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Richard Corben Before Heavy Metal: The Early Years

Richard Corben had the first story in the first issue of Heavy Metal — the legendary “Den,” which was serialized, sequelized, and became a part of the Heavy Metal movie. Corben continues to contribute today, with the ongoing Murky World, which we began serializing in issue 288. We’ve relied on Corben for some of the most innovative and provocative comics storytelling over the years. Though he was the first we published, Heavy Metal wasn’t his first gig. Here’s a look back at his great pre-Heavy Metal covers, in ragged chronological order.

We’ve put this together with much help from the Grand Comics Database and Poopsheet Foundation. But even those resources aren’t complete — so please, offer corrections in the comments section below, if you think of any.

1967: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Richard Corben, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1967

At the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Corben’s first listed credit is the cover of the September 1967 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Corben would have been 26 at the time of publication, and about a year out of school. He earned his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1965.

1969: Fantagor

The culture was changing, which was a good thing for Corben. His tastes and sense of humor were much better suited to the anything-goes underground comics of the late ’60s than strait-laced science-fiction. The first issue of Fantagor, his first comic, was published in 1969. Like many indie projects, it stretched over years and more than one publisher. The cover of issue 2 features a Corben painting signed “Gore,” one of a few aliases he has used in his career.

Richard Corben, Fantagor #1, 1969
Richard Corben, Fantagor #1, 1969
Richard Corben, Fantagor #1 back cover, 1969
Richard Corben, Fantagor #1 back cover, 1969
Richard Corben, Fantagor #2, 1972
Richard Corben, Fantagor #2, 1972
Richard Corben, Fantagor #3, 1972
Richard Corben, Fantagor #3, 1972
Richard Corben, Fantagor #4, 1972
Richard Corben, Fantagor #4, 1972

1969: Weirdom Illustrated/Weirdom Comix

Weirdom Illustrated #13, from 1969, was subtitled “Special Plague Issue,” and featured a Corben story that would later be published on its own as Tales From The Plague. Corben’s covers for the retitled Weirdom Comix are signed “Darvc,” another of his aliases.

Richard Corben, Weirdom Illustrated 13: Special Plague Issue, 1969
Richard Corben. Weirdom Comix 14, 1971
Richard Corben. Weirdom Comix 15, 1971

1970: World of Comicdom

The last two issues of this series, #16 and #17, published in ’70 and ’71, featured covers by Corben and his “Rowlf” story published in two parts.

Richard Corben, Voice of Comicdom #16, 1970
Richard Corben, Voice of Comicdom #17, 19701

1970: Warren Publications

Richard Corben made his Warren debut with a story published in Creepy in 1970, and went on to get his first Warren cover with the March 1971 issue of Eerie. Corben would become a frequent contributor to these two magazines, as well as Warren’s Vampirella and Comix International. Later, Corben was the cover artist in the first two issues of 1984, Warren’s answer to Heavy Metal.

Richard Corben, Eerie #32, 1971
Richard Corben, Eerie #32, 1971
Richard Corben, Eerie #86, 1977
Richard Corben, Eerie #86, 1977
Richard Corben, Eerie #77, 1976
Richard Corben, Eerie #77, 1976
Richard Corben, 1984 #1, 1978
Richard Corben, 1984 #1, 1978
Richard Corben, 1984 #2, 1978
Richard Corben, 1984 #2, 1978
Richard Corben, Rook #1, 1979
Richard Corben, Rook #1, 1979

1971: Up From The Deep

Corben did the cover for Up From the Deep, and placed two stories in this one-shot anthology. One was “Cidopey,” which is more significant for where it was reprinted in 1975: the premiere issue of Metal Hurlant.

Richard Corben, Up From The Deep, 1971
Richard Corben, Up From The Deep, 1971

1971: Rowlf One-Shot

This comic collects “Rowlf,” previously published in Voice of Comicdom. A colorized version was serialized in Heavy Metal from November 1979 through January 1980.

Richard Corben, Rowlf, 1971
Richard Corben, Rowlf, 1971
Richard Corben, Rowlf (second printing), 1971
Richard Corben, Rowlf (second printing), 1971

1970: Slow Death

Corben had a story in the second issue of Slow Death, an underground comic with an environmental theme. He went on to do the covers for issues 3 and 4.

Richard Corben, Slow Death #3, 1971 (1973 reprint)
Richard Corben, Slow Death #3, 1971 (1973 reprint)
Richard Corben, Slow Death #4, 1972
Richard Corben, Slow Death #4, 1972

1970: Anomaly

Anomaly was yet another underground comics anthology, and Corben’s contributions followed the same pattern as with Slow Death: he placed a story in the second issue, then did the covers for issues 3 and 4. Issue 3 was a black-and-white wraparound cover; issue 4 was color, and stands as one of Corben’s most memorable images from his early career.

Richard Corben, Anomaly #3, 1971
Richard Corben, Anomaly #3, 1971
Richard Corben, Anomaly #4, 1972
Richard Corben, Anomaly #4, 1972

1971: Tales From the Plague

Repackaging of 1969’s Weirdom Illustrated Special Plague Issue.

1972: Death Rattle

Corben did the cover for this Kitchen Sink anthology, and had a story inside. The series continued for two more issues, but Corben did not contribute.

Richard Corben, Death Rattle, 1972

1972: Fever Dreams

This one-shot featured a Corben cover as well as a story inside, “To Meet the Faces You Meet,” that saw Corben team up with writer Jan Strnad, with whom he was also working on Anomaly, and who would become a frequent collaborator.

Richard Corben, Fever Dreams, 1972
Richard Corben, Fever Dreams, 1972

1972: Grim Wit

The cover of the first issue says “100% Gore,” which might seem to be a description of the gruesome contents that presumably await the reader. But it’s also a list of contributors: all stories within are written and illustrated by Corben, who often used the alias Gore in this phase of his career. Grim Wit #2 contains “Den,” which was reprinted in Metal Hurlant issues 3 and 4 (1975) and Heavy Metal‘s first two issues (1977).

Richard Corben, Grim Wit #1, 1972
Richard Corben, Grim Wit #1, 1972
Richard Corben, Grim Wit #2, 1973
Richard Corben, Grim Wit #2, 1973

1974: Things to Come?

Alongside his comics work, which tended to be sexy and irreverant, Corben continued to get some jobs doing straight sci-fi covers. These two scans from a publication called Things to Come are both — the first looks like standard Corben fun, and the second is a classic man-vs-alien image. Obviously we don’t know anything about these images, but they’re definitely Corben and definitely from 1974. Let’s move on.

Richard Corben, Things to Come #5, 1974
Richard Corben, Things to Come #5, 1974
Richard Corben, Things to Come #11, 1974
Richard Corben, Things to Come #11, 1974

1975: Nickelodeon

This literary anthology contained stories by sci-fi luminaries and featured this striking cover by Corben. Heavy Metal alum Jeffrey Catherine Jones is also listed as a contributor.

Richard Corben, Nickelodeon #1, 1975

1975: Jim Steranko’s Mediascene

Steranko, famous for Nick Fury and other Marvel work, and who would later contribute Outland to Heavy Metal, founded Mediascene in 1973, and many stars of comics art took a turn as cover artist.

Richard Corben, Mediascene #16, 1975

1975: Hot Stuf’

Hot Stuf’ was a fantasy-focused precursor to Heavy Metal, publishing Corben and other artists who’d later show up in our pages, including Gray Morrow and Michael William Kaluta.

Richard Corben, Hot Stuf’ #3, 1975
Richard Corben, Hot Stuf’ #5, 1977

1976: Richard Corben’s Funny Book

This hardcover collection reprinted Corben horror stories from Fantagor, Skull Comics, Slow Death, Grim Wit, Hot Stuf’ and other sources.

Richard Corben's Funny Book, 1976
Richard Corben’s Funny Book, 1976

1976: Bizarre Sex

Bizarre Sex was a comics series about gardening. No it wasn’t, it was about sex of the bizarre variety. You’d like it.

Richard Corben, Bizarre Sex #5, 1976
Richard Corben, Bizarre Sex #5, 1976
Richard Corben, Bizarre Sex #6, 1976
Richard Corben, Bizarre Sex #6, 1976

1976: Ariel

Another venue for pre-Heavy Metal “Den.”

Richard Corben, Ariel, 1976
Richard Corben, Ariel, 1976

17 thoughts on “Richard Corben Before Heavy Metal: The Early Years

  1. Thanks a million for publishing Corben’s old underground comics work! I discovered Corben when I discovered the undergrounds in ’68 and got heavily into both. Some of them still resurface when I excavate deeply buried collections but I fear many of them are lost for good. When the undergrounds gradually became extinct or at least endangered in the repressive backswing of the pendulum in the ’70’s I kept waiting for them to come back. Meanwhile I had to content myself with the Warren publications where I’d occasionally see Corben and some of the old hands appear. But they were pretty weak sauce compared to the free wheeling ’60’s. Then a fellow student in a psych class handed me three issues of Heavy Metal saying “I think you’ll appreciate these more than me.” She was right. It was the first glimmer of hope the pendulum might reverse.

  2. You guys are really doing good work on this blog. Corb’s longevity and sustained superior artwork are a marvel.

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