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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Romantic Reimaginings: Adaptation and Convergence in Poe (Part 3 of 3)

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email ebryan@lincoln.ac.uk.

Today on the blog our article is the final article in a 3 part series in which Jeff L. Wright (University of Arkansas) discusses adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His first article (link below) examined Poe’s The Raven in the context of Halloween. Parts 2 and 3 examine Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Poe, tracing the evolution of these adaptations from the cultural ‘memeplex’ to the individual ‘selfplex’.

Part 1: bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2721

Part 2: bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2724

Part 3:

For this Romantic Reimagining, I would like to continue our exploration of the bio-evolutionary model of memes in Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Raven”. In part one, I discussed the ways in which memes are transferred from the cultural memeplex into our own individual brains, called the selfplex. Richard Corben’s original adaptation of this poem incorporated a painterly, watercolor style of pen-and-ink to create an almost impressionistic version of Poe’s protagonist. Material items such as the room or the Colt-style revolver the man carried were heavily detailed, as if drawn, and the human figure was less detailed. Perhaps this was Corben’s attempt to hedge himself against the fact that there is no clear description of the character in the poem, and Corben’s rendition of the man leaves us with more of a visual impression of a character. I also discussed how some elements, such as the protagonist’s appearance, are more controversial in our own minds than other elements, such as what the raven, a gun, or the room would look like in this poem. Once rendered, Corben then regurgitates this new adaptation back into the cultural memeplex for a survival-of-the-fittest test to see if fans liked it or not.

I would like to continue with an exploration of another of Corben’s adaptations of “The Raven” roughly a decade later. Edgars Allen Poe’s The Raven and the Red Death (EAPRRD) was done with Darkhorse Comics. Like Haunt of Horror, EAPRRD is still mostly Corben doing the writing and the artwork, with some lettering done by Nate Piekos. I mention this because in the case of Corben’s work, he is handling both the writing and drawing duties, whereas most comics have separate writers and artists (even a whole team of them), which is another reason Corben’s work is good for this sort of memetic evolutionary analysis, as there is little question as to where the ideas originated from.
In the previous rendition of “The Raven,” Corben worked in black-and-white. However, in his later version he switches to color, but also steps the artwork back into what looks more like the retro/vintage horror comics of old, such as Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror. This style is somewhat “cartoony” in that the human form is often exaggerated into a caricature of sorts. Mag the Hag, a narrator in the vein of the Cryptkeeper, is somewhat of a cross between a hunchback and a witch with a round, bulbous nose, balding head, and sagging cleavage (fig. 1).

Figure 1: The Slime Effect

Whereas the first version of “The Raven” featured an impression of a man in the story/poem, Corben’s second adaptation creates a very distinct idea of what the character looks like. We are shown two things in the first few frames that set a clearly different visual tone than his first adaptation. First is the man himself, with muttonchops and details that make the character look older or at least more haggard than in the first adaptation. The second element we see is what I usually just refer to as the “slime effect” in horror comics. Rain on a window sill, and in the next frame on Mag the Hag’s nose, is drawn to look more like globs of spit or slime oozing down these things rather than raindrops (fig. 1). This slime-visual alone is a clear link to horror comics and serves as a sort of signal that this will likely be grotesque in some way.

Figure 2: Lenore and Arnold

Corben has also created more detailed imagery in this adaptation of both the man and Lenore, as the use of a flashback sequence is employed early in the story in the man’s pondering over “forgotten lore.” The lore, in this case, being thoughts of his Lenore, who is shown to be an attractive woman in his memories of their lovemaking. This is a major departure from his previous adaptation of this poem in that he is now drawing these characters with very distinct details, but also employing visual elements that were not part of the original poem’s story. Lenore, like the man in the poem, is never described. Corben is taking artistic license regarding this, essentially having to add these romantic memories to visually represent lines in the poem that read as inner dialogue or that Poe never fleshed out for the reader. Corben even goes so far as to name the originally unnamed man, Arnold (fig. 2).

Figure 3: Death at the beak of The Raven

In Corben’s previous adaptation he worked more as an impressionist doing, for lack of a better term, an “artistic” comic. Now, he is switching styles, which almost feels a bit like a genre shift from arthouse-comic to good ole’ fashioned worm-and-guts, pre-CCA, horror comics. Which brings us to the raven itself. In his former adaptation, Corben chose to go with a fairly realistic version of a raven, at least as realistic as a talking antagonist raven can be made to look. In this version, Corben has chosen to get a little more horrific with the raven, and honestly this is the first time this poem actually came across as remotely scary or horrifying to me. After goring Arnold with its beak, the raven is depicted as some sort of demonic-undead bird hovering over the fallen body of Arnold, now laying before Lenore’s gravemarker.

In this version, Corben adds more than just visuals to this poem, he also has to create new, additional elements of the story to turn this into a 10-page comic book story. While visual elements will always be seen as addition to a textual story, the visual additon of the blood and gore into this version seem to amplify the horror aspects of this poem or contemporize the graphicness of these elements to sell to modern horror audiences that may be used to much more violent or grotesque depictions. In terms of Convergence Culture and Adaptation Studies, Corben’s work on “The Raven” serves as a good source for analyzing the way that, in this case, this has grown from an impressionistic visual adaptation of the poem, to that of a full blown horror story using the poem as a foundation for other horror elements, especially visual elements, to be added to it.

Jeff L. Wright is currently working on PhD in Cultural Studies and as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas. He has a BA and MA in interdisciplinary studies in the fields of Anthropology, Rhetoric-Composition, Gender Studies, Film Studies, and Theatre. Jeff’s writing ranges from academic research to playwrighting, and he is currently working as one of the official bloggers for the Sam Walton College of Business. His current research is focused on “Bitch-Rhetoric” in comic books and tattoos.