It is truly staggering to me that Richard Corben not only illustrates, but also writes and letters everything himself. Imagine being that talented? It’s sickening. I am almost tempted to boycott this collection out of sheer malice. Anyhow, regardless of my bitter envy what we have here is a collected volume of horror maestro Richard Corben’s recent eight issue Shadows on the Grave anthology series.
Corbens work here is immediately reminiscent of those classic EC comics Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror or the old Warren Magazines like Creepy and Eerie. I am sure those similarities to the former are intentional as Corben would have been at just the right age to get his melon twisted up when those horror comics dropped the first time around. Indeed this whole series feels very much like a love letter to the golden age of that genre.
Shadows on the Grave’s pages are crammed full of robbery, greed, betrayal and murder. Of good intentions gone awry. The stories are tawdry, grubby and thick with menace, populated by a macabre collection of grotesques. Corben’s art lends itself well to these types of characters, all thick lips, bulbous noses and leering rictus grins. The ugliness of the human spirit reflected in the flesh. Stories of desperate people at the end of their rope, bitter marriages, people slowly driving each other insane. The strength of Corben’s horror lies in usurping the familiar. Of taking the everyday and slowly dripping his poison into the lives of these characters just to see what happens.
Amongst all the singularly terrifying tales in this volume there is also a multi chaptered story called Denaeus. Long term fans of Corben will be pleased to know that this character is descended from his popular creation Den from Heavy Metal. Perhaps little out of place with the horror stuff on first glance, Denaeus provides a change of pace after all the short sharp shocks and its appearance here is a welcome addition.
The ambiguity of Corbens work is unnerving. Situations are never fully explained, conclusions not always clear. It’s like discovering a scrap book in a junk shop and flicking through the random details of a life without full explanation. Of who or what these people were. Corben does not spoon feed his audience, his storytelling is economical. Much like Edgar Allen Poe, there’s no wasted words, no unnecessary detail, nothing that dilutes the atmosphere of dread or tempers the sting.
Shadows on the Grave not only brings to mind the aforementioned Warren and EC books but I am reminded of Vertigo’s short lived anthology Flinch from the late ninties. This hardcover is a treasure trove of brief and haunting stories that never loses sight of the twisted destination nor their ability to horrify. Corben is a true master of the macabre and Shadows on the Grave should be essential reading for anyone with a strong enough stomach for this potent dose of the supernatural and uncanny. Nathan Bean