Today I read what might be the most gorgeously painted graphic novel I’ve ever seen:
NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad.
This story originally ran in serial form in the pages of HEAVY METAL magazine in the late 70s, then was collected into graphic novel form in 1979. I’ve posted about Corben’s other great works, but I think NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS might be the “crown jewel” of his long and distinguished career.
The book is full of lush, colorful illustrations that bring the world of Shahrazad and Sindbad to life with a spectacular sense of reality. Fantasy has never looked so real. Corben’s gift for blending realistic figures and backgrounds with fantastic elements is nowhere more evident than in this book. Sadly, it’s been out of print for decades.
I’ve been on a mission this summer to fill in the gaps in my Corben collection, and thanks to the miracle of eBay, I found a used, slightly battered copy of NEW TALES for about 15 bucks. However, like-new copies are going for upwards of 50 dollars. Despite its beaten cover, my copy’s interiors are in great shape–this was quite a lucky find. A diamond in the rough, to use the old metaphor.
The story tells “The Last Voyage of Sindbad” and features Shahrazad herself telling a story within a story within a story. Corben’s artwork brings to life the opulence of golden palaces, the glitter of heaped treasures, and the glorious, mythic Arabia of the ancient world. There are Jinn, Ifrits, undead warriors on bat-winged horses, sword battles, dragons, a flying galleon, a man-eating Ogre, and a floating city of decadent sorcery. There’s really nothing like it.
If you’ve ever read the classic issue of SANDMAN (#50) where P. Craig Russell illustrates a tale of ancient Baghdad, you have caught a glimpse of this Arabian splendor. Yet Corben’s work is fully painted and verges on the three-dimensional, immersing the reader in an adventure that is a tale for the ages.
It’s amazing that NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS has never been reprinted since its release from HEAVY METAL books in ’79. This is a towering work of graphic storytelling that deserves to be enjoyed by modern audiences. Yes, there is Corben’s trademark eroticism, but it’s far less tame than the rampant nudity of DEN or JEREMY BROOD. Corben’s women (and leading men) are idealized version of beauty, i.e. exactly what you want to see in a sweeping, epic fantasy adventure.
The colors here are simply out of this world–they have to be seen to be believed. (Click on any of these images for a larger version.) It seems to me that artists don’t color in such a broad palette anymore–NEW TALES is like a huge, heaping pile of gold and jewels, gleaming in all the colors of the rainbow and the subtle shades in between. From the green, rotting flesh of corpse-warriors to the red-gold skies above the Land of the Jinn to the blue waters of a moonlight ocean, Corben never ceases to amaze in these pages.
In his introduction to the volume, Harlan Ellison writes: “This is Corben at his consummate best…[Corben and Strnad] have have struck to the burning core of the myth of desire that fires the wild child in all of us…Never before, and perhaps never again, will they create something so universal and so rich with the scent of permanence. They have given us Sindbad, in all his wonder and wildness.”
I certainly can’t say it any better than that. For any fan of Corben’s work, or for those who want to find out what all the fuss is about, this is THE book to get.
And if you have to pay 50 or 60 bucks for it, don’t hesitate. It’s worth every penny and more.
How can one put a price on such a lovely dream?