With Further Ado #96: Heavy Metal – Your One Way Ticket To Midnight

Way back in the 80s, when I was in college, it wasn’t really cool to read comics. Of course, I didn’t stop reading them. Occasionally, I’d lend my comics to my classmates so they could read them, but for the most parts, Marvel-type superheroes were viewed as silly or childish by many college students.

It’s funny, but I still remember having to scold Brian Winke (he lived down the hallway of dormitory) when he bent back the cover of my copy of Avengers #217.  I gave him a friendly lesson on the tragedy of spine roll and how it destroyed the condition of comic.   Clearly, comics were important to me, cool or not.

The one comic that I was never paused to read ‘in public’ was Heavy Metal. It was filled with strong art and adult themes.  Although, to be fair, “adult themes” often translated simply to excessive violence and topless robot girls.

The story I really enjoyed back then was Jim Steranko’s adaptation of Outland. That was a science fiction movie starring Sean Connery that was essentially High Noon in space.  It was serialized over a few issues, and Steranko was delivering stunning top-of-his-game pages each and every time.

But I inevitably drifted away from Heavy Metal over the years. Somehow, I’d categorize it as something adjacent to comics, but not really include it as part of my core comics purchases.

Now, in 2020, that might all change.  There’s a new sheriff in town.  Matt Medney is the new Chief Executive Officer of Heavy Metal. I caught up with him and he pulled back the curtain to share his vision and his plans for Heavy Metal.

The Heavy Metal Tone ..or is that Vision?

Medney is developing a smart approach to the new Heavy Metal. He concedes that DC and Marvel have superheroes all wrapped up.  He wants to sidestep all that and make his magazine the place for genre-bending science fiction and horror.

After all, he notes, “We are the authority – since 1977.” And even though Heavy Metal “went away for a while”, they have tons of readers. Medney notes that the online store, essentially their direct store, was never healthier.   “We have a lot of nostalgia and a lot of new readers.”

The rejuvenated magazine is going to focus on telling great stories.  He acknowledged that some the art doesn’t make sense today, but the ethos is the same. They still want to be on the edge, and with socially responsible storytelling.

Stephanie Phillips is an up-and-coming writer who leans into Medney’s new vision. There’s so much to like about her and her work. (She was supposed to be a guest at ITHACON 45, and that’s just another reason I’m so regretful that we had to cancel that comic convention due to Covid-19.) She’s signed on board to write new stories of Taarna for Heavy Metal. You remember Taarna, she’s “that chick with the sword” from the Heavy Metal movie.

Editor’s Note: You can check out the PCS interview with Stephanie here.

Medney also revealed Heavy Metal will be bringing back Nelson, the B-17 tail gunner Zombie.

What’s the Plan?

Heavy Metal will go to market with a unique, three-tiered publishing approach.

    1. Serials published in the magazine.
    2. Those serials published as single issues with additional content and a new cover sold at $2.99 (these start two months after they first appear in the mag, and will be online and instore (all printed)
    3. The serials will be collected as a graphic novel, which will be 90 to 100 pages.

“In this very moment – comic shops and bookstores are one-third of our business. We want to grow that even more. I am a big believer in comic shops,” said Medney.  He told me how much he enjoys digging through crates and boxes of treasures at comic stores.

But this has been a difficult time to be sure. “We’ve had to move release dates four times,” Medney revealed.

The OTHER Virus

Branding can be challenging. Naming your toy company ZIKA right before an outbreak  or soldiering on with a beer that shares the name of a pandemic takes guts.  Likewise, VIRUS is a gusty name for an imprint.

Virus is what they have called their  “Small Batch Printing”.  “It is our online store printed and mailed to your home,” said Medney.  “They will start in store in September as well.”

With Heavy Metal’s stamp of approval, Virus will be a 100% creator-owned imprint.  They will do two titles per week in their online store.  Creators are teed up to make money, regardless of quantities sold. Creators get 15% of the cover price.  Medney and his team are recruiting strong creators, including Ron Marz, Bart Sears, Steve Orlando, Philip Tan, and more.

“We do two titles per week in our online store,” said Medney.

Medney drew parallels to the way Image comics works, only he will focus on the genres of great science fiction and fantasy and horror.

Creativity Springs Forth

I worry that there will be many business casualties resulting from this lockdown. On the other hand,  there have been many stories about how companies like Uber, Venmo and Instagram were all start-ups that bubbled up from the “Great Recession”.  I think that there’s great potential for Heavy Metal to be born again better than ever, with fresh creativity and creative publishing options.

Here’s looking to the future!