Comic Book Classics — 13
Posted by floppybootstomp
It has been a shock to realize that of the dozen Comic-Book classics already posted here at Floppybootland, not a single one has been French. I bow my head in shame for this oversight. All I can do at this stage is rectify this error and beg forgiveness. To get two rectifications in the same post, I have chosen to feature France’s (and perhaps the world’s) best ever SF comic. That should help to deal with the paucity of SF material on this blog.
Metal Hurlant was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. To begin with, it was uncompromisingly aimed at adults rather than children. Adult themes and language were a defining feature of the magazine. A lot of the material was sexually explicit and contained overt violence and/or drug use. This positioned its own brand of SF as transgressive, unsentimental and gritty. In this sense, it helped to shape the modern Science Fiction aesthetic (The most celebrated example of this is Dan O’Bannon’s 1977 story ‘The Long Tomorrow’, which is said to have been a key influence on the look of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner).
Métal Hurlant (Translates as ‘Screaming Metal’) was born in the mid 1970s and was published by a writers and artists’ collective known as the Humanoides Associés (Associated Humanoids). The founders of AH were some of the best comic book artists in France. The two most celebrated (Jean Giraud – aka: Moebius and Philippe Druillet), were already regarded as some of the most original artists in the comic book world. With their input and direction, Métal Hurlant soon became the gold standard for European comic book art. An eclectic roster of in-house artists and contributors included both Moebius and Druillet as well as Enki Bilal, Richard Corben, Juan Gimenez, Beb Deum, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Milo Manara.
The magazine ran initially from 1974. It combined serialised comic-book tales with editorial articles on SF in other media. The model was another classic French comic-book magazine, Pilote, which also combined serialised children’s BD (i.e. Goscinny & Uderzo’s Asterix first appears in Pilote) with articles and features. The French comic book market, based as it is on the hardback, glossy BD album, is supported by magazines that publish extracts of forthcoming titles (Bodoi and Pilote are the two best-known). This format of SF magazine was eventually adapted to other markets including the Italian mag L’Eternauta and Spain’s Cimoc and 1984 (relaunched as Zona 84 after err… 1983). An English language version, Heavy Metal, was brought out in the US and introduced a generation of readers to European comics.
Towards the mid 1980s the original Metal Hurlant was going into decline. The material included began to lose its core SF and fantasy thematic and the magazine had opened its doors to all kinds of comics (yes, even comedy westerns…) to try and maintain its readership. Druillet and Moebius had long since ceased to be involved and without their direction Hurlant appeared to flounder. In 1987, the magazine folded.
Its legend, however, lived on. In 2002, the magazine was resurrected with additional English, Spanish and Portuguese editions. Despite all its problems, closure and relaunches, an outstanding body of work appeared in MH’s pages. Some of the best SF comics of all time have appeared there (often as their debut publication), including Moebius’s Arzach, Druillet’s Lone Sloane, Bilal’s The Town That Didn’t Exist, Beb Deum’s Burocratika, Corben’s Den and Jodorowsky’s Metabarons. In terms of a back catalogue, no magazine can touch Métal Hurlant. It remains the gold standard for SF comic magazines.