When Mogel licensed the American version, he chose to rename it, and Heavy Metal began in the U.S. on April, 1977 as a glossy, full-color monthly. Initially, it displayed translations of graphic stories originally published in Métal Hurlant, including work by Enki Bilal, Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius), Philippe Druillet, Milo Manara and Philippe Caza. The magazine later ran Stefano Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore's ultra-violent RanXerox. Since the color pages had already been shot in France, the budget to reproduce them in the U.S. version was greatly reduced.
Heavy Metal's high-quality artwork is notable. Work by international fine artists such as H.R. Giger and Esteban Maroto have been featured on the covers of various issues. Terrance Lindall's illustrated version of Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost appeared in the magazine in 1980. Many stories were presented as long-running serials, such as those by Richard Corben, Pepe Moreno and Matt Howarth. Illustrator Alex Ebel contributed artwork over the course of his career.
After two years, Mogel felt the lack of text material was a drawback, and in 1979, he replaced Kelly and Marchant with Ted White, highly regarded in the science fiction field for revitalizing Amazing Stories and Fantastic between 1968 and 1978. White and Workman immediately set about revamping the look of Heavy Metal, incorporating more stories and strips by American artists, including Arthur Suydam, Dan Steffan, Howard Cruse and Bernie Wrightson.
White's main solution to the problem of adding substantive text material was a line-up of columns by four authorities in various aspects of popular culture: Lou Stathis wrote about rock music and Jay Kinney dug into underground comics, while Steve Brown reviewed new science fiction novels and Bhob Stewart explored visual media from fantasy films to animation and light shows.
The founding editors of the American edition of Heavy Metal were Sean Kelly and Valerie Marchant. Art director and designer John Workman brought to the magazine a background of experience at DC Comics and other publishers.
In 1981, an animated feature film was adapted from several of the magazine's serials. Made on a budget of USD$9,300,000, under production for three years, Heavy Metal featured animated segments from several different animation houses with each doing a single story segment. Another house animated the frame story which tied all the disparate stories together. Like the magazine, the movie featured a great deal of nudity and graphic violence, though not to the degree seen in the magazine. For example, in its Den segment, it did not display the blatant male genitalia of its print counterpart. The film featured such SCTV talents as John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman. It did reasonably well in its theatrical release and later gained something of a cult status, partially because a problem with music rights resulted in a delay of many years before the film became available on video.