By Richard Corben
King of the underground scene and Will Eisner Hall of Famer, Richard Corben continues to make his own brand of comics, which remain unmatched in both art and story. Whether independent comics, or mainstream comics, few people, if anyone, have had the same impact on the medium itself.
How’s that for bold points? Well, it’s true. Richard Corben has been doing comics his own way ever since he got into the industry decades ago. Though his stuff is some of the strangest available and he never pulls any punches when presenting regularly disturbing content, the man received broad acclaim and the highest praise. His style is the epitome of original and he’s capable of both realistic and simpler illustration depending on what any particular project may call for. For example, some of his vintage Heavy Metal covers are as detailed and accurate as anyone’s, while some of his interiors are minimized in line work, although his choice of approach never diminishes the effect whatsoever. Faithful readers no doubt have come to expect magnificence in place of uniformity when it comes to Corben comics. Thanks to the typically off-kilter tone of his stories, it only ever works perfectly. That tone is best described as Horror, and as far as the genre is concerned in comics, Richard Corben’s name is synonymous with the category. Yes, he has his own distinct brand, but his style has influenced more than one generation of artists hoping to make even a fraction of the impact on that same beloved genre.
Shadows on the Grave #1 is just the latest installment in a legendary career and it is absolutely worth the cover price. Fans won’t hesitate and newcomers should take note, that whether each of the short stories in this collection registers with you, there will always be points of admiration and wonder. Recurring narrators Mag the Hag and sidekick Gurgy Tate, introduces a variety of horror tales that, though they seem to exist in the same general universe, don’t connect in any particular way. Think Tales From the Crypt, Eerie or Creepy in terms of a genre-specific if not eclectic anthologies for comparison. But in this case, it’s all Richard Corben all the time, as opposed to a selection of writers and artists.
Each story here in issue #1 is told with a structured beginning middle and end, save the last one, “Denaeus Dreams of Portents”, which will lead into issue #2. Besides the continuation, each story does its part to build interest and keep readers engaged, if only in that you just have to see what Corben will do next. Bizarre to the core, you may find yourself at odds with your interests only because this comic is attractive for all the wrong reasons. Gross and disgusting, done this well, can only be admired and you may not regret seeing that which cannot be unseen for a change. So, if you’re ready to dip into the unnatural and probably an alternative to your regular pull list, then grab this book. Let this be your guilty pleasure. Existing fan or not, Shadows on the Grave is gorgeous and presented in signature black and white, without sacrificing a bit of detail. Corben goes big with fully rendered images that are worthy of some of his finest cover art. There are aspects of his art, full color or grayscale, that make everyone else’s seem somehow incomplete.
Shadows on the Grave is as fun and clever as it is horrific. You’ll smile, even laugh at parts, while other moments will make you cringe and wince. That’s the point. This book is the product of a true master who knows exactly what he’s doing. If something doesn’t look or feel perfectly right, then that’s on the reader for over relying on the standards of the mainstream. What Corben sets out to do, particularly in the first installment about life-like marionettes titled “Strung Along”, is convince us that his own unique perspectives are in part what make his themes work so well. All of those themes, by the way, are listed on the first page by ol’ Mag the Hag. It’s a wink at the reader, reminding us these are just stories after all. But make no mistake, Corben uses lesser-realized parts of the world, or smaller, simpler ways of life to explore deep dark secrets and evils that have gone unseen by the masses. It is ironic that the man’s own comics could be best described by explaining what his work communicates about the unnerving possibilities of our own world. Assuming you’ve got the courage, some things, no matter how unknown or unseen, are worth paying attention too.