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Spielberg on Heavy Metal’s “1941” Comic: “Nothing Wrong With Beastiality, Cannibalism”

Steven Spielberg letter to Heavy Metal 1941

The Tumblr blog Panel to Panel has dug up an amazing artifact of comics/movie/Heavy Metal history. It’s a letter from Steven Spielberg to Heavy Metal editor Julie Simmons regarding 1941: The Illustrated Story (available for $6.00 in the Heavy Metal store), a comic-book adaptation of the Spielberg-directed 1979 comedy 1941.

Steven Spielberg 1979 letter to Heavy Metal

Steven Spielberg’s 1979 letter to Heavy Metal regarding our adaptation of 1941 (click to enlarge)

Spielberg says he’s not happy with the adaptation, feeling that it

does not represent the intentions of myself, the writers or anyone connected with ‘1941.’ All of us find the artwork and content to be a savage representation of an otherwise light vomedy about those times. Beyond that, it is off-putting, disgusting and terribly racist.

Spielberg keeps going, in words he might not have used had he known this letter would turn up 35 years later:

HEAVY METAL has protrayed (sic) our film as a beastial (sic), cannibalistic, Hieronymus Bosch nightmare. There’s nothing wrong with beastiality (sic) cannibalism or Hieronymous Bosch when it accurately reflects the nature of the subject matter.

Despite the complaints, Spielberg finishes up his letter with a friendly tone, shrugging that “at this late date there is not much any of us can do.” He also praises Heavy Metal’s creative team of Stephen Bissette and Rick Veitch as “ruthlessly talented (though demented).”

Heavy Metal 1941

A page from Heavy Metal’s adaptation of 1941

We’re writing this some 35-ish years after the fact, and we long ago lost Steven Spielberg’s direct phone number, so this is a little speculative — but Spielberg was clearly in a weird place when he made 1941. His two previous films were Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Those were blockbusters. Classics. And not super funny. Then Spielberg rounds up every actor in Hollywood to make a World War II comedy. John Wayne declined to be in the movie (as Major General Stillwell, played by Robert Stack) and in fact advised Spielberg not to make it at all because he felt it was unpatriotic.

Spielberg’s own introduction to 1941: The Illustrated Story is really not far off from the letter he wrote us, and finds him thumbing his nose at the killjoys.

I felt that after the war in Vietnam and the disillusionment the nation experienced, it was important to remind people that war doesn’t have to be a trip up the river to hell. It could also be a lot of laughs. I believe that 1941 stresses the positive aspects of global conflict, which is something we tend to forget about these days.

Um, what???

Heavy Metal 1941

A page from Heavy Metal’s adaptation of 1941

Spielberg says a bunch more funny things in his intro, for instance:

Columbia and Universal forced me to spend $30 million on 1941. The film’s actual cost was $12.5 million. The rest of the budget was spent on prostitutes and drugs.

True story: he said the same thing about Schindler’s List. Spielberg finishes up his introduction by saying:

I can see 1941 more as a cleansing experience. The one possible way I can make you forget all the good things I’ve done in motion pictures. Be merciful.

He wrote this three months before the movie came out. So we’d guess he wasn’t surprised when 1941 was roundly panned, with critic Pauline Kael famously saying watching it was like “having your head stuck inside a pinball machine for two hours.” 1941, the movie, has picked up a following in the intervening years, with its fans seeing the threads of genius that Kael and others couldn’t (not in the 1979 theatrical cut, at least).

But back to the subject, Heavy Metal‘s 1941: The Illustrated Story — did Spielberg really hate it, or was he just taking the piss out of everything in 1979? Who knows. We do know this nearly-forgotten comic by Allen Asherman, Stephen Bissette and Rick Veitch was genius from day one, and still is, and it can be yours for six bucks from the Heavy Metal store. Check it out.

Heavy Metal 1941

Heavy Metal’s adaptation of 1941

Written by:

Published on: November 22, 2015

Filled Under: Comics, Heavy Metal News, News, Top News

Views: 16028

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10 Responses to Spielberg on Heavy Metal’s “1941” Comic: “Nothing Wrong With Beastiality, Cannibalism”

  1. Frank Forte says:

    HAHAHA! That’s too funny! A great piece of HM History!

  2. […] apparently did not make director Spielberg very happy, and in an era way before email he rushed off an angry letter to Heavy Metal, carbon-copying a whole bunch of his Hollywood […]

  3. Shakti says:

    My new signature tag!

    “…nothing wrong with beastiallity cannibalism or Hieronymus Bosch…”
    – Steven Spielberg

  4. Chaz Sutherland says:

    What? Wait! This can’t be true. John Wayne would never down an opportunity to be in a movie.

    Great article!

  5. That’s OK, he spent all that money just to make fun of my book. I make fun of him in it as well…

  6. Catboy says:

    I think Spielberg does not understand what ‘taking the piss’ means. I happen to proudly own a copy of this book for thirty years. The depictions of what he describes is not in any way an endorsement of this behaviour. Just as the movie Blazzing Saddles was not an endorsement of racism, it made fun of racism itself, and that’s what the comic book was doing. It was taking the panicky attitude people had towards a potential Japanese invasion and took it too ludicrous extremes, that was the point that the book shared with the movie.

    Also there was a reason why the book took things to the extremes that it did. It was extremely popular at the time for edgy comedies to deliberately push the edge to jam a thumb in the eye of the conservative politics that got Reagan elected into the White House. An example of this would be Airplane II, Saturday Night Live, Fridays, and Bizarre taking pot-shots at the Moral Majority by going out of their way to depict everything the Moral Majority openly objected to and take it to the next level, or at least as much as they felt they could get away with. This attitude was also prevalent in comics books and illustrated magazines like Heavy Metal, Mad Magazine, Cracked, 1984, Creepy, Eerie, and many others.

  7. peterlilicyisafaggot says:

    1941 sucks

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