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Joe Illidge Leaves Heavy Metal Magazine, Talks To Bleeding Cool

Heavy Metal Executive Editor Joe Illidge is no longer with the publisher. He has chosen to talk to Bleeding Cool about his departure.

Over Christmas, as Bleeding Cool reported on Heavy Metal Magazine undergoing a series of problems. First, difficulty paying the bills, then CEO Matt Medney quitting or being pushed, new CEO and Myth founder Marshall Lees being appointed, and claims of creators having their work stolen from under them. At the time, I was told that Heavy Metal Executive Editor Joe Illidge had also left the company. But when asking him directly, it was something he denied, insisting he was just on holiday. I held off running the story, with the proviso that we would return to it in the New Year. Something we have just done, as ComicsPRO Summit takes place around us.

Now, Joe Illidge and I have known each other for over two decades, and when he left DC Comics and the Batman group, he talked to me about it for the All The Rage column I wrote for Silver Bullet Comics. Twenty three years later, we seem to be doing the exact same thing, but there has been plenty of water and comic book publishers and websites under the bridge since then.

Joe Illidge Quits Heavy Metal Magazine, Talks To Bleeding Cool
Headshot courtesy of Joseph Illidge

Rich Johnston: Joseph, over Christmas, and since then, I've been told that you were to be no longer Heavy Metal Executive Editor, but it was something you denied. What's actually happened now – and what happened back then?

Joe Illidge: There have definitely been lots of rumors regarding my status, so I'd like to clarify what happened in the aftermath of last December's furlough of Heavy Metal's team. Marshall Lees took over as the new CEO of Heavy Metal, bringing along Jamie Penrose as the company's new Chief Operating Officer. Out of respect for Marshall and Jamie, both well-meaning gentlemen in my book, I chose to keep my status non-public until now. It's business, and discretion is important for everyone involved.

Rich Johnston: So what is your current status regarding Heavy Metal? Or am I going to have to keep refreshing your LinkedIn page?

Joe Illidge: My current status is that I'm an Editorial Director, Writer, and Story Consultant available to work for a wide variety of clients. Heavy Metal is a former client.

Rich Johnston: Joe, did you jump, or were you pushed?

Joe Illidge: Neither! The company was no longer able to sustain me and my colleagues.

Rich Johnston: Yep, you're going to have to update that LinkedIn page. As I alluded to earlier, Heavy Metal Magazine has, in recent years, been plagued by changing management teams, ownership, and people in charge, as well as accusations of incredibly poor customer service, unpaid creators, cancelled books and challenged rights. You have, relatively, been a longstanding figure amidst the maelstrom for 33 months. How have you coped with all this, and do you believe the criticisms have been fair?

Joe Illidge Quits Heavy Metal Magazine, Talks To Bleeding Cool

Joe Illidge: Heavy Metal is an important institution in comics and popular culture, so the job is always in part to respect the legacy. Everything that you've pointed out are matters the company has been dealing with, and the new people in charge have the task of righting the ship.

What I'm proud of is being part of a team that over the last three years, quite frankly, took the magazine out of its spiral into invisibility and irrelevance and reinvigorated it with some of the best artists and writers in comics, returned Heavy Metal to a monthly publication schedule, and revitalized the staff with new voices, vibrant energy and new ideas. We opened the doors to women, queer creators, and American creators of color. We followed the lead of the seminal 1981 animated film and made the character of Taarna the flagship character of the company in publishing, treating her like our Batman and elevating her with creative minds ranging from Stephanie Phillips to Butch Guice to Helen Mullane to Montos. We brought in Christopher Priest, someone that history cannot deny is one of the most groundbreaking writers and editors of the last forty years.

Ultimately, every working day, my colleagues and I did our best to help creators, customers, and business partners navigate through aspects of the company that were out of our control. I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Claudio Alvarez of Acción Comics for his kind mention of me throughout the recent debacle. As Executive Editor, my job was to support the editorial team, guide creators in developing their unique ideas, and help to address all of their concerns. I did that to the best of my ability, with the resources at my disposal.

Rich Johnston: What criticisms that received public attention, if any, did you feel were justified?

Joe Illidge: It's not my place to speak to the validity of claims from creators and customers engaged in business with Heavy Metal. They're all quite capable of taking any concerns to Heavy Metal's upper management, and the CEO opened the door for those discussions.

Rich Johnston: Fine. So you see as your lasting impact on the magazine?

Joe Illidge: I was part of a team that revitalized a legacy, one I discovered at the age of 13 as a student in a high school of art, changing my perception forever of what was possible in American comics. I hope my lasting editorial and creative impact was the last three years of "The World's Greatest Illustrated Magazine", and making that conceit mean something. Giving creators their dream goal of being published in Heavy Metal. And getting Taarna back to her proper place in the Heavy Metal superstructure.

Joe Illidge Quits Heavy Metal Magazine, Talks To Bleeding Cool

Rich Johnston: But now Heavy Metal has been licensed out to another publisher, WhatNot, who are doing what has never been done before, an issue one relaunch. Why was that something you didn't do?

Joe Illidge: Again, there was a staff furlough of all of Heavy Metal's contractors. However, you'll be happy to know the last book I completed from end to end was the new Heavy Metal #1, so my team and I had the opportunity to send the new era of the magazine on its maiden voyage! I started my editorial tenure with issue #300, shepherded the 45th anniversary issue last April, and ended by igniting the future with Heavy Metal #1. That's a pretty good run on a legacy!

Rich Johnston: Let's look at that. 33 months at Heavy Metal. 15 months as Editorial Director of A Wave Blue World. 9 months as Executive Editor of Valiant Entertainment. 22 months as Senior Editor at Lion Forge Comics. What is it about comic books that seem to make you an in-and-out senior editorial employee at all these places?

Joe Illidge: Have you met the comic book industry?!? The last four years have been full of staff turnovers, mass layoffs, internal turmoil, operational shutdowns, and quite candidly, peril. There were weeks that it took every one of you comic book industry journalists to keep up with all the developments, and that's no exaggeration.

Look, the most succinct answer is that you have to go through bad fits to find your good fit-in business, people, and life. I was no exception to this, and the reason Heavy Metal was my longest and latest run is because my experiences at the other companies made me a wiser human, an employee of better self-accountability, and a better leader in service of my team and the creators we worked with.

I worked with great people and together, we made a positive impact, at each and every one of the companies you cited.

Rich Johnston: So, leaving Heavy Metal, what are your plans going forward?

Joe Illidge: I've been writing a variety of projects since last year (and one for longer) which will be published over the next three years. Comic books, graphic novels and other projects with publishers ranging from AHOY! Comics to First Second Books to various "Big Five" trade book publishers I can't quite reveal yet.

One of my latest projects was just publicly revealed after being in the works for a year! RISE OF THE ALLIES, a B2B comic book and IP created with id8 Comics-a new comic book publisher founded by Jonathan Rheingold, a veteran of Marvel, XXL, and RESPECT magazine-and Performance Paradigm, one of the leading DEI consultancy companies.

Every company I work with, I spearhead projects with story value and personal impact for both readers and the world-at-large. That's what was instilled in me since my start in comics at Milestone, and working under the leadership of some of the 20th century's most visionary editors and writers in comics.

So my plans are legion. They'll all be properly announced in time.

Rich Johnston: Is there any particular direction we should be looking?

Joe Illidge: Look in the direction of non-Big 2 Direct Market comic book publishers delivering large-scale, visionary ideas from creators with distinctive perspectives. And that's just for starters.

Rich Johnston: My first exit interview with you was quite some time ago, as you left DC Comics. You were rather outspoken regarding racial issues within the comic book industry at the time. Since then, all sorts of people seem to have come round to the idea that maybe, just maybe, you had a point. Have things improved at all, from your perspective?

Joe Illidge: The comic book industry has come a long way regarding its racial issues in the 23 years since that interview, and I'm proud to have continued to be one of its engines of change both behind the scenes and in public view. That was the mission instilled in me by the founders of Milestone, and I will continue to fight for a better, more equitable, more ethical comic book industry.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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