What do you do if you are a comic book artist or writer and find it hard to sell some of the work you’d like to do in the current marketplace? If it’s 1975 and you’re Jean Giraud (aka Mbius), Philippe Druillet, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Bernard Farkas, you start a publishing company called Les Humanoïdes Associés and publish a magazine titled Métal hurlant which then blows the minds of more readers than you can imagine.
What made Métal hurlant and its English language counterpart, Heavy Metal, different from most English language comics is that it is an anthology comic, with several stories by different writers and artists in the pages of one issue. But in the European market, this format had already existed for decades with magazines like Spirou, Tintin and Pilote. For the French, what made Métal hurlant different was the focus on science fiction and fantasy, genres the others only published occasionally.
So what made it so great? In its twelve years of existence, the magazine published influential works like Mbius’ Arzach and his The Airtight Garage, Dionnet’s Les armées du conquérant, Bilal’s Exterminateur 17, Corben’s Den, Vaugh Bodé’s Cobalt 60, Dan O’Bannon’s The Long Tomorrow and more. William Gibson, Ridley Scott, and countless other writers, artists and filmmakers all view it as an influence on their work. And the original editors, aware that comics did not exist in a vacuum, included reviews of books, music and written fiction to the content.
Métal hurlant was, in many ways, a labour of love, very much like a fanzine: the creators focused on having fun, and words to that effect can often be found in the editorial pieces and rants written in its pages. This also meant it was a publication where the contributors were allowed to try new things, and there are a lot of experiments in these pages, not all of are successful, but many were and are the source of fond memories for the readers who discovered the magazine in its early days, when it was published with more enthusiasm than money.
And all the experimenting paid off: Métal hurlant‘s influence can still be seen everywhere. It also generated several spin-off projects: in addition to two animated features, its English counterpart, Heavy Metal, is still in print (under the management of Kevin Eastman), while in Europe, Les Humanoïdes Associés is now a major publisher of writers and artists from all over the world.
René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.