Interview: Horror Legend Richard Corben Talks Adapting Poe’s ‘Conqueror Worm’

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Richard Corben is a man who has singlehandedly redefined horror comics many times over. Beginning in the 1970s, Corben contributed an insane amount of work to the “Eerie” and “Creepy” anthologies, helping to achieve his status as a mainstay in horror comics. He has since become one of the most praised and respected artists in the industry. Quite simply, if you are a horror fan you should know his work.

Recently, Corben has been working with Dark Horse Comics to adapt the works of Edgar Allan Poe. His latest book is a one-shot adaptation of Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, which is set for release this Wednesday, November 21st. I sat down with Corben to talk about working in horror comics, his love for Poe, and plenty more.

BD: Poe’s The Conqueror Worm is a fairly short poem about the inevitability of death. How does your adaptation re-work the poem and its themes?

Corben: The poem mentions several aspects about the theater, as well as puppet elements. He even says what the play is about, “much of Madness, and more of sin, and Horror”. I built my version of the plot from these suggestions. Poe’s “conqueror worm” is a symbol of a horrible fate that awaits all of us. Actually my comic is a melodramatic reduction of his themes.

BD: Let’s talk about your writing, since you generally stick to artwork. What was it like writing this story in comparison to going off someone else’s script?

Corben: The writers I’ve worked with, I admire very much. I might have finished out my career following their scripts without too much complaint. But there are a few things and situations that I want to portray with my own ideas and set ups. I enjoyed writing The Conqueror Worm comic as well as drawing and coloring it.

BD: You’ve worked on quite a few Poe adaptations throughout your career. Is his language tough to translate into comic form, or does it just work naturally for you?

Corben: Poe’s language may sometimes be antique, but he talks about universal fears and emotions. His stories and poems have been adapted and copied many times, not only in comic stories, but movies, plays, radio dramas, even operas.

BD: What do you use in Poe’s writing to cue your visuals? Do you try to pick out specific imagery, or just communicate a general mood?

Corben: There is usually a key element that sets me off. Since his stories have been adapted so many times, I try hard to find a fresh viewpoint. Sometimes, I might even make my version different on purpose, than Poe wrote it, just because it has been done so many times in a certain way. This also leads me along a chain of thought that might be contrary to his words. It might be an image, a mood, or a reaction to a character’s attitude.

BD: You’ve mentioned that you feel a strong sympathy for Poe’s work, and I imagine a lot of horror fans feel this way. What is it about Poe that resonates with you so much? What makes his work so timeless?

Corben: I think it is that he writes about issues and emotions that are universal. About different kinds of fear, loneliness, about an overpowering sense of loss and despair, a compelling need for revenge or even an obsession about another persons appearance.

BD: You plan on doing a few more Poe adaptions with Dark Horse Presents. Can you tell us about the project and how it came about?

Corben: I have been wanting to do some Poe or at least Poe-like material for some time. Perhaps even from the first adaptations I did with Richard Margopoulos for Warren Publishing years ago. I approached Jan Strnad with my scheme with the hope that he would be inspired to write some Poe-esque stories for me. Like any good author, he has his own ideas about what he wants to write and he came up with a counter offer, Ragemoor. Ragemoor was a terrific horror story and I was eager and happy to do it, but it didn’t have the elements I wanted to portray. So I started doing my own adaptations of Poe material. Dark Horse was receptive and gave me the go ahead. At first I thought I could do all of the stories included in the collection, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Perhaps that was a little too ambitious. But I still intend to do enough stories to fill a collected edition.

BD: Do you know which of Poe’s stories or poems you are going to be working with?

Corben: So far I’ve finished The Sleeper, The City in the Sea, The Assignation, Berenice, Shadow, The Conqueror Worm, and Alone. I’m about half way through a combined version of The Oval Portrait and The Fall Of The House Of Usher. I hope to include some more well known stories such as Masque of the Red Death, A Caske of Amontillado, and The Raven.

BD: You’ve achieved a legendary status as a horror comic artist. Given that it’s such a niche market, how has the horror comics industry changed over the years?

Corben: Horror comics has a small audience in comparison to the Super Hero market. This has always been true. But it is the only genre that I have any interest in now, except for some fantasy adventure stories. As far as the industry is concerned, they will publish what ever they think will sell and not much else. It’s just good business practice.

BD: Let’s try something a little fun. What are some of your favorite adaptations of Poe’s work, in comics or otherwise?

Corben: Being a Poe fan myself, I’m pretty strict about what I think is a good adaptation. But once I get over the idea that any derivation can never be more than a shadow of the original, I can still enjoy “so called” adaptations. Sometimes they take only Poe’s original title and nothing else. In movies, I liked Corman’s/Matheson’s House of Usher, Epstein’s La Chute de la Maison Usher, and Watson/Webber’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Though none of these dealt with what I think is Poe’s real idea, a fear of inevitable decay and death. I can’t think of a comic that did a sincere treatment of Poe’s material. I will ignore my own shortcomings in this area.

BD: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, I’m a big fan of Poe and I can’t wait to read your adaptation.

Corben: Thank you Lonnie.

  • Canucklehead

    Loved the Vincent Price film.