In making a time capsule of the late 20th century, one would be remiss if they did not include at least an issue or two of Heavy Metal magazine. Yes, it specialized in unapologetically turning women in metal bras into sex objects. The gleeful amount of T&A on its covers, surrounded by spaceships, swords, and sorcery, mark it as a relic of its era that appealed to a specific demographic. But Heavy Metal was much more than sexy sci-fi mascots drawn in lurid pulpy styles. Along with its share of erotica, the “adult illustrated fantasy magazine” provided a vivid showcase for some of the most interesting artists and storytellers working in the mainstream and in various subgenres of fantasy and sci-fi. (It continues to do so.)
Debuting in 1977, the year of the first Star Wars film, Heavy Metal was not named after the brand of guitar rock pioneered by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, though there’s an obvious influence, but after a French magazine that started two years earlier called Métal hurlant, or literally “Howling Metal.” (We’ve featured it here on OC before.) When publisher Leonard Mogel decided to adapt the original for an American readership, he changed the name, but kept the content, republishing work by Jean Giraud—the artist better known as Moebius—and many other accomplished European illustrators.
Founded and staffed by the creators of National Lampoon, the magazine later featured original work from artists like H.R. Giger, interviews with Dennis Hopper, John Waters, Francis Ford Coppola, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, and even Federico Fellini; and with musicians like the Eurythmics and Debbie Harry. It ran popular serialized stories, showcased graphic literary adaptations (of Paradise Lost, for example), and published authors like Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and other heavies. Rock, comics, film, and fiction all got their due in between the magazine’s extravagant pinup covers, many of which inspired the art painted on the side of many a carpeted van in the 70s.
You can see a sizable collection of scanned Heavy Metal magazines, from the first, 1977 issue to the mid-90s, at the Internet Archive. Part of Archive.org’s extensive “Magazine Rack,” a digital library of thousands of scanned periodicals, the Heavy Metal collection was launched in 2012 by archivist Jason Scott. Though it doesn’t contain the magazine’s complete run by any means, it offers a broad enough sampling of all of its major themes and tendencies.
Heavy Metal’s interests are very focused, one might say, but the few things the magazine does, and has done since 1977, it has done exceptionally well. Enter the archive here.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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