The Heavy Metal Hero | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

Steampunk ?!

When I painted the picture The Heavy Metal Hero (below) in 1985, I had no idea that I was contributing to the “Steampunk” movement.

The Heavy Metal Hero | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

It happened thus: the glory days of ‘Big O’ posters were over, and had been since 1980 when the company collapsed.  I had continued to work with other poster art companies, such as: ‘Wizard & Genius’, Switzerland; ‘Holmes McDougal’, Scotland; ‘Anabas’, UK; and others.  One of the others was ‘Red Moon Merchandising’, run by Bob Moon.  Bob and I were contemplating poster art one day when he suggested an image with some large and intimidating creature or machine.

Later, in my studio, my eyes fell upon the working model of the locomotive the Flying Scotsman that my father had made and which had become mine upon his death in 1980.

By comparison to ‘The Heavy Metal Hero’, the ‘Scotsman’ was tiny and tame, but wait, I remembered an acquaintance living nearby who was an engineer and regularly travelled to the United States to work on collectors’ steam locomotives of prodigious size and thunderous character.  I borrowed some photographs of these huge beasts that were often used to haul wagons full of coal up the steep gradients of the ‘Rockies’. Plenty of stuff to use on these photos: acres of metal plating and rivets, soot blackened funnels, acidic looking burns and miles of blackened metal conduits, not to mention the well-stoked fireboxes.  I had a field day!

Then just a simple matter of making the engine very, very big. One of several ways I did this was to include maintenance workers of human size, some distance in front of the train.

The Heavy Metal Hero has had an enduring appeal and is one of my most recognised pieces. In 1987, it was licensed by FM records for use as the front cover of the Diamond Head album Am I Evil?  It has appeared in most formats, including posters, prints, calendars, mousemats, cards, snowboards and, early on, a game box cover.

Recently Sarah posted the image on the Facebook Page ‘Steampunk Tendencies’ to receive a considerable response.  This made me think about the genre and consider that since the start of my career I have fostered a nuts and bolts tendency of my own, not realising that there was an interest in fantasy machines in parallel with the Victorian era.  Some of my images that come to mind in this respect would be:

The Revenge (an album cover for Russell Allen and Jørn Lande):

The Revenge | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

The Martians (from The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells):

The Martians | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

The Nautilus (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne):

The Nautilus | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

The Sack of Zodanga (from the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs):

The Sack of Zodanga | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

The Pericles (from Michael Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air):

The Pericles | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

The Firewagon (from Nigel Suckling’s story The Moth and the Moon):

The Firewagon | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews

There have also been a number of conceptual pencil sketches for computer games, animations, movies, intellectual properties, etc. that have generally not seen the light of day.  Here are a few:

Dr. Agon's Mammoth Machine (from Lavender Castle):

Dr Agon's Mammoth Machine

Genghis Ken's Ornithopter (from a proposed intellectual property titled Thunderbolt):

Genghis Ken's Ornithopter

The Mole Machine (for The Magic Roundabout Movie):

The Mole Machine | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews


... and finally, 

Painted Black (my recent album cover for a retro Rolling Stones compilation, which features a steam driven, walking death’s head machine in keeping with the style of The Heavy Metal Hero):

Painted Black | Steampunk by Rodney Matthews


I have been a fan of your work since I was in college in the USA, back in the mid 90s . And bought bought pósters of your work since the late 80s when I was younger, then realizing it was your work. Loved lavender castle when I saw it the first time and rushed to the web to fing it was your work. Congratulations you are an incredible artista.
From the Repúblic of Panama

Pedro Macia

As an artist I can appreciate your work and the back stories that go with it. I am a Steam Punk enthusist as well, so this makes me a fan of your art. All the best to you, from Texas!

Hector Silva

I’ve always loved Heavy Metal Hero, and never thought about the association with steampunk. Thanks!

Cam Villar

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