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Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

BAKER'S DOZEN for 10/28/2009
Richard Corben on Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft: Haunt of Horror

Whether you first encountered it in the pages of such classic magazines as Creepy, Eerie and Heavy Metal, between the covers of such underground comix as Rowlf and Fantagor, or in any number of graphic novels and collections on the stands today, it’s likely that Richard Corben’s art left a deep and lasting impression. Combing impeccably rendered human figures and backgrounds, seamless visual storytelling and an unfailing ability to capture the perfect moment and emotion in every panel, Corben’s work offers a glimpse into another universe, another reality, and fresh insights into the heart and souls of the beings inhabiting those uncharted realms.

Now, after forty-odd years in the business, Corben has returned to his roots, crafting illustrated versions of choice tales and poems from two seminal authors that readers of this magazine should be intimately familiar with: Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. The result is a synergy between words and pictures which achieves that rarest of states…

A Perfect and Fearful Symmetry
Richard Corben on Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft: Haunt of Horror


Bill Baker: How would you describe the Haunt of Horror project, and how did you get involved with it?

Richard Corben:
Axel Alonso, an editor at Marvel and a long time friend, came up with this brilliant concept. He knew I loved weird horror stories, especially Poe and Lovecraft. He also brought in Rich Margopoulos who also has a keen interest in Poe. I worked with Margopoulos years ago when [Jim] Warren was running many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in his books, Creepy and Eerie. Rich and I did “The Raven,” “The Oval Portrait” and “The Shadow” together--and I have done many projects with Axel at Marvel, and before at DC Vertigo.

BB: What aspects of Poe's work, be they obvious or more subtle, marked it as a perfect fit for this series and for you? How about Lovecraft's work?

RC: I feel that much of Poe's works deals directly with that most basic of all human feelings, fear, and its more extreme state, horror. He speaks directly to me because I am a very fearful guy. And he expresses these feelings in an artful way, which to me makes them more palatable. Lovecraft also deals with fear and horror but in a very different way. Poe gets close to his characters, even inside them. The fears that Lovecraft deals with are usually strange, alien, even cosmic, definitely from the outside.

BB: Well, how influential have these authors been upon you and your work, visually or otherwise?

RC: I have always loved the stories and poems of Poe and Lovecraft. I think my first contact with Poe's work was from the loose movie adaptations that Roger Corman did in the sixties. I was doing commercial art at the time, but it never occurred to me that I could do horror comics. Then, when the Warren horror comics started appearing, I felt I had to get into this somehow.

BB: One of the more interesting aspects of the Poe collection is that you and your co-creators largely chose to use his work as inspiration for your own, sometimes modernized versions of his tales. What lead you folks to take that approach?

RC: I think this was an editorial decision. The idea was to have these old stories relate to modern readers. At first I preferred keeping the time period and mood as the author originally wrote it. But now I like them both ways if the intent and mood is sincere. Margopoulos and Alonso did most of treatments before I saw them. The only story I wrote for the Poe Haunt of Horror was “The Raven.” And you see I kept it roughly in Poe's time frame. Actually with “The Raven,” I was trying to recapture the mood and feelings I had when I drew “The Raven” years before in Eerie magazine, also with Rich Margopoulos. I even drew the same handsome fellow as the lead character. My good friend and fellow comic book artist Herb Arnold modeled for me in those ancient times.

BB: So, how did you and the rest of the creative team come up with the new scenarios?

RC: As I said, Axel and Rich did most of the adaptations. As we got further into the project it was a matter of an efficient division of labor. They were doing the writing while I was drawing.

BB: It seems like you took a slightly different approach with Lovecraft, not only by handling the scripting yourself, but also by following the original texts more closely. What lead to your taking that approach to adapting Lovecraft's work?

RC: When the Poe Haunt of Horror was finished we all went on to other projects. Although Axel had mentioned a Lovecraft Haunt of Horror, I doubted that it would happen because of other work. There was also some talk of doing more Poe stories, but that didn't happen. When I had time I did some conceptual work for the Lovecraft concept. We didn't want to do the more well known stories, but adapt some of his interesting poetry. I made a list of stories and poems and a brief one line description of how I would treat it. Based on that, they allowed me to proceed by myself.

In some ways the stories may seem close to the originals, but many Lovecraft fans have objected to the liberties I took. For instance, Lovecraft may have described some unknown frightening threat without telling what it looked like. I felt I had to give this threat an image. Often making something from the indefinite, to the visually real and definite, destroys its power. A viewer might realize that the creature really just looks silly rather than unimaginably horrible.

BB: Aside from your art, one of the more visually striking things about these books was the choice to present it all in black and white and gray tones. What lead you to go in that direction?

RC: I was in total agreement of producing the books in black and white and tones; I wished to evoke the moods of the old black and white horror movies. A tonal image has an automatic harmony, a single mindedness of vision related to the short stories single mindedness of thought. I hoped I could maintain more control over the pages in tones than in color. Some of the editors also wanted to suggest the era of free spirited underground comix.

BB: Did you make any new discoveries about these two seminal authors or their work while working on these books?

RC: The discoveries I made on these projects were inspired by the other people working with me and seeing their reactions to the material, which were usually quite different than mine. I've read the stories many times, but seeing what another person gets from a story can be a revelation.

BB: You've been doing this for quite some time now. What brought you into the field in the first place, and what's kept you making comics through all those years to today?

RC: I have been and am in love with the possibility of comics. I feel the comic artist/author has absolutely as much control over his stories as the text writer has over his. Making visual stories is basic to my purpose in life. To me reading a good comic is like watching a good movie on paper.

BB: What do you hope your audience gets from your work? Is it all about pure entertainment, or might you hope that they take something a little more substantial away with them?

RC: When I'm drawing a comic, I hope for the best. I want the technique to be so correct that it's invisible. Frivolous entertainment is fine and is a good goal to shoot for. Sometimes a story has a few more possibilities, and I want to be ready to deliver them. Something about a character, an intriguing plot, an insight to a relationship, about life; you know, heavy stuff.

BB: What's next for you? Will there be new additions to the Haunt of Horror line, or have you moved on to something new?

RC: Right now I'm working on a fantasy adventure for Marvel's Max line with Daniel Way. Since comic production is dependent on successful business, my feelings about a project may not be the deciding factor. I really enjoyed the Haunt of Horror series and would love doing more, but there aren't any plans for additional series right now.

BB: Anything you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?

RC: For a gallery of old Corben illustrations, current figure drawings, a checklist of Corben comics and other stuff visit www.CorbenStudios.com. I usually have several personal projects going at any one time, which includes animated movies, paintings, or special book illustrations.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has supported my work over the years. I'll continue to work as hard as I can to make it worthwhile.



To learn more about Richard Corben, head over to www.CorbenStudios.com.

Check out www.Marvel.com for the latest information on Corben’s most recent work with the venerable House of Ideas.

Finally, a version of this interview first appeared in the Spring, 2009 rendition of Weird Tales [otherwise know as Vol. 64, No. 1, Issue 353]. Hit www.WeirdTalesMagazine.com if you’d like to grab a copy of this or an earlier issue of that venerable periodical for your own library.
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