Richard Corben (1940 – 2020).

§ December 11th, 2020 § Filed under obituary, undergrounds § 4 Comments

So I got a copy of Rowlf #1 at the shop a while back in absolutely beautiful condition. It wasn’t Near Mint, but whatever minor flaws it had did nothing to detract from the visual appeal of this cover…the second printing, by the way, as the first print had a different image. It’s certainly the first image that popped into my head when I heard that Richard Corben passed away this week at the age of 80.

The first time I encountered Corben’s art was in an early ’80s issue of Heavy Metal, at a time when I was clearly too young to be looking at this magazine. Lush, fully painted art while still being cartoonishly exaggerated…it was some of his fantasy work, in the same arena as, say, Frazetta and Vallejo, but where they were more in the realm of representational illustration, more or less, here was that weirdo Corben basically doing Tex Avery, with the Wolf’s eyes bugging out of his head and his tongue dragging on the floor. It was a strange mix of styles I hadn’t seen before and had rarely, if ever, seen since.

He’s an underground comix legend, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this. When people come to my store looking for undergrounds, more and more often they ask to see my “Crumb comics,” which can mean anything from actual Robert Crumb comics to Freak Brothers to, well, whatever you can think of. I’ve suggested before that “Crumb comics” may be well on its way to becoming a generic term for undergrounds. That said, the second most mentioned name from those looking for undergrounds is Corben. In fact, if anything, any Corben I get in tends to sell faster than my Crumb (I mean, actually by Crumb) books. A largish collection of Corben I took in earlier in the year was gone within just a few weeks. Demand is still high for his work, and his name still looms large among a certain segment of comics fans.

In recent years he seemed to be more active working for Marvel and DC, which, well, one has to go where the money is, but his work for these companies was no less idiosyncratic than his independent projects. The Hellblazer run he did over Brian Azzarello’s scripts, and worked with that same writer on a Hulk mini, and did some horror books for Marvel and Dark Horse…that garnered him some all new fans, certainly, who’d never seen Den.

He was a strange and unique talent, and I’m sure we’re all sad to see him go, but glad he shared as much of his imagination with us that he did.

So long, Richard.

4 Responses to “Richard Corben (1940 – 2020).”

  • William Burns says:

    I loved his Edgar Allen Poe work. Corben had one of the most unmistakeable styles around–you never mistook his work for anyone else’s.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    A bit of trivia: Corben is an off-stage character in Donald E. Westlake’s novel A LIKELY STORY. Westlake is best known for his crime fiction, but this is a satire of the publishing industry. Actually, the character is named “Korban,” but the description of his style makes clear who is meant. Oddly, this is the only name change (at least, the only obvious one) in a novel that mentions a great many real writers and artists. The difference, I suppose, is the other references either contain praise or are merely lightly satirical (Isaac Asimov is insanely prolific, Joyce Carol Oates is depressing), but the narrator quite actively dislikes Corben/Korban’s work and spends a paragraph or two explaining why. Either Westlake changed the name out of kindness, or his publisher did so to avoid any chance of a lawsuit.

  • Casie says:

    I never forgot the image of a dragon leisurely smoking a pipe. His style was so great. Very nice tribute, Mike.

  • Snark Shark says: