If you don’t like Richard Corben, you might as well go do something else with your time this week, as you’re about to get so Corbenated you’ll close your eyes and see nothing but phantasmagorical horrors, beefy heroes, buxom heroines, psychedelic oil-slick skies, rat monsters and rocky, sentient castles for days on end if you continue onward.
Oddly, considering he is a creator I revere so much, I cannot actually remember my first Corben comic, although I do recall being slightly startled by his pneumatic, depilated ladies at some point in my early teens, which would likely make it “Den.” I cannot imagine what it must’ve been like to open the first issue of Heavy Metal up in 1977 and see “Den” with its saturated colours and hyper-physical characters rendered with such depth and definition. “Den” still feels ahead of its time to me, perhaps partly because its stoner ‘70s garishness is an aesthetic that particularly appeals but also because it’s so unlike any other comics art of that or any other period.
Much like the character of Den, transported from our world to the realm of NeverWhere, a place of endless battles and babes filled with inky indigo and orange skies, Corben is able to take his readers elsewhere, and not just elsewhere but anywhere. From the gothic weirdness of one of the decades best miniseries’, Ragemoor, to the urban crime-ridden environment of Cage, to the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, to Mexico with Hellboy, to the Gothic creepiness of Poe, to the depths of space, Corben’s able to do it all and at seventy-five years of age shows no signs of slowing down.
This week, we say goodbye to “Den” in the Heavy Metal recap, say hello to Corben’s latest collected work, the Lovecraft-goes-Deliverance Rat God, feature an incredible video of his adaptation of Poe’s “The Raven” and unearth a classic Lovecraft adaptation a young Corben drew in 1971.
But here’s something to think about before we move on: Richard Corben’s art has possibly been viewed more than any other comics artist ever – his artwork for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell sits somewhere in an estimated 42 million homes across the world.
With the Moebius Library coming next year, hopefully we can soon get something along the lines of a Complete Corben -- he certainly deserves the format.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : RAT GOD
By Richard Corben
Published by Dark Horse Comics
“Around that unforgettable rodent army a whole separate cycle of myths revolves, for it scattered among the village homes and brought curses and horrors in its train.”
--The Rats In The Walls, H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft goes backwoods horror in the legendary Richard Corben’s latest work, Rat God, collected in hardcover and released last week by Dark Horse Comics. Corben’s reputation is the approximate size of Cthulhu himself at this point and it is both fascinating and heartening to see this comics master create a rural annex to Lovecraft’s fictitious city of Arkham, building on not only HPL’s books but Corben’s—and others’ – own adaptations of the material. With Alan Moore’s Neonomicon and currently underway Providence strip-mining HPL’s Cthulhu mythos, INJ Culbard’s wonderful adaptations of HPL’s work, Humanoids 2015 release of Sanctum: Redux (a rather bloated, if frequently pretty, reworking of 2014’s Sanctum which is a reworking of Lovecraft’s The Tomb), and artists as culturally diverse as Japan’s Gou Tanabe splashing around in HPL’s Elder God-infested waters with his The Hound and Other Stories (stay tuned, I’ll get to this), Lovecraft’s influence looms perhaps larger than ever. Hell, my spellchecker even just caught me misspelling “Cthulhu”!
From memory, the last time Richard Corben played in Lovecraft’s world was 2008’s three-issue mini series Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft for Marvel’s MAX imprint, but his affinity for Lovecraft’s writing goes back at least as far as the very early ‘70s, with his adaptation of several of HPL’s short stories including “The Rats In The Walls”(see this week’s Webcomic of the Week). And it’s with “The Rats In The Walls” that Corben comes full circle with Rat King as, title aside, it’s clear that the latter is built from the narrative bones of the former, even if the two tales would seem to have little in common on the surface. I can’t really ruin one without ruining the other, however, so if you’re unfamiliar with “The Rats In The Walls” I’ll let you figure most of this out for yourselves.
Clark Elwood is a repressed, racist student of art history who with his long face and “delicate and nervous” disposition actually resembles HPL somewhat. When Clark bumps into the exotic Kito Hontz at Miskatonic University (site of many a Lovecraft tale, including “Herbert West: Re-Animator”), he’s instantly smitten and strikes up a friendship. Kito is from the backwater town of Lame Dog (the least Lovecraftian name of any town ever), a place long ago ravaged and abandoned by goldminers and built on the back of an obscure, sinister Native American mythology harnessed and perpetuated by a white settler named Zedon Peck.
Upon discovering that Kito nude models for an anatomy class, the aristocratic Elwood becomes outraged and spurns her love. Soon realising his mistake, he packs up and takes off to Lame Dog to find Kito and win her back and on the way becomes embroiled in a murder plot, battles local rat-faced yokels in fist fights, uncovers the existence of a sinister cult sacrificing the young to an ancient, subterranean rat-monster with ties to local mythology and discovers a truth about his own origins which directly mimics the reveal in Lovecraft’s 1930 short story.
Elwood’s an odd duck, repressed but willing to throw fists as needed and fond of using Lovecraft’s Elder Gods as curses (“Sent by Yog Sothoth with his ultimate curse,” “By the loathsome Elder Gods!”), this stuffy academic is seemingly a parody of the occasionally racist, arrogant, wealthy Lovecraftian protagonist with a dash of the equally old school pulp action hero about him. Driven ever forward through the nightmarish atmosphere and sinister plots of Lame Dog, Elwood proves to have the mental as physical fortitude that many a Lovecraftian character lacks, driven mad in their quest for forbidden knowledge.
Corben remains as sharp as ever with his grotesque characters, dollops of bad trip psychedelia, and surreal and uneasy atmospherics still very much at play. His inclusion of his very own Tales From The Crypt/Creepy-style narrator (last seen employed as an expositional device in his most recent collection of Poe adaptions, Spirts of the Dead) speeds exposition along and lends a sense of throwback horror comics fun to proceedings as well as further removing any Lovecraftian stuffiness to his story. His rat creature is hideous, his climactic costume party sequence harrowing, the maze-like gutters of his panels likely a deliberate, playful choice to signal both his rodents and his protagonist’s confused journey into unknown.
Rat King is another wonderful work by the somehow still-prolific Richard Corben that will make a fine Halloween pick-up for the reader looking for some unique, atmospheric and classic chills.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : THE RATS IN THE WALLS
By Richard Corben
(from the story by H.P. Lovecraft)
Fans of the source material may take issue with Richard Corben’s decision to give grotesque, bloody life to this story’s original suggested horror, but me? I’m down with Corb. Created in 1972 under the pseudonym of “Gore,” this 10-page adaptation packs in all the history of HPL’s de la Poer clan a reader could ask for and makes the name of its protagonist’s cat just slightly less offensive for the modern sensibility. The bloody, insane revelation on the last page is rendered with glee by the younger Corben, clearly more concerned with realism here than he has been for decades but already showing the artistic chops that he would hone over the next forty plus years. Open each page image in a new tab for maximum biggedness and enjoy.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: APRIL 1978
Goodbye, Den! According to this epilogue, you have four years to rest and fornicate with Kath until the Queen’s power grows so vast she’ll control the land of NeverWhere so utterly, she’ll have the power to come after you! Why you would actually wait for this to happen, I’m not sure I understand but hey, it’s your life. Still, the garden of Eden Den and Cath find themselves in at the start of “Den’s Farewell” is given such utopian appeal by Richard Corben, I’d likely return there and wait as well. Removing all backgrounds, Den and Kath bask in the glow of their lovemaking upon a lush blanket of flowers and vines, made all the more striking by the absence of any background. Turning the tables, it’s Kath who saves Den for once, swooping down on their winged lizard to pluck Den from the clutches and unwanted advances of the land’s evil queen. We all get a Corben break next issue, as May’s HM is Corbless. He does return in full force the issue after, however, bringing writer Jan Strnad with him for “New Tales of The Arabian Nights.”
*rubs hands together gleefully*
Two more beautiful Airtight Garage pages by Moebius follows, with its stellar creator still seemingly making things up on the spot to satisfy his artistic whims and heighten the spontaneous dreaminess of the strip. This is, seriously, the recap for this particular chapter: “Story to date: Grubert, in his flashy major’s uniform, turns left, then follows a corridor, and finally walks through a sort of door…”
Nobody but Moebius could get away with that.
Den may be gone, but Urm yet remains! Part three of Druillet’s bad trip Grimdark sees our misshapen antihero facing down the Dead Warriors, the head of his own Siamese twin brother filling his mind with doubt – “You dreamed of glory and strength, now the rats will gnaw your bones.” Urm refuses to listen to this very literal voice of negativity and battles on through his dread opposition, as his creator continues to get playful with his layouts and mind-bendingly ornate and freaky with his double page spreads. Such as this:
“Urm” should be in a single volume that dwarfs an IDW Artist’s Edition so we can all get lost in its truly beautiful grotesqueness. It’s so inspiring I actually want to pick up a pen and start carving out my own mandala-panelled, Kirby goes nihilist, sword and sorcery epic. Don’t worry. I won’t.
Bring on next issue’s conclusion please!
Philippe Druillett’s not yet done with this issue, however, as he provides the script for “City of Flowers,” a truly classic little short sumptuously illustrated by Picotto whose ornate line work somewhat recalls Druillett by way of Scalped’s R.M. Guerra. Set in a city built in and on a gigantic tree, a traveller named Firaz arrives in the fantastical, slightly Middle Eastern-looking City of Flowers just in time for carnival. Quickly becoming drunk and festive, Firaz is given a crown and deemed the new King. The mood shifts quickly and an army rises up from the streets, storms the castle and murders the King. Placed on the throne, Firaz quickly finds out that his reign is to be a short one -- the next carnival, and thus the next bloody revolution, is just three months away…
Gray Morrow’s gorgeous “Orion” continues, in which our hero and his companion, Mamba, have a falling out and then possibly the most elegantly drawn knock-down-drag-out brawl in comics. It’s fascinating to see Morrow, with his “classic” style – not too far away from other great SF artists like Al Williamson – embrace the creativity and strangeness of the period. Orion himself looks like something from Sean Connery’s Zardoz gone slightly Arabic; Mamba with his closely cropped Afro, golden vest and monocle (!) is this issue’s most ornately dapper character. The pages are beautiful and, thankfully, there’s a lot more “Orion” to come.
There’s more wonderful Barbarella this issue too, but of special note is “Paradise 9,” a series of interconnected, wildly divergent comics about a planet that only “welcomes 325 visitors” a year and every single visitor seems to recall a different place. Featuring contributions from Heavy Metal creators such as Moebius, Dionett, Gal, Montpellier and many more, “Paradise 9” helps put this particular issue into the all-time best of HM list.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : E.A.POE’S THE RAVEN
Richard Corben’s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s legendary “The Raven” has been given some pretty decent animated effects and The Allan Parson’s Project prog rock classic “The Raven” as a soundtrack. Originally published way back in Creepy #67 and currently found in the massive, simply MUST OWN Creepy Presents: Richard Corben from Dark Horse, “The Raven” sees Corben at both his best and most colourful. The word balloons are cleverly clipped from the artwork, leaving nothing but Corben’s lush, ominous interpretation in all its phantasmagorical glory. This is a cleverly edited piece, with the leering raven repeatedly shown during the climax of the story, some great dissolves and some clever motion work that highlights rather than distracts from the piece.
Crank up the volume for this impressive, respectful motion treatment of a classic piece of comics adaptation. This is easily one of the best videos I’ve included in this column so far and I can’t help but wonder if the man himself has seen it?
See you next week. Love your comics.