Q&A: Comics Great Richard Corben on Adapting Poe in “THE PREMATURE BURIAL”
For over 40 years, Richard Corben has been stunning the comic world with his unique visions of horror and the macabre. From illustrating bizarre tales for fan favorite HEAVY METAL magazine to bringing life to the classic works of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and others, Corben has been working hard at his one man attempt to push the limits of the illustrated medium. He’s been credited with introducing the underground comix vibe to mainstream audiences and with his latest adaption, THE PREMATURE BURIAL by Edgar Allan Poe, he continues to apply his distinguished talent on yet another timeless tale of terror.
FANGORIA: THE PREMATURE BURIAL is one of many adaptations of Poe’s work. What is it about his work that keeps bringing you back?
RICHARD CORBEN: I was vaguely aware of Poe’s stories when I was growing up, but I didn’t read any of them until I was in high school. Roger Corman’s movie adaptations were just appearing then. I found the actual text stories had much more substance and depth than the movies. I wondered at the time why the producers didn’t make more sincere adaptations than they did. I started collecting the other various adaptations in film and comics and it seemed none of them really got it right. Then, when I had become a comic book artist myself, and had the opportunity to work on Poe adaptations, I found that there are forces that work against the possibility of a true copy of Poe’s art. Like cutting down story elements to fit within a given space, or simplifying some concepts so that a certain audience will accept it. Probably more important, is the realization that some themes that work well with the written word don’t work at all in an image format. So when I try to adapt one of Poe’s stories or poems, I don’t often try to create an accurate visual rendition based on Poe’s written words. I think I can get a better overall effect by analyzing what I really like about a story, about what the inspiration is for me, and just go with it. Specifically, I think Poe dealt largely with an internal landscape, the fears and obsessions that made up his characters.
FANG: What made you decide on adapting this particular story?
CORBEN: THE PREMATURE BURIAL has been adapted many times in movies, television and comics. There are so many elements in the story that most adaptors use only bits of the story. There is a strong sexual part of the story that is usually ignored in the adaptations. This is surprising, because you would think that would be the part that could be the most interesting and easily emphasized. That is the episode of the lover that digs up his dead (assumed) darling for a posthumous tryst. So that is the episode I developed.
FANG: You have also adapted works by H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and other horror icons. Why do you enjoy working with a lot of classic material?
CORBEN: I guess I am drawn to projects that involve these greats. Also, by working closely with these famous stories, I feel there is a remote chance that I can learn from them. I can only hope that even a minute smidgen of their imagination might rub off on me. It’s a nice dream anyway. Or, at worst, I sincerely wish that I am not just ripping them off.
FANG: You have been credited with helping the comic horror genre come to fruition with your unique art style and uncompromising talent. What do you think of the current state of comic books and horror? Are you a fan of any current titles?
CORBEN: I follow very little of the currently produced comics. I think much of what passes for horror comics these days are thinly disguised adolescent power fantasies. However, there is one comic creator that I admire greatly and that is Mike Mignola. His writing and art are brilliant. It was my great honor to draw several of his Hellboy stories and there is much I can learn from him.
FANG: You emerged at a time when comics were going through a huge change, trying to adapt to a post-comic code world while still maintaining a bit of integrity. Did the limitations of that time influence your artistic style or was it something that was already developed and looking for a way out?
CORBEN: That was a time in my history when I wasn’t interested in comics any more. I thought the best comics had been done and that was the end of it. I spent all my efforts in trying to make a career in animation and illustration. Then Warren’s CREEPY appeared and I was amazed. Even though I had a regular job at an industrial film company, finding a way to become a comic artist was my main goal. This was done first by getting involved with comic fandom and doing many free projects. When the underground comix found a way to get their comix published and distributed, I was amazed again. So I went in that direction. With the fanzines and underground comix as my training, I started sending stuff to Warren. After what seemed a very long time, he finally started accepting it and began sending me scripts. I never worried about what was going on at Marvel or D. C. What I wanted to do was at Warren, regardless of the pay.
FANG: Would you prefer to do your own storytelling as well as drawing, or do you enjoy being an artist?
CORBEN: The good part of working with an established writer is that he knows what he’s doing and there is a good chance that the finished comic will come out well. The not so good part is that his ideas, as good as they are, are his ideas, not mine. An ideal situation would be to use my ideas put together with a pro’s skills and word craft. Unfortunately this is highly unlikely, so it is inevitable that for me to get the maximum control over my work, I will have to write as well as draw.
FANG: Is there any further work we look forward to?
CORBEN: Yes, I have no intention of retiring until I drop dead. At this point I have finished the Poe series. That’s not to say I’ve grown tired of Poe; no way! There are many more possibilities of Poe stories and poems. But it is time for a change. I’m trying to do something a bit longer, perhaps several issues long. Of course, I’m still developing horror themes. I wrote an eight pager for Warren some years ago named “The Woodlik Inheritance” that I wish to explore further. It has a bit of a Lovecraftian feel to it that will be emphasized.
Further on, it is my wish to do a horror anthology complete with sinister host. Not to be an imitation of the E. C. horror comics, but to imagine what could be if they had set their goals a little higher. All the experts say anthology books don’t sell. When it comes to what I want to do, I don’t have good sense. I can only answer, they did once. And my horror anthology will be different.
FANG: Give us a fun fact…
CORBEN: Sometimes I put little inside references to other works in my stories. In THE PREMATURE BURIAL, on the last panel of the last page, I did a rendition of Harry Clarke’s famous illustration for the same story published in Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Those that recognize the image will see that it is done as homage to Clarke’s moody art. My other adaptations may be similarly afflicted.
Edgar Allan Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, by Richard Corben is now available from Dark Horse Comics.
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