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Zombies, censorship, & killer giraffes: Heavy Metal reflects on making it to issue #300

By Benjamin Bullard
Heavy Metal magazine cover detail

As it rounds the corner toward next month’s milestone 300th issue, Heavy Metal magazine — for decades the go-to destination for some of fans’ edgiest and wildest comic book rides — closed ranks at Comic-Con@Home to take a look at how the seminal magazine will carry the torch in the years to come. 

Coming together for a bird’s-eye view of the magazine’s place in a changing world, CEO Matthew Medney emceed an online chat with partner, publisher, and creative chief David Erwin, along with Dylan Sprouse (Sun Eater), George C. Romero (The Rise, Cold Dead War), Brendan Columbus (Savage Circus), and Dan Fogler (Fishkill, Brooklyn Gladiator, Moon Lake) — all for a deep talk that veered hilariously between big-picture issues like censorship and the magazine’s punk-rock soul; and silly diversions (like Columbus’ fascination with man-eating giraffes).

First things first: everyone in the Heavy Metal “family” planted their flag as die-hard lovers of artistic freedom and following their creative impulses to the ends of the Earth — even as the larger creative world, in Erwin’s word, grows more “vanilla” and risk-averse. “We’re the Ben & Jerry’s,” he joked, noting that his background with big-budget DC productions like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies taught him the value of system-bucking artists, toiling away on far less bankable comic book ideas. 

“This is what I think makes Heavy Metal exciting,” he explained — “bringing in these different personalities and taking risks and taking chances.”

“Not everything needs to be for everyone,” Medney agreed. “That idea that’s kind of infected our society, that everything should be palatable for everyone, is kind of as dangerous as misinformation.”

Heavy Metal was born in an era of immense social and artistic ferment, and that’s exactly what Romero — who said he tried for years to get his famous, zombie film-pioneering father to work with the magazine back when horror and sci-fi didn’t often cross paths —said he values about being a part of it. 

Growing up, Romero said, the magazine inspired him with its willingness to go against the cultural grain and engage all kinds of artistic visions. “It was an opportunity for writers to put characters into world views that everybody, kids and grown ups, could identify with,” he said. “By putting messaging into characters that I think we looked to almost as role models growing up, one way or another, it formed our ability as a generation to have what our parents might’ve called…'dangerous' thoughts”

What could be more dangerous than ravenous giraffes? Everyone roasted Columbus for the insane sights that await readers of Savage Circus when HM Issue #300 arrives next month. But Columbus confessed he wasn’t trying to challenge prevailing values when he came up with the idea — nope; he simply wanted to have a comic where crazy, zany stuff would be the rule, rather than the exception. 

“I wanted to see people get torn apart by animals,” he joked. “That’s the ‘why.’ …When I opened a comic book as a kid, it was to see the things [adults didn’t want you to see] — so I made Savage Circus a throwback to sort of the emotional stories of the ‘80s” for fans of all the hard-edged violence and pulpy humor the era’s creators playfully engaged.

Fogler said that’s the idea he was going for with Moon Lake, the “Hitchcock on acid” 2010 graphic novel anthology that put the current Walking Dead star on comic book fans’ radar. “Moon Lake is an homage to everything I was not supposed to see as a kid; everything I stayed up late to watch,” he said, adding that Heavy Metal’s 300th issue marks an important testimony to the unfettered artistic spirit.

“History is repeating itself man; it feels like the ‘60s all over again, and Heavy Metal was birthed out of that,” he reflected. “What a perfect voice. [The magazine] is not going to censor us — and there’s so much censoring going on right now.”

Featuring an English-language debut of a Moebius short story, with work from Medney, Erwin, Sprouse, Columbus, Richard Corben, Liberatore, Vaughan Bode, Stephanie Phillips, Justin Jordan, Blake Northcott, and more, Issue #300 of Heavy Metal is set to arrive on Aug. 19.

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.