Megadeth's 'Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying': The Story Behind the Cover Art | Revolver

Megadeth's 'Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying': The Story Behind the Cover Art

Comic-book villainy, Gotham, a legendary folk singer and Mustaine's legendary cockiness
Megadeth1986Getty.jpg, Chris Walter/WireImage
photograph by Chris Walter/WireImage

When it hit record stores in 1986, Megadeth's breakthrough album, Peace Sells… But Who's Buying?, furrowed brows with its incendiary cover art: the United Nations set ablaze while some smug skeleton smirked behind a "For Sale" sign. "Peace was good, but no one would ever go for it," Mustaine now explains. "Peace-selling was this novel idea from Joan Baez or one of those old hippie chicks who used to play guitar at the turn of the 19th century. The bottom line is people are too afraid to lay down their arms."


With such cynicism already prevalent in his songs, Mustaine sketched out ways to fortify his fatalism in album artwork and merchandise using the aforementioned boney being, named Vic Rattlehead. The skeletal mascot was inspired by the lifelong comic-book fan's fondness for characters of questionable virtue: "Spider-Man was a sissy," says Mustaine. "But I dug the Punisher, and Spider-Man's archrival, Venom, was really cool."

While he cites Peace Sells' release as Vic's official b-day, Megadeth actually tried to showcase the mascot on their debut, Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! But a mix-up at Combat Records meant the wrong artwork was used—and since corrected with a 2002 rerelease—which was probably for the best. Vic's first incarnation was less revolutionary, more Revenge of the Nerds, looking like a tragic class photo from a skteleton high school, in which adolescent Vic grimaced with giant braces and lame metallic shades.

To get it right for Peace Sells, Megadeth commissioned artist Edward Repka (who later designed for the Misfits, Death, and NOFX) to give Vic polish. "For the first time, Vic became a real character with a personality," says Repka. "I tried to infuse some of the cockiness of Dave Mustaine into Vic's body language."

For the backdrop, Mustaine fostered his peculiar infatuation with NYC and the United Nations. "New York City is a pretty cosmo place. It's the modern Rome, with the Towers and stuff like that," he says. "Then there's the U.N., which has its own sovereignty. The area's not even considered the United States, but it's in the middle of the fucking place. That's crazy."

According to Repka, Mustaine suggested metal doves "crapping" bombs on the U.N. Sure, dove dung makes for funny pictures, but can it relay the greed underlying the pursuit of peace (as stated in the record title)? Thus, the two flushed that idea and opted for a real-estate agent Vic selling a rundown U.N. building with an Escape From New York, post–nuclear holocaust vibe. (Some pressings, like the vinyl one featured above, include the words "Vic Realtors" on the "For Sale" sign.)

Buildings burning in New York, the U.N. in disarray, the world armed and ominously alert, a shady link between moneymaking, warmongering, and peacekeeping—it all sounds familiar. No surprise, then, that Mustaine promises the U.N. will return for the cover of Megadeth's next album, United Abomination (due in October). "We knew [the album cover] would shake some people up," says Mustaine. "It's especially ironic now, given what's going on in Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We've gone full circle."

Alas, the world still needs a hero. Sorry, Spidey.