The Odd Comic World of Richard Corben

By Richard Corben & various (Warren Adult Fantasy)
ISBN: 84-85138-21-X

Richard Corben flowered in the independent counterculture commix of the 1960s and 1970s to become a globally revered, multi-award winning creator. He is most renowned for his mastery of the airbrush and his delight in sardonic, darkly comedic horror, fantasy and science fiction tales.

Although never a regular contributor to the comicbook mainstream, the animator, illustrator, publisher and cartoonist is one of America’s greatest proponents of sequential narrative: an astoundingly accomplished artist with an unmistakable style and vision.

Violent, cathartically graphic and often blackly hilarious, his infamous signature-stylisation always includes oodles of nudity, ultra-extreme explicit violence and impossibly proportioned male and female physiques – and nobody should be disappointed as there’s plenty of all that in here.

From a time when graphic novels and book-bound comics collections were almost unheard of, this quirky, racy collection opens after an effusive introduction by Will Eisner with ‘The Dweller in the Dark’ (co-written with Herb Arnold) – an early exploration of the artist’s fascination with and facility for depicting lost civilisations. Rain-forest dwellers Bo Glan and Nipta break tribal taboo to explore a dead city, and learn pain and sorrow when they fall foul of rapacious, invading white men and ancient things far worse…

‘Razar the Unhero’ (written in 1970 by Arnold as “Starr Armitage”) is a dark and sexily violent spoof with a deprecating edge, deliciously lampooning the Sword and Sorcery epics dominating paperback bookshelves of the day whilst the silly, saucy ‘Mangle, Robot Mangler’ does the same to classic comicbook hero Magnus with a sexy, seditious rabbit-punch parody.

‘How Howie Made it in the Real World’ jumps wholeheartedly into adult science fiction territory with a sinister gore-fest for unwary space-tourists whilst ‘For the Love of a Daemon’ – opening the full-colour section of this volume and showing the first hints of the artist’s later airbrush expertise – returns to traditional fantasy themes for a boisterous black comedy of Barbarians and mega-hot naked babes in distress.

The1973 collaboration with Doug Moench ‘Damsel in Dragon Dress’ is a gleeful witches’ brew of fantasy, fairytale foible and a curious cautionary tale about the unexpected dangers of drug abuse, whilst worlds-within-worlds alien romance ‘Cidopey’ conceals a tragic twist as well as the artist’s softer and more contemplative side.

The final tales in this collection are both from 1972. ‘Space Jacked’ blends Corben’s mordant sense of humour with a darkly cynical streak in the twisty-turny tale of an outer space Bonnie and Clyde who think they might be Adam and Eve, and ‘Going Home’ closes the show in a contemplative, poignant manner as the last man of Earth bequeaths the universe far better caretakers…

Mad, moody and magnificent, these early exotic episodes are too-long overdue for a proper re-evaluation but until some publisher finally wises up, at least there’s a still a goodly number of older editions just waiting to be found and treasured…
© 1971-1977 Richard Corben/Warren Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.