Heavy Metal (magazine)

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Heavy Metal
Jean-Michel Nicollet's cover for the first issue.
Editor in ChiefTim Seeley
Former editors
FrequencyMonthly (1977–1985)
PublisherMatty Simmons (1977–1990)
Kevin Eastman (1992–c. 2020)
FounderLeonard Mogel
First issueApril 1977; 47 years ago (1977-04)
Final issueApril 2023
CountryUnited States

Heavy Metal was an American science fiction and fantasy comics magazine, published between 1977 and 2023. The magazine was known primarily for its blend of dark fantasy/science fiction, erotica, and steampunk comics.

Unlike the traditional American comic books of that time bound by the restrictive Comics Code Authority, the magazine-format Heavy Metal featured explicit nudity, sexual situations, and graphic violence. The magazine started out primarily as a licensed translation of the French science-fantasy magazine Métal hurlant, marking for many Americans their first introduction to the work of European cartoonists like Enki Bilal, Philippe Caza, Guido Crepax, Philippe Druillet, Jean-Claude Forest, Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius), Chantal Montellier, and Milo Manara.

Publication history[edit]

National Lampoon[edit]

After a 1975 European trip by National Lampoon (NL) contributor Tony Hendra expressing interest in European comics, the magazine's New York offices attracted significant European comic material. On 2 September 1976, NL editor Sean Kelly singled out the relatively new French comics anthology Métal hurlant (lit.'Howling Metal', though Kelly translated it as "Screaming Metal")[2] and brought it to the attention of company president Leonard Mogel on 3 September, as Mogel was departing for Germany and France to jump-start the French edition of National Lampoon.[3] (Métal hurlant had debuted in early 1975 from Les Humanoïdes Associés (lit.'United Humanoids'), an association of Philippe Druillet, Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Jean Giraud (Mœbius), and financial director Bernard Farkas formed on 19 December 1974.)[4] Upon Mogel's return from Paris on 27 September, he reported that the French publishers had agreed to an English language version, and he suggested the title Heavy Metal for an April issue to be released in March 1977.[5]

Heavy Metal debuted in the US as a glossy, full-color monthly published by HM Communications, Inc., a subsidiary of Matty Simmons' Twenty First Century Communications, Inc.[6][a] The cover of the initial April 1977 issue declared itself to be "From the people who bring you the National Lampoon", and the issue primarily featured reprints from Métal hurlant, as well as material from National Lampoon, a colorized portion of Vaughn Bodē's Sunpot (1971), and an excerpt from Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara (1977).[8] Since the color pages from Métal hurlant had already been shot in France, the budget to reproduce them in the US version was greatly reduced.[citation needed]

In 1979, HM Communications published a couple of comics-format movie adaptations collected from the pages of Heavy Metal. The first was Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's Alien: The Illustrated Story, distributed by Simon & Schuster.[9] The second movie tie-in was 1941: The Illustrated Story by Allen Asherman, Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch; which rather than being a straight adaptation, varies wildly and humorously from the film. 1941 director Steven Spielberg wrote the book's introduction.[10]

In the late spring of 1980, Métal hurlant went bankrupt[11] and Heavy Metal severed its ties with its content partner.[12] Métal hurlant managed to keep publishing, however, and the two magazines reconciled in the summer of 1981.[13]

After running as a monthly for its first nine years up to the December 1985 issue, the magazine dropped to a quarterly schedule (winter, spring, summer, and fall) beginning in 1986, promising an increase in length and to feature only complete (rather than serialized) stories.[14][15]

Métal hurlant folded in the summer of 1987,[16] [17] forcing Heavy Metal to expand its reach for new content.

Grodnik/Matheson, J2 Communications[edit]

In late 1988/early 1989, film producer Daniel Grodnik and actor/producer Tim Matheson acquired voting control of 21.3 percent of National Lampoon Inc. stock,[18] were named to the company's board, and eventually took control of the company (by purchasing the ten-percent share — worth $760,000[19] — of Matty Simmons, who departed the company).[20][21]

During this period, publication of Heavy Metal increased from a quarterly to a bi-monthly schedule, citing a thirty-percent increase in circulation.[22]

A year later,[23] Grodnik/Matheson Co. sold the properties to J2 Communications, a home video producer and distributor founded by James P. Jimirro, with Grodnik and Matheson staying on for a period to run the new division.[24][25][26]

Kevin Eastman[edit]

Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who had grown up reading Heavy Metal, bought the magazine for $500,000[27][19] in May 1992.[28] (In total, HM Communications published 137 issues in 15 volumes from April 1977 to March 1992.) Eastman's publishing entity Metal Mammoth, Inc. published the magazine from 1992 to 2014. Eastman also served as Heavy Metal's editor-in-chief for the bulk of this time (even into 2016, after he was no longer the owner).

Later developments[edit]

In January 2014, Eastman sold the magazine to digital and music veteran David Boxenbaum and film producer Jeff Krelitz.[29] Eastman continued to serve as publisher of the magazine (until early 2020)[30] and was a minority investor in the new Heavy Metal,[29] which became at that point published by Heavy Metal Media, LLC.

In late 2019, Krelitz was no longer with the magazine, which was undergoing leadership churn.[31] In early 2020, Heavy Metal saw a regime change to CEO Matthew Medney and "Creative Overlord" David Erwin (formerly of DC Entertainment).[32] Medney and Erwin announced two new comics publishing ventures, Virus[33] and Magma Comix,[34] though neither line produced much material.

Heavy Metal's 300th issue, published in 2021, featured work by Tanino Liberatore, Mark Bodé, and Kent Williams, among others; and posthumous work by Richard Corben, Moebius, and Vaughn Bodē. It had interviews and testimonials from writers discussing the impact the magazine had on them as teenagers.[35]

Joseph Illidge (who served as the magazine's Executive Editor) looked back with some pride on what the editorial team accomplished in the period 2019 to 2022:

"What I'm proud of is being part of a team that over the last three years, quite frankly, took the magazine out of its spiral into invisibility and irrelevance and reinvigorated it with some of the best artists and writers in comics, returned Heavy Metal to a monthly publication schedule, and revitalized the staff with new voices, vibrant energy, and new ideas. We opened the doors to women, queer creators, and American creators of color. We followed the lead of the seminal 1981 animated film and made the character of Taarna the flagship character of the company in publishing, treating her like our Batman and elevating her with creative minds...."[36]


In the fall of 2022, the magazine entered into an agreement with online marketplace Whatnot to publish the following 12 issues of the magazine.[37] Soon afterward, the magazine announced it was "ceasing publication of what they described as the first volume of the magazine, which had been published continuously since 1977. The last issue of the first volume, number 320, was scheduled for publication in late October of 2022 and the successor, Volume 2, would be published by WhatNot Publishing starting with issue 1 in February of 2023."[38]

Amid cash flow problems, however, Heavy Metal shut down in December 2022. Initially intended to be a temporary suspension, the magazine worked to rectify subscription non-fulfillments and non-payments to artists and vendors. Medney stepped down as CEO, replaced by Marshall Lees and Jamie Penrose.[39]

In July 2023, with Whatnot's publishing division, Massive Publishing, only having produced one issue of Heavy Metal — #320, released in April of that year — it was announced that the publisher had decided to cancel the magazine and that #320 had been the final issue.[40][41]

Writer R. M. Rhodes had this to say about the long-running magazine's ignominious end:

It is entirely possible that Heavy Metal could surprise observers by releasing another issue, but they have no staff, no publisher, no partners, no credibility, no money, and an alienated audience. It certainly feels like the end. It would be very easy for Heavy Metal to prove me wrong, but ... I feel confident in stating that the magazine has ceased publication. I just wish that the company would bother to say something to that effect.[38]

Artists and features[edit]

Heavy Metal's high-quality artwork was notable. Work by international fine artists such as H. R. Giger, Frank Frazetta, and Esteban Maroto were featured on the covers of various issues. Stefano Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore's RanXerox series debuted in the States. Terrance Lindall's illustrated version of Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost appeared in the magazine in 1980.[42] Many stories were presented as long-running serials, such as those by Richard Corben, Pepe Moreno and Matt Howarth. Illustrators like Luis Royo and Alex Ebel contributed artwork over the course of their careers. An adaptation of the film Alien named Alien: The Illustrated Story, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Walter Simonson, was published in the magazine in 1979.

Here is a starting list of contributing artists featured in Heavy Metal:


The founding editors of the American edition of Heavy Metal were Sean Kelly and Valerie Marchant. Over the life of the magazine, the two editors with the longest tenures were Julie Simmons-Lynch (who was publisher Matty Simmons' daughter)[43] and Kevin Eastman, who was also the magazine's owner/publisher for more than 20 years.

The founding design director was Peter Kleinman (who served in the same capacity for National Lampoon). He created the original Heavy Metal logo design, at the request of Mogel, and was responsible for the launch and art direction of the first issue. Kleinman later hired designer and letterer John Workman, who brought to the magazine a background of experience at DC Comics and other publishers. Workman served as the magazine's art director from 1977 to 1984.[44] (His comics art, writing, lettering, coloring, and design work are evident throughout issues from that period.)

Founding editors Kelly and Marchant were replaced in August of 1979[45] by Ted White,[46] who was hired to introduce non-fiction and prose fiction into the magazine.[47][48] White was fired[49] in August 1980,[50] replaced as editor by magazine founder Leonard Mogel.[51]

Julie Simmons-Lynch took over from Mogel in late 1981,[52] serving as Heavy Metal's editor-in-chief for more than eleven years, stepping down when Kevin Eastman bought the magazine.

With a few breaks, Eastman was chief editor for Heavy Metal from early 1993 until mid-2016. Comics writer Grant Morrison became the magazine's editor-in-chief beginning with the April 2016 issue,[53][1] serving through 2018. They later served as creative advisor.

By issue #298 (2020), Tim Seeley had became editor-in-chief.[54] In 2021, Joseph Illidge took over as Executive Editor (leaving in late 2022).[36]


Heavy Metal was widely credited for exposing many Americans/English-speakers to European comics[55] and the continent's top cartoonists.[56] As cartoonist and publisher Kevin Eastman said of the magazine, "Heavy Metal published European art that had not been previously seen in the United States, as well as demonstrating an underground comix sensibility that nonetheless wasn't as harsh or extreme as some of the underground comix – but ... definitely intended for an older readership".[57]

Creators like George Lucas,[58] Neil Gaiman,[59] and Steven Lisberger[60] have all discussed the influence of Heavy Metal on their later work.

The magazine was taken to task, however, for its juvenile stories,[61] violence, and misogynist portrayals of women. Entertainment Weekly described the magazine as, "a legendary sci-fi and fantasy comic magazine for adults... and perhaps precocious teens interested in more daring material, or who consider Wonder Woman a tad underdressed.[62] Critic R. M. Rhodes pointed out "the abundance of breasts in the magazine [was] somewhat of a running joke over the years."[63]

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Heavy Metal had "charm" but decried its "sadism."[64] Writing about the magazine's early years, Rhodes discussed the voluminous number of pieces in which "the amount of rape (and stories where attempted rape drives the action).... I really didn’t keep track of how often it happens, but any number more than 'none' is usually a bad sign. Tragically, it’s mostly used as just another plot point, with no mention or indication of the consequences."[63]

Upon the magazine's demise, however, Rhodes wrote that it "was vital at a time and place when comics readers needed to be reminded that comics were more than just four-color corporate American superhero comics published on a monthly basis. Ultimately, the revolution in French comics that led to Metal Hurlant had a bigger cultural impact than anyone would have thought possible."[38]

In other media[edit]


In 1981, an animated feature film was adapted from several of the magazine's serials. Made on a budget of U.S. $9.3 million and 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. Another animated feature film called Heavy Metal 2000 was released in 2000.

During 2008[65][66] and into 2009,[67] reports circulated that David Fincher and James Cameron would executive produce and, each, direct two of the eight to nine segments of a new animated Heavy Metal feature. Kevin Eastman was to also direct a segment, as well as animator Tim Miller, Zack Snyder, Gore Verbinski and Guillermo del Toro. Paramount Pictures decided to stop funding the film by August 2009[68] and no distributor or production company has shown interest in the second sequel, since.[69] In 2011, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez purchased the film rights to Heavy Metal and planned to develop a new animated film at the new Quick Draw Studios.[70]

An animated 3D film entitled War of the Worlds: Goliath, created as a sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and based on a story previously published in the magazine, was produced by The Tripod Group and released in Malaysia in 2012.[71][72]

The series "Interceptor" is being adapted into a film.[73]

In March 2019, the Fincher project was released as a reimagining television series, titled Love, Death & Robots.[74]

In March 2021, Heavy Metal announced its first move into television with an adaptation of Blake Northcott's trilogy of novels, the Arena Mode Saga. The first book was in active development after optioning the rights to the sci-fi thriller.[75]

Video games[edit]

Heavy Metal 2000 inspired a video game sequel released in 2000, the PC action-adventure Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.². It was developed by Ritual Entertainment.

In 2001, Capcom released Heavy Metal: Geomatrix, an arcade fighting game that later made its way to Sega's Dreamcast console. Though not based on any specific material from Heavy Metal, it featured character designs by frequent contributor Simon Bisley and a style generally inspired by the magazine.

In 2020, Stern Pinball and the production company Incendium released a pinball machine commemorating the 300th issue of Heavy Metal, featuring Taarna and Cold Dead War (2021).[76][77] The made to order machine, with a playfield based on the Stern Star Wars release, sold for eight-thousand dollars and shipped in late 2020 along with an exclusive variant cover edition of Heavy Metal issue #300.[78][79]

Podcast network[edit]

In 2021, Heavy Metal launched a podcast network featuring scripted and unscripted shows that focused on horror, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, and pop culture.[80]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rhodes, RM (August 7, 2023). "The Uncertain Death of Heavy Metal Magazine: A look at what looks like the demise of Heavy Metal magazine, and the strange road that led to this". The Beat.


  1. ^ In late 1979, Twenty First Century Communications Inc. was renamed National Lampoon Inc.[7]


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External links[edit]