Heavy Metal was an "illustrated fantasy magazine" that has run from 1977 to the present. Although I am pretty much up on many different fields of geekery, I was mostly aware of Heavy Metal by a somewhat distorted reputation. Perhaps due to its name, I always pictured it as a magazine full of screaming demons and exploited women in leather bustiers, all drawn either by or in the style of Boris Vallejo.

The entire history of Heavy Metal magazine, as well as the larger topics of misogyny and pandering to male aggression in the fantasy genre are pretty big topics, and so rather then tackling them all at once, I decided to just read an issue of Heavy Metal and see what I found. I chose the September 1990 issue because that was what I found at a yard sale for a dollar. So that being said, lets take a look at the contents:

  • The Cover: is by Royo, and is definitely in the vein of Boris Vallejo, showing a close-up picture of a woman holding a gun, in a realistic style.
  • Gallery: The first thing in the book is a few pages by an Italian artist named Dovillo Brero, surrealistic pictures of nude women and robot stuff. Again, this might be a stereotypical appeal to adolescent sensibilities, but nudes are an important part of art, and there is nothing particularly exploitive about this.
  • First story: by Harvey Kurtzman and William Stout, features archetypical comic caveman, living in a world with dinosaurs and banging each other with clubs. Kurtzman is a legendary comics creator, being one of the founders of Mad Magazine, and this story is very much in that tradition. Both in its cartoonish art style and humorous writing, it didn't fit in with my stereotype of Heavy Metal Magazine.
  • Second story (and the centerpiece of the issue): is called "The Waters of DeadMoon", and it is a disturbing, graphic and violent story, with grotesque sexual imagery. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Paris where the nobility torture and kill the common people for sport, it in some ways would conform to stereotypes of gratuitous violence and sex. However, the story is so disturbing that it hardly seems like material for titillation.
  • The third story is "The New Frontier: The Queen of Kalamazoo" by John Sabljik and Michael Cherkas. This story seems to be a parody or comedy of manners dealing with an alternative-history Hollywood, and a competition to impersonate a famous dead actress. It is in black and white, and its writing style and art style are both very far from high fantasy.
  • The fourth and last story is by Daniel Torres, Ramon Marcos and Pat Hernandez, and is called "Opium in Barcelona", is a parody/homage to 1940s-style newspaper adventure comics, with the hero trying to defeat a criminal mastermind named "Opium".

I have gone into some detail about this, not because this 22 year old issue of an adult comics magazine is particularly important, but because it shows just how wrong my vague stereotype was. Of the four stories, only one was anywhere close to "high fantasy", with the art and storytelling being much more diverse and sophisticated then I would have thought. And although some of the content was adult, sexual, graphic and fairly disturbing, it didn't seem to be the type of casual thoughtless misogyny that I would have attributed to it.

Of course, this is just one issue out of 30-odd years of publishing, but as an isolated case study, it shows that my stereotypes were wrong.

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