The magazine has been shuffling towards its demise for more than a decade.
It appears that the long running, legendary scifi magazine Heavy Metal has ceased production after finding a new publisher in October 2022 and after the previous publisher put out issue 320 eight months late. The new publisher, online auction streaming platform Whatnot Publishing (also known as Massive Publishing) was to take over from Heavy Metal Enterprises.
Issue 320 was supposed to be the end of “Volume 1”. As part of the 12-issue deal, Massive covered the costs of producing the last issue, which was supposed to hit the stands by September 2022 rather than the April 2023 date. Over the previous year, the magazine had stiffed artists and vendors while also failing to fulfill subscriptions. This new deal was seen as the last chance to revive the publication.
However, the delay appears to have been the final straw as during the Monday before San Diego Comic-Con, Massive Publishing’s leadership cited that it had terminated the agreement and they would not be launching Volume 2 and that they had cancelled all solicitations through Diamond.
A Storied History
Heavy Metal was originally published by satirical magazine publisher National Lampoon in March 1977. Then-company president Leonard Mogel followed up on a suggestion by editor Sean Kelly to look into the new French comic anthology Métal Hurlant (Howling Metal) during a business trip to launch the French edition of National Lampoon in 1975. The French publication itself had only debuted earlier that year, published by an association of comic illustrators, Philippe Druillet (Lone Sloan), Jean-Claude Forest (Barbarella), Jean Giraud – aka Mœbius, Milo Manara (Click) and one of the few female French cartoonists, Chantal Montellier (Andy Gang). As the artwork, including coloring and layout had already been done for the French version, the costs to take Heavy Metal to print in the US were relatively cheap, only needing English translations for the captions and dialog.
In addition to the European artists’ work, the first issue included artwork from American underground comic artist Vaughn Bod? as well as a section of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Running as a monthly from 1977 to the end of 1985, the magazine introduced American audiences to European comics in general and specifically to the work of artists Mœbius, Druillet and H.R. Giger among others. American artist Richard Corben also made his debut within its pages, appearing first in Métal Hurlant. With its serialized story format, along with content featuring nudity, overt sexuality, gore, and violence, the magazine was a cultural touchstone for many. For some, it offered a “classy” alternative to the low-budget, but innovative American underground comics, such as Richard Crumb’s Fritz the Cat, or Gilbert Shelton’s The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The high quality of the artwork throughout was completely different than what was on the American market at the time as was the use of heavier, glossy paper. It wasn’t until DC’s “prestige format” debuted with 1986’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen that same year that a major American publisher put out a title of similar production quality.
In 1981, the film Heavy Metal debuted in theatres to mixed reviews and moderate financial success. It not only continued the magazine’s anthology format – loosely stitched together by an overarching story of the “sum of all evils” Loc-Nar recounting its influence upon societies throughout time and space – but also the adult nature of the material. It included tracks from major rock bands and artists including Blue Öyster Cult, DEVO, Journey and Cheap Trick, adding to its popularity among teens and young adults of the day – even if (especially since) they were too young for its R Rating.
Changing Hands and Changing Fortunes
Beginning in 1986, the publication switched to a quarterly format, offering complete stories rather than serialized ones spread across multiple issues. Between that year and 1992, it also changed hands three times, eventually winding up being owned by Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who wanted to rescue the magazine he grew up with. While the switch to quarterly issues increased circulation by 30% at the time, the increase didn’t last. Eastman briefly switched back to monthly printing, but it could not be sustained.
Changing tastes coupled with changes within the American comic industry had made the magazine less unique. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen heralded the final days of the Comic Code Authority, which had largely governed what was “acceptable” within the industry since 1954. Simultaneously, the rise of the independent publisher meant that there were more alternatives. Tim Vigil’s Faust met and surpassed the levels of sex, violence and nudity in Heavy Metal, doing so with his signature artistic style. Mœbius published his previous and newer works as their own anthologies to great success as did other artists who had formerly been unable to break into the US market.
In 1986, six police officers in Lansing, Illinois raided the comic store Friendly Frank’s, seizing copies of Heavy Metal, Weirdo (by Robert Crumb) and Omaha the Cat Dancer (an early adult anthropomorphic comic arising from the underground comics of the 70s) as “obscene” and arresting the clerk. They later returned, seizing copies of Elektra: Assassin, Love & Rockets, Ms. Tree and ElfQuest to add to the list of evidence for the prosecution. This led to the creation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). The CBLDF had the case overturned on appeals in 1989. A year later Reed Waller & Kate Worley, the creators of Omaha, had succeeded in having anti-pornography laws in Toronto, Canada and New Zealand overturned. The combination of mature content, unknown artists and unconventional story lines which made Heavy Metal unique, were now commonplace.
The Long Goodbye
In 2012 financial issues force the magazine to temporarily cease publication and divest some assets. Its publication schedule became irregular after that. In 2014, citing unprofitability, Eastman sold controlling interest in Heavy Metal to another owner, but continued to serve as publisher. A bright spot renewed hope in 2016 through 2018 as Heavy Metal put out what readers and critics claimed were the best 12 issues of its existence, but sadly that didn’t result in profits and the magazine again changed hands in 2019 to an ownership and management team that appeared to have little experience in the periodical publishing industry. Eastman was fired as publisher two issues in – only receiving notice when he read it in the magazine.
The new ownership was accused by fans of turning the publication into a vanity project while they made attempts to cater to Hollywood executives at the expense of readers in a bid to launch a multimedia project. Unfortunately, aside from Taarna, the heroine of the 1981 movie, Heavy Metal owned practically nothing in the way of intellectual property. Fans also derided the magazine’s price jumping from $8.95 to $14.99 in the space of 20 issues, while the quality of the content did not improve and the page count varied between 200 and 128 pages. The new owners further alienated fans by trying to create an NFT and a branded coffee line.
The only apparent successful venture during the 2019-2022 period seems to be one of the two comic book imprints that was launched in 2021. Heavy Metal CEO Matthew Medney brought in Denton J. Tipton, who had been IDW’s managing editor before being furloughed during the COVID pandemic, to helm Magma Comix. Another imprint, Virus was launched near simultaneously and to equally minimal publicity. While there is a dearth of news regarding the activities or fate of Virus since it was announced, Magma announced that it had gone independent of Heavy Metal Enterprises at San Diego Comic-Con 2023. Tipton stated that the company would continue to be a “creator owned independent publisher.” Meanwhile Heavy Metal’s traditional Booth 1529 in the exhibitor hall was staffed by the team from Massive Publishing and they hosted three programs on Thursday and Friday touting its “new faces” and indy status.
Meanwhile, Medney and Heavy Metal Enterprises were accused by long-term contributors Geraldo Borges and Claudio Alvarez of printing their work, The Last Detective, without permission or compensation. This followed a 2019 pre-sale for a reprinting of Libertore’s groundbreaking Ranxerox comic without the artist’s permission or any discussion of payment for use. Despite the pre-sale and the passage of three years, it does not appear that the compilation was actually printed as no one received their books.
Needless to say, the chaos, mismanagement and poor business decisions had destroyed what loyalty and credibility remained to the point that advertisers stayed away from the last few issues. After not fulfilling product orders or subscriptions for much of the year, Heavy Metal Enterprises finally furloughed its entire staff in November 2022.
Even though word of its demise has come only from a former partner, fans of the publication might be forgiven for saying that, like the zombie aircrew in one of the Heavy Metal movie’s segments, the magazine has been undead for years.
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