The genre-bending, envelope-pushing magazine Heavy Metal has never been afraid of breaking a few rules — and it's about to do it again.
SYFY WIRE is exclusively announcing the arrival of VIRUS, the new comics imprint from Heavy Metal. VIRUS is a creator-owned venture aimed at shaking up how people create and view comics. The platform will start releasing new comics as soon as next Wednesday, April 29, with eight cutting-edge stories to delight, fright, and ignite readers' imaginations and new titles arriving every Wednesday moving forward. VIRUS will feature works from comics veterans like Ron Marz (Green Lantern) and Bob Fingerman (Minimum Wage), as well as many others.
"We hope that our 'comic books on demand' can serve as the Comicdom’s Vaccine during this difficult time," Heavy Metal explained via official announcement. "We believe that innovation such as our platform, VIRUS, is necessary for our community to continue to bring these incredible stories to our fans.”
Heavy Metal CEO Matt Medney spoke to SYFY WIRE about the new platform, that name in our current climate, and what it means for the future of the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror magazine. We've also got your first look at four covers launching next week on VIRUS — The Red, Nomobots, Hymn of the Teada, and Garbage Factory — as well as artwork from Bob Fingerman's upcoming book, Dotty's Inferno.
Fans of comics know the pandemic has prevented the distribution of new comics each week. And with no new physical comics within reach, readers have flocked online or to back issues to get their daily dose. Enter VIRUS.
As Medney explains: "VIRUS was kind of birthed out of a viewpoint of the industry needing evolution, as well as us being like, 'How do we serve the Heavy Metal fan base more, with more stories and more content?'"
One of the biggest hurdles comics have to deal with, according to Medney, isn't on the creator side of the equation but rather the inventory and distribution side. This sentiment is shared by Heavy Metal publisher, David Erwin.
"When the pandemic hit, disrupting everything and everyone, it forced us to look at how we can continue to keep the industry alive and provide fans of comicdom with the medium we all love," Erwin explains via email. “Unfortunately, there will be casualties in the retail space and perhaps some publishers. But, we're fortunate to offer an alternative and ability to service all the fans, as well as talented creators of this wonderful medium, comic books.”
Announcing anything "virus" during a pandemic was always going to turn a few heads. And if you think the naming was some kind of seriously synergistic coincidence, it wasn't.
"When a virus pulls us apart, nothing brings us closer together than great stories," Medney explains. "And that's what we're trying there. We're trying to bring people together through great stories, find the silver lining of the pandemic through genre, and that's the message. So even though the name is kind of more on the dark side, the ethos is on the light side, and that sort of juxtaposition has always been Heavy Metal."
For creators like Ron Marz and Bob Fingerman, VIRUS represents a truly welcome development in the comics space.
"There's even more of a need to connect, to reach out and tell stories to each other," Marz tells SYFY WIRE via email. "Anything that makes that easier is a huge boon. VIRUS is going to outlast this pandemic."
And as Bob Fingerman (MAD) explains via email, he will be releasing his latest book, Dotty's Inferno, on the platform. Fingerman says to think of it as a story about "Hell's Inhumane Resource" department. Dotty’s Inferno is a series of interlinked strips about Dotty, a processor at the New Arrivals Unit in Hell.
Here's your first sumptuous look at Dotty's Inferno:
"When it debuted, Heavy Metal was the magazine that opened my eyes to what comics could be," Fingerman says. "Not just cheaply produced superhero stuff, but bold, adult, unconventional, and beautifully executed.”
Medney understands the importance of the relationship between creators and publishers. It is part of what ignited the desire to come up with a new way to get boundary-pushing content into the hands of readers faster and with less financial risk. That financial risk has seen numerous creator-owned comics ventures come into the fold in recent years.
When asked how VIRUS differs itself from other creator-owned comics imprints, Medney says theirs is the only platform "where the creator will make money, whether one or 10,000 books are sold." All creators will receive 15 percent on the sticker price for each book sold, from the first book sold.
"I think VIRUS is going to be a major player in the comic book space," writer Morgan Rosenblum, creator of Treadwater, and co-creator of The Red alongside Medney, told SYFY WIRE via email. "Heavy Metal already has a loyal and tuned-in fan base, and with Matt and his team at Heavy Metal's collective brain trust running the ship, I know they have a great eye for finding amazing stories."
He continues: "VIRUS will offer comic book readers (and fans of the sci-fi and fantasy genres) a whole new wave of original stories, many of which I'm sure will eventually be adapted into TV, film, and video games. Because they're that good."
VIRUS represents a new moment for Heavy Metal. One where it will consider itself as a leader in science fiction, fantasy, and horror storytelling. Medney says it doesn't stop there, either. "VIRUS is going to be the first of many ideas that we have that are going to help push the narrative forward for storytelling and comics and graphic novels," he explains.
When pushed about what that might mean, Medney was tight-lipped but did mention the team is in conversation with several companies about possibly bringing them onto the platform. Medney wants VIRUS to be the place where a variety of publishers can be brought into readers' home as a kind of online bookstore. For the CEO, it's a way to create opportunities "that benefit the company, community, and creators."
During our interview, Medney hinted at some super-secret work Heavy Metal has its hands in, including other ways to bring stories to life. He says the team is currently working on a yet-to-be-named podcast series, but was hesitant to reveal much else at this time.
Though the future may feel uncertain, the future for Heavy Metal sure seems weirder and more wonderful than ever. It's clear that what the team is most excited about is the chance to bring the comics community together and hope for VIRUS can be the place to do exactly that.
VIRUS will be available online beginning April 29 and will release new titles each Wednesday thereafter.