Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Richard Corben: Dogs

"I'm a dog person," says Richard Corben.  "I relate to dogs much more than to cats.  In fact, that's why I've written many of my stories to dogs and wolves -- THE BEAST OF WOLFTON, as well as ROWLF."

Like a lot of great artists, Corben began scribbling just as soon as his tiny little fist was able to clutch a crayon.  "I started drawing long before I could read and write.  I was always interested in storytelling with my artwork.  My elder brother had comic books which I traced and copied the characters out of.  The only ones I can remember are Superman, Tarzan and Mickey Mouse."

Dogs began appearing in Corben's own comics early on -- very early on, when he was about 8 years old: "My first original comic strip was centered around my family's pet dog, Trail.  About eight large issues of Trail Comics were produced before I went on to other things."

Corben says he "wrote and drew all kinds of fantastic adventures for him."  (Note that he says "for him" rather than "about him".)  Corben still has some of his Trail comics.

Despite an early interest in comic books, Corben didn't get into the game until the late 1960s, while employed at the Calvin Company, which produced industrial films in Kansas City, Missouri.  Corben worked in the animation department, and was already pushing 30.  His first published comic work, the 10-page Monsters Rule, was serialized in 1968 in various issues of the fanzine, VOICE OF COMICDOM, published by Rudi Franke, followed by Tales From the Plague, all 32 pages appearing in another fanzine, WEIRDOM ILLUSTRATED.

Laural-Li (and friend), horror hostess for WEIRDOM #13 (April 1969), introducing "Tales From the Plague", an early Corben comic written by WEIRDOM's publisher, Dennis Cunningham

Corben began working on The Story of Rowlf, about a dog turned into a dog-man, around 1967 or '68.  "Rowlf was first conceived a couple of years ago not as a comic story but as a film.  After several futile attempts at producing it, we gave it up for another script.  After Monsters Rule was finished, I was looking for a story to appear in VOICE OF COMICDOM and I remembered Rowlf.  I gave this much thought and finally decided that I could do the story justice in the comic strip medium.  Much preliminary work had already been done.  This became very useful when adapting it to the comic strip.  Several models of the characters had been built.  These were now used to draw from...It is difficult to say how much actual drawing time was spent on the final pages.  I occasionally did two or three pages a week working evenings and weekends, but I didn't work on it constantly."  "Rowlf," says Corben, "was done over a period of a couple of years.  Normally, I don't like to stretch a story that length of time..."

The first half of Rowlf was published in VOICE OF COMICDOM #16, in the winter of 1970, and the second half in #17, the summer of the following year.  It was worth the wait.  Corben's line art on Rowlf remains his most detailed and exquisite, a great achievement in comics.

Maryara goes skinny dipping in "Rowlf".  Corben, famous for his large-breasted maidens, says he "wasn't interested in PLAYBOY or OUI."  However, this illustration used a photo of Playboy bunny Jackie Brown, from the October 1965 edition of PLAYBOY, as reference.   No doubt he picked it up at the newsstand for the long, insightful article, "The Great Comic-Book Heroes", by Jules Feiffer.  Aside from occasionally using photos of people for reference, Corben also crafted countless clay models of his characters, which could be photographed from a variety of angles, and with different light sources.

The story takes place in the seemingly Medieval kingdom of Canisland, where Rowlf is devoted to his mistress Maryara, and hostile towards her suitor, Raymon.  The nubile young princess, however, has little interest in Raymon, prefering to gambol in the woods with her faithful dog.  It is during one such outting that Maryara is kidnapped by the gremlin-faced Gorgrum, the Esperanto-speaking "demon king", and his squad of soldiers, complete with tanks, guns, grenades and bazookas.  Rowlf is unable to rescue her, and runs home to seek help from Raymon and the wizard, Sortrum.  Unable to figure out Rowlf's barking and excited manner, Sortrum attempts to change the dog into a human so he could simply tell them.  The spell is botched by Raymon's interruption when he spies tanks rolling towards the castle; as a result, Rowlf is only partially changed, sporting his own head and tail on the body of a man.  The castle is destroyed by the war machines, but Rowlf escapes unharmed, and waits till nightfall to attack the demons with their own weapons.  He follows the surviving troops, still licking their wounds, back to their island, where the demon king's triumphant return with his royal prize is celebrated.  During the festivities, Rowlf rescues Maryara (astonished by his transformation), killing Gorgrum and inadvertently blowing up the island.  They return in a tank, but unwilling to be changed back into a dog and left to the mercy of Raymon, Rowlf drives off with Maryara.

Back cover of VOICE OF COMICDOM #17 (Summer 1970), with panels coloured by Corben, taken from that issue's story, "Rowlf"

The Story of Rowlf was almost immediately reprinted as ROWLF, published by the Rip Off Press, an underground comics publisher located in San Francisco.  It went through two editions and sold some 20,000 copies.

The two-part "Rowlf" comic was collected and reprinted by the Rip Off Press in 1971, featuring this new cover by Corben.  Their 2nd edition had a different cover, seen at the top of this page

In 1970, Corben published FANTAGOR #1, a large (8 1/2" x 11"), slick comic with a black and white interior, sturdy colour covers, and high quality printing.  It was paid for in part by selling two posters, which he made available at comic conventions and through ads in ROCKET'S BLAST/COMICOLLECTOR.  The 1000 copy print run sold poorly and he lost money on the venture.  "I sold around 500 books...I felt crushed.  I went into a depression and realised I'd never get rid of those fanzines unless I cut my prices drastically and sell to the dealers.  I did this, and the remaining FANTAGORs were all gone within two weeks.  I held onto a few copies just for sentimental reasons."  The $1.50 cover price was probably a deterrent for those used to paying 50 cents for the average underground comic.  (Incidentally, the first issue featured a story called "Twilight of the Dogs" -- but there are no dogs in it.)

Corben contributed two werewolf drawings to a fanzine called EPIC (#11, August 1970), formerly titled FANTASY NEWS.  One was of Henry Hull from the 1935 movie, WEREWOLF OF LONDON; the other was Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man, from the 1941 movie.

Corben did dozens of illustrations of classic horror monsters, mostly of the Universal and Hammer variety, copied from photographs, most of which appeared in the fanzine, PHOTON.  Here, it seems that Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man doesn't quite know what to do with the lovely Evelyn Ankers

Corben joined the burgeoning underground comics movement, writing and drawing stories for titles such as SLOW DEATH, SKULL, ANOMALY, and one shots such as FEVER DREAMS and UP FROM THE DEEP; he also continued his own FANTAGOR and GRIM WIT titles, published by others.  He sometimes used the pseudonyms "Gore" (inspired by his favourite EC horror comics artist of the early 1950s, Graham Ingells, who signed his name "Ghastly"), and "Harvey Sea" (from his initials, RVC).

WEIRDOM #14 (1971) contained a short werewolf tale by Corben called Dead Hill.  Drawn in the late 1960s in a crude style reminiscent of old woodblock printing, it might be Corben's earliest werewolf comic.

Corben's GRIM WIT #1 came out in 1972, published by the Rip Off Press (and reprinted by Last Gasp).  This first issue featured another major werewolf work, The Beast of Wolfton.  Though the wonderful artwork isn't as detailed as Rowlf, Corben's shading technique gives the drawings an extra dimension.  Says Corben, "The story is one that I wrote way back in art school.  I handed it in as an extra project to my creative writing teacher..."

GRIM WIT #1 (1972) featured "The Beast of Wolfton", the saga of an underdog turned into a werewolf through sorcery.  Corben opted for the Henry Hull look, as he appeared in the movie, WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935)

Brave knight Sir John of Lasiter travels with his wife Ellen to Wolfton (originally Wulv), a village beset by a wild animal that leaves mangled corpses.  Sir John offers his services to the local baron, promising to slay the beast in exchange for a fair reward.  His attempts are thwarted by the beast, a man transformed by sorcery into a werewolf-like monster to avenge his people, the Krind, who were exterminated by Saxon invaders.  The beast kidnaps Lady Ellen, to draw Sir John into the woods, where he and his posse are slain one by one.  Ellen, aware that the beast's condition can only be cured by the willing love of a woman, offers herself to him.  After climaxing, the beast returns to his human state, at which point Ellen beheads him with an axe.

In 1970 Corben made the leap from fanzines and undergrounds into the world of professional publications, and his canine friends followed him.  Corben, a fan of the horror genre, had been sending samples of his comic art to James Warren, publisher of EERIE and CREEPY (and, later, VAMPIRELLA), since the mid-1960s.  In fact, some of his non-comic work first appeared in another of Warren's mags, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, in issue #35 (October 1965), although the article it apeared in was actually about a lady named Madona Marchand, who won Warren's amateur film making contest for a movie called SIEGFRIED SAVES METROPOLIS, the prize being a miniature Sony television.  While the article was being put together, her name changed to Madona Corben, as she'd married her cameraman, "Dick" Corben, who also helped fashion the balsa wood and clay models used in the movie.

Corben's next appearance was on the Fan Fare page of EERIE #16 (July 1968), with a couple of illustrations from an unpublished comic.  (Apparently, he wasn't even a member of the Eerie fan club, as Cousin Eerie resentfully identified him as member #2222 of the Creepy fan club!)

Corben finally had a comic, Frozen Beauty, published in Warren's CREEPY #36 (November 1970), followed by some memorable covers.  It was the beginning of a long relationship, and soon Corben quit his job at Calvin and began supporting his wife and daughter through what was becoming a lucrative career in comics.

The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip, appearing in CREEPY #54 (July 1973), written by Doug Moench, contains little interior logic.  The host, Mr. Diment, breaks the fourth wall, not only by tearing away at the panel borders, but by being an integral part of the story, even as he presents it.

Mr. Diment possesses a homemade device he calls a "click-lick", which he uses to get revenge upon psychiatrist Dr. Nugent, for trying to cure him!  (Mr. Diment revels in his insanity.)  The click-lick is capable of turning the most bizarre idea into nightmarish reality.  An asphalt highway rips up from the ground, writhing like a snake, causing Nugent's car to veer off the road.  Monstrous butterflies attack, tearing out one of his eyes.  He runs home to his wife, only to find worms spilling out of her.  Finally, he collapses on the lawn, where a cartoonish train runs over his head.  But Nugent's reality isn't his wife's reality.  And Diment kills her, too, by having the television set bite off her head.  The former recreational facility then stalks the family dog, which flees outdoors.  The easily-distracted pet finds Nugent's skeleton.  He tears away a bone, and, during his attempt to bury it, the bone comes alive and pulls the dog into the hole with it, and buries them both.  (Incidentally, Doug Moench used a similar train in one of the more whacked out stories in the excellent MASTER OF KUNG FU series he produced with artist Paul Gulacy.)

Lycanklutz, from CREEPY #56 (September 1973) featured some beautiful colours by Corben.  Warren had only recently introduced 8-page colour inserts in their mags, and Corben took full advantage, producing many during his tenure with the company.

"The first colour one was Lycanklutz, which is a takeoff on THE WOLF MAN. It was inspired by the horror movie," says Corben, though he admits that "to make it more related to the earlier ones it should have been done in black and white."

In Lycanklutz, a werewolf is terrorizing a medieval village, and an inventive old coot named Lawrence Cardiff (resembling Leonardo da Vinci) believes he has a solution to the problem: a silver-fanged flea, on sale for only $499.95.

Obviously, Lycanklutz is a comedy, and Corben even found a rhyme for "lycanthrope", which he stresses in Cardiff's dialogue when he's setting up a trap for the werewolf: "After the moon rises, I can hope the ly-can-thrope will pass near..."

It bears little resemblance to the 1941 Universal movie, though the names Lawrence Cardiff and Baron Talbot are clearly referencing Larry Talbot, Lon Chaney's character in THE WOLF MAN.  Also, Cardiff recites screenwriter Curt Siodmak's poem from the movie:

"Even a man who is pure of heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright."

Another tongue-in-cheek werewolf story followed, Change...Into Something Comfortable, in CREEPY #58 (December 1973), written by Moench.  In this one, a werewolf discovers, to his regret, that he ain't the only monster in town.

The Hero Within, from CREEPY #60 (February 1974), is painfully Dickensian, with a small orphan boy, Lucien, left to the care of a cruel mistress.  His parents had been killed by a pack of wild dogs, and we can't even get past the second page without the matriarch's young daughter, Priscilla, tormenting the boy by sicking her large, vicious dog on him.  Lucien is banished to the dark, dank cellar for being unfriendly.  There he finds a roughly doughnut-shaped rock and begins to imagine that it has magical properties.  Suddenly, he's been transformed into a muscular caveman with a bat-like face, and the dog into a dinosaur, frightened of him now.  Exploring the rocky desert landscape, this new Lucien saves a busty blonde from two bat-winged rat men, using their own spears against them.  He soon finds himself face to face with the dinosaur again, and takes out one of its eyes with his spear, but the magic rock, which hung from a string around his neck, is torn away, and Lucien immediately finds himself back in the cellar, unable to find the lost stone.  The dog has also found its way into the cellar, and the story ends with Lucien being attacked by the savage beast, blood streaming from its gaping eye socket.

A sadistic little girl exploits Lucien's fear of dogs, in a scene from "The Hero Within", Corben's colour insert for CREEPY #60 (February 1974)

Corben's third werewolf effort at Warren, in EERIE #56 (April 1974), was even more preposterous than the previous two.  Wizard Wagstaff, written by Jack Butterworth, tells the story of Albert Tusk, owner of a dog food company, who becomes a werewolf after being bitten by a poodle while filming a commercial for Tusk Doggy Dinners.  "What idiot put pants on that dog?" one drunk grumbles to another when the werewolf is spotted in an alley outside a saloon.  Fortunately, Albert the werewolf finds someone who can help him, Mr. Wagstaff, a wizard, but the magic formula requires a spoonful of sweat from the poor, and when the two make an excursion to acquire the ingredient, they run into a bigger, fiercer werewolf.

No one seems to take much notice of the werewolves walking around town in the cartoonish "Wizard Wagstaff", from EERIE #56 (April 1974)

One thing's for sure: this must be the only story in the entire Warren catalogue where no one is harmed in any way, aside from being bitten by a poodle.

That same month in CREEPY #61, Corben did a parody of another of the Universal monsters, the Mummy.  Three archaeologists, Sandy, Jack and Doc, find the tomb of Khartuka, but they're more interested in the whispered legend of a great treasure buried there, which they're determined to find with the help of their dog, Snoofer, who understands commands better when a gun is pointed at him.  Accompanying the explorers are two local guides, Worma and Hardoff Bey (a sort of Egyptian Abbott and Costello), whose true mission is to prevent the outsiders from defiling the tomb of Khartuka.  They do that by raising Khartuka, though they can't quite remember if the recipe for the potion calls for nine nina leaves, eleven leben leaves, or orange pekoe.  But they manage to revive the ancient king, who beholds Sandy in a queen's headdress (they'd found the treasure and were in the process of carting it away), and, excited by the beautiful maiden, goes shambling after her.  He trips and falls on his face, and the three unwary explorers stumble over him, falling into a great abyss to their doom, as do Worma and Hardoff Bey.  But Khartuka's triumph is short-lived when Snoofer latches onto his leg, which is just another bone to the dog.

Corben has always been a master of caricature: In this scene from "Terror Tomb" (CREEPY #61, April 1974), old Doc is shuffling along, arms weighing him down, shoulders drooping; Jack is full of vim and vigour, chest thrust out with determination and optimism; Sandy is young, robust, proud.  Her ample breasts are conspicuous, a Corben trademark, but he insists the exaggeration is practical: "To differentiate them from the men, of course."

The title of the story, Terror Tomb, is a pun on Terrytoons, the animation studio founded by Paul Terry, famous for Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle.  Corben says the Mummy never frightened him as a kid.  "He sort of shuffles along, and it's not very likely anybody would be caught unless they just fell down and fainted."

Bowser, in VAMPIRELLA #54 (September 1976), written by frequent collaborator Jan Strnad, isn't exactly a dog, though the clever setup (ruined by the first two pages being printed in reverse order) convinces the reader otherwise -- until the dog is eaten by the actual Bowser, a blobby, tentacled creature kept as a pet by an otherwise normal looking family.

Bowser had originally been scheduled for CREEPY #67 (December 1974), and that issue's cover by Ken Kelly depicted Bowser, but, for whatever reason, the story wasn't printed until almost two years later.  Instead, Corben's adaptation of Poe's The Raven appeared.

Corben's work at Warren and in the undergrounds was getting him noticed, and he was in demand.  He started working in other fields, illustrating science fiction book covers; a newer movie poster at the beginning of 1975 for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974), to help stir up box office interest (this second campaign was more successful); a few record covers, most notably Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL (1977), which he shipped off only two days after receiving the commission over the phone; portfolios, which were all the rage; and the hardbound graphic novel, BLOODSTAR (The Morning Star Press, 1976), an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story, The Valley of the Worm (from WEIRD TALES, February 1934), written by John Jakes, and rewritten by Corben (and re-rewritten(!) by John Pocsik when it was reprinted by Ariel Books in 1979).

Original artwork for the cover of EERIE #86 (September 1977), done in black and grey oils.  The all-Corben issue was comprised of reprints, including "Change...Into Something Comfortable", depicted here

Corben had a large European following, and France's Les Humanoid Associes ("United Humanoids": comics creators Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet, Moebius, and businessman Bernard Farkas) offered a spot in their slick new magazine, METAL HURLANT, which debuted December 1974.  The National Lampoon began publishing an American edition in April 1977, which catapulted Corben to comic book stardom.  "Probably more people saw my work in HEAVY METAL than anywhere else," says Corben.  "And they paid much better rates."

Dogs have a small but profound role in Strnad and Corben's New Tales of the Arabian Nights, which appeared in HEAVY METAL from June 1978 to July 1979 (subsequently published in book form).

In the epic tale, Shahrazad tells her sister Dunyazad of the eighth voyage of Sindbad, one which she hadn't told the king.  The story begins with an older, bitter Sindbad experiencing marital difficulties.  While chasing after a woman believed to be a prostitute through alleys during a night of debauchery, he trips over a dog, which he kicks to death in his drunken rage.  Lost and staggering, he's confronted by a monstrous jinni, Al-Ra'ad Al-Kasif, who informs Sindbad that the dog was the jinni's wife in disguise, and vowed that he would let the fallen hero live, but slay his wife Zulaykha in turn.  Sindbad rushes home to find a flaming ruin, and Al-Ra'ad enraged that he can't locate Zulaykha.  Sindbad tells Al-Ra'ad that he's hidden her, but in fact is baffled by her mysterious disappearance.  Sindbad begins a new voyage to the Land of the Jinn to seek audience with Zu'l Janahayn, King of all Kings of the Jinn, to beg pardon for offending Al-Ra'ad Al-Kasif.  A dog accompanying his caravan teaches Sindbad humility and love, and though this point is downplayed it is significant to the outcome of the story.

Concurrent with New Tales of the Arabian Nights, Coben and Strnad also produced the post-apocalyptic Mutant World, which ran in eight parts in Warren's new magazine, 1984, from June 1978 to September 1979.  All manner of mutated creatures abound, including an eight-legged dog that attacks the story's hapless, dim-witted protagonist, Dimento.

The Spirit of the Beast, a brief sequel to The Beast of Wolfton, appeared in HEAVY METAL's May 1980 issue.  The concluding paragraph in The Beast of Wolfton tells that the Lady Ellen was discovered in the forest "utterly insane" and cared for by nuns in a convent, where she gave birth to a "very strange child."  That strange child is Jon Wulv, the subject of Spirit of the Beast, who has inherited his father's lycanthropy.  The short story is merely an interlude, and in fact has more to do with a girl who is intimated to be a cannibal than it has with developing the character of Jon Wulv.

Corben claims that Rowlf, The Beast of Wolfton, and Spirit of the Beast were originally intended as a trilogy.  There's no good reason to believe this is so.  Rowlf was reprinted (in colour) in HEAVY METAL in three parts, November 1979 to January 1980.  The Beast of Wolfton followed, reprinted in the February and March 1980 issues, also in colour, and with some minor changes made by Corben.  Lady Ellen became Lady Chabita, Sir John of Lasiter became Sir Hornib of Murond, the Saxons became Stygorans, Britain became Canisland, etc., all to "bring it more into a realm of fantasy," says Corben.  The only link between Rowlf and The Beast of Wolfton and its sequel were a few nouns later altered by Corben to create that link.

Roda and the Wolf, from the February 1984 issue of HEAVY METAL, is a re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale.  With little dialogue (in Pig Latin), the story begins with Roda about to be sacrificed to a werewolf by a primitive tribe.  She escapes, and flees to an old lady's house, where she's welcomed.  The old lady, Grinda, begins turning into a werewolf as Roda comments on her grotesquely changing eyes, ears, nose and teeth.  Fully transformed, Grinda is about to kill the girl when the men that had been pursuing her burst in.  They're torn apart, but the distraction allows Roda to disembowel the monster, revealing a partially digested Grinda inside.  (It's unclear whether or not Grinda is Roda's grandmother.)

Some of Corben's werewolf material was reprinted by Catalan Communications in the book, WEREWOLF (1984).  The all-Corben hardcover included a story not previously published called Fur Trade, a period piece written by John Pocsik, another frequent Corben collaborator, who usually wrote under the pseudonym "Simon Revelstroke".

Corben and writer Harlan Ellison had been promising an illustrated version of A Boy and His Dog since the early 1970s, but it was to remain elusive for many years.

Ellison's short post-apocalyptic story about a boy, Vic, and his telepathic dog, Blood, first appeared in the April 1969 edition of the science fiction magazine, NEW WORLDS, and was revised later the same year for Ellison's short story collection, THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD.

About the comic book version of A Boy and His Dog, Corben said in a 1973 interview, "There's been some delay.  It's been brewing ever since last summer, I guess.  Then finally in December or January Harlan Ellison called me, I agreed it would be a good story and we should try to do it, and so we went ahead.  He sent me a new beginning which he wanted in the comic version and I did the adaptation and did the pencils in the month of February.  That was a tight schedule.  Harlan wanted to look at character sketches and pencils, if possible, so I sent those the second week in February and so far he hasn't gotten to going over it."

Corben had high hopes: he said it would be a high quality collectors' edition, followed by an underground reprint in colour, "so even the collectors will have to get both of them."  It never came to fruition.

Corben, during his ass-kicking, karate-chopping, wood-chopping, bodybuilding, ex-army guy phase

Eggsucker, a prequel to A Boy and His Dog, appeared in ARIEL: THE BOOK OF FANTASY #2 (1977), with two illustrations by Corben (or rather, one illustration broken in two).

When NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS was published as a book in 1979, Harlan Ellison wrote the introduction (dated April 1979), in which he said, "I have known Richard Corben's work for many years now.  (In fact, Richard will kill me for taking time out to write this introduction when I should be going over his rough sketches for the illustrated version of A Boy and His Dog which we've been working on for five years now."

Corben confirmed this a while later in his HEAVY METAL interview: "That's one of the projects that never did quite make it.  He's got my breakdown pages still buried on his desk somewhere.  So the world has got to wait."  He also said that Ellison was working on another story called Blood's a Rover, "so they are going to be published all together. I did the cover and about fifteen interior illustrations."

Blood's a Rover never materialised, but a sequel to A Boy and His Dog, called Run, Spot, Run, appeared in AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION's January 1981 issue.

Anyway, the world waited until 1987 for the comic book version, when Jan Strnad's Mad Dog Graphics imprint finally published all three stories as VIC AND BLOOD.

 The first issue (October 1987), adapted Eggsucker and the first part of A Boy and His Dog, while the second issue (February 1988) adapted the second half, plus Run, Spot, Run.

Original artwork for the wraparound cover of VIC AND BLOOD #1 (October 1987)

VIC AND BLOOD: THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF A BOY AND HIS DOG, was released in 2003.  This "definitive" version contained the comic book version, and Ellison's original text stories, including the illustrations Corben had done decades earlier, as well as the Eggsucker painting from ARIEL.

Through his own Fantagor Press, Corben ran a third Den series in the late 1980s, simply titled DEN, and the tenth issue (1989) featured an unpleasant anthropomorphic dog with a machine gun calling itself "Hairy Kopok".

The first issue of Strnad and Corben's 5-issue SON OF MUTANT WORLD (published in 1990 by Fantagor Press), contained a mangy-looking mutated mutt with three eyes, one of them red.  The title of the series was meant to be a humorous misnomer, the star of this sequel being Dimento's orphaned daughter, Dimentia.

A money-grubbing preacher and his acolyte make their way by bus to the tiny little town of Angel Falls (get it?), in Wolf Girl Eats, a short story by Bruce Jones and Corben, which appeared in the first issue of DC comics' horror anthology series, FLINCH (December 1999).  Wolf Girl Eats is actually the name of a diner, but which is named after the town's hidden attraction, a wild girl said to be raised by wolves.  Not surprisingly, greed and lust become the preacher's undoing, and in the end he's torn apart by a bear and some wolves.

In 2000, Corben and Simon Revelstroke did an adaptation of William Hope Hodgson's 1908 weird horror novel, THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND. 

Their version was updated so that the events took place in the village of Kraighten in Ireland in 1952, rather than 1877.  Two travellers to Kraighten discover a diary in the ruins of a remote house, begun in 1816 by a fellow named Byron Gault, who tells a terrible tale of pig-like monsters inhabiting the area.  Gault's loyal dog, Pepper, battles them fearlessly in an effort to save his master, and Gault's sister, Mary.

Corben contributed to seven issues of Dark Horse's CONAN THE CIMMERIAN.  In issues 1 & 2 (July and August 2008), Conan's grandfather, Connacht, in a story within a story, runs into two werewolves.

In DC's HOUSE OF MYSTERY #16 (October 2009), Corben and writer Bill Willingham offered a short story titled The Hounds of Titus Roan, in which the master of a secluded house and a young female servant are the only ones left alive after a pack of wild dogs attacks, killing all the staff.  It soon becomes obvious that the dogs spared their lives for reasons unknown, and the two are held prisoners in the house for a year, with supplies dwindling.

DC's THE SPIRIT #7 (December 2010) included a short story by Corben and Strnad in which Will Eisner's enduring hero encounters a werewolf.

At the age of 72, Corben shows no signs of slowing down; and as sure as there'll be a full moon next month, you can bet more of Corben's dogs and werewolves will be howling at it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Let Us Not Forget...The Jolly Entertainers!

Way back in them thar Olden Days, when folks done for themselves through hard work and perseverance, and were proud to stand or fall on their own account, and ne'er relied on none o' that government intervention nonsense, there was this little ol' house full o' wee young 'uns, who came there 'cause they were street urchins and orphans and didn't have no home of their own or family to take care o' them, so they took care o' themselves, and wouldn't even accept no charity.  These little ragamuffins called themselves The Jolly Entertainers, and they showed folks in every little town in the U.S., and even the wilds of Canada, just what they were made of.

The Jolly Entertainers was the brainchild of Herman Mainard Draper, born in Rainham Centre, Ontario, Canada, in 1856 (or so, depending on the source).  He was the son of a preacher, and had eight brothers and sisters.  The family moved to nearby Welland, Ontario, and later to Battle Creek, Michigan, while Herman was still a young boy.  (Eventually he would become a naturalised citizen of the U.S.)  He studied music at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and also earned a certificate from the Tonic Sol-Fa College in London, England.  Tonic sol-fa was a simplified method of reading music, and came in handy when Draper started teaching children music.

On September 18, 1878, Draper married 20-year-old Annie Pacey of Port Stanley, Ontario, a small town about 200 miles from Battle Creek.  Herman was living in Stratford, Ontario at the time of their marriage, which took place at the Pacey residence in London, Ontario.  They had two sons, Harry, born 1880 in Battle Creek, and Cecil, born 1882 in London.

1890s: Herman and Annie Draper, with their two sons Harry and Cecil, and adopted niece, Edith, who was to become one of the original Jolly Entertainers.

They moved to Seward, Nebraska in 1887, and then on to Kearney in 1889, where Draper taught music at local schools, using the tonic sol-fa system, and put together the Kearney Juvenile Band.  Wherever he went, Herman was successful with his musical method: "It has no lines, no spaces, no clefs, no sharps, no flats, no naturals, no time figures, nothing but music in a plain, practicable, sensible notation as simple and natural as the music itself. Children comprehend and enjoy it and can learn to sing by it as readily and as well as they learn to read from books."  Wherever he taught, Professor Draper had the respect and admiration of the community.

When Annie's sister Edith died of apoplexy in 1894, she and Herman took her little girl, also named Edith, into the family.

In the late 1890s, the Drapers moved to Calumet, Michigan, where Herman opened a music store and taught voice and various instruments wherever he could.  He gave up the store in 1903 to take a job as superintendent of the Good Will Farm and Home Finding Association, a shelter for homeless kids.

While there he organised the Jolly Entertainers, a 7-piece children's musical group.  They played wherever they could be heard, including street corners, according to an early newspaper write up from July 19, 1907: "From East Broadway in the vicinity of the city hall last evening came the sounds of music, and on closer investigation by several hundred persons, it was found that the melody was being produced by five pretty little girls and two attractive, manly-looking boys.  Two of the girls played cornets, two were bringing sweet strains from alto horns and the fifth played a baritone horn.  The larger of the boys played a tuba, and the other industriously beat a snare and a bass drum.

The children made a hit with their music, and when they began selling postcards, telling who they were and what their object was in playing on the street, they couldn't begin gathering the dimes fast enough.

Draper eventually resigned his post at the Good Will Farm, saddened to see brothers and sisters parted, typical in orphan asylums, and he was determined to start his own industrial home farther south in Houghton, where siblings without parents could grow up together.  However, government regulations prohibited the Drapers from taking in illegitimate children, babies less than half a year old, and children whose parents wished to pay their board while they looked for work elsewhere.  These rules were harmful and destroyed families, so, in 1907, the Drapers decided to move out west to Washington, where they intended to start a new home in Seattle.  "The home in Seattle will be for the purpose of furnishing a residing place for the boys and girls until permanent homes can be found for them."  Draper would soon change his mind about giving the kids up for adoption.

Postcard, 1907, letting folks know that the Drapers, as well as the Jolly Entertainers, are moving to Seattle.  Below: They've arrived.

Herman and Annie brought along with them the original line-up of the Jolly Entertainers: their daughter Birdie (Edith), as well as (with the permission of their parents) four Norwegian children, Hartell, Doloros, Gudrun and Phillis, and siblings Mike and Maggie.  They were hoping to make it to Seattle by fall, in time for the new school year.

On the way they bought the chassis of a truck in Chicago and built the prototype of a mobile home on top of it.  The children cut their teeth on the road, performing daily.  They played at the newly-opened Orpheum Theatre in Rockford, Illinois: "The bill at the Orpheum for the first three days of the week is one that will fill the theatre at each performance.  Draper's Jolly Entertainers are one of the features of the bill, and at the performances yesterday were given the highest honors.  The little folk are good entertainers on the stage, and have a prettily arranged act of songs and dances.  Before the performances the entertainers give a band concert and are certainly clever instrumentalists."

Postcard, from a photo taken September 11, 1909.  The industrial home -- and the band -- was growing rapidly.

While in Montana, they played in Havre (where they did 62 shows at the Family Theatre), Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula (where they had a week-long engagement at the Union Theatre).

But the roads in Montana, being too crude and muddy in those days, forced the family to travel by train the rest of the way, including their odd vehicle, which was loaded on a flatbed.

Few of the Jolly Entertainers' ads included a photo of the troupe.  (From the February 23, 1914 edition of the Oregon newspaper, Ashland Tidings.)

In October they found themselves in the city of Ballard, now a part of Seattle, but stayed only a while.  In June 1908 they moved to Des Moines, where they bought a hotel built in 1890 by John Hiatt (not to be confused with the Hyatt chain of hotels).  The hotel, known as Bidgler's House, was formerly owned by Captain F.W. Hanke, but when his schooner sank in rough waters in December 1904 and the entire crew drowned, he left his wife with four small children. Desperate for money, she sold the hotel to the Drapers, where they were to live for the next 19 years.

The Children's Industrial Home, Des Moines, Washington, home of the Jolly Entertainers for 19 years.

The brood kept growing, consisting of homeless waifs, orphans, and abandoned children, mostly children no one else wanted, or that state-run orphanages weren't permitted to keep. Despite being three storeys high and having 28 rooms, the hotel was small, not any bigger than one you'd find in a lawless one-horse town in the Wild West, and the Drapers found it impossible to keep more than three dozen children at a time.  As with Oliver Warbucks, the children called Herman "Daddy", and Annie was "Mother".

The house was christened The Children's Industrial Home -- at least, that's what it was usually called -- and the kids learned to play musical instruments and to sew and knit.  A barn, also part of the property, was converted into an opera house, with a stage, curtains and scenery, where the kids provided vaudeville entertainment for the locals, usually musical comedy and theatre.  Draper had a small water tower built, to provide for running water and a toilet on each floor.  In addition, a play area was built on the grounds for the children.

Playground at the Industrial Home, back in the days when playgrounds weren't shut down just because some kid skinned his knee.

There was also a print shop set up in a little green house out back, "an old shed", as Draper described it.  There were three presses (run by gasoline engine), a composing stone, 55 fonts of type, and other tools.  (By 1915 there were four presses and 75 fonts.)  The press was run by the children, who typeset and printed their own newsletter, The Good Will, as well as programmes and promotional postcards and flyers.  The Good Will contained articles written by the children, sometimes essays about their experiences travelling as the Jolly Entertainers.  These experiences were summed up in a 1917 newspaper article: "The teachers are carried right along so that their education is not neglected and they are always taken to visit all the interesting or instructive features wherever they stop, having seen already what most children only read about.  Going down in the mines, watching the building of ships, going through the great sugar refinery on the coast.  On one occasion they saw sugar from the cane to the table and each received a bag of sugar as a souvenir."  The paper was published monthly, and yearly subscriptions could be had for one dollar.  They also accepted commercial printing jobs: "We guarantee satisfaction and we need your help."

Postcard, 1910.  The kids must have had fun printing all these postcards.  It's a good thing they did, otherwise we might not know their band ever existed.

Perhaps their most ambitious printing effort, a small (6" x 4") book, 92 pages.  Small press publishing at its finest.  The price was steep, but the cause worthy.

The Jolly Entertainers travelled in a caravan of trucks, or sometimes a bus, with "Daddy" and "Mother", and usually with one or two teachers in tow.  The children brought their school books.  Wherever they journeyed on their tours, the Drapers were always able to find overnight lodging for the children.  This usually wasn't a problem, and the good citizens of the community would take in three or four at a time.  As one newspaper put it, "Instead of finding it difficult to place the children there were not enough in the party to go around."

Draper described his home as self-supporting, perhaps the only self-supporting children's home on the planet: "We do not have any support from the county, town or any public institution or state.  The only way we make money to run the home is by giving concerts in different cities."  And so they did.  Within the first three years they performed hundreds of concerts in the state of Washington alone.

Money was never solicited, but Draper said he wouldn't refuse a "friendly donation".  A 1920 flyer sent round to labour unions asked that each member contribute one penny to the home: "It certainly seems small, but think what it means to those children!"  But he stopped short of calling it charity: "Oh, no!  These kiddies print 'Good Will,' and for each dollar sent as per capita on the one-cent basis they will send a copy of their little paper, which should be passed around at your next union meeting, so that as many members as possible may read it and pass it on to others."

Claire and Neva Stitt, ages 11 and 9, "The Two Youngest Soloists in America".

He believed in God, but kept religion out of the equation: "Personally, I have no creed."  The children attended public school in Des Moines, and the entertainment provided by the Jolly Entertainers was secular.

Draper was convinced he and his wife gave the children all the love, care and fostering they needed.  One of the home's fold out cards stated: "We have no children to give away or place in homes.  This is their home and here they remain until they grow up and want to leave."

Flyer, circa 1912

Folded postcard, circa 1913.  Similar to the flyer above, but in this updated version the number of children has grown from 35 to 44.  It was always a struggle: though the Drapers were able to pay $500 on a $4000 debt for five acres of waterfront property where they hoped to build a new house, they now owed $600 in mortgage for their home and $500 "floating indebtedness."

When the Jolly Entertainers first arrived in Washington, there were seven members in the band.  The number quickly grew, and eventually there would be as many as two dozen boys and girls in the band, aged 4 to 16.  A January 1912 newspaper article stated: "There are twenty members in the troupe, and each of them dances, sings, recites, or plays a solo instrument."

Folded postcard

Their concerts seemed to be successful, if not financially, at least critically.  Attendance was good, and sometimes houses were packed, and always to appreciative audiences, as the many newspaper reports (often nothing more than a paragraph) attest.  An excerpt from a 1911 newspaper article describes in some detail one of their earlier shows (with some typos corrected):

The program was a continuous play and was pronounced the best ever given by these little folks.

The first was a scene on the street.  A bunch of children on their way to a picnic are met by Uncle Josh, who is persuaded to go along.  They are followed by Happy Hooligan and Gloomy Gus, who also go to the picnic and get
"filled up."

Scene 2 is the picnic full blast, children swinging, skipping, playing ball, boxing, etc.  Uncle Josh is there, according to agreement, gets dumped out of the swings and has a general good time.  Happy and Gloomy are the biggest toads in the puddle and the only break in the festivities is the appearance of a cop who attempts to arrest Happy, but the tables turned on him.  Scene 3 finds a host of people buying tickets for the
"big show."  Scene 4 is the big show, given by the Lilliputians and it certainly is a "Big Show."  This part of the program is made up of the most catchy songs, beautiful motions and poses, marches, graceful dances and the most laughable vaudeville ever presented on a Port Townsend stage by young performers.

The company will remain over and give another program tonight with an entire change of bill.

The price for the evening show: 35 cents general admission, 50 cents for reserved seats, and 15 cents for children under 14.

No venue left untrodden, they even performed for a Washington chain gang in 1910.

When the children grew up, some left the home, but others stayed on.  A fella named Lloyd Sawner became the stage manager for the Jolly Entertainers, arranging lights and special effects for the shows.  Julia James, nine years at the home, became a band leader, helping to rehearse the kids.

There's no telling how many concerts were given during the band's 20-year existence, but evidently there were a lot.  One of their tours covered 38 states and parts of Canada.  It might have given the children a sense of self-worth to earn their own keep at a cruel time in history when they might have been left on the streets to fend for themselves; but they weren't sponsored by Pepsi, and so the Industrial Home was often in arrears, sometimes owing thousands of dollars.  But, bless their little hearts, the kids kept performing whether they made a profit, broke even, or incurred a loss.

The Jolly Entertainers were able to support their Des Moines home for 19 years, but in April 1927 Annie died suddenly from heart failure, followed by Herman, who died the day of her funeral, no doubt from a broken heart.  Unfortunately, the home couldn't be maintained without the guidance, inspiration and management of the Drapers, and so the Children's Industrial Home was closed, and the hotel eventually demolished.  Today, only the little green house where the children printed their newsletters and postcards still stands.

But the kids were determined not to sink into historical oblivion.  The Harrington Opera house, built in 1904 in the tiny town of Harrington, Washington, was bought and restored in recent years, but the walls of the dressing rooms were left untouched.  The children were only too happy to deface the walls with their signatures, and "The Jolly Entertainers, Sept. 18-19, 1916" is visible, along with other such scribblings for each time they performed there.  Way to go, kids!

Camping in East Potomac Park, Washington, DC, November 25, 1924