Have you heard the news today [oh, boy]? Vinyl’s making a comeback! Hurrah! “But Hugh, it’s only 1% of the market-share!” A detractor hollers. “Well, hey. Give ME that 1%, as I’m not about to sniff at it!” There may have been a few choices of format for your sonic pleasure in the 1970s and early 1980s, but cassettes were a utilitarian carrier for music suitable for cars and later Walkmans, and though those chunky 8-track cartridges held a certain kitsch appeal even then, the vinyl LP reigned supreme, and with a 12” square cover, walking into a record shop (remember them?), the album jacket was its own, nice big advert. Much has been discussed about the “death” of the LP sleeve. The recent(ish) dominance of the iPod reduces your beloved sleeve art to a thumbnail, and 25 odd years before that, the compact disc reduced the LP sleeve to a mere 5 inches. At around the same time that the compact disc was making itself the dominant format, the advent of MTV in 1981, and the absolute necessity of having a new fangled “pop video” to promote your record managed to slash the budget/importance of the LP sleeve. I even read one article which reckoned that punk rock killed off the big budgets once afforded the album jacket. How can you charge megabuck$ for an LP cover when one of the band’s spotty mates can knock up something as equally effective for 50 pence and some sticky tape?
Anyhoo… I miss the LP, and glad it’s making a comeback, no matter how reticent. One LP sleeve a million or 40 of you might own is Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”, but unless you pore over the credits (as I do) after poring over every details of the front cover (as I do), you might not be aware that this album cover, and its belated, would-be “follow-up”, Jim Steinman’s “Bad For Good” in 1981, were painted by famed graphic artist Richard Corben. Richard Corben made a name illustrating titles such as Heavy Metal and Metal Hurlant, as well as his own “Den” and “Neverwhere” series. Along with Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Roger Dean and Derek Riggs, Richard Corben’s illustrations and artwork were a huge influence and inspiration to me, so I felt very privileged to have Mr Corben agree to being interviewed about the artwork for “Bat Out Of Hell” and “Bad For Good”, two of my favourite LP sleeves.
HUGH GILMOUR: How did the original commission to design the cover for Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” in 1977 come about?
RICHARD CORBEN: I received an unexpected phone call from Meatloaf’s New York agent , who asked me if I knew anything about record covers. I answered that I thought they were generally square shaped. Apparently this answer was good enough, and he outlined the project.
HG: Did it come from the record label or the musicians?
RC: It was from their agent, although I suspect the musicians were present when the call was made. I found out later that I owed this opportunity to the influence of Jim Steinman.
HG: Was it based on any ideas or paintings you had already?
RC: They needed the final art within a week, so there was no time for preliminary sketches. The only pre-existing image to be used was a panel of a bat that I had drawn in my Den series that was running in Heavy Metal Magazine at the time. The concept of the guy on a motorcycle was all Steinman’s.
HG: Some of Meat Loaf’s albums from the 1980s would definitely have benefited from one of your iconic images. As one of the biggest selling albums of all time, how important do you think the cover image of “Bat Out Of Hell” was to the album’s success?
RC: We all do the best we can. If by chance, cosmic influences come together in a miraculous way, something beyond expectation can happen. I’m just glad I happened to be in the right place at the right time so I could be a part of it. I must admit, I had no idea that the album would be so popular, or why one image should become “iconic”.
HG: Who commissioned you, and how exact was your brief?
RC: As I said the business was done with one short phone call, and I proceeded based on Steinman’s instructions.
HG: Had you designed any LP jackets before, and did you find that a particularly different experience when compared to your more usual background in graphic novels and comic art?
RC: Amazingly enough, “Bat Out Of Hell” was my first record album cover.
HG: Did you have any involvement with the logo and typograpy?
HG: What was your brief for “Bad For Good” in 1981?
RC: Again, most of Jim’s ideas were conveyed by telephone, except this time they sent me a tape of the music, and I was able to do some sketches.
HG: Did you hear any music, or meet up with Jim Steinman to discuss the project?
RC: It was all done by phone, and I did hear the music.
HG: Did you have any specific perimeters for what needed to be produced, or were you given a free reign?
RC: Jim had specific ideas about the album cover image and I tried to carry them out. I think it was kind of a rock angel with a guitar.
HG: Were you originally approached to design this for a proposed second Meat Loaf LP, or at this stage, were you always aware that this was going to be a Jim Steinman solo album?
RC: When I became involved it was already established that it would be Steinman’s album.
HG: Were any other themes or concepts under discussion for the cover? Did you produce some initial sketches or drawings for approval? Were you satisfied with the cover, or were there any compromises with regards to working for the music industry?
RC: I guess there was a conscious effort to make the image different from “Bat Out Of Hell”. I think I had to make one change in the art at Jim’s request. I remember the original angel’s costume had a long loincloth which Jim wanted to change to a brief “jockey type” covering. I saw immediately that this change was for the best.
HG: The working title for the proposed second Meat Loaf album that became Jim Steinman’s “Bad For Good” was originally “Renegade Angel”, and although the male figure has the final album title on his arm, the image could quite easily fit the “Renegade Angel” theme. Was it originally painted with this title in mind?
RC: The title was already established when I was contacted.
HG: Whereas “Bat Out Of Hell” is a warmer red and “Bad For Good” is a cooler blue, both paintings complement each other. Were they meant to be, or do you feel they are, thematically linked?
RC: I’m afraid I don’t remember if there was any discussion about the color scheme.
HG: What medium was used to produce the actual illustration, and did it differ in any way to how you had previously developed your paintings?
RC: The art is basically an oil painting, or more specifically, oil painting over an acrylic under-painting. The size was twice the dimensions of the printed cover, about 24″ by 24″.
HG: After the monumental success of “Bat Out Of Hell”, did you expect to design the follow up cover, and were you disappointed that you didn’t paint Meat Loaf’s actual second LP “Deadringer” in 1981 (painted by BernieWrightson)?
RC: Yes, that was kind of a deflating experience. Apparently they wanted a different look for the second album. Of course I accept the decision. This is all part of being a freelance artist. Bernie is a friend of mine, and he did a fine job. I’m just happy that I was able to do the “Bat Out Of Hell” cover.
HG: Did working on these LP sleeves lead to any further specific design or illustration commissions, in or out of the music industry?
RC: Yes, I did a cover for a Kansas City band, Morning Star I think. And a European band used a piece I all ready had, Blue Dragon.
For more information on the work of Richard Corben, please visit www.corbenstudios.com