16th Dec2020

A Memoriam In Four Colours: Richard Corben

by Ian Wells

At the end of last week  we received the news that another highly influential artist pulled up a seat at the great drawing desk in the sky. On the 2nd December Richard Corben passed away at the age of  80. Another talent gone too soon. I had to take a bit of time to put this one together as the bulk of his career is out of my wheelhouse. Upon doing my research I found a large quantity of work for the big two, so I thought by talking about this portion of his career with be a gateway for the readers to  discover his larger body of work. Being a big fan of the Cartoonist Kayfabe Youtube channel, not a week geos by when Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg don’t talk about Corben’s art. I don’t think I would be able to write this one without their education. Ed said on Instagram after Corben’s passing “Richard Corben has come to mind everyday for many years and he won’t be leaving my thoughts anytime soon. RIP.” I think if you are a fan of comics and sci-fi you have probably seen work from Corben. I would say at you have definitely seen work by artists influenced by him. Before reading any further just Google image search ‘Richard Corben Art.’ You will be amazed by the muscle bound men, the buxom women, mythical creatures, Meatloaf album covers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (You’ve heard of those last two right)?  He began his career in the late 60’s with underground comics, after graduating from Kansas City Art Institute with a degree in fine art. Early work in the next decade included working on Creppy, Eerie and Vamperilla for Warren Publishing.

Corben is mostly associated with his work in the magazine Heavy Metal. His association with the magazine goes back to 1975 when he submitted work to the French predecessor Metal Hurlant. His artistic story telling is inspired by the works of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. Both if these are on display in his long running series Den about a nerd who travels to a fantasy world and has all sorts of adventures. Den featured in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie. His love of Howard would lead to adaptations of the short story Bloodstar and later work on Conan. In 1986 Corben started his own publishing imprint with Fantagor. Publishing horror and fantasy comics right up till the comic market crash in the 90s. One issue that brought Corben to a wider audience is #33 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990. Working with long time collaborator Jan Strnad the story titles ‘Turtles Take Time’ sees our heroes travel in time as you probably guessed. With Corben’s amazing art placing the Turtles in prehistoric times, as pirates and in feudal Japan. The brilliant done in one issue would go on to inspire Konami video game ‘Turtles In Time.’ Surely too it played some role in forming part of the foundations for the third TMNT movie. As part of the IDW series in 2014 there was a mini series called ‘Turtles in Time’ again you would have to think the legend of Corben wasn’t far behind when this series was conceived.

In the later part of his career Corben would go on to produce work for both Marvel and DC. The Big Two work is easier to track down but like I said I hope it acts as a gateway to his other stuff. For DC he was contributed to anthologies like Solo and Batman: Black and White, which was his first foray into mainstream comics. The door opened up after this with longer stints on series like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. At Marvel he produced mini series for Luke Cage, Ghost Rider and The Hulk. As well as having a free role in the MAX imprint to produced stories based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. More up his street was the four issue mini series Starr The Slayer. Richard Corben has a plethora of awards to back up the popular work. In 1971 he won the Shazam award for Outstanding New Talent. For his work on Hellboy he received awards in 2009 (Best finite series) for Hellboy: The Crooked Man and 2011 (Best single issue) for Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil. In 2012 he was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame and won the top prize at the Angouleme comic convention in 2018. It is worth noting that Corben is respected, trusted and loved enough as an artist to be allowed the reigns on such prestigious series like Hellboy which is predominantly one creators vision and the TMNT.

Lastly the following list of artist are all influenced/inspired by Corben. The list is such a diverse and wide cross section of comics history that it shows the reach of the mans work. Those creators are Simon Bisley, Fransesco Francavilla, Klaus Janson, Eric Powell, Rob Zombie, Mike Mignola, and H.R Geiger.

Richard Corben
October 1st 1940 – December 2nd 2020
– RIP –

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