Corben and Me
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I can recall in perfect detail my first encounter with fantasy art. I was six years old and left to myself I rummaged through a closet filled with assorted junk. I found bag full of magazines, cartoons I thought, but these cartoons were nothing like I had ever seen before.
I flipped open a book at random and ďreadĒ the first chapter (I was six and didnít know how to read, much less read a text in English). It was a tale of hairless, bulky, naked people beating each other's brains out and having explicit sex. Later I have found that the images in my memory donít quite match those of the actual book, but that exact same feeling and mood shines through those pages even today. The book was Den by Richard Corben.
I love Corbenís work for many reasons. Iíve always admired his technical skill and his vivid colors, but most of all I admire how he portrays the human body. Corbenís characters are made of flesh, theyíre physical in a sense Iíve rarely seen anywhere else. This unique quality has prompted me to try to dissect his art and perhaps steal a trick or two from the master. Iíll attempt this by doing a series of studies, later moving on to paraphrasing his work and then hopefully make it a part of my own repertoire.
Corben does little to hide the fact that his work is all about naked chicks and violence. He loves big tits, big dicks, and swelling muscles Ė he indulges in these things without self-censorship. In the beginning of book two in the Den saga he addresses this in his own special way by letting Kath, the female lead, express her frustration with Denís behavior. She has Den wearing clothes and attacks his obsession with walking around naked, killing and fucking. This causes strain to their relationship, but the matter soon resolves by Den going back to his old ways. Kath follows suit, everybodyís happy again, and Corben moves on to more sex and violence.
These are male, adolescent fantasies in their purest form, and they donít pretend to be anything else. Love it or hate it; when Corben tells his stories he objectifies male and female alike, and in equal amounts.
A prominent characteristic in all of Corbenís work is his dense, flat shadows. We generally donít see anything going on in there, but instead he focuses all his energy on meticulous rendering in the bright areas. Heís overwhelmingly anal when it comes to that, as I just found out when I tried my hand at copying one of his characters. Hereís the crappy jpg I worked from:
I proceeded by making a sketch in Painter:
At this point I just tried to copy the piece as best I could, figuring that if I didnít start making choices of my own Iíd automatically transfer the Corben goodness into my own painting. I brought the sketch into Photoshop and painted on a separate layer under the sketch so I wouldnít fuck it up:
This is when I realized that the damn sketch was going to give me problems. You donít see Corben using scratchy lines like I did, and those little lines steal way too much attention and direct the image in the wrong way. Up to this point Iím actually picking colors off of the original painting just to make sure I wouldnít to astray.
After a couple of hours of intense noodling I arrive at this:
My wrist hurts and itís way past bedtime. The fucking painting looks like cheap porn, but not in a good way. The glossiness distracts too much, itís got PHOTOSHOP written all over it, but most importantly it took too damn long to make. Iím doing something wrong; itís not just that Iím treading in unknown territory. Iíll have to try something else, this time in Painter.
The good thing is that I worked my way through a Corben drawing. The expression missed the mark, sure, but do enough of these studies and something has to rub off, right?
Richard Corben was born November 1, 1940, on a farm in Anderson, Missouri. There's an entry on him in the Wikipedia, take a look if you feel like it. It's rather dull and uninspired, and I'm temped to make some stuff up on him just to spice things up. Here's a not-too-recent photo of the guy:
I'd say he's been lifting some weights, that's the unmistakable chin of a guy who's been hitting the 5000-calories mark but doesn't have the motivation to work the stairmaster often enough. Fast forward a decade or two and...
Saggy boobs. Nothing defeats gravity, even Ahnold will tell you that.
Back in 1981, Corben did an interview with Heavy Metal Magazine and
came off rather badly by his own account. The interviewer Brad Balfour
had him pinned as a "petty, childish, borderline psychotic oaf". Mildly
entertaining, read it here. His following letter, with a big
list of corrections and complaints, is here.
November 15, 2005
Time for my second try at copying a Corben painting. This time I use a picture from the uncompromisingly juvenile "The Bodyssey". Could have been a porno, but it reads more like an episode of Benny Hill. The artwork is just fantastic from start to finish, here's the frame I used:
I eyeball a sketch that looks wonky as hell:
Still working in Painter I add a Multiply layer work in some color. The Oil brush variants work beautifully for this, and everything is a smooth ride from start to finish. Unfortunately I didn't save any progress shots here except this one, and that's already far into the painting.
I'm noticing a lot of stuff in Corben's painting now. The color of the skin is a delicate dance of yellows, browns and reds, all of them tempered with the skill of a bona fide art ninja. The black sketch with it's generous shadows push the light areas at the viewer with awesome force. There's something else going on here, a little trick of Mr. Corbens'. Right along the edge of the shadow he tends to put a tiny string of dark purple. This accents the yellow skin and makes it pop even more. With a lot less time spent than on my previous try, this is what I come up with:
That's more like it. And Painter didn't crash on me even though I used LAYERS. Amazing. I seriously think I'm on to something here, this time the result is much closer to what I had in mind. Only wish the day had more hours and that you didn't actually need sleep...