I read Alien before I watched Alien.
In 1981, I was 11 years old, and taking violin lessons at a little studio in the middle of Wichita, Kansas. My parents would drop me off a little before the lesson would start, and most days, be waiting for me when the lesson was over. Every now and then, however, they would be a little late, and I’d wander next door to the little shop that seemed to have a succession of not-quite-successful businesses going on.
In ’81 it was a comic book/model shop sort of thing, and I was in my model making phase, and always loved comics, so it was quite alright that Mom or Dad was delayed, and I’d spend a few minutes checking out the interesting stuff that lined the racks.
On one shelf, just about my height, there was an Alien model kit. The 1980 MPC kit, not the Kenner action figure, and it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. Sitting in front of it was the Heavy Metal ALIEN: The Illustrated Story, adapted by Archie Goodwin and with art by Walter Simonson, and of course I had to look at the art…
Nightmares for weeks.
I read fast. Really fast. I tore through the entire thing in about 5 minutes, and made my Mom wait another 15 just for me to look at the art. (Of course if she’d really looked at it, she wouldn’t have let me, what with all the chest-bursting and other gory treats that Simonson had laid out on the page.) It would be another two years before I would actually see the film, watching it at a friend’s house along with The Thing, and another few more years before I really learned anything about the man who came up with the monster whose form would make me wake up shivering. Those two movies would start a life-long love affair with science fiction horror films, and lead me to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Chambers and Dunsany.
And now Hans Rudolph Giger is dead.
Giger died Monday in Zürich, Switzerland at the age of 74. He had suffered injuries from a fall, and is survived by his second wife, Carmen Maria Scheifele Giger. And for hundreds of thousands of people, likely millions, his work also survives, disturbing, exciting, and challenging its viewers, again and again.
Giger’s work was dark and sexual, both attracting and repelling the viewer. His many books, including his famous collections of paintings, Necronomicon and Necronomicon II, continue to sell well, and even if you’ve never seen them, you’ve seen his designs in the films Alien, Aliens, Alien III, Alien Resurrection, Species, Species II, Poltergeist II, and Prometheus. His work for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed Dune adaptation would find it’s way onscreen in many of those films, and in a much diluted form in David Lynch’s version of the novel, and if you were a child of the 70’s or 80’s, you couldn’t miss his album covers for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Dead Kennedys and Blondie. He’d do covers for Danzig, Celtic Frost and other Heavy Metal artists as well. The designs he did for Alien would help win the special effects team for that film an Oscar in 1979.
Born in 1940, Giger wasn’t always going to be an artist. His father didn’t see a financial future in it and wanted him to go into pharmaceutics, but in 1962 he enrolled in the School of Applied Arts in Zurich to study architecture and industrial design. He worked for a time as an interior designer before becoming a full-time artist in the early 70’s, doing small ink drawings. He would move into oil paintings and airbrush work for a time, before focusing on pastels, ink and markers for his work. Always fascinated by the surreal, dark and strange, he would become friends with Salvidor Dali and Timothy Leary, and find artistic influence in Dali’s paintings. He called his own art “biomechanical”, and that melding of the flesh and machine had, and has, a real power to it. It’s incredibly detailed, undeniably sexual, and incredibly disturbing, melding sex and death, science fiction and horror. It was born from his life-long experience with night terrors, and he would keep a sketchbook by his bed to capture the images that tore through his mind at night, and in many ways, his art was therapy for him.
He turned his night terrors into our nightmares, and for fans of science fiction and horror, we’re better for it.
Thank you, H. R. Giger, for the nightmares.