Tuesday, December 1, 2009

less than Corben, more than zero

Man I love Richard Corben, don't you? the First time I saw his stuff was in Heavy Metal in the late seventies--and I was just blown away.
Seeing Corben for the first time was like stumbling into some kind of adolescent comics paradise---all color and naked women-naked purple women! and realism-so volumetric, so tangible, so much space and atmosphere! More real than Neal Adams! NEAL ADAMS!!! (any comics geek growing up in the seventies was irrevocably impacted by Adams, right? He was like the Clapton of comics--& Clapton was God. Well-when he was in Cream, anyway. & the same when Adams was on Batman--or Conan--hmmm..maybe I ought to save this for a post on Adams--yeh, I think I will)
At the time I was sure that one couldn't aspire to any better embodiment of great comics illustration. This was it! Corben was the pinnacle! (& I'm so glad Kevin brought him up--particularly in relation to the discussion of color)

But even then--even when I was in awe of Corben's verisimilitude, I had this impulse for something else---something...less. While I stood in abject subjugation before Corben's neo-pyschedelic interplanetary elseworlds, more often than not I found myself thinking about Alex Toth, about Milton Caniff, Harvey Kurtzman and Walt Simonson. Later on I was thinking about George Herriman, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, Garry Trudeau.
Today I admire Alex Ross's technique, but I'm a fan of Jaime Hernandez, of Darwyn Cooke, Seth, of David Mazzuchelli, Jason and Patrick McDonnell.

Corben, like Ross, speaks to desire--a desire to see fantasy fulfilled in three dimensions--the equivalent of the Iron Man movie, the dioramas at Museum of Natural History, a Robert Zemeckis film; the same desire we have for hot fudge sundaes and blueberry pancakes doused with butter, maple syrup and whip cream at IHOP. (!#$!!??*&$ and doesn't everyone seem happy at IHOP ? at least --the last time I was there--oh, but that was years ago.)

Hernandez, Toth-they play upon our understanding that the comics page is first and foremost a work of design, of pacing, of communication. They speak to the intellect. They do so not by bravura demonstrations of illustrative skill(although skill is surely evident)-but via their restraint. By holding back-they force the reader to work the imagination and to acknowledge the page. While representational illusionism is in evidence, it is firmly in the service of design.
In a Corben page-we are seduced by his mastery of illusion--the page falls away, and we enter into a dream state before his exquisitely rendered vistas. This is not to say that we are not also aware of craft in his work--we are. But as with any great magic act, the wonder is in not knowing how the trick is done- and in the face of great illusion we sublimate our need to know to our desire to believe.

There are some who argue for one approach over the other--that one provides a "truer" comics experience than the other*. I could easily fall into that pattern-I do have my prejudices--but my experience as a reader trumps aesthetic dogma. There are times when I want my comics lean, and then there are times when I want the works; butter, syrup, whip cream--oh hell! I'm a big fan of IHOP, of magic--and Richard Corben too.