Tell me that Richard Corben is doing a new Edgar Allen Poe adaptation, and I'm a happy guy. Tell me he is doing a new adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher, and I will get up and dance a little jig. Because Corben doing Poe always results in terrible, beautiful comics. And The Fall of the House of Usher was my first exposure to Corben all those many decades ago.
Richard Corben is to my mind the greatest modern interpreter of Edgar Allen Poe. I have read many, many Poe comic adaptations, and Corben's are the only ones that give me that same sense of uneasy dread as Poe's original stories. Poe's works were cinematic and — unlike the cerebral Lovecraft — lend themselves well to visual media. But the visuals have to be spot on; they have to carry that same psychological impact. Corben's twisted people and Gothic architecture easily bears the weight of Poe's prose. And does it justice.
I loved Corben's recent adaptation of Poe's The Conqueror Worm, and I was curious as to what Corben would do with The House of Usher. Would he just do a repeat performance of his masterpiece? Rest on his laurels a little bit? Of course not. Because Richard Corben is an Artist, one who draws to please himself instead of his audience. He writes in the sketchbook for this issue, "Having done adaptations of "The Fall of the House of Usher" before, I was determined to make this one different."
In this comic, Corben combines the story of House of Usher with another Poe short story, The Oval Portrait. This combo was done before in the French silent film La Chute de la maison Usher, and the two stories fit together smoothly. Both are tales of obsession (of course that describes a lot of Poe stories), and Corben's implied incestuous obsession adds to the uncomfortableness and psychological attack of the tale. The scene where we meet Madeline Usher is brilliant in it's subtlety and repulsion. We are clearly seeing an abuse victim stripped naked and put on display, and feel ashamed for watching.
In his character designs, Corben pushes his figures to extreme caricature, so that they have almost a muppet-like quality. His Roderick Usher has a commanding schnozzle, a nose that dominates his face far beyond the dictates of anatomy. Corben said he built small clay maquettes of his characters, and that shows. His figures have a three-dimensional quality that pushes off the page. It's a style that is different from what I have seen before — different from The Conqueror Worm and Ragemore — yet still recognizably Richard Corben.
The only thing I didn't love about The Fall of the House of Usher was the coloring, specifically on the first few pages. I don't know what techniques he used, but the coloring was too rounded, too smooth, too… airbrushed. I think Corben shifted techniques later, because the coloring changed and I liked it much better. I hope he keeps that style for the next issue.
I love that Corben includes his sketchbook and notes in this single issue. Often, these things are reserved for the collected edition, and they make such a huge difference especially with a unique artist like Richard Corben. I am an enthusiastic Corben fan, and I love seeing how he creates his world, how he starts with something normal and slowly morphs it into the Corben style.
Keep 'em coming, Dark Horse! I can't get enough of Corben doing Poe!
The Fall of the House of Usher #1 will be in stores Wednesday, May 15, 2013.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.