Thursday, January 20, 2011

Richard Corben's Den Comics

In December of 2010, I did a mini-review of the 1981 animated feature Heavy Metal. In that review, I mentioned that I liked the feature "Den" about a scrawny nerd that gets whisked away to a far-away planet, in the process the said scrawny nerd, Dan, is transformed into the uber muscular Den.

What I didn't realize at the time was the history behind that story. The short is based upon underground comics great Richard Corben. I've encountered Corben's work before. While I'm not a big fan of Heavy Metal magazine, and I'm just not cool enough to get into the underground comics scene on the ground floor (I'm always late to the party on the good stuff), I've seen his work in Dark Horse's Alien comics, DC's Hellblazer, and in other mainstream circles. While I am not a Dan Corben fanatic, I like his work.

His "Den" stories have an interesting publication background. It all started when he produced a short animated movie called Neverwhere. From there the story moved to Metal Hurlant (a French comics magazine that the American Heavy Metal was patterned after). Stateside, it continued in Heavy Metal magazine, from there mostly into Corben's own independent company Fantagor.

the Den stories take place on an alien planet called Neverwhere (where apparently clothes have not yet been invented) and are described as a cross between Edgar Rice Burrough's "Barsoom" stories and Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. I am a fan of both. What really intrigues me is Corben does not skirt the inherent sexiness of stories in that vein. For instance, it is easily forgotten that ERB often portrays the women of his stories as either nude or nearly so. This happens often in REH tales as well. Corben's Den stories are known for there full frontal nudity art. Perhaps my favorite description is "Conan on Viagra" (this being a reference to the fact that Den and many of Corben's male portrayals are well endowed--indeed).

Call me a pervert if you will, but I think it is undeniable that one of the reasons I really enjoy the stories of Burroughs and Howard is for their latent sexuality. The Den stories, from what I've been able to view on the internet and read about elsewhere, put sex in the forefront. This is outright in the "Den" segment of the Heavy Metal movie.

Granted, Corben has been criticized for his overly busty portrayal of women and for the fact that they serve as sexual fantasy fulfillment in his stories. My only defense to this is he is writing escapism. I like escapism. One important part of escapism, for me at least, is fantasy fulfillment. I want to be as brave as John Carter, I want to be as cunning as Conan and while it might cause stares in the locker room, well to be as well-endowed as Den might open a whole new career for me. Sex plays a role in my enjoyment of escapism as well. I have posted art of Dejah Thoris on this blog before, why? I'm attracted to the idea of her. In a ERB story, a princess is lovely, desirable and always needs rescue. Macho? Sure, but again, this is escapism.

I can't say Richard Corben's "Den" stories are high art, as I've never read them, but I would be eager to do so. A quick search on ebay today shows that might be an expensive venture.

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