It was announced last week that Heavy Metal magazine had been sold from Kevin Eastman to investors from the world of music and film, who are keen to capitalize on their new acquisition. New owners David Boxenbaum and Jeff Krelitz bring a new spin to the familiar adult-oriented fantasy comic anthology. Krelitz is not a newcomer to the comic adaptation world, being involved in the upcoming Chew adaptations for animation and live action among other projects, and Boxenbaum comes mostly from the world of music and will look to expand the Heavy Metal brand in that world. Kevin Eastman, who many of our readers will recognize as a co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will remain involved as a minority shareholder and continue in his role as publisher of the print magazine.
What this means, in plain language, is that we should expect a new Heavy Metal-style movie or TV show or two (or even three) in the very near future. So far, the only media project to directly emerge from this venerable magazine is the 1981 Heavy Metal film, featuring an anthology storyline and adult-oriented fantasy animation that South Park summed up best with their parody title “Major Boobage”. (To be fair, the original film has become a camp classic, albeit with emphasis on the “camp”.) In this post-Game of Thrones world, it will be very interesting to see what Heavy Metal can produce that would be considered shocking and groundbreaking.
This is a property with deep roots in the comic world. The original French magazine Metal Hurlant, published between the mid ‘70s and the late ‘80s and featuring the work of some very influential and renowned artists such as Moebius, Jodorowsky, and Bilal. The American version, originally published by National Lampoon, was titled Heavy Metal, an indirect translation of the original.
These magazines (both the French and US editions were published quarterly) were part of a rich world of “comix” art that goes back many years in the history of our favourite medium. The ‘70s underground comics had always used genre subversion and satire with great skill. The creators knew full well that blending, for example, science fiction and erotica in a comic book setting created a special kind of subversive cognitive dissonance. The same is true for “erotic fantasy”; one takes a genre the readers encountered probably as children and blends in something that belongs firmly in their adult life and it becomes a great way to reclaim and celebrate the art and its possibilities. What set Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal apart from the reams of underground titles was their production value. There was nothing cheap or black and white or “photocopied” about these comics. They were true pieces of art, produced by visionary artists. They became part of a larger refinement of the comix tradition that allowed for, to take one example, a magazine like 2000AD to start publishing Alan Moore’s early stories and lead the way into the modern age of comics for adults, as opposed to simply “adult” comics.
And we must at least mention the tremendous influence those original ‘70s and ‘80s Heavy Metal comics on other media, such as film. It’s well known that Ridley Scott was a longtime fan of Metal Hurlant and used its sensibility in Blade Runner. But science fiction visionaries were in a golden age at that point, with artists like Chris Foss producing beautiful paintings in the Heavy Metal tradition and using them in the design motifs of films such as Alien and the original Superman.
The other side of the Heavy Metal’s influence in the ‘80s are movies like the Beastmaster series, which did mix fantasy with adult “erotica”, but B-movie values reigned and artistry was minimal. People of a certain age will remember the flood of fantasy films in the early 1980s, including Dragonslayer, John Boorman’s Excalibur, and of course John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian, possibly the only film of the era to successfully translate the Heavy Metal style to the screen. Today, we have seen the earnest fantasy in the Lord of the Rings series and lots of other CG-based fantasy films, so as an audience we know what is possible to create. We also have seen fantasy taken seriously on the screen with Game of Thrones.
So I find it somewhat difficult to imagine what these new Heavy Metal films will bring to the cinematic (or TV) table that isn’t already there. A cinematic, A-list Game of Thrones-type film may, for example, only ever be just that: a Game of Thrones pastiche. The point is that we have specific points of cultural reference now that have stolen much of the thunder that Heavy Metal intended to create with this announcement. It remains to be seen how it all will play out, but it has the potential to be very interesting.