Richard Corben and horror comics are synonymous with one another. This is something Dark Horse Comics knows all too well. So in celebrating 50 Years of “Creepy” next week with Creepy #18 they’ve tapped Corben to write an incredible retrospective on the series for the back matter of the issue. Luckily you won’t have to wait that long to dig into the incredible essay because we’ve teamed with Dark Horse to offer it to you here exclusively a week ahead of the release.
This retrospective is layered with insane quotes from some of the most prolific names in comics and horror, Guillermo Del Toro, Mike Mignola, and Tony Moore, just to name a few. So let’s get on with it.
RICHARD CORBEN ON HIS FAVORITE CREEPY STORIES
My favorites among the Creepy stories I’ve done include those that have a special meaning for me. They all come from a time when I was young and had more energy than I knew what to do with.
“The Slipped Mickey Click Flip,” written by Doug Moench for Creepy #54, was a takeoff on all the old horror comics and their often-silly horror hosts. The story didn’t make much sense in a normal, linear way; it was surreal because it kept jumping from the internal story to the external story of the insane host and his psychotic assistant. I joined in the madness, adding many bizarre details. It was a lot of fun.
“As a loooong-time fan of Richard’s, I remember reading this story back in the seventies. Reading it thirty-odd years later, I recall having a glassy-eyed, ‘Whoa, what was that?’ kind of response, and reading it again—but that was par for the course with any work that had Richard Corben’s name on it. I pored over his pages; it was (and is) like nothing else in comics. The last page still amazes me.”—Brian Azzarello
“Lycanklutz,” written by me for Creepy #56, was the first color story I did for James Warren, and I wanted to prove my skills and inventiveness by creating work that was at least as good as that done by his Spanish technicians. Looking back, the story was kind of childish and silly. But overall I wanted to achieve a bright comic-book version of a Hammer horror movie.
“Even though Corben had done some bold black-and-white work for Warren before, it is with ‘Lycanklutz’ that he blooms in all his glory for the first time. Most of his stories can be classified in three categories—funny (slapstick), erotic, or hardcore genre (science fiction or horror)—but this is the rare early example in which he unleashes all three. You find in ‘Lycanklutz’ a veritable Corben primer: his proprietary color palette, his bold, audacious compositions and layout, his memorable characters, and his twisted ingenuity. It evokes at once the lost lands of Clark Ashton Smith, the twist endings of EC comics, and the Technicolor nightmares of Mario Bava and Hammer films.
“But there is much more than that: Corben’s sensuality comes not only from the story lines and themes but from the eminently tactile, almost vinyl-toy smoothness of his characters’ skin, or the taut sensuality of sinew and muscle bulging within. And his humor derives as much from his extreme lensing and the virtuosic execution of his contrasting, psychedelic colors as it does from his O. Henry-esque puns and absurdist scenes and plot.
“His color work—and the insanely complex method he used to achieve it—allowed him to reign, uncontested, over the Warren color universe—he even colored the most astounding Spirit cover, thus relaunching Eisner for a new generation of readers! Corben lives and breathes what he does. He is the sum of his influences, and they pour naturally from within. The man and his art are one. He has been an enormous influence on all of my work. He is the mainstay in my collection of original art and one of the most precise and admirable storytellers in the medium.”—Guillermo del Toro
“The Hero Within,” written by Steve Skeates for Creepy #60, was a story I had a lot of sympathy with. It concerns a young, mistreated child who retreats into a fantasy world where he is a muscular hero saving a beautiful woman from a fantastic dinosaur monster. This was a theme I would return to in some of my own writing. I think the story was written to fit a preexisting Sanjulián cover.
“ ‘The Hero Within’ is a fine example of Corben’s mastery of the form. His art, still containing hints of his underground past, is vibrant and moody, the characters expressive. The writing is literate and works on two levels, telling of the heroic fantasies that live just under the surface in all of us—fantasies that wilt in the harsh light of reality.”—Mike Richardson
“The Raven,” adapted by Rich Margopoulos for Creepy #67, was the first Poe adaptation I did for Warren, and probably the best. In reviewing it now, I especially remember this was when I started using live models to draw from. In this case, another comic book artist and my good friend, Herb Arnold, and his wife portrayed the mournful Poe characters.
“Maybe the straightest Poe adaptation I can remember Richard doing and, really, just about perfect—super respectful of the poem and at the same time it’s pure Corben. Who else would even attempt (let alone pull off) that lit-window/shadow-on-the-snow effect on the bottom of page 4? And the amount of character he gives to that bird just by moving its head around . . . I love that shot of Lenore with that red sky behind her across the top of page 6. Really powerful. The fact that he comes back to that shot at the end, replacing her with her tombstone—as I said, it’s just pretty much perfect.”—Mike Mignola
“In Deep” was a project promoted and written by Bruce Jones for Creepy #83. The color inserts were eight pages long, and Bruce had an idea to do a black-and-white lead-in and finish to a color story so it could be a longer story. He also posed in reference photographs for the lead character of the story. Furthermore, he introduced me to the startlingly statuesque Karen G., who portrayed his luckless girlfriend. Some sharp-eyed readers will recognize her, as this was the beginning of my association with Karen on many later projects.
“Corben was an especially big influence on me. As a kid, I was digging around at my grandparents’ house. Tucked neatly away in the back of a closet were a couple of old brown-paper grocery bags stacked heavy as cinder blocks with a treasure trove of old horror and fantasy comics. This is where I met Richard Corben for the first time. His stark lighting and labored, realistic textures fleshing out expressive cartooning and masterful storytelling, not to mention bold color work with subtle interplay—it was all produced with a level of complexity that is still unmatched today, even by the best in this digital age. The power. The sensuality. The gripping, visceral horror that could stand silent on the page. The first time I saw his work, it was unlike anything I had ever seen in a comic book. I was absolutely blown away and knew instantly what I wanted to see in my own work, which is an artistic pipe dream on my part. But hey, a boy can dream.
“I love that this story is full, lush color in the flashback, bookended by that great stark black and white. As readers, we’re immersed in the flashback, and then we get that final twist of the proverbial knife in that great EC/Twilight Zone fashion that Warren expanded on so well. The story itself is such an intimate experience, and you can become invested in the characters’ plight so quickly, that a few haymaker shots of that great standout gore hit you hard enough to take your breath away. When he looks up from his buoy, and we get the intercut zooms on the wife’s missing eye and the gull who took it, you can practically hear the screeching soundtrack swelling with anxiety, as this is just the preamble to the horror to come. That small stretch of panels is a clinic on storytelling that really gets under your skin and ratchets up the intensity as a good horror hook should. Then immediately after a punch to the gut like that, we’re dropped into a frenzy that leaves us frantically flipping pages until the end, when we’re shocked to the point of sweaty exhaustion. This is the stuff I love. I wish every comic could put me through the emotional paces like this. I guess if I dialed back my reading to only Richard Corben comics, I could get that wish granted.
“As a young comics professional, I had the pleasure to meet the man in the flesh at a small convention in Kansas City, many years ago. It was like spotting a unicorn in the wild. He wasn’t the mass of rippling meat and road-map sinew I kind of expected from the decades of looking at his work, but rather a friendly and quiet older gentleman. I paced, mealy mouthed and sweaty, till the convention was nearly over before finally walking over to introduce myself and shake his hand. He graciously accepted the copies of my own books, which I gave him as a token of my appreciation for his work, when I had nothing else to give. He was kind to me in that fleeting interaction, and I hope when he saw my work, he didn’t take my declaration of his influence as some sort of insult or personal indictment. As an artist, I owe a great deal of thanks to Corben’s pioneering approach to production and profoundly moving storytelling. Newton said, ‘If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,’ and the comics industry, especially where horror stands, owes an unfathomable debt of gratitude to this giant in particular.”—Tony Moore
The cover of Eerie #77, with the girl in the tree portrayed again by Karen G., was my attempt to evoke some of the mood of the jungles in the original King Kong. These stories, including “Within You . . . Without You,” represent my comic work at a time when I was young and determined to prove myself.
“Corben was a heavy influence on me when I was teaching myself to paint. His work vividly stood out amongst everything else I was being exposed to. His striking and bold use of color, the extremes of his exaggerated anatomy, and his unparalleled use of shadow and texture make his work totally unique. It’s his ability to convey texture that really blows me away. When you look at a gnarled tree trunk in a Corben painting, you can almost feel its rough surface and smell the musty odor of the rotting vegetation. Corben is one of those truly great illustrators that not only deliver an artistic technical satisfaction, but also smack you in the face with the visceral power of the image and the world they create.”—Eric Powell
There you have it, an incredible retrospective filled with art that was made years ago and still looks gorgeously unlike anything else in comics right now. Truly a master, be sure to check out our Visions of Horror with Richard Corben for more.