Illustration by Nick Gazin
H. R. Giger passed away on May 12 at the age of 74, and the internet responded with a sea of frowny-faced emoticons and people clicking "like" on links to announcements of his passing. Turning our emotions into mechanical clicks and little typed-out sideways faces seems gross after most people's deaths, but it feels somehow appropriate in Giger's case.
Giger is best known for designing the Xenomorph, with its crazy scary body and a head that looks like a dick and a mouth that looks like both a dick and a vag at the same time, in Ridley Scott's Alien movie. His work was scary, sexy, and widely appreciated by art smarties and fraternity dum-dums alike. It dealt with gender stuff and also the mechanical nature of humans, and human sexuality in particular. It seemed to acknowledge that life was nothing more than a combination of sex and death.
We posted an archival interview with Giger yesterday, but I wanted to mourn some more, so I asked some illustrators I know to draw tributes to a guy whose work affected us all so much. Some of them wrote a few words too.
I was ten when I first saw Alien, and obviously it scared the hell out of me. I was formally introduced to Giger not long after that through an episode of Discovery Channel's Movie Magic, which went into great detail on the origins of the monster and the mind of its creator. It was one of the earliest instances when I realized I could make a real living making whatever bizarre thing I wanted. He was sought after because he was so out there. I just thought, I can do that!
Homemade shrinky dinks
I started working at a comic book store when I was 14. That's when I figured out there was this one guy who invented all the creepy stuff from Alien… and that he was also a badass artist. In my teenage imagination, Giger lived in a high, dark tower somewhere in Europe, wore exclusively black turtlenecks, and was like Batman, only he painted on the side, and maybe also did other weird things… like stuff out of A Clockwork Orange. Looking back, it is very cool that his work reached me—some kid in Delaware—both through the Alien movies, which were my favorite, but also through these older comic book dudes who thought of him as an art god. I used to draw Facehuggers constantly on my notebooks, so I thought it would be fun to make some Giger shrinky dinks in that old juvenile style.
Man, when I first discovered Giger's work I was a kid, it kind of freaked me out and disturbed me—much like when I first discovered Ralph Steadman. Giger's stuff was a bit too dark and creepy for me as a youth. But later, in art school, I sort of rediscovered him. I saw his designs and concepts for movies like Alien and realized what a fantastically insane genius he was. His mind was like no other's. And his style is unmistakeably his own. That's the type of artist that I am most attracted to—someone who has his own unique style and creates his own universe within that style. That's the type of artist I aspire to be. Thank you for the inspiration and madness, Mr. Giger.
When I was 13 I took drawing classes at some nu-metal guy's house. He was super into H. R. Giger, and he introduced me to his work.
RIP to a guy who drew robot dicks his whole life.
When I was a little kid I would go through my uncle's stuff—mostly issues of Heavy Metal and Spawn comics—and he had one art book I was in love with: Necronomicon, by H. R. Giger. I would flip through it like forest smut. I loved it. The combination of teeth, baby faces, and titties all cast in marble made Spawn look like dog shit.
Also, I thought it really was the Necronomicon from Evil Dead II because I was stupid. I couldn't believe my uncle was so cool.
I almost drew that dumbass from Korn singing with that mic stand Giger made for him. I'm beat. It's my birthday. I don't want to write.
I chose to draw the alien because I think Alien is one of the finest science fiction films ever made, and Giger's work is a big part of what makes the film so visually striking. The alien is too terrifying.
Giger was a huge influence on me in my younger years, to the point that I spent the first decade of my professional artistic life running from comparisons to his work, because I didn't think we painted anything alike. What I came to realize as I got older was that, when people say, "It reminds me of something Giger would do," what they're really saying is that they find it dark and unsettling. Dark art certainly existed before Giger, but to me, he's the guy responsible for giving it a genre of its own, for giving us all a place to go.
H. R. Giger is one example of an artist whose work I was exposed to as a child and, at the time, provoked in me a feeling so strong that I felt like being a fan of it would get me into trouble, like when my mother was helping me clean my room in fourth grade and I chose to throw all of my Magic cards into the trash-compactor chute instead of letting her see what unspeakable horrors the swamp cards contained.
Far from the generic beasts in the swamps of Magic: the Gathering, Giger's creatures seemed at once further "out there" than any monsters or aliens I'd seen before and also eerily close to home. Giger's stuff was so powerful to me because everything he drew on came right from humanity, taking the features of human bodies and blowing them up and contorting them until beauty and horror were expressed in equal measures. He showed what humanity would look like if we looked how we sometimes act. He flipped the human body inside out for us and showed us what it would be like to live inside a giant version of our own rib cage.
I have since recognized that the immediate guilt I feel when I'm drawn to something that may not be palatable to my mother almost always gives way to appreciation, and now I usually skip the step wherein I throw things I like into the trash-compactor chute.
Giger's work always struck me as reverent and inquisitive: two elements that are fundamental to a healthy appreciation of sex. Alien was cool and powerful and scary, but it was his studies—and particularly The Mystery of San Gottardo—that stay with me. San Gottardo was essentially a travel journal, a world-building exercise, and a counterbalance to the gravity of his biomechanical works. As an artist, he did everything right. His fascination with both the material and immaterial world—like a mundane rusted steel vault in his town that equally obsessed him and filled him with dread—echoed a lustful curiosity that an individual typically experiences as one comes of age, the period in which I discovered Giger.