Painting Metal -- The Art of Derek Riggs

Derek Riggs turns sixty today and, being a longtime fan, I thought a DMR post was in order. As the exclusive artist for Iron Maiden through the 1980s, Riggs painted some of the most iconic metal album covers ever. They certainly blew me away when I first saw them.


I can still remember the day I first held Number of the Beast in my hands. I'd read about Iron Maiden in the rock mags, but I'd never seen an LP of theirs in the flesh. I stopped by this girl's house and heard her blasting some unknown, but awesome, metal tunes. I asked her what was playing and she said, "The new Iron Maiden!" We must've jammed that album for three hours straight. She's still a very cool chick, by the way.

Being an aspiring artist at the time, I pored over the album's artwork. The cover just jumped out at you. Bold primary colors--reds, yellows and blues--gave it an incredible visual punch. Satan bestriding a flaming abyss with Eddie--the band's mascot, created by Riggs--looming over him was a very powerful composition. Maiden uber alles! Within the LP, as I recall, was a flyer for earlier Maiden albums, all with covers by the same badass artist: Derek Riggs. I'd already checked out who he was in the album credits. I am that kinda guy.

As I suspected at the time, Riggs was a fan--like artist Jim Fitzpatrick of Thin Lizzy fame--of the Marvel Comics put out in the '60s and '70s. Riggs has also stated that he loved American "horror comics." I assume he's referring to the classic runs of Eerie and Creepy put out by Warren Publishing. Here's how Derek describes his artistic philosophy:

I didn’t really follow comics in particular, I’d follow the artists. Stan Lee thinks it’s all about him, but it really isn’t. It was all about the artists. I was always a big fan of Jack Kirby. I went through a little phase of liking Neal Adams, but I got bored with that because it’s a bit too realistic. I feel that comics should be stylized, because of their nature, and Jack Kirby just did it. I think that’s kind of why manga became popular, because too realistic artwork kind of doesn’t really cut it. It’s got no edge. Stylize it, and – all of a sudden – you’ve got a whole different world.

Over the next few years, I followed the band, but I also followed the art of Mr. Riggs. Besides album covers, the band had him do all the art for singles and tee-shirts. Hell, many times, it seems, a song didn't even have to be a single for it to get the Riggs treatment. I don't think such an encompassing graphic document of a band's musical oeuvre has ever been done, before or since. Not over that span of time, anyway. I remember seeing the video for Iron Maiden's "Wasted Years" with its glimpses of scores of Riggs paintings and thinking, "Damn, I thought I'd seen every Maiden painting from Riggs. Obviously not!"

Probably my favorite Eddie from Riggs wasn't even an illo for a single or an album. It was a painting for a tee-shirt sold during the Powerslave tour. I might not be totally objective about it, since I bought that tee when I saw Maiden for the first time on that tour, but I stand by my opinion. "Powerslave Eddie" breaking his chains while eldritch fire burns in his eyes is powerful stuff.


I started becoming less interested in the band and even Riggs' art during the Somewhere in Time era. As it turns out, Riggs was losing that lovin' feelin' for the whole thing as well. Derek and the band parted ways in 1990, ending a decade-long partnership. He goes into detail about the situation in this excellent interview:

It's a pity things went as they did, but Derek kept right on rolling. Since he created the Eddie character and never signed away the rights, he's been doing private commissions for Maiden fans ever since. He also published an art book back in 2006, Run For Cover: The Art of Derek Riggs. Derek has his own website which is loaded with cool artwork, including plenty of post-Maiden Eddie stuff.


Other installments in the Painting Metal series:

Michael Wm. Kaluta

Jim Fitzpatrick

Frank Frazetta