and Clark on an expedition through North America in the pioneer days.
- Who piced up such names for Hansel and Gretel? Donna and Dick? They sounds like nicknames for Madonna and Richard...
I picked the names, and they are indeed nicknames for Madona and Richard Corben.
- By the way, did you know about Madonna Corben's Siegfried Saves Metropolis animation? She won 1965 in Famous Monsters #34 and #35 animation contest's first pirze: the amazing portable Sony television. In #34 she was still Miss Madonna Marchant, but already in #35 she was Mrs. Corben (she married her cameraman Dick Corben). Do you know anything about this film? Famous Monsters' double article about it was poorly edited/written; they mixes winners and prizes and even animations several times during it!
I didn't know that! Thanks!
- Next story in Den [III], in #9 (1989), is "The Wreck of the Katerra-dan". Story is quite risky. There is no action, no beautiful girls, no nothing like. Oh, there is a girl, but you cannot say anything about her beautiness. Whore in this story is the best of it. She's kind of smiling to Druk all the time. Why did you put him to kill that girl? I understand he did it, but he kept on carring her with him. That is already a stupid thing to do. Is that symbol of his (fate of course but also) state of mind? You put name of wreck itself oddly. Does Katerra-dan have Arabic traces? This way or another, I like the way it sounds.
Oh, man...I have no idea. I'd look it up to job my memory but most of my books are in boxes in the garage.
- You have got two stories in Den [III] #10 (1989). Actually first story is a poem, "Incantation". Would you tell more about this incantation. Is it really existing language or invented? Mr. Corben used Esperanto in story "Rowlf". This is not, I presume.
It's a made up language, the verbal version of an abstract painting.
- Second story is really comic story, "Donneman's Bluff". How comes? All new stories in Den [III] is written by you. You have got deal around here with Mr. Corben? Did you send them to him as a pack or one after another according what he needed? Which leads me to idea, was there any unpublished stories during Den [III]?
He needed some short stories and I was available, so I wrote them as needed. All of the scripts I wrote were illustrated and published.
- In 1990 you have got possibility to make a story for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What is your relationship with turtles?
If I remember right, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was originally against everything what it is now. Anyway, they were big fan of Mr. Corben and they gave possibility to put out entire story of Mutant Turtles. Mr. Corben contacted to you for this story? Or how did it go?
Corben was hesitant to take on the job because it was a "work for hire" job, meaning that we got paid just once and didn't get any royalties or ownership of the story. But Kevin Eastman, a big Corben fan, was generous with the pay and, even more importantly, just let us do whatever we wanted. I had fun writing the Turtles and still think they were cool characters who got kind of sucked up by Hollywood and became victims of their own success.
- "Turtles Take Time" is time travelling story. You put them use the similar Rubic cube than Mr. Corben used in story "Top to Bottom" or they used in Hellraiser movies. Did you end up this kind of story together with Mr. Corben or was it your own idea? Turtles coming out of (crocodile) eggs was good detail in the story.
It was my idea, as were the eggs.
- I am not a special fan of those turtles; I cannot compare your story on theirs. So, I will jump forewards, past "Son of Mutant World" to DenSaga (1992-1993). There was mention of you under additional material (on "DenSaga", part 1). What does it mean here? Can you explaine?
Many years before, I'd sold Corben a "plot" for a "Den" story and created some cosmological stuff to expand on who Den was, that he was mythic hero, and so forth. He didn't use it at the time, but he incorporated some of those ideas in DenSaga and so credited me with "additional material."
- After DenSaga you did not have anything with Mr. Corben until Batman: Black and White #2 (1996). "Monster Maker" is fresh, B&W story of old classical character. I adore B&W comics. They are usually more effective than color ones. How do you like Batman?
Batman has always been one of my favorite super-heroes.
- In this story I like realistic point of view. Specially last line was like point to i. Batman did the deed, cops came and he replies laconicly to himself, "It's going to be a long night...". Did Mr. Corben has anything to say about this story? I mean, did you ended up stright a way to this story, without any other possibilities? Do not get me wrong, I like the story. I was just interested was there any other stories but this one.
Corben's story was supposed to dovetail with the one I wrote for Kevin Nowlan. The idea was that each story was a comic book story within the other one. In fact, the last panel of each story was supposed to lead into the first panel of the other. They both dealt with "monster makers" but one (Kevin's) was the classic comic book mad scientist, and Corben's was more street level and realistic. Corben got his story in on time but Nowlan was very late with his, so they weren't able to appear together as they should have been.
- I actually pay attention on the same frase in the end of Kevin Nowlan's story's "Monsters in the Closet" and wanted to ask about it next.
- But lets proceed, you did full feature story with Mr. Corben, which appeared very same year, "Denz". Story is full of familiar events from old Den stories. But this time you put a lot of comedy on it. Is this farewell to Den?
How did you get to find this story from pages of Penthouse Comics (#15 to #20)? I have to say, Penthouse Comics is full of good for nothing stories. "Denz" was a little bit in wrong league, comic with story in such company. Only Arthur Sydam has interesting stuff, though there he has not his best stories.
No, it's not a farewell to Den. "Denz" was mostly a joke. We didn't want to tie in too closely with the Den continuity, since Denz was, let's face it, semi-pornographic and appearing, as you say, in the "wrong place" and not really pandering to the reader as much as Penthouse would have liked. You have to live with this stuff, though, so we thought that making it funny would redeem it somewhat.
- I did not find "Denz" too pornographic; that kind of themes was before in Mr. Corben's stories, even in Den stories. But you did "Denz" as hired story, tailored for Penthouse?
- Your most resent work with Mr. Corben is Internet animation "Bludd". Would you like to tell more about it. From where we will find it?
Corben had been approached by a new internet company called PirateNet to do an animated internet feature that, hopefully, they could sell to TV or the movies. He recommended me to write it, partly because PirateNet is located in Los Angeles, as I am, and I could check on them personally. I had a meeting with them, liked them a lot, and said I'd do it. Bludd is an original idea of mine. It's a 22-minute "Flash" animated story broken into ten "webisode" of about two minutes each. It was quite a challenge to write ten very short episodes that were somewhat complete in themselves but which tied together to make a longer story. Richard did design work only, none of the animation. The video is currently making the rounds of networks here in the USA. The internet version will appear shortly, but I don't know where. The best thing to do is to keep checking my web site for updates and links to wherever it finally appears.
- When I saw "Bludd" preview trailer first time I kept in my mind Corben's favourite themes, I didn't find from it. One of my "non-Corben" friend, who saw the very same preview, put it in words: where are all Heavy Metal voluptuous girls? As you said, Corben did just design work; what does it mean? Is there anywhere in Internet the original design work Mr. Corben did for it?
None of Corben's art appears directly in the series. It's all based on his character sheets and other drawings made especially for Bludd. The artwork that appears sporadically on my web site is original Corben. When Bludd is posted on the internet, I may publish Corben's original art on my website if PirateNet agrees.
- I thank you answering these questions and sharing your limited time with me; I know you are quite busy right now.
I'd just like to add that Richard Corben is one helluva fine guy. It's been my deep pleasure to meet and work with him so many times over the years, and I'm proud to call him a friend. --Jan Strnad
Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!, SidSid Keränen
Appeared first time 15th Feb. 2001. Last modified January 15, 2019.
(Q's 11th Feb. and 1st April; A's 30th March + 1st April 2001.)