Comic creators across the globe have been paying tribute to multi-award winning comic artist and writer Richard Corben, an artist perhaps best known for his work on Heavy Metal, and as the artist who drew the cover of Meat Loaf’s debut album Bat Out of Hell, whose death was announced this week. He was 80.
“It is with great sorrow and loss that I must share the sad news that Richard Corben died Dec 2, 2020 following heart surgery.,” his partner Dona announced in a short statement on Facebook. “He will be missed tremendously by his family, his friends, and his fans.
“Richard was very appreciative of the love for his art that was shown by you, his fans. Your support over the decades meant a great deal to him. He tried to repay your support by working diligently on each piece of art going out to you. Although Richard has left us, his work will live on and his memory will live always in our hearts.”
Described by fellow artist Bill Sienkiewicz as an “American original”, Richard Corben was born in Missouri and grew up in Sunflower, Kansas, a work force community of Sunflower Ordinance Works which made bombs for World War Two, and drew comics all of his life, his first published work, “Tales from the Plague”, appeared in 1969.
He was working on the last pages of a new project, Dimwood, in October this year.
His official web site notes one early effort was a series of comics about the adventures of Trail, the family dog. Later he moved to imitations of Tarzan and Brothers of the Spear.
Corben also showed a keen interest in animation by turning many pads of paper into animated flip books, but at art college, he concentrated on basic drawing and painting. Developing these skills would become vital in creating his chosen realistic style.
His school offered no courses for animation, but Corben nevertheless produced a five minute animated film highlighting the labors of Heracles, using his father’s 8mm movie camera, as his senior project.
After school, he wanted to go to New York to launch a career in comics or animation. But Corben was always a timid and shy person and he put off such a drastic move. After some time working in construction for his father among other things, he found a local job as an artist, animator and cameraman in a Kansas City industrial film company, marrying Dona at this time.
After nearly ten years at the film company, Corben felt frustrated that he really hadn’t given his art career a chance, and started drawing so called “underground” comix and fanzines, also pitching, for work on Warren Publishing’s CREEPY comic magazine. Initially unsuccessful, the “wannabe” comic book artist and, finally, publisher James Warren and his editor Bill Dubay relented and started sending Corben scripts to draw.
In 1977, he was hired to illustrate the cover of Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut album, Bat Out of Hell.
“Corben was the perfect choice for this cover,” comics expert Jan Wiacek told Q. “His very stylised, airbrushed, exaggerated style was ideal. His linework has always been more like a graphic artist than a cartoonist, the opposite to the flat photographic style of your run-of-the-mill superhero comics.”
The artist also drew the artwork for 1981’s Bad for Good, the album composer Jim Steinman released under his own name after Meat Loaf’s vocal problems prevented him from recording a follow-up.
His spanned work in underground comix, and included the creation of characters such as Den in 1973, initially for the US title Grim Wit followed by French magazine Metal Hurlant, then Heavy Metal. The character also features in an animated short created by Corben, Neverwhere, featuring Den in his first adventure, online here on YouTube.
When the popularity of the undergrounds began to diminish, the Corben’s started Fantagor, a publishing company mainly devoted to publishing Richard’s comics. However, this business wasn’t enough to support the Corben family so he also began drawing for US publishers, including DC Comics, Marvel and Dark Horse.
“His work was larger than life (in every way) and totally unique,” notes Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, paying tribute. “I never in a million years could have guessed that one day we would work together but we did. I wrote The Crooked Man specifically for him and to this day it remains my favourite Hellboy story.”
He continued to create comics into his final year, but also created small animated movies for pleasure.
Dona has said she will continue to conduct sales of Richard’s art through the Corben Studios website at corbencomicart.com.
“I will also be managing the ongoing process of publishing his work internationally. Please give me and my family a little time to collect ourselves and we’ll get back with you in 2021.”
Faces will be only the second feature-length film adapted from one of Corben’s comics, following the appearance of Den in the 1981 anthology film Heavy Metal.
The film’s director, J. Allen Williams (Darkstar, Everything) managed to purchase a copy of this story at the age of 12, successfully hiding the explicit underground copy from his mother, and tended a growing seed of an idea for a movie for nearly half a century.
In the early 1990s, Williams met Corben and they collaborated on projects over several decades and became friends. Also working with Jan Strnad, fast forward to 2020 and the entire movie has been produced.
Similar to TRON or The Last Starfighter, but in 4K with modern animation techniques, the film looks to being be a more than fitting synthesis of Corben’s unique art and vision.
“He was a passionate, creative soul, and we are grateful not only to have known him, but to have had the privilege of working with him for over 20 years,” Parallax commented in their tribute to Corben.
“Although Corben viewed several early versions of the film, our one regret is that he will not be able to see the finished film with all of the actors in place. Nevertheless, we look forward to bringing this final collaboration to life and for the opportunity to share Corben’s genius with the world once more.”
Our sympathies from downthetubes, to family and friends at this time. We have lost a singular talent, who will be much missed.
Artist and Comic Creator Tributes
“One of my absolute heroes artistically,” noted Green Lantern artist Liam Sharp in his Facebook tribute. “A sometimes painfully shy man, he was never-the-less fearless in his art, pioneering his own unique technique and boldly creating epic, swashbuckling and erotic fantasy/horror masterworks unlike anything else in the comics world.
“The uninitiated will no doubt be familiar with his cover to Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, but for me it was his Den saga that utterly changed how I thought of comics, and also colour.
I wrote to him about twenty years ago via his website just to say all of the above, and he wrote the most humble and generous message back – something I really did not expect. I wish I had printed it out, but alas it’s lost to time now. Sad that I never got to meet him in person, but what a legacy! A true legend.
“I hope in death he was transported, like Den, to Muvovum, and is right now battling dramites and claiming a kingdom for himself.”
“I discovered Richard’s art at age 12 in 1972, and I’ve known Rich since the 90’s working on many projects together,” says To Meet the Faces You Meet film director, J. Allen Williams. “I’m grateful that through him I met his writer and friend Jan Strnad, and we will continue finishing a film that owes a massive debt of creative gratitude to the master, RC.
“I have so many thoughts and emotions, but few words. Every time I start to feel sad for my own loss, my thoughts turn to Dona Corben, his life partner, love, collaborator, and muse. She made me sandwiches at their old place on Bannister Rd. while Richard and I brainstormed graphics for Darkstar. My heart goes out to her right now – Richard is in a better place, perhaps Neverwhere. He’d like that, running around in Den’s body, fighting lizard men, and vanquishing evil queens — King of his own domain.
“ Thank you, Richard — fellow KCAI alumni, partner in art, and friend — thank you for 80 years on this earth, leaving behind an entire library of stories, worlds and fantasy for us to look to as you pass the final signpost on your journey to Neverwhere. I’ll see you there one day, and will miss you sorely until I do.”
“I discovered ‘Vic and Blood’ when I was in college and had the great honour of working with Richard on a few covers for Vertigo back in the 90s/early 00s,” publisher and editor Shelly Bond recalls. “He was as kind and professional as he was talented. His legacy in comics will continue.”
“Richard Corben, brilliant artist, American original,” noted artist Bill Sienkiewicz. “Rest In Peace.”
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Richard Corben,” said 2000AD and Doctor Who artist and author David Roach. “One of comics most unique, revolutionary, inspired and maverick talents. I think like many of us in the UK I first discovered work in the fabulous Masters of Comic Art book and then went on to enjoy him in 1984, Heavy Metal, Undergrounds, book and record covers and numerous collections.
“His use of colour was revolutionary, as was his whole-hearted embrace of sex and violence – it was all there in Corben’s work! I suspect his cover for Bat Out of Hell will remain his single enduring image, but it’s a fantastic piece of work, so there’s no harm in that. For comic fans there’s so much more to explore. This cover to his Bloodstar graphic novel is, for me, one of his finest pieces of work.”
“He remains a massive influence and source of inspiration. An amazing artist and storyteller,” commented artist Nathan Fox of the School of Visual Arts. “Will forever cherish and share his work.”
“His vivid, thrilling work opened the junction between underground and mainstream comics, “ says artist Dave Gibbons.
“He was one of the greatest comic book artists of all time,” says artist and writer David Hine. “A true original. Irreplaceable…”
“Absolutely gutted,” commented artist, writer and editor David Leach. “…He was a superb artist with an utterly unique style of artwork. He continued drawing to the end and his work never diminished in quality. I’m sorry to see him gone.”
“Deeply saddened, he was an inspiration to me,” noted as yet unpublished author James King. “I cherished his Heavy Metal stories, graphic novels and Fantagor Press comics which were a staple influence during my super 8mm/16mm filmmaking days. Always astonishing work by a giant in the field of storytelling and illustration. My heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.”
“The Marvel family is deeply saddened by the loss of Richard Corben, a revolutionary artist and decades-defining talent in comics,” Marvel commented on his passing. “Richard’s gripping and powerful work at Marvel and beyond will be remembered for decades to come. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.”
“I only got to work with Richard Corben once when we did the Bigfoot series,” recalled creator Steve Niles. “He could not have been nicer. When we finished I mentioned I’d like to buy a piece from the book and he replied by sending me a splash with a note that said ‘No charge for collaborators.’Sweet man and one of my favourites.”
“He was a master and a huge influence on my art,” noted Canadian artist Steve Otis. “About 30 years ago I sent him some of my art and asked advice and he always wrote back offering tips and critiques and whenever I would buy his books from Fantagor Press, they always arrived signed.”
Richard Corben was a giant in the world of indie comics. Influential to so many artists,” commented artist Eric Powell, creator of The Goon. “And an innovator. From ink to oil to airbrush to being one of the first digital painters in comics. He worked in every medium. His work was always weird, always interesting.
“He was so influential to me and so many other artists. He made the world of comics and fantasy art a more interesting place.”
I’m devastated by this sad, sad news,” said artist and photographer and David Kennedy, whose work has featured in the Washington Post. “Richard’s art was so powerful, vibrant and dynamic – and his style was so uniquely his own – he was truly one of a kind. As an artist myself, Richard’s artistic genius has had a profound impact on me personally. His work always pushed the limits of what is possible in the realms of story telling and illustration. My eternal gratitude goes out to him for being such a profound inspiration and for the endless enjoyment that I experience every time I look at his artwork.
“RIP, Mr. Corben, and thank you. See you on the other side.”
• Richard Corben’s Official Site is online at corbencomicart.com
• Flights into Fantasy, compiled by Fershid Bharucha, published in 1981, offers a guide to the life and career of Richard Corben to that point – but as artist David Roach notes, Richard is long overdue a new collection making the most of today’s improved scanning techniques