Friday, October 2, 2015

Den: Neverwhere

Den: Neverwhere
by Richard Corben
Catalan Communications 1984

'Den' started out as a short animated film Richard Corben made in 1968. In 1975 - 1976, a 12-part Den: Neverwhere comic was printed in the French magazine Metal Hurlant; an English language translation was reprinted in the U. S. magazine Heavy Metal in 1977 - 1978.

This Catalan Communciations trade paperback compiles all the Den: Neverwhere episodes in a well-made book, with quality stock paper and reproductions. There is an Introduction by Philip Jose Farmer.

It goes without saying that the Den feature in Heavy Metal was a quintessential part of late 70s stoner culture, and a major factor in the magazine's initial popularity.

Looking at Den 40 years later, it can be easy to regard it as a quaint example of a 70s 'underground' comic gone aboveground into some degree of respectability.......a comic designed to market T & A to the male-under-30 readership.

It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss Den in this manner, It's best to regard it as a product of its times, when sf and fantasy comics with an 'adult' sensibility were commonplace in European pop culture, but considered an aberrant sideline for U.S. publishers. That is why Heavy Metal and Den had the impact they did, back in 1977.

It's true that Den's plot - essentially a recycling of the planetary romance stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard - was simple and unadorned, designed to appeal to males under 30 (who likely got high on a regular basis). But the fact that Den addressed the suppressed ids of that demographic shouldn't detract from the advances its artwork - and in particular, its color - brought to comics.

Corben's unique acetate-overlay technique for color printing gives his illustrations a visual impact that would not be duplicated until the comics industry began to adopt the use of computer-generated coloring techniques in the mid-80s. As Corben explains it: 

I invented a techinque - my system of color overlays - which apparently nobody can understand, but it's really very simple. The luminescent quality of my color overlays is derived from the way I combine the colors. I shoot the photomechanical separations myself, to a slightly higher contrast than a normal photo engraver would do. This makes the colors appear brighter. I'm excited when I do finally see the colors. I can see if my ideas work well or not so well.

Den: Neverwhere works in a lot of Corben's 'cinematic' visual style, by using different points of view and perspectives, along with a more imaginative approach to the use of his layouts and page designs. 
Unfortunately, 'Den: Neverwhere' has long been out of print, and copies have very steep asking prices. Assembling the relevant issues of Heavy Metal is impractical for much the same reason. Hopefully you can luck out like I did and find a copy for an affordable price on the shelves of your local comics shop. 

Otherwise, we can only hope that a publisher like the U. K. 's Titan Books, or the U. S. New Comic Company, would be willing to reprint the series..........


Albert Decker said...

Thanks for the memories. HM was my precious, even better with anything by Corben.

Russ said...

It's hard to convey how startling Corben's work was when it first appeared, including Den, which originally showed up in the underground comic Grim Wit.