Iron Maiden's 'Killers': The Story Behind the Cover Art | Revolver

Iron Maiden's 'Killers': The Story Behind the Cover Art

Cover artist Derek Riggs gives Eddie the ax— and a little Farrah Fawcett
IronMaiden1981Getty.jpg, Robert Ellis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Iron Maiden, (from left) Steve Harris, Clive Burr, Paul Di'Anno, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, 1981
photograph by Robert Ellis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1981, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal legends Iron Maiden 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 — a painting he actually did a year before Maiden even existed — so it was only natural for him to get the nod for Killers, as well. (Riggs would go on to do all of Maiden's covers for the next 20 years and recently put out the book Run For Cover: The Art Of Derek Riggs). But while the Eddie that appeared on Iron Maiden looked frazzled and vacant, the character that graced Killers was vicious and self-possessed. With a fuller head of hair, a 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 (at the time) frontman Bruce Dickinson.

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Despite the marked difference between the original Eddie and his Killers successor, Riggs says the character's development was not 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 a picture — 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 then, 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."