Newsarama Note: Please enjoy the images in order, presenting a full story from Richard Corben!Richard Corben’s decades-long run as one of the most prominent figures in SF, fantasy and horror comics is filled with such highlights as his long run with his own company, Fantagor Press, elections to the Eisner Hall of Fame and as a Spectrum Grand Master, seeing his work adapted in the 1981 Heavy Metal film, doing the cover art to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and of course his continuing work at Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse and other companies. But for many fans, their first exposure to his work was in the Warren magazines of the 1970s, such as Creepy and Eerie.
Now, the best of his work from those years has been collected into the hardcover Creepy Presents: Richard Corben from Dark Horse, featuring such characters as Hard John Apple, Child and The Butcher, along with plenty of tales with zombies, giant lizards, barbarians, monsters, skull-crushing violence, and buxom bodies. We got up with Corben to discuss this retrospective of his work – and if you look at the images throughout this story, we have a full tale from this volume to share with you.
Newsarama: Richard, what's it like seeing these Warren stories compiled in one place?
Richard Corben: It's like I suddenly stepped through a time warp. But better. Looking at these old stories, I can remember what was going through my head when I drew them – both the trials and the rewards.
Though some of the stories suffer from being scanned from the earlier printed pages, some others, most notably the color ones look better in this collected edition than they ever did in the original printings. This is due mainly to the efforts of the people in Dark Horse's scanning and retouching department, and especially to the work of Jose Villarrubia who practically reconstructed some of the stories.
Nrama: What do you remember most about the experience of working for the Warren magazines?Corben: It was a wonderful time for me. I know other writers and artists had problems dealing with Warren, but my experience was completely positive. There were a few small adjustments and conflicts, things I now consider growing pains.
This was my first experience working for a real comic magazine, and it was an amazing ego rush for me.
Nrama: What was your involvement with putting this collection together?
Corben: Other than reviewing the material to be used, my main contribution was to do the new cover. That was enjoyable for me also.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about how you originally came to do stories for Warren.
Corben: When the Warren comic magazines first appeared, I was working at an industrial movie company in Kansas City. I think I had already contributed to a couple comic fanzines at that time. Creepy was a perfect fit for my goals. I just had to convince Warren and the editor(s) that they needed me.
It took several years for that to happen. I sent page samples, full story samples, covers, anything. They must have really gotten tired of all the unsolicited crap I was sending.Nrama: You worked with a wide variety of writers at Warren -- what do you consider your most successful collaborations and why?
Corben: The best has to be Bruce Jones and Jan Strnad. Possibly because I knew both of them personally, they are both from the Midwest like me, and we have common interests in comic book and old horror and science fiction movie themes.
Of course, they are both very talented. The shark story (“In Deep”) and the time travel trilogy (“Within You…Without You”) are the most memorable things I did with Bruce. The ones done with Jan usually ended up in other locations such as fanzines and foreign publications.
Nrama: So I'm curious -- occasionally they'd do an issue where they'd base stories off a cover image. What was it like when you had to draw a story based around an image you'd drawn without imagining the storytelling context?
Corben: I suppose that situation can produce good stories, but the ones I did are not the most successful, mainly because when I'm drawing a cover image I think about a story line that could produce the scene.
The story another writer thinks of to correspond with the image is never what I had in mind, nor does it fit very well to the image. I'm usually surprised about how loose the connection is. But the editor passed it, so I have to draw it.Nrama: Having worked at Vertigo and IDW in recent years, how do you feel the Warren books helped pave the way for their kind of material?
Corben: Yes, they have but not only in the comparative larger range of themes possible as shown in Warren's books, but with even more possibilities as done by underground comix and amateur fanzines.
Nrama: Of the stories contained in this volume, do you have any personal favorites? If so, what are they and why?
Corben: When Creepy did their Edgar Allan Poe special issues, I was able to draw and color “The Raven.” My drawing and coloring had reached a point where I was confident to the task. Adapted by Richard Margopoulos, Poe's theme of a man struggling to come to terms with his grief is the most profound and meaningful of any of my Warren stories.
Nrama: A number of the tales in this book end with the human race, the planet Earth, and in one case the entire space-time continuum being wiped out. What draws you to those types of apocalyptic tales?Corben: When the outside world is destroyed, you are forced to turn to the inside world. There characters are isolated, motivations seem simpler, more basic. All the superfluous bad stuff of the real world is gone, like taxes, traffic jams, standing in endless lines, but the basic hard stuff is still there, demanding attention, like survival, finding a mate, or beating a competitor.
Nrama: How was working for Warren different than, say, Heavy Metal or doing your own books?
Corben: As I said, Warren was my first publisher/employer. Although I often disagreed with the editors about the stories, I was always completely aligned with the concept of a horror comic book. Compared with Heavy Metal , they had a strong editorial direction.
Generally, Heavy Metal got their content from European magazines, especially Metal Hurlant. The few artist/writers they dealt with did whatever they wanted, as long as it was colorful and spectacular.When I was publishing myself, I knew I wanted to do mostly horror and science fiction. But I had to do everything myself, from concept, doing previews for the distributors catalog, writing, drawing , coloring, photo-mechanical work, dealing with the printers and distributors, and fulfillment. And each book represented a substantial cash risk. We lost a lot of money on some of our books.
Nrama: I was curious as to whether you ever thought of adapting any of these tales into short films.
Corben: As an amateur movie maker, I often consider short stories as possible material for one of my movies. For me, doing a movie takes a lot of work and commitment. I have to really like a story a lot for me to be serious about adapting a comic story.
Except for some kinds of animation, movie making is generally a group effort. That means convincing some other movie nerds to spend their time and effort on a project. No wonder 99 percent of movie ideas never get off the ground.Nrama: Also, you did a few sequels to some of these stories -- any others you're tempted to go back and revisit?
Corben: Sometimes I do a story that I like so much, I don't want it to end. That's why there are sequels. Or if a story is so successful that the readers demand some kind of continuance. Unfortunately, it is a rare sequel that lives up to the original.
Nrama: Who are some of your favorite contemporary comic creators, artists and writers?
Corben: Although I consider myself a comic book professional, I rarely look at the mainstream comic books. I'm just not interested. I have my own niche that completely envelops me. With a few notable exception – Mike Mignola has reached a level in his art and writing that puts him beyond most of us. He certainly has a lot to teach me.
Nrama: What's next for you?Corben: I am currently doing a series of Gothic horror stories based on the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. So far, I've done “Sleeper,” “The City in The Sea,” “The Assignation,” “Berenice,” “Shadow,” “The Conqueror Worm,” and “Alone.”
Some of these Dark Horse will be running in Dark Horse Presents. Others will be one-shot comics. I don't know what the total number will be. I guess I'll keep going until I get tired of it, which won't be for a while yet.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Corben: I guess I'd like to say that I appreciate the position I'm in now. That is, I've been successful enough that I can pick and choose what projects I will do. This certainly wasn't always the case.
I've had to do jobs I didn't care for, or a job had to be done under bad circumstances. These never came out very well, although I worked as hard on them as any other job. I just hope the people who follow my work will remember me for the good stuff, and forget about the bad stuff.
Creepy Presents: Richard Corben is in stores now.