For me Richard Corben started it all. I was eleven years old and found my sister’s Heavy Metal magazines while she was at work. She was a bit of a biker-chick and introduced me to a lot of great things like David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Easy Rider magazine and, of course, Heavy Metal. I remember seeing the cover with a bizarre-looking alien holding something like a cross between an electric guitar and an assault rifle. As soon as I opened it I was instantly transported to another world, a world full of fantastic creatures, muscle-bound heroes, voluptuous women, and sex.
I had seen naked women before, I had even seen some raunchy things like Hustler and Oui, but I had never seen anything that combined sex, fantasy, and an exciting, well-written story until that moment. I was hooked. Corben’s world of Neverwhere with its titular hero who was incredibly capable and resourceful, though a bit dense, and completely dedicated to his lover, Cath, had me by the balls.
I didn’t grow up on comic books. Even as a kid I always felt they were pandering to me, talking down to me, like they were made by some committee that was formed 30 years before and had forgotten what kids actually feel. What I wanted from a story was respect. I wanted the author to give me something a bit beyond my grasp. Give me a concept, a situation, an experience I didn’t know existed and let me wrestle with it. The comics at the drugstore just didn’t do that.
A few months before, Star Wars had come out and opened my ten-year-old mind to visual storytelling in a way nothing had previously but when I saw the world of Neverwhere I connected in an entirely different way. This was the product of a single mind and hand. There were no producers, no technical limitations, no mass-market pressures, just one author building a world in exactly the way they intended. It was so intimate that I felt like a voyeur, though I had no idea what that meant, peering into Corben’s buried psyche.
This was the spark that started my life as painter, illustrator, and designer. It wasn’t the only thing that set me on that path but it was certainly a milestone. I still own that issue of Heavy Metal and I still lose myself in Neverwhere when I open those pages forty years later.
Richard Corben is an American illustrator and comic book artist best known for his comics featured in Heavy Metal magazine. He is the winner of the 2009 Spectrum Grand Master Award. In 2012 he was elected to The Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.
See more at Richard Corben’s official website.
All artwork © Richard Corben.