comic art by H. R. Giger
'The Spell', H.R. Giger.

H.R. Giger was a Swiss painter, famous for his claustrophobic artworks which combine the human body with all kinds of mechanical devices. Many images have a disturbing sexual and morbid undertone. The cult artist gained further fame as the designer of the extraterrestrials in the horror film franchise 'Alien' (1979-  ). Although Giger never made a comic strip, his artwork influenced several comic artists and occasionally makes use of sequential imagery. 

Early life
Hans Ruedi Giger, who used the artist name H.R. Giger, was born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland. His parents were chemists. From a young age he suffered from chronic "night terrors", a sleep disorder which causes feelings of terror and dread. Adding to his anxiety were several childhood traumas. His mother often put him into an multi-buttoned overall which was difficult to open. Whenever the boy had to go to the bathroom it took so long to unbutton everything that he usually just soiled himself. Giger also once visited his grandmother's grave where the sight of a worm crawling out of the sand gave him a lifelong phobia for anything resembling worms, like snakes, garden hoses and tubes. The artist additionally feared torture and dismembered limbs. He once saw Jean Cocteau's film 'La Belle et La Bête' ('Beauty and the Beast', 1946) and freaked out over a scene where real-life human arms stick out of the walls to hold candles. Yet, despite everything, he was morbidly fascinated by his fears. His father, for instance, once gave him a human skull for his birthday. 

In 1962, Giger moved to Zürich, where he studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts. Among his graphic influences were mostly dark and surreal artists like Salvador Dalí, Dado, Ernst Fuchs, Austin Osman Spare, Stanislas Szukalski and Mati Klarwein. By 1964, he produced his first artworks, mostly ink drawings and a few oil paintings. In 1966 Giger held his first solo exhibition, followed by the publication and worldwide distribution of his first poster edition in 1969. From here on he developed his own unique freehand airbrush painting style. 

Artwork by HR Giger

Paintings and sculptures
Even in adulthood, Giger kept suffering from recurring nightmares. These "night terrors" often left him sleepless afterwards. Each time he awoke, he therefore started painting or sculpting what he experienced in his subconscious that night. This helped him cope with his sleep disorder. Giger noticed recurring patterns in his nightmares, which often featured claustrophobic, disturbing situations. In his artwork humans are often stuck in dark and dampy environments. They are fondled, sometimes raped, by icky, demonic creatures. Phallic and other genitalia shapes are everywhere. In some cases the humans have become part of their mechanical surroundings. Giger named his works "bio-mechanics". He was very interested in psycho-analytical interpretations of his and other people's dreams. Therefore he consulted therapists and read books about the subject, including by Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. In the same way he was interested in writers who delve into nightmarish, surreal worlds and pondered the meaning of life: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka, but also film directors like Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch.

Giger gained a cult following from the 1960s and 1970s on. Fans adored his fascinating expressions of twisted nightmares, but his art also appealed to people on the search for their inner self. 

Album cover illustrations and other musical projects
Because of their disturbing look, Giger's paintings sold very well. He was a frequent cover illustrator for Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) and a much sought after album cover designer. He designed covers for metal bands like The Shiver ('Walpurgis', 1969), Celtic Frost ('To Mega Therion', 1985), Atrocity ('Hallucinations' 1990), Danzig ('Danzig III: How the Gods Kill', 1992), Carcass ('Heartwork', 1993) and Triptykon ('Eparistera Daimones', 2010 and 'Melana Chasmata', 2014). His art also graced the covers of 'Brain Salad Surgery' (1973) by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 'Mumien' (1974) by Floh de Cologne, 'Attahk' (1978) by Magma, 'KooKoo' (1981) by Blondie, 'Atomic Playboys' (1989) by Steve Stevens, and 'Hide Your Face' (1994) by hide. A survey of rock journalists voted Giger's album covers for Blondie and Emerson, Lake & Palmer among the 100 best in music history.

His painting 'Landscape XX' (1973), which depicts self-sodomising penises, was used as the cover of 'Frankenchrist' (1985) by the American punk band Dead Kennedys. The piece lead to an obscenity trial, since it was released at the height of the media frenzy over music censorship in the United States. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) objected to the cover and filed a lawsuit against the band because of "harmful matter to minors". The group eventually won the case, but nearly went bankrupt from paying their lawyers. Still many U.S. record stores either used a different cover for the album or downright refused to sell it.

Giger also directed music videos for Blondie ('Backfired', 1981, and 'Now I Know You Know', 1981) and Böhse Onkelz ('Dunkler Ort', 2000). He additionally designed a special microphone stand for Korn frontman Jonathan Davis.

Cover by HR GigerCover by HR Giger

Dune
In the early 1970s Giger got involved in his first cinematic project: an adaptation of Frank Herbert's SF novel 'Dune', which would be directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Giger's involvement with this plot about a giant space worm was surprising, since the artist's phobia for worms. Giger, Chris Foss and Jean Giraud designed sets and characters, Dan O'Bannon provided special effects and David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Salvador Dalí, Amanda Lear and Orson Welles were set to play major roles. The soundtrack would be composed by the psychedelic rock bands Pink Floyd and Magma. This ultimate geek's wet dream was unfortunately never realized, since Jodorowsky couldn't find proper funding. Instead David Lynch directed the picture and in terms of huge stars they had to settle for Brad Dourif, José Ferrer, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow and pop singer Sting. The soundtrack was provided by Brian Eno and the band Toto. 'Dune' (1984) was a huge critical and commercial flop upon its release. Lynch always regarded it as an old shame. One of the few people to like it was SF writer Harlan Ellison. Today the reception to 'Dune' has warmed up and it gained a cult following. In 2013 an interesting documentary about Jodorowsky's project, 'Jodorowsky's Dune', was released by Frank Pavich.


Artwork for 'Alien'.

Alien
In 1979 Giger attached a more succesful science fiction franchise to his name: 'Alien'. This SF horror film centers around an extraterrestrial alien who manages to get on board of a spaceship and murders every crew member. Director Ridley Scott based the alien on the paintings 'Necronom IV' and 'Necronom V', from Giger's first book 'Necronomicon' (Sphinx, 1977), which showed a humanoid creature with a huge phallic-shaped head. The creature was designed by Giger while Dan O'Bannon made a real-life model out of it. Giger also contributed to several memorable scenes at the start of the picture. When the space crew wanders around in the remains of an abandoned spacecraft, they find the alien's egg chamber, as well as a deceased alien inside a cockpit, the so-called "space jockey". All these sets and sculptures were based on Giger's drawings. Another designer involved with 'Alien’ was Ron Cobb. Famed comic artist Jean Giraud designed some of the costumes, which costume designer John Mollo further developed. 

'Alien' was not only influenced by Giger's art, but also Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines' horror-themed EC Comics titles. The finished film quickly gained a cult following and got good reviews. Giger won a shared 1980 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. 'Alien' received a sequel, 'Aliens' (1986), but the tone is vastly different. Instead of a dark claustrophobic thriller, it's an action-packed blockbuster where the crew has to fight off hundreds of aliens. Giger was not involved with it, but did create some designs for the next sequel, 'Alien 3' (1992). In 1997 a fourth film came out, 'Alien: Resurrection' (1997), which inexplicably left his name off the credits. Giger wrote 20th Century Fox an angry letter of complaint, which he signed off with the words: "As for those responsible for this conspiracy: All I can wish them is an Alien breeding inside their chests, which might just remind them that the "Alien Father" is H.R. Giger." The company soon solved the matter and credited him for all 'Alien' media that followed, including sequels, prequels and spin-offs. Even though, again, Giger had no direct involvement in their production. 


H.R. Giger concept art for the Facehugger from 'Alien'.

'Alien' comics
'Alien' was also adapted into a comic strip, published in Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) under the title: 'Alien: The Illustrated Story' (1979), but without Giger's participation. Instead it was written by Archie Goodwin, lettered by John Workman and illustrated by Walt Simonson. The comic was an unexpected bestseller and the first graphic novel to end up in the New York Times Best Seller list. In 1986 the 'Alien' franchise had become so succesful that Dark Horse Comics started a long-running series of comic book adaptations, mostly based on the action-packed tone of 'Aliens'. The first of these titles appeared in 1986 and was written by Mark Verheiden with illustrations by Mark A. Nelson and Ron Randall.

'Alien' parodies in Mad Magazine
Naturally, whenever something becomes a phenomenon it will be spoofed by Mad Magazine. In 1980 'Alien' was parodied as 'Alias', with jokes written by Dick Debartolo and artwork by Mort Drucker. Debartolo also wrote the script for Mad's parodies of 'Aliens' ('Alienators', 1986) and 'Alien Resurrection' ('Alien Resuscitated', 1997), but Drucker only illustrated 'Alien Resuscitated'. The artwork for 'Alienators' was done by Jack Davis. Inexplicably the magazine never spoofed 'Alien 3', nor any of the further 'Alien' sequels.

Concept art for the never produced film The Tourist
Concept art for the never produced film 'The Tourist'.

Recognition
In 1979 H.R. Giger won a Inkpot Award. A year later he won a shared Academy Award (1980) for 'Best Visual Effects' in the movie 'Alien'. 

Final years and death
Giger's other film work includes 'Poltergeist II' (1986) and 'Species' (1995). He was additionally creative consultant for 'Kondom des Grauens' (1996), a film based on the comic by Ralf König. Giger designed the Batmobile for 'Batman and Robin' (1995), a film based on the 'Batman' franchise of DC Comics, but they weren't used in the final picture. In 1992, Giger created his first total environment, the Giger Bar in Chur. In 1998 the Museum H.R. Giger in Château Saint-Germain was opened in Gruyères. His wife, Carmen Maria Scheifele, was head of the museum. Giger spent his final years in Zürich, Switzerland, where he passed away in 2014 at age 74, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall.

Legacy and influence
H.R. Giger remains a highly popular and influential artist. His paintings and sculptures are still frequently exhibited and sold for high prizes. His "Alien" creature has become part of horror popular culture and still inspires various films and other media. The creature's design inspired the aliens in the films  'Predator' (1987) and 'Independence Day' (1996). Giger's art also inspired the graphics of the video games 'Dark Seed' and 'Dark Seed II'. He was an influence on Rod Kierkegaard Jr., Anne Guillard, Yoshihiro Togashi and José O. Ladrönn. The artist also drew respect from Salvador Dalí and Albert Hoffmann - the scientist who discovered LSD. Harlan Ellison described Giger as "our latter day Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch fabulist come again, demonic and erotic." Film director Oliver Stone said about him: "I do not know anybody else who has so accurately portrayed the soul of modern humanity. A few decades from now when they talk about twentieth century, they will think of Giger."

Books about H.R. Giger
For those people interested in Giger's work Stanislav Grov's analysis, 'The Visual World of H.R. Giger' (2011) is a must-read. Also highly recommended is Belinda Sallin's documentary 'Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World' (2014). 

Artwork by HR Giger
'Atomic Children', by H.R. Giger.

www.hrgiger.com

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