The Richard Corben Interview, Part 1(3), in Heavy Metal #51, June 1981, by Brad Balfour [BACK]
BRAD BALFOUR: Your art seems to be an opportunity for you to express repressed tendencies. What do you figure they are? Violent ones, angry...
RICHARD CORBEN: That's probably part of it... frustration.
Frustration about what?
I never became the way I really wanted to be. In growing up, I never felt adequate. And then, growing up, I felt it to be very difficult to be a man, and I didn't know how to be a man.
If you didn't fit a standard role in this world, especially if you had when you were growing up a macho ideal or some sort of confidence, then you either were thought of as a homosexual or a weirdo, and if you weren't a homosexual, you didn't know what place to fit in...
It's like being a hermit.
Did you feel like hiding away?
I did hide.
What other ways?
I'd say repressed emotions. People would probably find me cold and calculating even though I was not, really.
Do you feel that you express yourself now more than you ever have?
In my artwork, yes.
How about verbally?
When I worked at Calvin, they wanted me to give a workshop speech one year. I took it as a challenge and I did it. But that was probably the worst period of my life, preparing for that speech where I had to get up in front of about eight or nine hundred people and make a speech, and that's something I don't care to repeat. It's still difficult.
Why is it so difficult for you? Why do you think you had to turn to comics to express yourself, and specifically to comics and animation?
This is something that happens at a very early age - a disposition for emphasizing one side of the personality. I had a very hard time as a youngster learning verbal communication, and feel it probably spurred me on to the visual. That's the only explanation I could find for it.
Did your parents talk a lot? Was there a lot of talk in the house?
Cerainly not in the early days, when we were on the farm where I grew up. If he was out working and she was there alone with just another child...
Was your father particularly harsh or anithing like that?
When I was a child, I thought he was, but in retrospect, I think I kind of respect him more than I did at the time. I used to think he was a tyrant then. I see he's not.
You had a lot of conflict with him? Any examples appearing in your work?
I can't think of any offhand. Things that appear in my stories are so changed, so manipulated that it would probably be hard to recognize when they originally came from; and they're probably so different in my mind that I don't even remember where they came from - probably something deep in the id that came out.
Do you think you're anti-intellectual?
Occasionally. My characters aren't intellectual. Usually when they resolve a situation it's not through thinking, it's through some action.
I admire people who are demonstrative sometimes. The time I felt like I could kill somebody, when my anger was a slow build, I stayed up all night, dreaming, trying to figure out how I could go to New York, kil him, and come back and get away with it. I was even going so far as to try and figure out all the ways in which I could cover myself with alibis.
You feel like talking advantage of such feelings because you're not habitually a person who expresses his anger. When you realized such feelings are there and can be expressed, the realization changed you?
No, I felt that it was down there all along. It just never came up to the surface. I am capable, and probably every person alive is capable, of killing people under the right circumstances; it's just a matter of comming to those circumstances. Other thing can lead to aggressive behaviour - like going to karate, getting trained there. There is always tension and an attitude constantly there. And Donna will say that also. My character changed during the period when I went to that karate school. I was generally an easy-going person and slowly got angry. After being there for two years, I could be an instant killer. [Mr. Corben's correction, #3]
Were you glad that aspect of your personality was revealed?
Yes. I don't think it's necessarily bad, either, because it's something for survival. It's learning more about yourself, knowing that you have it in yourself to turn insanity into something like that.
This makes me think of Bloodstar - the blend of Robert E. Howard and Richard Corben. Your own Mutant World and other Warren stuff had a similar post-holocaust slant. And Howard was also a weight lifter. Do you feel any kinship with Howard?
I might have been slightly fascinated, but I'm repelled by many of his philosophies. He was a racist as well as being sadomasochistic, and he did use violence for his own sake - for the enjoyment of it. In fact, I wouldn't say he's one of my favourite writers. That's one of the things I felt slightly queasy about - about accepting this job without adapting Valley of the Worm into Bloodstar. None of his characters were human to me. They were just brutes and I felt that if I were to do anything with it, I would have turned them into human beings.
The story ends on a Corben note - a mixture of the tragic and the moral.
I believe a fairy-tale happy ending is a false myth. We can hope for good things, but we can't hope for that.
Do you believe in innocence? It's there in characters from your earlier stories.
I don't believe there's a pure innocence. A person could be innocent in murdering a person, but he might have thought about it.
You have innocence, and then it gets perverted in certain ways.
I have this painting. It's a self-portrait. It gets older and older as the years go by, but I don't! If there's anything all men deny, that's their own mortality. We're all doomed and put on earth for a while, and then that's it!
But you're not religious.
Is there a guiding morality to your work?
Yes, in that my heroic characters don't hurt people needlessly or kill people needlessly; they're also not thieves.
I think that attitude abounds in your stories: man is alone; man reverts to savagery; the individual will survive in spite of all these things; civilization might even be a veneer.
I feel it's true. I feel that it's barely underneath the surface; ther are still savages.
Let's face it, your work is not inherently optimistic.
The message in my work is that the individuals will survive no matter what. If the modern world destroys itself, there will still be a somebody left to be fully developed and live a full life.
Do you feel that we are verging on a holocaust? Because you deal with that image so much.
I don't know if it will be an instant holocaust, I believe we are courting disaster in many ways. I don't know if it will happen in a flash or if it will happen slowly.
I wonder, would you perfer that world to this kind of civilized world, in a certain sense?
It would be simpler in some ways. Still, the post-holocaust world is doomed, with all the residual radioactivity around. It's not a place where you can live a long life.
People have said you're a right-winger or that there's right-wing politics in your work, with your individualists and moralists and the sexist thing.
Many people might think I'm conservative or a right-winger, but then when you talk to somebody who is a right-winger, you would probably thing I'm liberal.
Why would somebody think you're right-wing?
Because my characters are not rebels and they don't want chaos; they know that there have to be rules to follow.
Yet you use images that are crazy and violent and disruptive.
You have to be specific - it may be something related to crumbling world.
In certain ways, rampant violence.
It's something to react against.
Do you portray violence so graphically because there's something to be said by that imagery?
There's all kinds of violence I portray. It's only graphic in a stylized way. To portray the pain is impossible. It takes some imagination on the viewer's part. It might require more exaggeration, more distortion, more abstractions than I put into the stuff.
What if somebody says your work is violent and pornographic?
That's their opinion.
It glorifies violence, it degrades the human by dwelling on violence.
My characters are never violent for the sake of being violent. It's always forced on them or is a means to an important end.
What ends do you think are important?
Surivival and protecting things you love, I imagine.
If your family were in danger, what would you do? How would you react? You're basically a passive person.
I'd kill them on the spot!
Do you think you'd be able to respond in that way?
Yes. I always knew there was one part of me that could turn like a sword or be violent in an instant.
I can't imagine you getting into an argument!
The trouble is when I argue, not only am I arguing with the other person, I'm arguing with myself.
Your work appears to be controlled. What gets Richard Corben out of control, out of order? You don't get high, you don't drink. What gets you nuts?
I believe I was leading into something like a change of attitude when I was training at karate school. If someone cut me off during that period, I wanted to chase him down. That's repressed in me, that flying off the handle.
Do you ever fight with your wife?
No, I don't raise my voice. If I were to raise my voice, I might become violent.
Do you feel your work causes people to become insensitive to violence because it so glories in violence?
There's something deep in the human id that is both fascinated and repelled by violence. Violence is so much a part of human existence, there's no getting away from it. Even being born and dying.
Do you think those are violent experiences, being born and dying?
Dying often is. Birth is sometimes violent for the mother and has a lot of discomfort.
How does Beth, your daughter, react to the violence and sexuality in your work?
I sheltered Beth from the more violent things, the more explicit sexual stuff.
At what age do you think censorship for kids should end?
When they seem mature.
So you don't have any objection to premarital sex?
Can you see yourself as an advocate of sexual freedom
I'm an advocate of freedom. That might be included in it.
What do you feel about the repression of sex in America?
It's all right to repress sex among children. It's not all right in adults. They should be able to look at anything they want, within reason, as long as they're not hurting anybody.
It's almost incredible the way people repress sexuality in this country. I think it creates more sexual problems than it solves. It seems criminal how comic books reinforce a repressive mentality.
You can't fight 'em. You can't win by logic - it's not logical. It's just something you have to put up with, or what you can do is sidestep way...
Now Reagan and all those people have got power and these right-wingers for Christ are saying, "We want a moral country!" You'd be one of those likely to go to the camps, as a sexual outlaw.
I wouldn't be very happy about that.
What would you do? How would you react?
If I were an outlaw, I would consider going to another country.
Do you feel there's an outlaw element to your work or that you create outlaw characters? What characteristics align your most significant creations?
They are solitary people, generally introverted, not parts of gangs, not really that sociable; but they are introspective.
Maybe "outlaw" isn't the right word; maybe the right word is "individualist".
I think individualists are responsible for all the great discoveries on earth. All the great scientists or artists are great individuals.
Have there been particularly influential individualists in your life?
There are some artists and people: Einstein, Maxfield Parrish - because he painted the way he lived and the way he wanted. I'd say that because he was an illustrator but was so successful at it, he could just go off and do what he wanted.
There's a fellow who's a friend of mine who worked at Calvin. He's about five or six years younger than I am, and I admire him for his drive and the things he's accomplished, even though I feel I have a greater talent. He has accomplished a lot because he's more aggressive and outgoing than I am, and I admire him for that.
What political movement or specific issue reflects your individualist slant?
The antinuclear movement. I feel the so-called engineers and scientists have this superior attitude that they know everything. And I feel they don't know anything. Our environment consists of a very complex formula, and they have many of the items in the formula, but they don't have all of them, because it's an inhuman operation. People run the thing but they don't know what they're creating. It's a self-perpetuating monster!
In earlier work, in the undergrounds, a lot of stories end fatalistically. The bad guys are often corporate people, the capitalists. You definitely have an anticorporate bias.
To me, the individual is everything. Everything that's important has come from us because we're individuals as opposed to committee! I was impressed by Walt Disney. He was a great individual. He created an empire and became powerful. His corporation became overpossessive about their properties. They've got so much money but they're worried about cartoonists ripping them off in some way.
Do you aspire to founding the Richard Corben empire?
Just in a small way; I want just a small empire.
What's your notion of a small empire?
I want a publishing house. I would like to have enough money to do various things that I want to pursue. I want to pursue my sculptures, my movies, paintings, body buidling, and so on.
Maybe if you twisted my arm. [Mr. Corben's correction, #4]
Copyright © 2001 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!,
Created: Feb. 21, 2001. Modified: January 13, 2019.