Dona Corben broke the sad news earlier today on the Corben Studios Inc Facebook page:
“It is with great sorrow and loss that I must share the sad news that Richard Corben died Dec 2, 2020 following heart surgery. He will be missed tremendously by his family, his friends, and his fans.”
Best known for his work on the sci-fi/fantasy comic book magazine Heavy Metal, Corben’s many accolades during his long career in comics is being inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2012 and recently becoming one of the very few American comic book creators to win the prestigious Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême, awarded by the Angoulême International Comics Festival (the second-largest comic book festival in Europe). Corben was the president of the 2019 Angoulême Festival.
Corben began his career as an animator and in fact, one of his earliest short films, Den, would later become probably his most famous comic book creation, as well. Corben then began working in the burgeoning underground comix scene of the late 1960s/early 1970s, back when the prevalence of head shops (stores that primarily sold drug paraphernalia) in the United States made selling indie comix an actual sustainable career as an artist. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that local communities could set their own standards for obscenity, head shops went out of business all over the country, decimating the underground comix industry. Luckily for Corben, he had set such a high standard of quality that he was quickly picked up by Warren Publishing, one of the mainstream horror comic book magazines of the time.
Corben’s early 1970s work for Warren on books like Eerie and Vampirella were highly acclaimed at the time…
In 1975, Moebius, Druillet, and Jean-Pierre Dionnet started the French horror/fantasy/sci-fi comic book magazine, Métal Hurlant. Corben was very interested in working with those comic book legends on the magazine and he sent them samples right away and he was soon working on Metal Hurlant and then its American counterpart, Heavy Metal.
During this period, Corben also drew one of the earliest graphic novels actually pitched as a “graphic novel,” the 1975 Robert E. Howad sword and sorcery adaptation, Bloodstar.
Corben brought his earlier concept, Den with him to Heavy Metal. Den was about a scrawny young man who is transported to Neverwhere, a world that is sort of a mixture of all of the iconic fictional universes (think Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age combined with horror universes, as well). Den becomes a muscle-bound warrior and has all sorts of over-the-top adventures against horrific monsters while having erotic dalliances with many buxom nude women. In the world of Richard Corben, everything was done to the extreme, from sex to horror, he was the living epitome of This Is Spinal Tap‘s volume dials that “go up to eleven.”
In 1986, Corben started his own publishing company, Fantagor Pres, where he continued to put out new Den material, as well as the acclaimed Rip in Time series with writer Bruce Jones. In 1988, Corben also illustrated Vic and Blood: The Chronicles of a Boy and His Dog, working with Harlan Ellison in a continuation of Ellison’s iconic “Boy and His Dog” series.
For the general public, one of Corben’s most iconic pieces is probably his cover art to the 1977 Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman album, Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums in music history (selling over 43 million copies to date).
Corben, though, was never one to rest on his laurels. He continued to produce excellent horror and fantasy artwork well into the 21st Century, including a long stint at Marvel in the 2000s drawing a number of Marvel MAX miniseries, starring iconic characters like Punisher, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider.
In 2008, Corben drew the Hellboy miniseries, The Crooked Man, written by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola. The work helped to show Corben’s brilliance to a whole new generation, with the series winning multiple Eisner Awards for its disturbing horror imagery….
He did a few more highly-acclaimed Hellboy series.