The Adult Illustrated Fantasy Magazine Fan Page
- History -
(up to 2011)
Intro / Origins
Sometimes when we better understand the past, it lets us better understand the future. Before there was Heavy Metal, there was Métal Hurlant and National Lampoon, both having major influences to the creation of Heavy Metal. National Lampoon is like the adoptive parents to Heavy Metal, having a high influence on the early growing stages and how it was produced. Métal Hurlant is like the biological parents to Heavy Metal, having a lot of its background roots deep in its style and artists. But even those two magazines have their history.
To begin, let's go back to February 1876 when Harvard University, inspired by the British humor magazine, Punch, created their own humor magazine The Harvard Lampoon, which is still in publication today.
Fast-forward 92 years to 1968, when three Harvard Lampoon alumni Robert Hoffman, Henry Beard, and Douglas Kenny were working on a parody of Life magazine. The previous Harvard Lampoon parody of Playboy came out in Fall 1966, and was very successful. They wanted the Life parody to be even more successful and were looking for outside help on the business end.
In early summer 1968, Matty Simmons received a call from his friend Harold Chamberlain. He told Simmons about the Life parody and that they were looking for business help. Matty was interested and set up a meeting.
But let's go back a bit. Who is Matty Simmons? Heavy Metal readers might know him as the former publisher of Heavy Metal. Or they might recognize his daughter, Julie Simmons, who was Heavy Metal's editor.
Twenty First Century Communications Company, Inc.
Let's go back to 1950 when the first all purpose charge card was founded, The Diners Club, which Matty Simmons was the co-founder and Executive Vice President of. In 1951, Simmons, together with Leonard Mogel, founded The Diners Club magazine, a magazine about travel, lifestyle, business, etc. Simmons ran marketing, and was the editor. Mogel handled sales and production. In 1966, the magazine would change its name to Signature magazine.
In 1967, Matty Simmons and Leonard Mogel would leave The Diners Club, to start their own powerful publishing company. They called it 21st Century Communications. Their first idea was to create a music and counterculture magazine, called Cheetah. It was a very ambitious start, with great legendary music articles, and they even had Jim Morrison of The Door's do a rare radio ad for the magazine. The first issue was October 1967, and even though it was getting great reviews, it only lasted about a year before getting beat out by other similar magazines that came out shortly after, such as the more popular Rolling Stone magazine.
Luckily, not long after Cheetah came out, Weight Watchers was looking to put out a magazine, and 21st Century picked it up and became co-owner of the magazine. The first issue of Weight Watchers Magazine came out in February 1968. Unlike Cheetah, this magazine quickly became very successful. 21st Century continued to publish them until 1975 when Family Health Magazine took over.
A few months after Weight Watchers Magazine came out, is when Matty Simmons heard about Harvard Lampoon's Life parody. He set up a meeting. Simmons and Leonard Mogel first met Robert Hoffman, Henry Beard, and Douglas Kenny in June 1968. However it was too late to help them with their Life parody. Before it was published, all they had time for is to help them with small financial tips. Even though they sold a modest 300,000 copies, their print run was more then double that, so their Life parody was a financial failure.
Simmons and Mogel were able to help with the Harvard Lampoon's next parody of Time magazine. It was looking to prove successful, so Simmons and Mogel thought it would be a good idea if there was a national version of the Harvard Lampoon magazine. Simmons and Mogel held another meeting in June 1969 with Hoffman, Beard, Kenny, and Jim Rivaldo, and the idea of National Lampoon was born. They got the rights from Harvard Lampoon to use the Lampoon name, and Hoffman, Beard, and Kenny signed on, and contracts were made (although not officially until February 1970). In Fall 1969 the Time parody came out, and it was financially successful.
In 1970, needing money to start up National Lampoon magazine, the half ownership was sold back to Weight Watchers. The National Lampoon, Inc. was set up as a subsidiary of Twenty First Century Communications Company, Inc. and the first issue of National Lampoon was April 1970. It was a bit of a rough start, but it quickly grew after just a few issues.
The only other magazine to be published by 21st Century Communications would be Liberty. In late 1970, they acquired the magazine. Liberty used to be a general interest magazine from 1924 to 1950. The new revived version of Liberty would be a nostalgic magazine looking back at the years from the 1920's to the 1950's and reprinting many of its stories by legendary writers. The first issue was Summer 1971 and continued until 1973 when Liberty Library Corporation took over publishing.
In the early 1970's, 21st Century decided to branch National Lampoon out into other media. It hired many talented performers from The Second City comedy troupe and started recording humorous albums, Off Broadway shows like National Lampoon's Lemmings and The National Lampoon Show, and also created a radio show called the National Lampoon Radio Hour.
Around 1974, when many of these shows were ending, several of the show's performers and writers went on to work at a new show on TV called NBC's Saturday Night, which premiered in 1975. It was unrelated to National Lampoon, but because it was mainly the same people, it had the same style. The National Lampoon Radio Hour's creator and performer, Michael O'Donoghue, became the new TV show's head writer. Some of the performers that went there were John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Chevy Chase. Within the next few years, more National Lampoon writers moved over, and so did performers Bill Murray, Harry Shearer, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest, and the name of the show was changed to Saturday Night Live.
The mid 1970's were the most successful years for National Lampoon magazine and at its peak sold over a million copies with its October 1974 issue. 21st Century owned 2/3rds of the magazine, and bought the last 1/3rd from the founders Hoffman, Beard, and Kenny in 1974. By the 1990's, sales had dropped quite a bit, and the focus was mostly directed to licensing its name to movies. In the last 7 years, from 1992, there were only 13 issues published, with its final issue in 1998.
However it was around the mid 1970's that copies of a new French magazine, Métal Hurlant were being shipped to the offices of National Lampoon.
But let's go back again. What is Métal Hurlant? Where did it come from?
Back in 1959, there was a new French comic magazine called Pilote. It was a popular comic magazine, which featured many great artists. Although it lasted until 1989, it was the early 1970's that were a time of change for Pilote. As many artists' stories were increasingly getting too dark and adult for the magazine, many artists decided to find other magazines to host their material. In 1974, Pilote contributors Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet, Jean Giraud (aka Mbius), together with Bernard Farkas founded a publishing house, Les Humanoïdes Associés. Their first magazine they created was "Métal Hurlant" published in early 1975. In that era it was a very cutting edge adult science fiction/fantasy comic magazine. After a good 12 year run, in July 1987 Métal Hurlant was unfortunately discontinued and Les Humanoïdes Associés was sold to Fabrice Giger shortly after. In 1998, Giger set up Humanoids Publishing, as an American counterpart. Then from July 2002 to December 2004 Métal Hurlant returned with 14 more issues in a new comic book style that was printed in English and French. Métal Hurlant was discontinued again.
In 1975, National Lampoon magazine's editor Tony Hendra was in Europe getting the word out that National Lampoon was looking for comic material for its magazine. They received a lot of material shipped to their office, including issues of a new French magazine called Métal Hurlant. This was one of the few things that stood out among all the submissions. The editors thought it would be a great magazine to be published in English, and Sean Kelly let Matty Simmons know about it. Simmons loved the idea and showed the magazine to Leonard Mogel, asking him to talk with Métal Hurlant's publishers Les Humanoïdes Associés.
In September 1976, Mogel was in Europe trying to license National Lampoon in other languages. While in Paris, he spoke with Les Humanoïdes Associés, and came to an agreement to publish an English version of Métal Hurlant. Even though Mogel wasn't a comics fan, he was drawn to Métal Hurlant and saw it's potential.
They licensed an American version under HM Communications, Inc, a subsidiary of 21st Century Communications. One of the first things they had to do is come up with a name. The English translation of Métal Hurlant is Screaming Metal or Howling Metal. Hurlant is basically, the noise that wind makes, or a pack of wolves. The National Lampoon editors came up with the name Heavy Metal. Partly because it was a translation that was close, and was less confusing then Screaming Metal. Also, partly because some of the material was considered heavy, meaning it was deep, intense, bizarre and philosophical. Also, it was partly because of music; even though Heavy Metal music was technically on the decline, its similar genre Punk Rock was seen as the rebellious, intelligent, outspoken, revolutionary future of music, just like Métal Hurlant was to comics. But most of all, the name Heavy Metal was chosen in humor, because it was just the most pointless title. The name Heavy Metal ever since has had some confusion with being a music magazine.
After the name was chosen, it was up to Peter Kleinman to design the Heavy Metal logo. He used Kabel Black font and made the letters look weighed down and heavy. When he was only half finished, it was taken off his desk, and approved for use the way it was. It was simple, yet brilliant, bold, and effective.
The first issue of Heavy Metal was April 1977, and mostly featured the work of Europe's greatest artists. From the very beginning it was a hit, and sold out all across the country with hundreds of thousands of fans. At first Heavy Metal mostly reprinted translated versions of stories from Métal Hurlant, but over the first few years they increasingly published more material from other sources, such as Pilote and more American artists.
By the late 1970's, 21st Century Communications was no longer publishing Liberty magazine or Weight Watchers magazine. All that was left was National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. So, in 1979, 21st Century Communications became National Lampoon, Inc.
In 1978, the first full length National Lampoon movie, Animal House, was released. It was co-produced by Ivan Reitman, who first worked with National Lampoon producing the Off Broadway The National Lampoon Show in 1975. Animal House was an instant blockbuster, and became one of the most profitable movies of all time. Shortly after, Leonard Mogel had the idea to turn its new magazine Heavy Metal into a movie. For over a year, Mogel worked on putting together a movie package. Universal Pictures had it for a while, then Twentieth Century Fox picked it up for a short time. All this time in pre-production, the movie budget kept growing. In seeking out additional finances, in December 1979, he called Matty Simmons to consult Canadian Ivan Reitman about Canadian filmmaking finances. Reitman, a comic book fan, was excited and asked if he could get the funds and co-produce the movie, even though at that time there had been no financially successful animated movies, other then the early days of Disney.
Heavy Metal: The Movie was written by Dan Goldberg and Len Blum, and many performers were hired from The Second City comedy troupe, such as John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, and Joe Flaherty and a legendary soundtrack by artists such as Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, and Devo. Also, there were over 1000 animators and support personnel from the United States, Canada, and England. This movie would cost $7.5 million, and after being picked up by Columbia TriStar in late 1980, it would hit theaters in 1981. "Heavy Metal: The Movie" did well, and grossed over $20 million. However the movie wasn't available in stores until 1996 because of copyright issues, mainly with music. A few years after the first movie came out, Heavy Metal worked on turning William Gibson's short story "Burning Chrome" into a live action movie, but it was eventually sold to Carolco Pictures, and never made.
Another idea that was never realized was the idea for a sister magazine to Heavy Metal. Around 1980, Heavy Metal's editor at the time, Ted White, thought it would be great if Heavy Metal had a sister magazine. It would be similar in style, but instead of fantasy and science fiction, it would print westerns, adventure, political, and humor. It would be called Pilot, and would mostly reprint translated versions of stories from Pilote. However when asking Heavy Metal fans if they would be interested in seeing such stories as Mbius' Lieutenant Blueberry, there wasn't a very positive response to the idea. They also had problems coming to a financial agreement with Pilote. So, the magazine never happened.
The original Heavy Metal magazine ran monthly, and was mostly science fiction and fantasy. It also had stories that continued from issue to issue, and had articles on the latest music, movies, games, etc. In 1986, they slightly changed their style by adding a more broad range of only complete stories, and stopped doing their articles. They also changed it to a quarterly magazine, and made it a bit bigger. Then in 1989 Heavy Metal changed to a bi-monthly, and now runs the occasional continuing story.
Also in 1989 National Lampoon, Inc and HM Communications, Inc were sold to Tim Matheson and Dan Grodnik. Then in October 1990, they were sold again to James Jimirro, merging with his company J2 Communications. J2 Communications was a movie production and distribution company, and Jimirro was mostly just interested in buying it for the rights to make National Lampoon movies.
So, not wanting HM Communications, Inc, it separated its ties to National Lampoon and was sold in January 1992 to Kevin Eastman. A year later, Eastman also took over the job as editor, replacing Matty Simmons' daughter Julie, who had been there since the first issue.
But let's go back again. Who is Kevin Eastman and how did he get involved?
Let's go back to Fall 1983, when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird formed Mirage Studios to self publish their own comics. One idea that they had was for a comic called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It premiered on May 5, 1984, and quickly became very financially successful. Eastman had always been inspired by underground comics, such as ones published by Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press, and Heavy Metal. With some of the money he made from TMNT, Eastman founded Tundra Publishing in 1990. Tundra had a very ambitious start, and is known for its high production values. It published such notable comics as Cobalt 60, The Crow, Frank, Bo Hampton's Sleepy Hollow, and Stephen Bissette's anthology, Taboo, which included From Hell, Lost Girls, and Neil Gaiman's Sweeney Todd.
In 1991, Fershid Bharucha was talking with Howard Jurofsky. Jurosfsky had been with National Lampoon magazine since the first issue, and continued until 1992. But in 1991, he was also the Production Director at Heavy Metal at the time.
Bharucha found out that Heavy Metal was for sale and called Eastman to tell him. At the time the magazine was making $300,000 per year, and by January 1992, Kevin bought it for only $500,000, and changed it to Metal Mammoth, Inc.
Meanwhile, Tundra Publishing was losing money. Even though many of its comics were getting great reviews, there were problems within the company. One major problem was possibly because the company was too ambitious and grew too fast. By 1993, Kevin Eastman lost $14 million investing in Tundra, and made a deal to merge with Kitchen Sink Press and gaining 49% ownership in the company. By this time, Tundra's image for high production values was overshadowed by its image as being a major publishing failure. Over the next few years, while still trying to save the companies, Eastman's ownership % and involvement slowly decreased to nothing.
So with Tundra sinking, Eastman could focus more time on Heavy Metal. This would let him fight for the copyright to get the first Heavy Metal movie onto video by 1996. And shortly after, started work on the next movie, Heavy Metal 2000. The movie was originally going to be called Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.², but changed to Heavy Metal 2000 shortly before it was released in 2000, because it was seen as a more commercially friendlier title. However, reviews for the movie were generally negative.
A couple weeks later they released a tie-in video game called Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.². The video game story was a continuation from where the movie left off. It received very positive reviews.
In 2001, Heavy Metal released another video game called Heavy Metal: Geomatrix. It received mixed, but generally positive reviews. However it was released on the Dreamcast console system, shortly after Dreamcast was discontinued, which was probably a major cause for its low sales.
Heavy Metal magazine has also put out many Special and Theme issues over the years. Today, Heavy Metal prints 6 regular issues per year.
Heavy Metal has a wide variety of stories in each issue, and it holds a high standard for graphic art. Most of the stories come from European artists, some of whom have been with Heavy Metal since the beginning. The circulation (issues sold when initially released, not including back issues sold) of Heavy Metal when it first started was approximately 144,000. Then after the first movie came out, it reached its circulation peak at over 234,000 as of September 1982. The sales for the next decade had some ups and downs but sales have been on the continuous decline from approximately 143,000 in 1994 to around 19,000 in 2012. However, Heavy Metal isn't the only magazine with declining sales in recent years. With the amount of movies, music, television, Internet, and video games being produced, the entertainment industry is being spread thin in some places. Also, piracy is a major problem with most forms of entertainment. Along with this, some stores like music stores and comic shops are struggling to stay open. So this also affects the initial sales of Heavy Metal because it's getting harder to find in the stores. However, online stores are growing, and so are online Heavy Metal sales. For a more detailed sales history click here.
What the future holds for Heavy Metal, we shall have to wait and see. Kevin Eastman is confident and optimistic about the future of Heavy Metal, and has been busy trying to get some new movie ideas off the ground. This History page is not finished, as the future has yet to be written.
There was another magazine that put out 34 issues from Spring 1980 to February 1986. This magazine was published by Marvel and has no connection to Heavy Metal or Métal Hurlant other then having a similar style and sometimes sharing the same artists. Many fans of Heavy Metal were also fans of Epic Illustrated.