George Miller created his own universe in 1979 with the first of the films of the Mad Max saga, and if there was something remarkable about its initial configuration was the little it had to do with any other films or any other disciplines. Mad Max, as an aesthetic and thematic concept, has had a lot of influence on other works, and its rusty machines and vehicles as symbols of the passing of time and of the virulence of oxide and dust have set a precedence, although on the fourth episode of the apocalyptic adventures of Max Rockatansky, Mad Max: Fury Road, we can hear echoes and reverberations of other myths –the journey to Valhalla, shiny and chromed style with silver spray on the mouth– and stories, specially from printed pages: as if she tried to rummage in the black matter of his brain, the murdered daughter of the main character appears as a gloomy vision that reminds us very much of the ones described by John Connolly in his literary series starred by private detective Charlie Parker, who also suffers from sombre visions of his dead daughter and wife.
The relationship of Mad Max with comic books is a bit more evident, tangible, and recognizable. In this last movie, for instance, the leather nose sported by one of the greasy and morbid villains reminds us of the iconography of comic book Devil’s Mouth, created by François Boucq and Jerome Charyn in 1990. It isn’t strange thus that the film has already been transcribed into comic book form, something quite usual in the US market, which has offered its readers adaptations ranging from John Carpenter and George A. Romero movies to a crossroad between Django, the free slave, and El Zorro with Tarantino himself as script writer, or comic books inspired on TV shows such as Fringe. More interesting in its approach is the appearance of the book Mad Max: Fury Road – Inspired Artists, published by Vertigo, in which artists of different styles, although with a sort of tumultuous aesthetic in common, like Simon Bisley, Paul Pope, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Johnson, David Mack, Dave McKean and Howard Chaykin, have created illustrations taking as their source of inspiration concrete images of the film.
But when focusing on the vision of man and machine –in nomadic conflict– that underlies all the Mad Max series, particularly this last film, it’s difficult not to think about a comic book that marked a turning point in the mid seventies when, especially in France, the so-called ninth art was living a phase of permanent formal experimentation. I’m talking about the magazine Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal in its US edition, and it isn’t by chance that many bands of the eponymous style were visually inspired by some of the stories included in this publication).
Métal Hurlant was published from 1974 to 1987, although it made a comeback in 2002. It was conceived and directed by Moebius, Philippe Druillet and Jean-Pierre Dionnet, that is, Les Humanoïdes Associés. On its pages, Moebius created legendary series Arzach and The Airtight Garage, and, with Jodorowski, the hyperbolic John Difool saga, The Incal and Metabarons. Richard Corben published Den and Blood Star. Paul Gillon had time to develop his excellent sci-fi series Castaways in Time, the Schuitens had time to create their hollow lands, Charles Burns introduced his Borbah, and Kraken, by Spanish duo Bernet-Segura (from magazine Metropol), was translated and included too. There was also room for Milo Manara, Jacques Tardi, Caza, representatives of the ligne claire like Serge Clerc, Fromenthal and Floc’h or sinister Marc Caro, and for Alexis and Druillet’s mixture of science fiction and the Middle Ages in The Adventures of Yrris, with its atavism not so different from that of Mad Max.
Some of its stories were first published in Spain on the pages of magazine Totem, although from 1981 onwards the publishing houses Nueva Frontera (the first three issues) and Eurocomic (the rest until the last one, number 47) translated them and published them in the same format as the French original mag. Its pages were mostly devoted to fantasy and sci-fi, with stories on apocalyptic and deformed worlds, sex and machines, or black comedy, but there were other styles allowed, like those of Chaland’s Jeune Albert, Robert Crumb’s minimal A Brief History of America and the dithyrambs of rock and roll kid Frank Margerin or Jano’s unique Kebra: rockabilly rolls with hairspray, leather jackets and metallic science fiction.
The link that can be traced between Métal Hurlant and Mad Max, other post-apocalyptic movies and some comic books from other origins –like cyberpunk RanXerox by Italians Tamburini and Liberatore– is rich beyond its direct transmutations: animated film Heavy Metal, it is rumoured that Robert Rodríguez is preparing a film of the same title, and the series with flesh and blood characters entitled Métal Hurlant Chronicles. If we stick solely to Mad Max, we can mention Exterminator 17, with script by Dionnet and drawn by Enki Bilal that deals with the relationship between man and machine (android) in a future as distant as imperfect. The great and earthy landscapes of fantastic Arzach would transform into the Australian deserts filmed by Miller. The guitar player with nazi paraphernalia imagined by Voss in Heilman would exchange his instrument with the double neck guitar that one of Immortan Joe’s acolytes plays like a madman in front of a wall of speakers, a character, in fact, that could have appeared on any of the covers of the magazine. The wild instinct of many of Corben’s works would also inspire the progressively more primitive rites of the Mad Max series.
But no one like Philippe Manoeuvre, musical critic in Rock & Folk and chief editor of Métal Hurlant as of 1977, to illustrate the symbiosis. Manoeuvre wrote a synthetic and parodic short story inspired by Miller’s second film and published it in Métal Hurlant, a clear demonstration of the similar spirit that united the magazine with the already successful film saga. This is the way it begins: “Max and Pappagallo’s vehicles get on the road. After seeing the girocopter disappearing in the horizon, they depart on the same direction. It was about time! After them, Mr. Humungus and his men have started the chase. Terror on the asphalt!”. Manoeuvre went on to translate and publish Charles Bukowski, Harlan Ellison and Hunter S. Thompson, writers who, despite the reluctance towards cinema of some of them, I think would have saluted the appearance of the Max Rockatansky films. Manoeuvre can be seen in several photographs from last May’s red carpet at Cannes, when Mad Max: Fury Road was premiered. There he said about the film: “It’s mental, it’s aggressive in an AC/DC way, it demolishes you”. Métal Hurlant, screeching metal, heavy metal, AC/DC metal, Max metal…