The Alien franchise now spans more than four decades. Within all those years are and assortment of comics, prose novels, video games, action figures and no fewer than eight feature length films starring our eponymous alien (otherwise known as the xenomorph).
While films by the likes of James Cameron (Terminator 2, Avatar) and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, The Martian) are now considered classics within the sci-fi/horror genre, ultimately the alien’s not-so-humble origins stem from the wonderfully deranged mind of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. Giger would go on to design the elaborate creatures in such films as Species and Poltergeist II; however, his legacy is forever intertwined with Alien and the Freudian nightmare he airbrushed back in 1976 for a piece entitled “Necronom IV” found in the pages of Giger’s Necronomicon, an early collection of the European illustrator’s notable work. Perhaps, then, the most suitable tribute to Alien isn’t so much a new film featuring the infamous creature, but rather a new art book. Enter Alien: 40 Years 40 Artists.
This year, Titan Books offers up a loving commemorative tribute to Alien wherein 40 acclaimed painters, illustrators and even one famed filmmaker offer up artwork to celebrate what is perhaps the most innovative sci-fi/horror franchise in cinematic history. Alien: 40 Years 40 Artists is replete with wonderfully realistic pieces by Chris Shehan, Gonzalo Ordóñez Arias and Matt Hatton. Among the more lifelike portrayals, two incredibly visceral works by RJ Palmer and Tristan Jones stand out in terrifying detail. In the former, Palmer depicts a horrifically solemn looking xenomorph drone, hunched over a human corpse at the end of a darkened corridor. In the latter, Jones depicts a sleek, black xeno looming over his prey, a human torso impaled on the alien’s tail (the tail’s corrugated tip protruding through the victim’s mouth).
The book isn’t all doom and gloom, however — a handful of the featured artists showcase a lighter artistic flair. Sweeney Boo, Katherine Kuehne and Rory Lucey, each in their own unique and creative ways, produce work that’d feel right at home in a kawaii children’s novel. Tim Clinard’s work is reminiscent of Heavy Metal magazines’ Alien: The Illustrated Story. Jorge Garza puts a Mesoamerican spin on his depiction of the alien, showcasing the creature in a style akin to an Aztec pictogram. Edward Pun places protagonist Ellen Ripley in a loader-esque mech version of her original Alien space suit, combining some of the best elements from the franchise’s first two films.
Denis Villeneuve (the acclaimed director behind Blade Runner 2049 and the forthcoming film adaptation of Dune) conceived a piece that’s perhaps as much an homage to Ridley Scott’s Alien as it is Ridley Scott’s Legend, wherein a slight yet steeled human stands their ground against the silhouette of a large, horned antagonist. The caption reads “then a man became pregnant in the labyrinth of a spaceship. Gods were corporations and the hero was a woman.” Villeneuve received an artistic assist from Hollywood storyboard artist Sam Hudecki. Another standout piece features first film favorite Brett. The apathetic, blue collar likeness of Harry Dean Stanton stands glumly in this pen and ink portrait by David Lupton as the alien’s oblong head, barely visible, looms from the shadows.
Perhaps my absolute favorite piece in the book is by Justin Bartlett, whose yellow-fanged, devil-red chestburster cast against a purple backdrop harkens back to the Black Sabbath album cover “Born Again.” This piece is the epitome of metal. Barlett’s prints, blogs and t-shirts can be found on his website.
In addition to the 40 newly commotioned art pieces, there’s an introduction by science fiction illustrator Chris Foss that features an array of his conceptual work for Alien (1979) as well as a rear appendix featuring work by Ron Cobb and the late great Jean Moëbius Giraud (The Incal, Silver Surfer: Parable); not to mention a gallery of poster art one-sheets for the first film. Alien: 40 Years 40 Artists is a must for Alien fans the world over; a coffee table book worthy of the Nostromo rec room.
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