HEAVY METAL Magazine is Back With a Bold New Creative Strategy
Since its inception in 1977, Heavy Metal Magazine has built a storied legacy, serving as both the forefront of the avant-garde for established fantasy/science fiction visionaries as well as a proving ground for upcoming mind-blowing artists. Though fading from the limelight in recent years, the publisher appears to be ready to ramp things up, now under the keen direction of CEO Matt Medney (HERØ Records), having been named last December, and new “Creative Overlord” and Publisher David Erwin, previously of DC Comics and Hasbro joining in March. Rebuilding a label with the zeitgeist-bending legacy of Heavy Metal may seem a daunting task, but Medney and Erwin have a plan as the comic and illustrated storytelling market emerges out of its COVID-19 slumbers.
New stories, new titles, new labels, with new creative teams along with a giant push into territories untested like television and film. That’s their plan in a nutshell to shine the vaunted company back to its former luster, with maybe a little drive to meet the unrealized potential of their brand. As this revival looms upon the horizon, Heavy Metal Magazine looks to retake its traditional place as the purveyor of the “bleeding edge” of speculative graphic fiction, so perhaps there’s more than meets the eye in a brand rejuvenation like this. Screen Rant delves into what this creative philosophy entails with Erwin and Medney in a one-of-a-kind business strategy overview below. Check it out with exclusive preview art for the upcoming Issue #300!
Related: Heavy Metal Adds Comics Veteran Joseph Illidge as Managing Editor
Screen Rant: So, to start off, how would you describe your approach to Heavy Metal Magazine?
Matt Medney: For us the most important thing is to pay respect and pay homage to what Heavy Metal is and how it has gotten to this point today, while also looking for that new group of creators and stories and genre that can really take Heavy Metal into the new age. For us, if that as a guiding arm is what we think about, it makes it, I wouldn’t say easy, but really clear as to how to make decisions, because everything is based off that ethos.
David Erwin: We knew coming into Heavy Metal that it has a legacy. So we need to very respectful of its legacy as well as its present fans and readers. But over the years we think that it’s lost a lot of its luster and its position as being in the forefront of storytelling in science fiction, fantasy and horror, because, remember, this is a brand that had inspired so many people from Ridley Scott to John Carpenter… the list is unlimited right? We need to do that again. We need to put that back in the forefront where we can really lead the charge in taking chances on stories and creators that really wouldn’t have that opportunity elsewhere.
SR: One thing that comes through when looking at guys like Moebius and Corben and Druitt (the ‘70s stuff is real crazy), there’s a strange confluence of artistic skill on display, symbolism from the various archetypes being portrayed and pushing that psychological bubble that you have from the synthesis of those two things to the edge in terms of what’s even acceptable in the culture at the time.
Matt: Heavy Metal is kind of like rock n’ roll in the attitude that rock n’ roll brings, and even though today rock n’ roll music isn’t necessarily the music of the moment, hip hop follows that same attitude. Similarly, our stories are going to be as fringe, as on the edge, as the times allow them to. The ‘70s and ‘80s allowed us to be a little more… crazier than today’s times would let you be for socio-political reasons, for pop culture reasons, etcetera, etcetera… but I don’t think that changes the mote of how we really try to push to that limit and create that reflective mirror for what the sandbox allows us to.
David: Prior to Heavy Metal, I was the Transformers Lead [at Hasbro], overseeing all Transformers and building up the universe. The reason why I mention it is because I have a history of working with legacy brands. One of the things that Matt just touched on is the importance of taking legacy brands that were important to us, important to our fathers, fathers before that, is to make sure that it becomes relevant, stays relevant. If we had a Heavy Metal movie, like the animated film that came out in 1979 that everybody refers to, Taarna, [where] you’d have all of this rock n’roll music, but today if you had one, you’d incorporate hip hop along with rock n’ roll, because it’s relevant. That’s what we’re doing with Heavy Metal is making it relevant to today’s audience.
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SR: If I hear you correctly, you’re talking about a certain synesthesia of the senses as it comes to the overall impact on the audience that you get with the art and the music that is comparable to the fusion of the culture as it exists today. As we can see now, there’s a lot of conflict in that fusion, but certainly there’s a lot of good storytelling there as well.
David: Yeah, relevancy means that you’re dealing with topics that people can connect with. It would not make sense to tell a story like Dickens about child labor. I mean, who can relate to child labor unless you’re in China or India where you have first-hand experience? My point is, we’re dealing with topics that are similar in a sense that- you take Get Out the movie: it’s a horror film, but it deals with racism. Or you take any of the early Star Trek series and their shows dealing with imperialism or The Twilight Zone, and that’s what makes Heavy Metal very provocative and makes it endearing, and makes it relevant to readers. But we’re going to have fluff stories and just straight horror, gratuitously violent stories that you would expect from Heavy Metal, so you’ll get your whole smorgasbord, your whole buffet, from your appetizer all the way to your desert.
SR: Matt, clearly this is a very ambitious vision that you guys have for this. In terms of marketing this in the atmosphere that’s going to come out as the country opens from the coronavirus, what are you trying to do to make your push at Heavy Metal stand out?
Matt: The times are crazy, right? Coronavirus. The protests, which are very warranted. Everything that is happening. I look at Heavy Metal, and all the genre and all the storytelling, as our small sector of medicine for people. People need that escapism. People need a moment of solace; get away from the news, get away from their day and I think all the plans that we’re doing, and all of the new stories and mediums that we’re telling these stories in just allows us to give that medicine in more ways for our community.
David: Today the audience is not just confined to the printed page, so Matt as the CEO has done an amazing job of finding other avenues and other partners that we have aligned ourselves with that allows us be able to tell story in other mediums. We’re going beyond the printed page.
Matt: What I can say is that we have formed a joint venture with Diga Studios, an amazing production studio and amazing partner, and their focus is to take Heavy Metal into TV, film, podcasts and multimedia and there’s a lot of things in the works that are in all of those lanes that we’ll be announcing in the next few months.
David: Every one of those medium is a different way of telling a story, right? They require certain ways of how stories are told in that particular medium. That’s what we’re excited about. So, the stories that we’re developing are more than just what you’re going to see in the magazines. Even going to back to our printed form, we want to reach an even larger audience even within the comic book market, because our magazine publishing has been erratic in the last few years. Y’know, one year Heavy Metal would’ve published five issues, and the next year it’s maybe eight issues. One of things that Matt wanted to do, and has done from the beginning, is really get our production on track and making sure that we get the issues that were solicited delivered as they were promised. As we reach #300, which was a milestone and a huge celebration, we go monthly after that.
Even going a monthly magazine is still not enough of a reach in the comic book stores, because now we’re still competing against all these other titles that are coming out week after week. So now we’re publishing comic books. We’re going into the comic book sector, so our readers will be able to discover more stories. We are really coming out strong.
Related: Heavy Metal Launches Creator-Owned Imprint, Virus
SR: So you’re coming out with a line of individual comics?
Matt: We have a Taarna comic book, we have Cold Dead War which is our zombie story that’s being written by George Romero, we have Vasator & Crunch which is an original from David, which I think is going to be an incredible TV show. It’s awesome!
David: This is the first anyone’s heard of it. Vasator & Crunch is… imagine if Conan had a younger brother, but he was a robot! [Author’s note: art from this comic will be provided by Simon Bisley.]
David: So, they’re going on this crazy-ass adventure, they’re basically barbarians for hire, and they’re trying to earn enough money so they can build an army to overturn the present team who basically screwed them over. There’s going to be crazy stuff like being chased after by cyclopes and all these weird cave-dwellers and etcetera. It just goes on and on. So it’s just a sword-and-sandals…
David: Yeah. Turn up the volume. Turn up the volume on the insanity.
Matt: What’s really great about Vasator is that in parallel to the comic book there’s going to be shorts, 6 to 8 pagers in the magazine that are off-shoot stories. So they’re parallel stories that kind of keep the whole universe together. The fourth [comic series] that we have coming out is by Dylan Sprouse (Suite Life of Zach & Cody), which is Sun Eater.
SR: You’re building your own universe, eh? Interesting. How many comic book series are there going to be in total?
Matt: We have right now one more that is greenlit, and this is a ‘Screen Rant Exclusive’, because it hasn’t been announced yet, but Ron Marz, writer of Green Lantern and Silver Surfer, he has an original story called World Traveler that’s going to be really amazing and that will be a Heavy Metal original! We also have two comic series…
David: You want to mention Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)?
Matt: We also have two comic series from Dan Fogler. One is called Fish Kill and one is called Brooklyn Gladiator. And then we have a graphic novel anthology series called Moon Lake which is Dan’s homage to Heavy Metal that we are publishing. It is 3 volumes of 22 stories each, all of them 8 to 12 pagers. Issue #1’s of the comic series come out in August and the first graphic novel comes out in August, with the second one in February 2021, and the third at San Diego Comic-Con 2021.
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SR: Can you give me an idea of where you want to go with the speculative fiction genre in your storytelling like dark fantasy and science fiction?
David: When you’re in the business of publishing and you have deadlines you do have to weigh where you are with the various teams, because each of these stories have a team around them, and if time wasn’t an issue we would make sure that every story does have that originality and that voice that can inspire or intrigue or entertain in a way that we feel it was worth your time. That’s the one thing I guess. Because it’s an investment of peoples time to read anything, or even to watch a TV show, it’s a commitment of their time. For us, we’re very respectful and so we are trying to make every effort to make sure that we can deliver the types of stories that are gratifying.
SR: What do you look at as a compelling bubble of a story that you want to see under your label?
David: There is one that came to us, and it was a bit of a nugget. It was only three pages, and I loved it so much… this particular story was about a boy who comes and lands in a space-pod that was ejected from a ship orbiting the planet. And the reason why that ship came to that planet is that they had sent out a beacon to the galaxy, that ‘there’s wars all over the universe, all over the galaxy, so here is a safe haven where you can come’. Here we had this human boy who comes to this planet and… the planet’s too full, they can’t take anymore. They can’t take anymore refugees. It’s very poignant, and it’s told in science-fiction and you’ve got these crazy aliens, and we mean real aliens, aliens of all shapes and sizes, who have come earlier seeking sanctuary, but now the sanctuary is full, the entire planet is too full, and earthlings are being asked not to come.
When we commit to this story, it’s really about the characters. We need to make sure these characters really connect with the audience and readers. They have to be enough compelling enough for you to invest your time to go on a journey with them.
That’s why it’s important for us to do the comic books. ‘Cuz once a month, [just] the magazine, is not enough, ‘cuz y’know we’re in a Netflix era, we’re in a binge-watching era. I wouldn’t have the patience to wait month after month to get maybe 16 pages, so if I can get 16 pages in the magazine that’s a part of the story, and a comic book that’s month after month… okay that’s not quite binge-watching, but it’s better than 16 pages a month.
Matt: Part of our new strategy is entry points into Heavy Metal. So, starting with the serializations that are coming out in #300, all of these serials will also be packaged with unseen-before art, lore that correlates to that short from the magazine as well as a statement from the creator and packaged into a $2.99 single [comic] issue that’ll be available in stores as well. So every serialization that we have coming out, (and we have a lot coming out, there’s 24 new stories from amazing creators that have been commissioned and are going to start rolling out in the Heavy Metal Magazines), those stories will also be available as $2.99 single issues in comic book stores as well two months after they starred in the magazine. So the magazine price is too expensive for you and you want to see what this Heavy Metal world is all about? Here’s a snippet from the magazine to get you acclimated to what the world is.
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David: The new Virus creator imprint is another initiative. And this came out of the pandemic, because we found Heavy Metal has always had a really good infrastructure to manage delivery, magazines to subscribers, all over the world. So we inherited that. And then when Matt moved from our previous printer to a new printer, where we can basically print on demand… and the quality is just impeccable, I couldn’t tell the difference between a digital-printed or the traditional printing press. But then also, it gives us a huge array of covers and treatments, etcetera. So we can do anything that offset printing does, but we can do it in a digital manner.
Once we realized that, we realized ‘damn it! Why don’t we do an imprint that allows us to publish comics from all of these submissions that we get?’, because you can imagine Heavy Metal has always been the platform that introduces all of these incredible artist from all over the world, like Moebius. So, it’s really the one platform where new creators with different voices come from all over the world and we publish. We get so much of it, we can’t publish it all. So Virus becomes an answer to that, allows us to be able take these creators and their unique stories and offer it to our fans.
SR: Is providing that kind of platform an interest that you have going forward?
Matt: I think what’s exciting for us is that Heavy Metal as an overarching brand is the bleeding edge of fantasy, science fiction. We’re building our Heavy Metal universe, and not all stories fit into our Heavy Metal universe, but they fit into the Heavy Metal brand and fits into what it means to be Heavy Metal. Virus allows us to distinguish between what is Heavy Metal universe, and what is Heavy Metal ethos.
David: Because of the way it’s set up, and the we can print and offer it online- one of the beautiful things was that our first offering was from a creator from South America. So now we’re starting to think ‘okay, so we’re introducing this artist the English-speaking world’. Then we’re starting to think ‘what if we put in a dropbox and allow somebody to have a Spanish-speaking version of this?’ So we’re looking at ways of ‘how do we introduce all of this amazing talent from all over the world, and different voices and different sensibilities and use [this platform] to provide stories that you never would’ve seen otherwise?’
Think of Virus as Netflix in the early days. Netflix used to be where you would subscribe to Netflix and they would give you a hard disc, right? They’d send you the disc in the mail. Here, you go to our site, you go to Virus, and you can order the actual hard copy. It’s very important for you to understand that we’re not offering digital comics. We’re offering traditional hard goods. A printed book, and it gets delivered directly to your house. There is no other publisher that is doing that, that offers anybody, that we can reach anyone, with your story.
SR: You seem to place a high premium on the physical copy of your publishing.
Matt: ‘Cuz there’s nothing like holding a book in your hands. Period. There’s nothing that allows you to appreciate the art like holding it. If you have an iPad and you’re scrolling through it, you don’t grasp the magnitude of it as well as the printed book. And I think there’s a lot of reasons why. Some of it as simple as more creative arms, be it the printer in their ability to translate this beautiful PDF into something printed… all of the different arms and hands and fingers that have to touch a book to get you an awesome piece of printed material- be it a comic, a novel, a magazine… to me you feel all of that when you’re holding it.
David: Another way of saying it is that it’s very intimate. It’s the same if you have a vinyl record; you take the vinyl out, putting it on the turntable, putting the needle on the song that you want to choose… that is intimate. And that’s what we love about the printed book.
Heavy Metal Magazine #300 goes on sale August 19th.
Next: Dylan Sprouse Launches Norwegian Fantasy Comic, Sun Eater
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