- The Fall of the House of Usher, #1 & #2 by Richard Corben
It would be difficult estimate how many adaptations Edgar Allan Poe’s works have spawned. More than 164 years after his death, he remains the most influential of all American authors, despite his modestly sized canon of fiction and poetry. Sometimes, odes to Poe are entertaining and witty. Sometimes they veer so far from Poe’s original work they become ridiculous or even offensive. Every now and then someone will read Poe and forge an intricate bond with his words that will lead to great works of art being created—like Charles Baudelaire, Ray Bradbury, and now illustrator and comics icon Richard Corben. These masters of their craft in turn inspire an entire generation of artists who will eventually return to the original source: Poe.
Corben, who began as an underground comic artist in the 1970s and was inducted into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame last year, is no stranger to adapting Poe. Creepy published Corben’s Poe-inspired comics back in the 1980s at a time Corben was more familiar with Poe through the movies of Roger Corman. Corben also adapted Poe for Marvel in Haunt of Horror, among other works. After having become more familiar with Poe’s works, Corben found he was deeply drawn to particular characters and decided he wanted more control over his adaptations. It was this need to have the freedom to interpret Poe’s works in the ways he wanted that led him to Dark Horse Comics. As both writer and illustrator and with total creative control, Corben has already adapted Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm,” “Berenice,” and “The Sleeper” as well as one of the most revered short stories of all time, “The Fall of The House of Usher,” published in two issues in May and June 2013.
“Doing these comics with Corben remind me how fun Poe is. I’d sort of lost track of that, having not looked at the original work in a long time,” says Dark Horse Comics editor-in-chief Scott Allie. “Corben captures the energy and the imagination of Poe, while doing something that could only work in comics, something that takes full advantage of the art form.”
The way Corben interprets Poe brings to mind how the French saw him—from Baudelaire to Paul Valéry—and to the literary theorists of post-structuralism that evolved in France after the mid-1960s who heralded a new mode of thinking about the reading of texts. It was one far removed from the [End Page 216] axiom that every text had a final and defining truth, something Jacques Derrida declared a paradox. This theoretical movement projected the spotlight onto the reader for the first time. Corben’s adaptation of Poe’s “Usher”—a story considered the best example of Poe’s theory of the unity of effect in practice—gives us his interpretation of the twisted twins Roderick and Madeline and takes the liberty of showing us how “acute” he believes Usher’s sickness to be and what he thinks Usher’s “oppressive secret” is.
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From the original introductory passage of Poe’s story, Corben chooses to overlook the words “dark” and “dull,” opting instead to focus on the word “autumn.” For someone who often seems to show a preference for gray illustrations, Corben’s colors are scintillating in the opening pages—a spectacular display of sensational yellows and greens as we see Young Allan make his way to the House of Usher. On his first night alone in the forest we marvel at a violet sky and wonder how the moon can be such a delectable shade of cool blue. The dawn of the next day allows Corben to ignite the pages with burnished orange as Allan proceeds toward the doomed abode. As he approaches, it is impossible to ignore...