Monday, February 2, 2009

'Heavy Metal' magazine: January 1979

Nowadays, ‘Heavy Metal magazine is very different from what it was thirty years ago. It’s aimed more at fanboys raised on ‘Lady Death’ or ‘Shi’ comics, manga, anime, and other onanistic geek- culture entries.

But back in the late 70s and early 80s, Heavy Metal was one of the few outlets for comics and graphic art that was too ‘adult’ for mainstream publication in the comics issued by DC and Marvel. Most of the contents of each issue were translations of material appearing in the French magazine ‘Metal Hurlant’. Occasionally some homegrown American comics would appear in its pages.

Heavy Metal rarely got much in the way of advertising; some record labels, or perhaps a rolling paper manufacturer, might buy a page or two; as a result, the magazine was essentially subsidized by the successful sales of its parent, The National Lampoon.

Heavy Metal was aimed at a core audience of stoners; back in the late 70s a ‘nickel’ bag of pot cost only 10 bucks, and it was expected that after getting high, you’d open up a copy of Heavy Metal and peruse it while listening to some music of the same genre.

Although at a cover price of $1.50 it was comparatively expensive, I started picking up the magazine in late ’78 and followed it on a monthly basis until mid-1980. Some of the material was very good; a lot of it was mediocre. 

For example, much was made of the appearance of serialized comics by Moebius (the pseudonym of French artist Jean Giraud), but the ballyhooed ‘The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius’ was plainly a toss-off by Giraud, who at that time was busy moving into concept art and design for motion pictures (‘Alien’) and obviously tired with the low recompense –to-effort economics of comic drawing and writing.

Over time I became disenchanted with the inclusion of too much serialized material in the pages of Heavy Metal and I ceased buying it. But I did hang on to those 1979 issues, (although I didn’t slip them into plastic sheet protectors and store them in a cool, dry place).

While the 70s Heavy Metal had its share of cheesy T & A woven into many stories, it was also willing to print more downbeat, horror-themed tales than would appear in the contemporary edition of the magazine. Thanks to the magazine’s high production values, this stuff remains attention-worthy even in the age of computerized art layout and coloring.

Along with the front and back covers (done by Jo Ellen Trilling and Kevin Johnson, respectively) of the January 1979 issue, I’ve excerpted one such grim SF tale, a three-page installment of ‘1996’, a series by French artist Chantal Montellier.

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