Richard Corben Angouleme Exhibition 2019, by SidSid Keränen

Richard Corben’s current output: 292 stories, 4,598 pages

Richard Corben has always been a highly productive artist. He has drawn all his life and it is visible in his style. To achieve correct anatomy he uses live models and for natural light and shadows he makes clay, and scale models. Using photographs as a source material is absolutely essential to his technique.

His very first printed story was 8 pages long: “Monsters Rule” in Voice of Comicdom, in 1968. Since then he has published 292 stories, or 4,598 pages. Heavy Metal is currently publishing a 15-part series, each segment being 8 pages long. Publication will be completed over a three-year period.

During Corben’s 40-year comic-book-art career that averages out to 7.3 stories per year of almost 16 pages each, the majority of which are short stories of less than 20 pages. Graphic novels constitute 16% of the artist’s stories. “Bloodstar” was drawn in 1976 and it is said to be one of the first graphic novels ever.

One-page stories amount to about 11%. Some of them are in the form of a prologue, printed on the inside front cover of the comic book. Likewise, some end the comic book in the manner of an epilogue, inside the back cover. More recently, in Shadows on the Grave, Corben has sometimes used a one-pager, or frontispiece, as the opening story for the comic book, and another on the back cover as a closing story. These could be full-page illustrations but they continue the narrative with text, as in a comic story.

Corben likes working on horror stories. Fifty-four percent of his stories belong to that genre, thanks to the Warren magazines. And if you start counting from 1995, when his Fantagor period ended, the amount of horror stories went up to 67%. This was made possible by Haunt of Horror, a new series based on Edgar Allan Poe’s (in 2006) and H.P. Lovecraft’s (in 2008) poems and short stories, and on Spirits of the Dead, based entirely on the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

The amount of science fiction stories is 18%, and of fantasy 15%. But, after the Fantagor period, the number of SF stories dropped to 7% and fantasy stories to 9%. Underground was gone for good and there was no room for those two genres.

Corben’s best-known series is Den. The start of the saga was a short animation film “Neverwhere” in 1968. Corben has made home movies since 1962, mostly for his friends. The first Den comic story, “Neverwhere,” was also part of Heavy Metal’s 1981 film, for which he did not do the animation. Den Saga started in the comic book format in Corben’s own fanzine in 1973 as 15-page short story. Later it was expanded to seven full feature adventures.

Den is a superhuman. The superhuman genre covers 11% of all of Corben’s stories. His superheroes include “Hellboy” (eight stories) and several other DC and Marvel characters. If you start counting his superhero stories from 1995 that would amount to 16%.

If you are familiar with Corben’s work, you will see that even though there is a lot of nudity, the majority of his females are strong, powerful characters. They are the real protagonists of the stories.

But more surprising is that Corben does not deal much with ethnic groups. You can find only 18% of stories with any kind of ethnic characters. Luke Cage is the clearest exception. There is also the story “Izrafel” which definitely comes into that category, and Jeremy Brood’s girlfriend has an obvious “ethnic” background but mostly these characters are in supporting roles.

But back to nudity. Corben’s trademark is his passion for voluminous sexual attributes. And if his characters are naked they are mostly hairless. If there is a male, he is most likely molded after a bodybuilder, and if female, the exaggerated attributes are obvious. But surprisingly, if you look at all 292 stories only 56% of them contain women with enlarged sexual characteristics. Nude males and females make up 39%, and full frontal, 31%.

However, in 12% of stories contain male nudity. Corben used to say he has drawn flat chested females as well. That is true. You can find 7% of stories with that sort of anatomy. In 11% of the stories there are no female characters at all.

Corben is an artist who likes to have a lot of strings to his bow. He has collaborated with 63 different authors during his career. And he has written half of his stories himself. Some horror stories he has visited several times, including Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” “Berenice,” “The Sleeper,” “The Conqueror Worm,” “Shadow” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” “The Raven” has seen three completely different variations. Sometimes he did a new version because he was not satisfied with the earlier, sometimes he has a new approach to the story, as with “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Corben has also painted covers for books, fanzines, magazines and record jackets. That would also be interesting field to explore and categorize.

Corben is now 78 years old. He does not show any signs of retiring. On the contrary, he has developed as a storyteller. His new adaptations of well-known stories are better and more interesting than ever. He has created fresh, new storylines with no connection to the past. He started with black-and-white comics, explored and mastered zip-a-tones, went on to color comics with his own overlay technique or with painted pages. He conquered fully digital color comics, and went back to inking brilliant black-and-white pages for others to color. Everything the Master does is worth seeing and experiencing.

That is why Angoulême chose to give him their highest honor for the year 2018.

Copyright © 2018 Heart-Attack-Series, Ink!
Created: Oct. 8, 2018. Last updated: April 3, 2019 at 18:21 pm

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