Artist Spotlight: Heavy Metal Memories

I don’t usually use idrawdigital as a platform for self-reflection or life-based posts, seeing as this is a resource site. But I do want to share some background history on why I decided to follow the illustration career path. If I was ever asked the question: What made you decide on becoming an artist/illustrator/designer, I’d emphatically answer – Heavy Metal magazine made me do it.

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When I was a a kid, I loved comics. I’m sure there are a number of readers out there who felt the same way – I would grab all of my favorites and trace the panels over and over again until I was able to mimic the artwork by myself without tracing. I used to have stacks of 8.5 x 11 ruled paper in binders with comics that I replicated on my own. Honestly, I think this is how I ‘trained’ myself how to draw. The problem was, the subject matter was always the same – costumed superheroes duking it out, or Star Wars characters or GI Joe, He-Man or whatever the popular toys for boys were at the time.

I grew up and gave up the toys, but I still doodled and drew – eventually making skateboard graphics (DOG TOWN!) and developing detailed backgrounds and buildings. My cousin was studying to be an architect, so I would pore over all of his books and university work to get ideas on improving my own renderings. One day, while looking over his work, I noticed a magazine on the coffee table in his apartment. It belonged to his roommate, and I found myself drawn by the cover illustration of a scantily clad amazonian (I was 13… its natural.) Curiously, I picked it up and thumbed through it, half-expecting it to be some kind of smutty rag – but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was indeed a magazine with mature comic stories in it.

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I was hooked – I recall reading a story called Attila by Antonio Segura and Jose Ortiz, a Spanish artist/writer duo who had created this post-apocalyptic world. The story itself was a bit thin, and pretty sexist and had everything that appealed to a teenage boy – the art style was different, the story was darker, and the idea that there was so much out there in the world of comics that stretched beyond the small circle of mainstream comics I was accustomed to. I was led to believe comics were what you found in the Sunday paper and on the news stand beside the Archie comics and the Disney crap for kids. If you wanted something more powerful, you made the huge stride to super hero comics.

Picking up Heavy Metal magazine and reading the stories was as powerful as waking up from a coma – or even being born. I realized that I wanted to step up my game and tell better stories. Ones that were darker, ones that were more cinematic and mature than the corner store pulp I was used to seeing. Yes, Heavy Metal changed my perception of how I wanted to draw and how I wanted to tell the stories bouncing around in my head.

I quickly found myself trying to get my hands on more of these magazines. Since they were classified as ‘mature’ due to their content, I had to basically beg, borrow or steal them in order to stay up to date. Eventually, I was able to bravely and boldly walk into a comic store, grab the latest issue off the shelf and purchase it. I think the conversation went something like this:

Clerk: Aha! Heavy Metal, eh? You like the adult comics, huh?

Me: Ermm…. uhmmm…. nooo. I… uhh… I like the stories…..

Clerk: I’ll bet. The ones that have the big boobs in ’em, eh?

Me: Uhmmm… no…. seriously… I like the stories…..

Clerk: Sure, you do. They say the same thing about guys who buy Playboy magazines.

Me (mortified): ….

Clerk: It’s ok kid. I won’t tell your mom. The next issue won’t be out for three months. I’ll remind you when its around – and I’m just joking with you.

Me: O-ok.

Here’s the issue from that conversation:
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I don’t think I bought another copy from the comics store again. The next time would be at a corner store, and when I was questioned by the old lady behind the counter who thought it was a nudie mag due to the racy cover, I quickly opened it up and showed her it was a comic book. She then thought it was like Conan or something. Yeah… or something! Funny thing is, when I’d see her while I was out side doing what kids did at thirteen, she would always call me over and give me an ‘advance’ copy before she put it on the shelf the next day. Good times.

I did that until I moved out of the neighbourhood. I remember starting high school in the fall, and I used to bike across 3-4 neighbourhoods to get there, and every season (the magazine came out seasonally) I would leave immediately after class and visit the old lady at the store. I’d buy the Heavy Metal, chat for a few minutes, then bike home. I think it took me less time to bike home uphill on those days than it did to bike to school downhill all the way.

I decided I was going to become an artist. I wanted to draw comics, and draw powerful illustrations and tell fantastic stories. So I wrote scripts and drew characters and made comics with the dream of getting my story printed and published in Heavy Metal magazine. I eventually grew older and the dream faded a bit, I decided that I needed to have a career that paid well and allowed me to live comfortably. I put the skills I had to good use and became a graphic designer and now I’m a creative director.

But I still love comics, and whenever I see a Heavy Metal magazine lying around, I ALWAYS pick it up and I remember that feeling I got at thirteen – and NO it wasn’t the ‘funny feeling’ you get in your pants. It was a feeling of enlightenment – like a door had been opened which would lead me down a path to fulfillment. So why am I telling you this? Well, I’ve been at a crossroads with my artistic career for a little while now. I like my day job, I really like blogging, but its difficult to have your voice heard amongst the screaming throngs of Twitter-ers, Bloggers and Net-o-philes, so I end up sabotaging my own projects for fears that I’ll never have any success. Its pretty strange, since I’m extremely confident with my design and direction while I’m at work, but I’m pretty introverted and lack self-esteem with my comics.

I was cleaning out some old books and came across an old Heavy Metal magazine. I sat down on the couch, opened it up and started reading, and a flood of memories and daydreams filled my head. Before you know it, an hour or two had passed – and I felt this sense of purpose again. Now I’ve gone full boar into producing comics again, and once again, I have Heavy Metal magazine to thank for opening my eyes.

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If you want to learn more about the publication, check out the Wikipedia entry or the official site. Kevin Eastman (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame) is currently the editor and has managed to keep this independent magazine alive and kicking with its blend of sci-fi, fantasy and dark graphic storytelling for the past two decades. A lot of the featured content comes from European artists who have established themselves as bonafide talent, but there are a number of North American entries, and a wide variety of short stories ranging from extremely humorous to downright horrific to completely strange and abstract.

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If you’ve never read through any of these issues, check them out. You may recognize work from some of the greatest non-mainstream talents out there. I will warn you – some of the material is a bit on the racy side, so you may want to exercise some caution – its not a comic for kids, that’s for sure. The stories are campy and cater more to a male audience, but pause for a moment and just look at the craft of the artists (and in some cases) the skill of the writers. I highly recommend it.

5 thoughts on “Artist Spotlight: Heavy Metal Memories

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  5. El Cuervo–pretty good reminiscent about your early childhood and learning to draw. You site here I just stumbled upon, but it looks like you’ve got a lot of cool stuff here for artist and for someone with an interest in comic. Good job. I’ll bookmark it so I can revisit it in the future. I didn’t read Heavy Metal that much, but I met a friend in the mid-80’s and he was a bit Heavy Metal fan. He started lending me some of the very first ones, like #1 through #10. I couldn’t believe he would do that, and was so generous with his collection. But wow, what neat eye popping art and stories. I really made me start looking for some of the early Heavy Metals. The last time I talked with him, he’s still collecting them. I really prefer the early ones to the present ones as they also had reviews of movies, SF stuff, music reviews, and was a bit more varied or broad into other areas of my interest. At any rate, neat site here, I just thought I’d let you know.

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