Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Artscene roundup: Derek Riggs and Eddie the Head

Here it is, my friends, the coda to my recent Public Domain textmode art spelunking: Pop Music magnum opus. It's true: most of the musical acts there enshrined were tired and past their prime. But there was one vital force celebrated, first in the public domain, then into the underground artscene -- across C64 and PC platforms alike! The conspicuous absence, the elephant in the room: I speak, of course, of British heavy metal band Iron Maiden and their mascot Eddie the Head, designed and executed classically by artist Derek Riggs.
I know, this early Public Domain rendition (of Eddie sharing a dual nature with -- or transforming into? -- the devil, as though the hair, the pupil, the earring and the skin colour are the only things separating them!) doesn't look like much. But it is still iconically Eddie, at least fragmentarily. (Seemingly inspired by the similarly-themed artwork to their "Purgatory".) PD artists couldn't do much with this character (not that it kept them from trying), but the textmode underground would take the mascot and run with it! (FYI, the 916-441-1060 phone number listed here reveals the picture as an ad for (thanks, BBS lists!) The California Hot Line BBS run by "Judas" out of Sacramento.)
Eddie the Head is a great candidate for ANSIfication because its lack of good skin tones is no impediment to rendering him in his full offputting glory! This one is by The Necromancer of NC-17 back in 1992. (The "lit" is lyrics from the Iron Maiden song "Hallowed Be Thy Name".) I just love the way Eddie's pristine mane perches atop his dessicated head like two great drifts of cotton candy.
Here the hair is given more of a "Final Fantasy: the Movie" treatment, with every strand realized in stunning fidelity. I'm guessing that Eddie's placing a long-distance scrying call to a distant relation with a distinct familial resemblance? The lapels on his leather trenchcoat make Eddie look a bit like a flasher... which just might account for the outraged expression on his counterpart's face. Oh, and that must be a grimoire open on a table implied to be in front of him. This piece is also by The Necromancer (who by this point has updated his affiliation to iCE), also from the year 1992, and I hope that you like it... because you're going to be seeing a few variations on this theme. (Fortunately, you won't be needing to keep a straight face through any more ads for "Boner's Domain". Thanks a lot, Ramboner. Were you a 13-year-old boy? Actually, you probably were.)
The Necromancer strikes back, here of GRiM -- 1992 was a busy year for the fellow -- and a suspiciously familiar picture, the iconic head here dressed in a strait jacket. (I've been there. If you don't like drawing hands, it's the only game in town! Sadly, there is no equivalent for Rob Liefeld.) If you ask me, a Necromancer is always considered GRiM. A memory washes over me: many years back, as a much younger nerd, reading The Hobbit in the back seat of my parents' car... when, there it was, my first encounter with the word "Necromancer". (I believe Gandalf makes some reference to his location in Dol Guldur south of Mirkwood.) So I says: "Mom, Dad -- what's a necromancer?" They pause for a minute, then reply: "A really bad guy that you don't want to have any business with." Great. This told me two things: a) my parents think their suggestible son is delusional, critical thinking faculties likely softened by all those hours misspent in front of a computer and playing RPGs, and can't tell the difference between what he's reading and the real world, and b) they don't actually know.

This is not as bad as the time I put down my Philip Jose Gardner Riverworld novel in the back of the car, tooling around somewhere in rural southern Italy, and asked them what "orgasm" meant. But I digress. All I can say is that I always kept the FAQ in my home directory after that to avoid any repeats of that awkward conversation!

One more time around the block for this tired old head. I certainly hope that The Necromancer (of GRiM, 1992) was re-using the basic head-form and just dressing it up differently from picture to picture, because otherwise the redundancy of labour involved (toward such a middling end) makes me shudder. Anyway, here Eddie has been upgraded, perhaps to supervillain in a SuperMax top security prison facility, with a Cable-like laser eye, a mouth full of square teeth and giant chains around his neck. The "funny farm" playfulness of the font that follows is hilariously incongruous.
Now for a change of pace, The Almighty Fatts of Dead (also 1992) provides us with a wild, Fauvist take on Eddie. That's some stark light/shadow contrast there! I dig the "burning embers as eyes" approach (The Necromancer's trademark "full block, halfblock" reflection off the inky black corneas was starting to wear a little thin.) What are those red lines tricking down his face -- does Eddie have a cut on his forehead? (OK, blood from a lobotomy site.) What is that yellow leafy-looking thing floating in his mouth in front of the gooey cascading strands of thick saliva? And then there are a long series of poor design decisions with the font, but that's simply what 1992 was for.
Zed Nitro of ACiD (also 1992) presents us a different take on a very similar portrait: we've got the little two-detailed fob on the forehead (oh, I see, it's a plate holding two screws which keep Eddie's lidded skull together), the mystery mouth content is revealed to be a tongue... for the first time we see teeth that look like teeth and skin that looks like skin! The hair has been lovingly styled, the eye twinkle entrenched... I'm not sure why the neck is quite so sinewy or why his shoulders are taking on a green hue (maybe a green tabard is implied), but you can't have everything. Of all the Eddies thus far, this one is far and away closest to presentation of a real human, making him not just an odd man out in this gallery but also a bit unsettling overall. Uncanny valley? Also: hard to tell, but the "A" cinches it: the ACiD logo is in the Iron Maiden typeface. Consistency!
This one is by Kingpin of ACiD (released in that Iron Maiden-loving year of 1992) -- the first of several you'll see from him. This looks like a take on the chained-in-an-asylum art from "Piece of Mind". It also challenges the conventional wisdom that perhaps the PD takes on the character were so wretched simply because what are you supposed to do with just a single screen at 80x25 resolution? Kingpin allows no such excuses. ("Body Count" as in "Cop Killer", perhaps?)
With just a hint of Union Jack in the corner to suggest it, Kingpin of ACiD here provides us a close-up on the artwork from the cover art for "The Trooper". Where the previous Eddie looked lumpy and dazed, this one is all business.
And another Kingpin Eddie the Head masterpiece from ACiD in 1992: his skin is still skin-coloured and his hair is back. With the leather jacket and the smoke hanging out of his rictus, you might think he's a real cool dude -- that or you could put his picture on cigarette packets to discourage people from smoking: this is what you will look like after only three packs. I always felt that Eddie the Head basically sounds (in my own, er, Head-canon) like AC/DC lead vocals. If that's not the sound of too much smoking, I don't know what is.
Another "Eddie as cool dude" composition, KingPin of ACiD does a couple more adaptations of Derek Riggs pieces -- the first of these is basically a close-up study for the second:
This one is in the little-used 80x50 screen mode! You sure can pack in a lot more detail (I always used it in Telemate to keep a text editor on the go while the other half of the screen displayed my online session) but things can get really busy, fast! The piece credits itself as an adaptation of Riggs' album artwork for "Stranger In A Strange Land". Kingpin remarks: " I painted Eddie at the end of last year. I was working on my masterpiece in 1993 which was the inside sleeve from 7th Son of a 7th Son, the crystal ball Eddie. I had the ball done and the rest sketched out but I lost it when my PC broke. :(" -- a scene I believe The Necromancer attempted above.

And now, as a special bonus -- some C64 graphics!

I took the liberty of visiting The Pixeling Cow to dig up some offerings from the Commodore 64 scene. This one is by Mike Salvia! I know it looks a bit weird and fleshy but it's an adaptation of the cover art for the 1986 recording "Somewhere in Time", so you can't blame Mike for anything beyond the choice of source material!
There we see Edd[y] as a floating cyborg head (no wait, Cyborg is the artist's name!), circa 2004.
And here, one final iconic rendition of The Trooper's art by Alias Medron in 2001.

So, what have we learned here? Well, one: METAL RULZ DOOD. And two: you don't need to have a mass movement in order to make something appear ubiquitous -- the lion's share of the art in this post (though this is just what was easy to find with queries; I'm certain there's quite a bit more of it burbling out there in the shadows) was created by just two artists over an intense, condensed period of time (turns out that perhaps 1992 was "peak Maiden.") Maybe Eddie the Head didn't have the staying power of a Spawn, but there's no way he was going to wind up just overlooked in the mix. BONUS! Antti kindly pointed out that there existed some body of further Iron Maiden fanart in the demoscene. And how! I don't have browser-viewable multimedia presentations of most of them for your accessible enjoyment, but here's one piece presented for your enjoyment in its fullness -- 1992's Amberstar by The Dream Team, also celebrating The Trooper:

And here for your further enjoyment is a selection of screenshots (thanks to!) from ... quite a few more Eddie-themed intros and demos from the C64, Amiga, and Atari ST, circa the late '80s-early '90s. Until I get caught up, full attribution of the files is indicated in their filenames.:

We open with one more take on "The Trooper" for Commodore 64 by Commando Frontier.
Then we have two adaptations of the "Piece of Mind" chained-in-asylum album art we already visited above, the first (a close-up) for Atari ST in 1989 by Powerlords and the second for Amiga in 1988 by the 42 Crew -- with another appearance of the traditional Iron Maiden typeface.
Next we have three takes on Powerslave's Eddie-as-mummified-Pharaoh album artwork. The first is by Commando Frontier for the C64:
Then 1990 brought this C64 production from Browbeat (with that Maiden font again!):
One more C64 version of the Powerslave art, this one is by Denix:
Commando Frontier seem to be perpetuating some scene beef in this 1987 scene production, perhaps showing off a trophy from some other group's mascot?
These two show off adaptations of the cover art to 1981's "Killers" album, the first on C64 by the Bruehe Cracking Crew...
and the second from an Amiga slideshow by Accession. (If you just can't get enough of the Killers art, you can also find it on the cover of a ZX Spectrum shoot-'em-up, Bedlam!) (That was my own original research! I'm really enriching the corpus with all this, uhh, data.)
The Bruehe Cracking Crew strike again with another c64 production featuring not just the Iron Maiden font, but also what appears to be some early digitization of Eddie.
Commando Frontier show Eddie in a patriotic mood here (yadda yadda uber alles) on the C64...
... and here Argus presents the cyborged Eddie seen earlier with a bit more anatomical context.
Another C64 production by Electronic Counter Measure shows a similar Ed Head with reflected features and, er, floating in place like a sinister Death Star. (I know, you thought the Death Star was already sinister to begin with. Well, you ain't seen nothin'!) Also, further use of that distinctive and appropriate font.
We continue with a closing run of disembodied heads, which doesn't even faze Eddie, who is, after all, a head. This version was done for Amiga in 1989 by IT.
This one is by OKS Import Division, also for Amiga, the year before, and shows that Eddie had a somewhat rougher time with the head extraction this time around. (But at least he's prepared to lend a hand. I'll be here all night, folks!)
This one looks fun -- an Amiga production in 1992 by Laser Dance. (I thought that perhaps the Eddie Heads were doing a laser dance, perhaps in some grim discotheque.) Nice work on the Iron Maiden font!
And finally, one I have to end on because no one is going to top it: Commando Frontier's 1990 "The Clairvoyant" from 1990, again, with the font just about solved:
Thanks for sticking around for the second act! If you find you genuinely can't get enough of Eddie the Head, you can always try playing one of his two official licensed game appearances (from cracktros in the '80s to the main attraction today!) -- 1999's Ed Hunter or Iron Maiden: Speed of Light from last year!

Congratulations, folks, in appreciation of your devotion and persistence to this niche subject, the long tail has delivered us an ANSI art coup de grace by Soul Assassin: