Illustrator Derek Riggs gave Eddie the Head “The Ax” and a psychotic new hairdo!
In 1981, New Wave British Heavy Metal legends released their second album, Killers, featuring such perennial classics as “Wrathchild” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Artist Derek Riggs had already created the infamous “Eddie” mascot that appears on the cover of the band’s self-titled 1980 debut album — a painting he actually completed a year before Iron Maiden even existed — so it was only natural for him to get the OK for Killers, as well. (Riggs would go on to do all of Maiden’s covers for the next 20 years. But while the Eddie that appeared on Iron Maiden looked frazzled and vacant, the character that graced Killers was ravishingly vicious and self-possessed. With a fuller head of hair, a more than sinister grin, and a bloody hatchet in hand, the new Eddie could well be seen as a portent of the group’s impending split with then-singer Paul Di’Anno (he would be given “the ax” before the year was out) and his subsequent replacement with much longer-locked frontman Bruce Dickinson.
Despite the marked difference between the original Eddie and his Killers successor, Riggs says the character’s development was not such a conscious process. “The Killers picture was done about three years after the first one was painted,” he says. “But I never sat down and said ‘Now I am going to make him look this way or that way.’ I’m very spontaneous when I create the image — sometimes I don’t even use a sketch to begin with. I fill up the space and then start putting things into it. Eddie has an ax because he’s an ‘axman’ — it’s a pun on the term for a rock-and-roll guitarist. His hair got a bit “Farrah Fawcett”, but that was OK back in the early 80’s because there was this kind of fashion for big fluffy hair with rock bands, so people didn’t really notice. But really, it’s just me making it up as I go along. Eddie was not ‘developed,’ Eddie is just there.”
The original Killers painting, done in a type of watercolor called designer’s gauche, was 12-and-a-half inches square, and took Riggs about a week to paint. “The buildings in the background are actually the block of apartments that I lived in at that time in North London called Etchingham Court,” he explains. “It was a bit rundown in those days and it had cockroaches all over the place. We used so much stuff trying to kill them off that I ended up getting pesticide poisoning.”
Sadly, Riggs’ original Killers painting may have been lost to posterity. “Maiden might still have the original,” he says, “although I think it’s one of the Eddies that escaped their clutches. They lost quite a few of them over the years. Keep your eyes open — the original paintings often turn up on eBay for sale. You just can’t keep a good Eddie down.”