In most cases - an Album gets judged by its artwork even if you strongly disagree, it's a fact! Though the first album artwork that really stood out for me amongst an army of others is Derek Riggs' infamous Zombie, Eddie. A character and a mascot that has grown with Iron Maiden. However, Riggs' artwork is in no way restricted to the band - as you will soon find out - he is an artist, a designer and creator of many other incredible concepts and crafts! This is Air Guitar's exclusive interview with Derek Riggs!
Thank you very much for taking time out to do this interview with Air Guitar, it is very much appreciated! When Eddie Maiden made his debut appearance – it can be said that you did not start a trend but you started an army of Iron Maiden fans. Eddie has become the most loved and recognized metal figure in the world. How do you feel about that – 32 years later?
I don’t really think about it much, it was all a long time ago. It does want to follow me around a lot though. People are always asking me about it. I don’t really seem to meet anyone who hasn’t heard of Eddie these days. I used to joke that Eddie was my very own Frankenstein’s monster and that he would peruse me to my death in the arctic (which is what happened to Frankenstein) but it has turned out to be closer to the truth than I would have liked…
At the time it was not really what I started out to do, I wanted to be a sci-fi artist and draw pictures of other worlds but there wasn’t really a market for what I wanted to paint, they all wanted space ships. So I turned from book covers to record covers, the covers were bigger and the people were less restrictive about what they wanted than the book cover people were.
As it turned out I was better at a kind of horror painting anyway. That was about when Iron Maiden turned up and asked to see my portfolio. The Maiden thing was all a fun thing to do but I never thought that it would last for as long as it did, so I did it until they started putting all this pressure on my that I didn’t sign up for and wasn’t getting paid for and so then I worked out the last bit of my contract and left. I was also a bit sick of painting Eddie by then as well. SO I just kind of left them with it all and bowed out.
|I dreamed this one up, but I have no idea where it came from. I think someone said something about Eddie in chains - Riggs|
Many people may not know that Eddie was formally known as Electric Matthew. So, where did the original concept of Electric Matthew originate from?
Well I was trying to find an image that would represent the kind of “wasted youth” idea that was prevalent in the English punk movements of the late 1970’s and the picture I came up with was the dead youth in the city streets. I didn’t really start out to paint a monster or a zombie, I was coming from a completely different place, it just ended up looking that way. When people referred to it as a zombie I was a bit surprised, I was like “Oh Yeah, I guess it is…” there is a lot more about this stuff in the book which is available from my website www.derekriggs.com The book is called “Run For Cover, The Art Of Derek Riggs”. It’s a high quality art book with lots of good prints and about 50,000 words of text. Go and but a copy or I’ll send Eddie out to find you.
Iron Maiden exploded into the Metal hearts of many people. Do tell our readers, what has your relationship with Iron Maiden been like and in a way did the band have any influence on your artworks?
Well I mostly worked with the manager not the band. I met them on a few occasions but we were very different kinds of people, they went off to do their thing and I did mine. I never really got on with that rock and roll lifestyle thing that they all do.
My relationship with the management was OK for a few years and then they started relying more and more on the covers to get them where they wanted to be and less on the music. This ended with them trying to put loads of pressure on me to come up with things that were more and more “outrageous” or “more evil”. It got to the point where I was painting five covers for one single so that they could sell more copies to the fans and get a number one hit.
When it got to this point I thought “hang on, I didn’t sign up for this, this is BS.” So I started to think about leaving their employ. I mean I was just into making good covers for other people’s records, not into selling the records for them. That’s back to front, it’s like the tail wagging the dog isn’t it?
There is a lot of English patriotism in the Eddie creations. It was most noticeable on the Sanctuary single’s sleeve with Margaret Thatcher and her removing of Iron Maiden posters and of course Eddie is almost always holding the Union flag. Do you have any specific esoteric meanings to your artworks in relation to Eddie/Iron Maiden?
Esoteric? What? No that’s silly. Eddie waves the flag because the band is British (most of them anyway) That side of it was at the band’s request. The flag thing I mean.
The main content of the covers was designed to fit into the same direction of the songs. So that they both worked as a whole. It wasn’t always a direct illustration of the lyrics, most often it was just in the same general direction so that they fitted together.
|I think this is popular because it has a lot of red and blue in it. The other covers don't have much red. I resist using red just for the sake of it - Riggs|
It has been brought to my attention that the DVD release of Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 cover artwork actually has no Eddie on it. Rather strange considering the band built itself upon the infamous artwork. Any thoughts as to why there was no depiction of the Eddie character?
Yes I can tell you why, it was explained to me when they asked me for a t-shirt design. They felt that it was not a maiden release as such, it was more of a documentary about the band and that tour in particular, so they wanted pictures of themselves on the cover and not Eddie.
In some article on the internet – it mentioned that “Derek Rigg’s hates metal”. Would you like to set the record straight?
Yes. That’s total BS. That was made up by one of those idiots on the internet that hates everything, and it’s been going around for years under the guise of “I know this for a fact…” etc. Other things from similar sources are “Derek Riggs has a British pub inside his house.” “Derek Riggs Hates Iron Maiden.” “Derek Riggs is really a barman in a British pub.” Derek Riggs owns a nightclub somewhere in the UK” “Derek Riggs is very difficult to work with” “Derek Riggs is a recluse and doesn’t speak to anyone.”
I do not hate Metal, I have never owned a pub anywhere, inside or outside my home. I have never worked in a pub, I am easy to work with, I am not a recluse, I have many friends. Actually I do not even live in the UK any more. I moved to the USA many years ago.
This is one major problem with the internet, some fucked up idiot makes up some total bullshit and then it’s swirling around the internet forever getting bigger and bigger like some huge great bullshit tornado and it never goes away.
In 2006, Run for Cover – the Art of Derek Riggs by Martin Popoff was published. The reviews that followed were amazingly positive. For audiences who were unable to grab a copy; what have they missed out on?
Actually they can still buy a copy; they are still for sale from my website www.derekriggs.com We don’t have any hardbacks but the softbacks are still available. The softbacks are just the same as the hardbacks, they were printed at the same time on the same paper at the same quality. The only difference is that the first 1500 were bound in hard backs. The book is a high quality art book. There are over 80 pictures and 50,000 word of text. There are most of the maiden picture, lots of others and a few sketches that someone managed to find and track down. You can buy a signed or an unsigned copy and we will personalise them upon request. We have tried to keep the price as low as we can because the postage is so high these days. I also have a couple of signed posters/ art prints for sale there as well.
Apart from Iron Maiden, you have worked with Gamma Ray, The Iron Maidens, Valhalla, White Wizzard and even Jazz albums amongst many others. Are there any artists that you would have specifically liked to work with but have not had the chance? If so, who and why?
I will work with anyone who will pay me, I am not fussy really. My price is quite high because it takes me a while to do the pictures and I have to eat while I do it. I recently heard that Sabbath were making a new album, I think it would be cool to do a Sabbath cover. If the fans go and bombard their website with emails maybe they can make it happen… then Sabbath can have a good cover for a change.
I actually had a really good idea for an Ozzy cover but it involved bats so I think maybe they won’t want it, maybe Ozzy is over the bat thing these days… or maybe not, I have no idea really.
Album artworks these days are not as extravagant or well thought of. Generally metal album covers stick to the red and black tones or attach a photograph using computer generated software. What is your preferred medium of art these days? Do you think the computer generation has hindered the meaning of “art”?
I use a computer; I have been since the mid 1990’s. I got Mercury poisoning back in the 1980’s and I also eventually developed a high sensitivity to all heavy metals (yeah, I got heavy metal poisoning). There are many such metals in paints; they are not very good for you. So eventually I had to give up using paints altogether and computers were the only option. Sometimes the computers are better, sometimes they are worse but it’s what I am stuck with.
Art is what people like to create, even if they can’t sell it. Now with computers more people can create, I think this is mostly a good thing except that the ones who aren’t very good think they are great, which kind of gets in the way a bit sometimes. People who shouldn’t be designing book and CD covers are getting their work all over the place because it is cheap. Or they give it away for nothing… But what they do looks like crap and it lowers the whole standard of what is going on. One of the main reasons why bands need good covers is so that it gives them something to sell as merchandise. The merchandise sales help offset the large cost of touring. Without this extra source of income the bands can’t function as well. In fact some of them may not make it to the second album. Bad merchandise is cheap to create but it looks like crap so nobody buys it, so in the end the bands lose money.
In terms of your artwork – what are you future plans? Have you any special projects in the pipeline that you would like to share?
Well I just did a poster/mascot thingy for a Danish metal festival. Now I am working on a CD for a guy called Noodle who makes a kind of ambient guitar music.
I am making some sci-fi covers to sell for book covers soon; I have been looking at 3D fractals and investigating the possibility of using these to create landscapes. It’s looking quite hopeful so far.
A very grand thank you to Derek Riggs for agreeing to do this exclusive interview!
A massive collection of Riggs' artwork can be found there!