Heavy Metal

metal hurlant

jim mahfood

Heavy Metal is an American science fiction and fantasy comics magazine, known primarily for its blend of dark fantasy/science fiction and erotica. In the mid-1970s, while publisher Leonard Mogel was in Paris to jump-start the French edition of ‘National Lampoon,’ he discovered the French science-fantasy magazine ‘Métal Hurlant’ which had debuted in 1974. The French title translates literally as ‘Howling Metal.’

When Mogel licensed the American version, he chose to rename it, and ‘Heavy Metal’ began in the U.S. in 1977 as a glossy, full-color monthly. Initially, it displayed translations of graphic stories originally published in ‘Métal Hurlant,’ including work by Enki Bilal, Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius), Philippe Druillet, Milo Manara and Philippe Caza. The magazine later ran Stefano Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore’s ultra-violent ‘RanXerox.’ Since the color pages had already been shot in France, the budget to reproduce them in the U.S. version was greatly reduced.

Heavy Metal’s high-quality artwork is notable. Work by international fine artists such as H.R. Giger and Esteban Maroto have been featured on the covers of various issues. Terrance Lindall’s illustrated version of Milton’s epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ appeared in the magazine in 1980. Many stories were presented as long-running serials, such as those by Richard Corben, Pepe Moreno and Matt Howarth. Illustrator Alex Ebel contributed artwork over the course of his career. The magazine is currently owned and published by Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ Publication of the French magazine ceased in 1987. It resumed in 2002, edited by Les Humanoïdes Associés, a French publishing house specializing in comics and graphic novels (founded by Moebius, Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet and Bernard Farkas in order to publish ‘Métal Hurlant’).

The founding editors of the American edition were Sean Kelly and Valerie Marchant. Art director and designer John Workman brought to the magazine a background of experience at ‘DC Comics’ and other publishers. After two years, Mogel felt the lack of text material was a drawback, and in 1979, he replaced Kelly and Marchant with Ted White, highly regarded in the science fiction field for revitalizing ‘Amazing Stories’ and ‘Fantastic’ between 1968 and 1978. White and Workman immediately set about revamping the look of ‘Heavy Metal,’ incorporating more stories and strips by American artists, including Arthur Suydam, Dan Steffan, Howard Cruse and Bernie Wrightson. White’s main solution to the problem of adding substantive text material was a line-up of columns by four authorities in various aspects of popular culture: Lou Stathis wrote about rock music, Jay Kinney dug into underground comics, Steve Brown reviewed new science fiction novels, and Bhob Stewart explored visual media from fantasy films to animation and light shows.

In 1980, Julie Simmons-Lynch took over as editor, and her new slant on text material was the showcasing of non-fiction by well-known authors such as Robert Silverberg, John Shirley and Harlan Ellison. Later, a review section labeled ‘Dossier,’ was created by associate editor Brad Balfour, who came on board to handle text features by authors such as William S. Burroughs and Stephen King. Dossier featured short pieces by a variety of writers, and was edited first by Balfour and then by Stathis, who soon replaced Balfour as an editor. Stathis continued the tradition of focusing on pop culture figures to connect the magazine to the larger hip culture context. There were also interviews with such media figures as Roger Corman, Federico Fellini, John Sayles, and John Waters. Simmons-Lynch remained the editor until 1991 when Kevin Eastman acquired the magazine and became both publisher and editor.

In 1981, an animated feature film was adapted from several of the magazine’s serials. Made on a budget of $9.3 million, under production for three years, ‘Heavy Metal’ featured animated segments from several different animation houses with each doing a single story segment. Another house animated the frame story which tied all the disparate stories together. Like the magazine, the movie featured a great deal of nudity and graphic violence, though not to the degree seen in the magazine. For example, in its ‘Den’ segment, it did not display the blatant male genitalia of its print counterpart. The film featured such SCTV talents as John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman. It did reasonably well in its theatrical release and soon gained a cult status, partially because a problem with music copyrights that resulted in a delay of several years before the film became officially available on home video.

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