Heavy Metal has always been a little bit dirty. Next year, it’ll get positively Filthy.
That’s because the venerable publishing brand—synonymous with adult-skewing sci-fi, fantasy, and horror comics—has hired superstar comic book scribe Grant Morrison (The Filth, The Invisibles, Doom Patrol) to be its new editor-in-chief. For a sense of the kind of eye-popping, eye-poking spunk Heavy Metal hopes Morrison will bring to its pages, check out this first look at the cover of his first issue, on sale in February.
Heavy Metal began life in 1977 as the U.S. analog to the French adult comics magazine Metal Hurlant, but it quickly developed its own identity. During its heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, it published strips and art by comic luminaries like Jean Giraud (aka Moebius), H.R. Giger, Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corben, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, and Kevin Eastman. The content was sophisticated and spectacular, edgy and explicit. Or just sexy. Nudity abounded. But there were also features, short prose fiction, and interviews with filmmakers like Federico Fellini and Roger Corman. It was Playboy for geeks. It’s perhaps best known in the broader culture for the 1981 film, an R-rated animated anthology, and its Sammy Hagar theme song. Call it HEAVY METAL!
Heavy Metal’s profile has waxed and waned since the late ’80s. Since 1991, Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has served as its chief steward and acolyte. Hopes for a pop resurgence were stoked in 2011 when filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) announced that he was developing a new anthology flick, but nothing came of it. In 2014, Eastman sold Heavy Metal to Jeff Krelitz, a film and TV producer, and David Boxenbaum, a former music industry exec. (Eastman remains publisher.) Now they’re pursuing an ambitious plan to energize and maximize the Heavy Metal brand. Recruiting Morrison to be the EIC of the magazine is major step in that direction. Co-CEO Krelitz—who grew up reading Heavy Metal and didn’t come to superhero comics until he discovered Morrison’s breakthrough, groundbreaking American work in the ’80s—believes the Scottish scribe is a perfect fit.
“The first D.C. Comics book I ever picked up was Arkham Asylum. I thought ‘Holy shit! Batman just went Heavy Metal!’” says Krelitz, referring to Morrison’s 1989 graphic novel with Dave McKean (full title: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serous Earth), a heady, macabre, and… well, serious-minded psychological thriller yarn that sent the dark knight into Gotham’s hellacious loony bin to battle his worst enemies and personal demons. “From the standpoint of what he does and how he tells a story—edgy, provocative, avant-garde—that’s us. And why not? It just makes sense.”
Eastman agrees, citing the diversity of Morrison’s imagination and interest. Morrison’s prodigious, overwhelming oeuvre runs the gamut from Animal Man to Superman, Justice League of America to X-Men, from sincere superhero myth-making to irreverent superhero deconstruction. His catalog of original, creator-owned work—The Invisibles, The Filth, and recent titles like Happy! and Annihilator—is more on point with Heavy Metal’s subversive, explicit, politically charged, counter-culture attitude. “I gave it thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up,” says Eastman. “He is going to blow some minds and expand some others.”
“We’re trying to bring back some of that ’70s punk energy of Heavy Metal, but update it and make it new again,” says Morrison, 55, adding that his first comics work, in the Scottish comics mag Near Myths, was directly inspired by Heavy Metal. “One of the things I like to do in my job is revamp properties and really get into the aesthetic of something, dig into the roots of what makes it work, then tinker with the engine and play around with it. So for me, it’s an aesthetic thing first and foremost. The idea of immersing myself in the aesthetic of Heavy Metal is exciting. It’s going to change the clothes I wear, the way I create; it’s like a performance for me. Beyond that, just the idea of being able to curate stories, decide the direction of the magazine, and work with great talent and develop new talent is an exciting opportunity.”
Morrison plans to write comic strips and prose material for the bimonthly magazine, too. He says he’s just beginning to reach out to talent in hopes of recruiting them. On his radar: Past collaborators Chris Burnham (Nameless) and Frazer Irving (Annihilator). He says Heavy Metal will be the primary focus of his comics work for at least a year or two. “I want to give my attention over to making something that’s unique and provocative, a bit more scary for people and challenging,” he says.
Another comic legend will be making his Heavy Metal debut before Morrison’s first issue hits in 2016: the late artist Jack Kirby, co-creator of Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Captain America, and scores of other famous characters, and whose signature style has influenced generations of storytellers. In the late ’70s, Kirby created concept art for an aborted movie adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s classic 1967 sci-fi novel, Lord of Light. Those who know the real-life backstory of the Oscar-winning film Argo will know that Kirby’s Lord of Light work was used by the CIA as part of an operation in which an agent posed as a movie producer to rescue a group of American diplomats from Tehran following the Iranian Revolution. Heavy Metal will be publishing Kirby’s work, in color, for the first time this August, with permission from Barry Gellar, the writer and producer of the Lord of Light film. The publisher will also be selling a series of Kirby/Lord of Light prints at San Diego’s Comic-Con this summer.
While Morrison works reinvigorate Heavy Metal magazine, Krelitz and Boxenbaum are looking to build up Heavy Metal in other media. There’s now a Heavy Metal record label with BMG. There are television shows in various stages of development. And Krelitz is mapping out a bold plan for a shared movie universe, comprised of different Heavy Metal-branded franchises, analogous to the Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment philosophy. Where Marvel and DC make PG and PG-13 films, Heavy Metal will make PG-13 and R-rated films. The goal is to develop live action movies, in the vein of Avatar, not animated films. Says Krelitz: “It’ll be a series of films leading into a Heavy Metal movie, with another series of films leading into a another Heavy Metal movie.”