"If you see a person with a long nose, I'll draw him with a slightly longer nose, to emphasize it. If a hero is muscular, I'll make him more muscular. I emphasize things that attract me, or the essense of them. I see things vividly and that's the way I make them. In literature, people may get different images from reading the same story, but in a comic story, it's concrete -- that's the way it is."
Richard Corben was born in 1940 in Sunflower, Kansas. After attending Kansas City Art Institute, he started working at the Calvin Studios in Kansas City, as an animator, mostly doing boring demonstration movies for industrial clients.
He started doing underground comix in the early seventies, after Gary Arlington from the San Francisco Comic Book Company had sent him some comics, saying "This is where you should be." At the same time, Corben was doing horror comics for Warren Horror Comics.
Then, in 1975, his big break came, as a new "slick" magazine started in France called Metal Hurlant ("Screaming Metal"). And when Metal Hurlant started publishing in America, as Heavy Metal, in 1977, he continued his work for the franchise, drawing the stories Den and Den II, as well as several others. Den is the name of the main character, a grotesquely muscular man, who appears to have a thing for killing anthropomorphic insects and not wearing clothes. The Den character starred in the Heavy Metal movie, ironically with the voice talent of John Candy.
In the summer of 1981, Corben was interviewed by Brad Balfour, a Heavy Metal editor, a long interview spanning 3 issues, but which Corben was severely dissatisfied with. In the interview, Balfour made it appear as though Corben was a repressed homosexual (on purpose or not, it's not clear), sexist, and, well, to use Corben's words, "a petty, childish, borderline psychotic oaf". Corben wrote a letter in retort, which was published in full. Regardless of the dubious quality of the interview, it does contain some interesting things, such as a walkthrough on how he paints his pictures.
Brad Balfour: What do you think of people who say, "This guy Richard Corben has just got to be real perverse!"?
Richard Corben: They're full of shit!
Brad Balfour: Look at the way you exaggerate the male figure. Don't you think there's a sort of subtle homosexual implication in that?
Richard Corben: I just emphasize the primary sexual characteristics, and the same thing with the women.
Brad Balfour: So now people would say, "This guy has got to be awfully perverse. He draws these women with huge, enormous breasts!" Why do you do that?
Richard Corben: To differentiate them from the men, of course.
It appears that Balfour has an agenda he wants to push in this interview, and one that Corben definitely does not agree with.
"[Brad Balfour] might view the art and say it shows "hidden homosexual or S&M tendencies." A simpler interpretation would be that the image shows a heroic idealism developed to such an extreme degree as to be slightly satirical and tongue-in-cheek. This is in fact the intent. I think much of your interview reveals more of you than me.
Aside from his painted work, Corben has also dabbled in photography and sculpting, some examples of which can be seen in Heavy Metal. While the photography might appear pseudo-artsy, the sculptures are very well done, exhibiting his knack for detail clearly. Most of his sculptures are used by himself as reference material when drawing his figures in odd poses.
During the 1990s, Corben has worked on several projects, including an Aliens series (Aliens: Alchemy) for Dark Horse, and a series for Penthouse Comix.
Bibliography (only the more imporant works are listed here)
"And finally, for the record, I do not want to kill anybody and I do not want to beat up anyone."
Sources: Interview in Heavy Metal magazine, vol V, issues 3-5 (June - August, 1981), and letter to the editor, issue 6 (September, 1981). Dark Horse Comics interview, August 1997. See also other Comics creators.