There are a number of artists that — to fans of a certain age — truly and in a very real way redefined what comic book art could be, whether that was the way the inks stood out, the proportions and expressions of the characters brought something new, or the sheer kinetic energy that could be displayed in a 2D format. For many comic fans of the 1980’s, that artist was the highly acclaimed jack-of-all-trades, Richard Corben, who died today.
Corben’s penchant for the creepy and eclectic comes from… frankly, the mishmash of talents that make up his life. Hailing from a rural farm in Missouri, Corben spent a good deal of time working on his Fine Art degree from Kansas City Art Institute, bodybuilding, and working as a professional animator before finally finding his home in underground comics. With titles like Skull, Grim Wit, and his own anthology Fantagor under his belt, Corben found himself illustrating some of his most iconic stories for magazines like Creepy, Eerie, and the always-salacious Vampirella, as well as coloring multiple issues of Will Eisner’s seminal series The Spirit.
From humble beginnings came something of a sci-fi powerhouse — which would explain exactly why when Métal Hurlant was birthed from the genius conglomerate of Mobius, Druillet, and Dionnet, Corben’s work found itself a true home among the pages of the American twin publication.
You might know it better as Heavy Metal.
An outlet for all things creepy, fantastic, perverse, and, well, metal, the magazine proved the perfect springboard for Corben’s continued saga of Den, which recounted the adventures of the comics’ eponymous protanigst — a skinny nerd who travels to Neverwhere, a land that mixes the lore of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft into a strange, devious, and hilariously erotic soup. Having landed in Neverwhere, Den becomes a well-endowed muscle man battling snarling monsters, circumventing dangers, and pawing all over the busty blondes who are enthusiastically willing to throw themselves into his arms. This story — of course — was one so beloved that it was later adapted into the cult classic Heavy Metal movie (where Den was voice by none other than John Candy).
Aside from his work in comics — that further extends into Hellboy: The Crooked Man, Rob Zombie’s Bigfoot, Marvel’s Ghost Rider, The House on the Borderland from DC’s Vertigo imprint, and many others — Corben is an artist also known for album covers such as Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”, Jim Steinman’s “Bad for Good”, and film posters for Phantom of the Paradise from director Brian De Palma.
All of this to say that Corben — for all of the criticism that he was given for being sexual, sensual, and lewd with his art — was a beacon of new beginnings in the comics industry and in the world of fantasy art. With awards and a whole host of titles proudly bearing his name, the comics industry will be missing another great.