Tim Seeley has always been a bit metal. As the writer of comics like his creator-owned Revival, Money Shot, and Hack/Slash, and even superhero titles like Nightwing and Bloodshot, his work is in turns funny, sexy, scary, and over-the-top—kind of like heavy metal music, too! No wonder he’s been reading the legendary sci-fi/fantasy magazine Heavy Metal since his youth. Now, as Heavy Metal’s new Editor-in-Chief, he’s shepherding the publisher’s eponymous magazine into a new era with Heavy Metal #300, available on August 19th.
Heavy Metal #300 is billed as an “All-Star Special,” serving as a tribute to the magazine’s past while setting the course for their future. The breathtaking Heavy Metal #300 Cover A by rising-star artist Claudia Ianciello features Taarna, whom many fans may recognize from the cult classic animated Heavy Metal film from 1981.
The talent within Heavy Metal #300 is a smaller marriage of past and future: newer names like Duke Mighten, Patrick Norbet, Tater 7, and Tanino Liberatore share space with classic creators like Kent Williams, Simon Bisley, and Richard Corben. In a nod to the magazine’s French roots as Metal Hurlant (“Howling Metal”), “Memory” by Jean Giraud, A.K.A. Moebius, will be of particular interest to longtime fans. The revered French artist’s story is being presented in English for the first time!
With so many exciting plans for Heavy Metal #300 and beyond, I was thrilled to speak with Seeley about his history with the magazine, working as an editor, and much more.
Gregory Paul Silber: Obviously, this is a landmark issue, not just because it’s a nice clean number like 300, but also, this is being marketed as a jumping on point. For readers who are interested in Heavy Metal #300 but never picked up an issue, what would you say to pull them in?
Tim Seeley: Oh man, there’s a lot of places to go with that! But I think the simplest one is that Heavy Metal is the premier science fiction and fantasy magazine—comics magazine—in the world, and has been for going on 40-something years now. The appeal of Heavy Metal is that it’s stuff you can’t see anywhere else. We curate this collection of comics that’s the best from creators all over the planet, from Europe to Latin America and everywhere in between. The idea has always been to present you with things that the standard comic book companies do not do. We do adult-oriented science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We’ve been doing it so long that we established a vibe that only Heavy Metal has. It’s original, edgy, subversive, and always immensely creative.
Silber: Yeah, one of the things that struck me when I was reading about it that had never really struck me before in regards to the magazine, was that when Heavy Metal first came to America (after originating as a French magazine), the Comics Code was still in place. You talk about edginess, but there were things in there that Americans literally couldn’t see in comics!
Seeley: Yeah, man, Heavy Metal managed to skirt so much because it was a magazine publication instead of a comics publication. It was on newsstands next to Good Housekeeping and Playboy. As a newsstand publication, it didn’t have the same restrictions. It also got by because the censors and the people who would’ve been upset about its content at the time didn’t know to look at it. It was this really subversive thing. The joke I’d always hear about Heavy Metal at the time is that people would be running to the train looking for something to read, and they’d pick up an issue of Heavy Metal, but cover it with something respectable like a Playboy! They didn’t want people to know they were reading this crazy fantasy magazine with all this subversive content. It left such an indelible mark not just in the comics industry, but pop culture in general, and its connection to a lot of underground art, alternative music, and all that sort of stuff. It really cements it as an American pop culture icon.
Silber: I’m glad you mentioned music. Even the press release indicates that you’re trying to bring back a kind of rock-and-roll attitude to Heavy Metal #300. Most people, when they hear the words “heavy metal,” are thinking of heavy metal music. It’s been around for so long that even for people unfamiliar with the magazine, there’s no denying the influence on pop culture. Now that you are editor-in-chief, what do you think of your place right now in regards to the history of the whole magazine?
Seeley: That’s a good question. So much of it has been going back and looking at what we used to do, and translate that to now. This is something we talk about a lot internally. There’s no reason to reinvent Heavy Metal—the feeling of it, the kind of comics it is. But other people have since sort of appropriated what Heavy Metal once did. So we have to be on a new cutting edge. We can’t continue doing things we used to do. We can’t just reiterate Heavy Metal-style comics because Marvel, DC, and everyone in between has picked up that approach to doing comics. So we have to be even further ahead.
To me, the job has always been “what does this bring to the medium of comics” and “what does this bring to a reader who’s looking for something completely inventive.” Every pitch we get in, every story we consider licensing, that’s what I’ve been pushing for. Everyone at Heavy Metal agrees, we have to be the new people. We have to be getting to things before everyone else does, and then they have to catch up to us.
Silber: That makes a lot of sense. That happens so much with pop culture that’s so influential. Everyone else follows along, and it can be hard sometimes for the rest of the culture to even realize something so groundbreaking is happening right under their noses.
Seeley: Absolutely. Comics—the medium—is an American invention. It is 100% an American creation. But, when comics were brought into the European markets, or some other countries, they didn’t have this slavish devotion to superheroes. So they were innovating for a long time with other genres, and now that the U.S. market has caught up with that, there’s as many science fiction comics coming out of Image and Vault, just like there’s as much fantasy and horror as there’s ever been. It’s still up to us to take that approach, that we’re the outsiders. That we’re doing something that they’re not seeing.
Silber: For people who aren’t into comics but are familiar with heavy metal music on a musical, or even just a general aesthetic level, that’s so much of what it’s about. Not just guitar solos and stuff, but being an outsider and pushing the limits of what people are expecting.
Seeley: Yeah, and traditionally the magazine has had art galleries, and there was a specific kind of art. I remember when I was a kid, my first time seeing H.R. Giger’s work (that wasn’t an alien in a film), and seeing so many different fantasy painters, surrealists artists… so many creators—and thinkers—have been interviewed by Heavy Metal magazine. So I think it’s always been a cultural touchpoint. We entertain new ideas and introduce the world to iconoclasts and interesting thinkers.
Silber: I was looking at the press release, and you’re bringing in previously untranslated art from Moebius. There’s also a Richard Corben piece along with the newer pieces. There’s such a wealth of artists who comic book die-hards are familiar with now, such as H.R. Giger, but they don’t realize they started out in this much more subversive environment.
Seeley: Absolutely, yeah. One of the things we wanted to do with Heavy Metal #300 was, yes, we’re going into the future, but we want to celebrate some of the things that got us where we are. Those big creators that people came back for consistently. Moebius and Corben and a lot of creators who are so associated with us that we wanted to find a way to celebrate them as well. It’s funny. We really tried to reach out to some of those older creators and ask them to contribute, but the magazine has been around for a really long time, and a lot of these creators are retired! So we were unable to get some stuff. Obviously Moebius passed away several years ago, so what we have with him is an unpublished interview, and of course a previously untranslated story. So we’re celebrating our biggest creators of the past as well as stuff for the future.
Silber: You do have some newer creators in the mix as well. I have to imagine that the selection process for finding people to stand alongside these legends is pretty daunting. What criteria are you looking for?
Seeley: That’s one of the toughest parts. We’re always trying to think of creators who do something that’s not the dominant style of the day. if there’s a certain art style that we recognize as “that’s what Marvel and DC do,” or some other place does, we don’t wanna do it. We don’t want to reiterate something that’s associated with an established style. So we’re always looking for things that are innovative, outside the box. Obviously high quality is so important. But a lot of it is, do you have a viewpoint that we haven’t been exposed to? Are you able to elicit a vibe that feels new and sort of dangerous? A lot of these creators may be living in a country with a dangerous government regime, or going through different things than other places… when they come from a different place, they come from a different feeling. Comics are all about expression, right? A simple way to get your feelings out, and make other people feel them. So we’re always looking for that. What’s the newest voice we’re hearing out of their comics?
Silber: You have a rich career as a writer yourself. Can we see any bylines from you in future issues?
Seeley: My schedule for Heavy Metal has been so intense that I haven’t been able to do much. I did do a story for the Christmas issue, a short, but other than that it’s been tough for me to break my other commitments. With the editing process, I kind of want to take myself out of it. I think I have a good eye for other talent, but don’t wanna put my voice in it because you can get that from other things. You can read my Image books, and I‘ve worked on major Marvel and DC franchises. To some degree I’m like, “if I have a really crazy idea I’ll bring it,” but I like picking stuff. I almost like it more than making something of my own. I have plenty of other venues, so it almost feels like I don’t wanna take someone else’s spot. I’ve had plenty of stuff published! If I can give mine up for someone else, I’d actually rather do that.
Silber: In terms of the magazine’s history, I think most people, or certainly most Americans, when they think of Heavy Metal magazine, they think of the movie.
Seeley: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Silber: So looking at that beautiful cover by Claudia Ianciello with Taarna, what influence do you think the movie has had on the magazine itself nearly 40 years later?
Seeley: I think for a long time there was a tendency for the magazine to feel like “the movie exists but we don’t have to go back to it.” But one of the things we talked about early on was just as you said: it’s recognized nearly universally. Everybody at least knows of its existence, partially because it was the first American adult animation of its kind, and partially because it used to run on HBO, Showtime, and stuff like that constantly. At least through the ’80s, it was on all the time. I saw it multiple times as a kid just because it was on late at night on one of those networks.
So yeah, it’s super pervasive, and everyone at least recognizes Taarna as being from Heavy Metal. Nelson the zombie pilot is another great one. So that’s one of the things we decided to lean into. Let’s do the things people recognize and celebrate them. They’re our Spider-Man and Batman and Wonder Woman. They’re our characters that we can let other people tell their stories about and use them as a sort of connected, larger universe that we can play in. That was a big initiative, and we set up bibles for those series.
The series based on the character Nelson and B-17 is going to be called Cold Dead War. It’s an alternate history World War II zombie story. Then there’s Taarna, who’s introduced in a sort of wider fantasy world with a lot of different elements and characters we can use. It’ll sate the need people may have for returning serials in Heavy Metal. I think lately we’ve had a tendency to have serials run maybe four issues or something, and partially that’s because the magazine would appear four times a year, or whatever it was. But now that we’re producing more issues, we want you to come back for stuff! We think having Taarna and Cold Dead War will help keep new readers attached.
Silber: That makes a lot of sense. I certainly hear a lot of older comic book readers talking about how they miss anthologies, especially serialized anthologies, where there are a number of stories in one package that they can keep coming back to. But I imagine there are going to be a lot of one-and-done stories in the future for the magazine too, right?
Seeley: Yeah, I mean we’ve got that perfect balance. I think over all the years that this magazine has been published, different styles have been tried. Lots of short stories, lots of serials, a little mix… this new mix is going to be a combination of our original content, and stories from things Heavy Metal now owns, such as Taarna, Cold Dead War, et cetera. There will also be licensed work from foreign publishers, as well as submitted work from around the globe, and that hopefully will give us this perfect mix of different kinds of stories. It hopefully makes that perfect Heavy Metal soup.
Silber: it’s interesting that you bring up the international creators that are being brought to the table, because Heavy Metal started out as Metal Hurlant, a French magazine. European comics, and French comics in particular, often have a whole different feel. Do you think that French influence has persisted throughout all these years, or has it become more uniquely American?
Seeley: Heavy Metal outlasted Metal Hurlant, which is interesting. But the French market, I think, is really its own thing, mostly because of the format. They publish these albums that come out at a lower frequency, maybe once a year or twice a year instead of the monthly format that we do here in the US. Comics-wise, I do feel like everyone has come together to a certain degree. It used to be that there were no French superhero comics, for example. They just got American superhero comics. But now you see French creators working in American superhero comics, American writers working with French creators, British creators dominating the American market… the conversion of that has meant that a French comic is less unusual to an American reader now than it was when Heavy Metal started.
Seeley: There’s still some amazing French comics, and we’ll be publishing some. But we also know to look elsewhere, like Latin America. There’s a lot of great stuff coming out from Argentina, Brazil, and a lot of those areas. Plus there’s Eastern European comics we’re interested in. All these things are viable and unique, and they’re something we can introduce to American readers, helping them find something they love.
Silber: That kind of melting pot approach is something I really look forward to in the magazine, because comics are around in some form or another almost anywhere you look in the world. There are different styles in every country, but the Heavy Metal ethos of “be weird, be edgy, bring something that hasn’t been seen before” seems to be a uniting factor.
Seeley: Sometimes things get lost in translation. Words and ideas and references that are clear as day in another culture come here and become unusual, and maybe unsettling. I love that! I think that’s great. But I do think American readers got a little used to that. Obviously there’s so many Japanese comics being read here in the US, and those are full of things that are culturally Japanese. People are just fine with it, maybe enjoying those comics, to a degree more than homegrown stuff. People now are familiar with this idea of international pop culture, and it’s opened us up to do even crazier, more unusual stuff.
Silber: I’m curious about the language aspect. I don’t know if you’re multilingual, but I’m curious about the process of working with so many translators from around the world. What’s your process like? Do you have a hands-on approach? I mean, this is sci-fi, this is fantasy, things get weird!
Seeley: That’s the thing. A lot of these creators now do speak English. When we bring stuff in, sometimes we’re able to have them translate their own work, and we just help them out with it. That was the case with a recent Virus book that was Italian, I believe. They spoke English pretty well, so we just helped them with some tenses and that’s about it. Previously there were a lot of artists, quite famously, who didn’t speak English very well, who worked with English-speaking writers. That’s what Moebius did. Things do get lost in translation, so tone and that sort of thing can really hamper a book. The usual way is to run it through a translator, they translate it, and then the editors have to contextualize it. Sometimes they’d even hire a writer to translate it into something more readable, that stood out.
Silber: As far as the future of the magazine past #300, is there anything you can tease about what’s coming next?
Seeley: Yeah, I mean there’s gonna be more magazines. That’s one of the most important things that has happened in the last few years: delays between issues and all that stuff. We want to completely avoid that and remind people the magazine exists. We’ll have to come out much more regularly, and we’re going to do the format of rotating serials. Stories will go for a set amount of time, whether that’s 3 issues, 6 issues, or 18 issues. These issues, you will know going in, will be in the magazine for the next however-many months. So you can set the clock accordingly to pick up issues.
We’ll be doing a lot more homegrown things, so Taarna, Cold Dead War, et cetera will have a lot more stories by a lot more creators. We started the Virus initiative, which is sort of Heavy Metal going through and picking all these comics that are submitted to us and turning them into these print-on-demand comics that people can order from all over the world. We’re opening up to lots of talented and previously-unknown cartoonists. We’re going to be reaching back to older stuff for collections of classic material, stuff we think the world should be reminded exists.
Silber: This magazine has been around so long, and it’s not something like X-Men where it’s been the same continuous narrative for God-knows-how-many years. There’s this rich history, and of course we want people picking up Heavy Metal #300, but what would you say is a feature, story, or even a work of art by a particular artist that, for you, encapsulates what Heavy Metal is about?
Seeley: There’s a lot of stuff I associate most with. Definitely the Arzach stuff from Moebius, that’s sort of a gimme. Definitely the stuff from [Massimiliano] Frezzato, which I think is very steampunk. But when i was a kid picking up Heavy Metal, there was [Paolo] Serpieri stuff like Druuna that was… intensely sexual [laughs]. Almost aggressively so! Which i think is a really interesting product of the era, that side of Heavy Metal. Vaughan Bode, who was a great underground-style cartoonist. Weird, fantasy-style stuff. There’s tons. Oh, and Simon Bisley! That’s a creator we use a lot in the magazine, who’s obviously done a lot of other, more mainstream stuff, but has done some incredible stuff for Heavy Metal. Eventually, when you go back through the old issues, you’ll be like “wait, everybody’s done something for Heavy Metal!” Walt Simonson, Archie Goodwin… everybody’s done it at some point.
Silber: You mentioned reading this intense stuff as a kid. What brought you in? Do you have any memories you can share of your first experience with Heavy Metal?
Seeley: I mean, you know, I was a 12-year-old boy, so it was definitely a half-naked lady. That’s definitely what worked on me as a kid. There’s a whole era of Heavy Metal in the ’90s that was just sexy lady covers, and that worked on me like a charm. But you know, for me, the appeal of Heavy Metal was that if I bought an issue, I had to hide it. Not that I’d get in trouble or anything, just that it felt a little naughty. I always thought there’s something so great about that, and I don’t want people to lose that sort of subversive quality of this magazine: where you kind of feel like you’re in a club that knows something other people don’t know.
Silber: I like that. I picked up my first issue of Heavy Metal when Grant Morrison debuted as Editor-in-Chief.
Seeley: Oh shit! So, fairly recently.
Silber: Yeah, that was 2016, so I was 25 at the time. I’d been reading comics for a decent amount of time, but still, it’s almost eerie the way that I opened it up and it just felt like something from another planet.
Seeley: Yeah! I love that. It should always feel that way. I always feel like it’s something from another world. “Who sent this here? Why would they send it here?” That discovery is what makes Heavy Metal, Heavy Metal.
Silber: I totally agree. Admittedly, I don’t have a ton of experience with it, but researching the history and seeing the art, even untranslated, that’s the vibe you get. I think you just can’t help it. Even if I’m no longer at the age where I feel like I have to hide it from my parents.
Seeley: Hide it from your friends, your wife, your co-workers…
Silber: My roommates!
Seeley: As long as you have to hide it from somebody, it feels good.
Heavy Metal #300 goes on sale next month.
(Note: an earlier version of this interview incorrectly cited Frank Frazetta, instead of Massimiliano Frezzato, as an artist Seeley associates with Heavy Metal.)