Something for the Weakened

Convention Sketches – Part Five

Sunday, November 11th, 2012 by Alastair

Here we are again for another delve into the small selection of sketches I acquired from comic artists at the couple of conventions I attended back in the mid ’90s. Should you be interested in more details about my experiences at them, I refer you to the first post in the series. Hey, and while we’re at it here are parts two, three and four too. I’m going to try not to repeat myself or bore you any more than my general waffle normally would. Except with this paragraph, which I’m going to be pasting into all th other posts anyway. Ignore it in the next one you read and just move down to the sketch. Here it is.

Alien by Chris Halls

Alien was created by loads of people, though visually it’s probably down to H. R. Giger more than anyone else. The franchise is copyright 2012 20th Century Fox, a division of News Corporation. Boo everybody, boo. Booooo.

This was the final sketch I managed to acquire at U.K.C.A.C. 93 – I have an inkling that my parents might have arranged to pick me up, but I’m not 100%. They probably were, I was only 16, after all. My original request to Mister Halls hadn’t actually been for the Alien. I broke the cardinal rule of requesting characters I was unaware of him having drawn in the past. I think my first try was to have him do Lobo, who was fairly popular at the time, but I was told no, “Because Simon Bisley might come and beat me up,” or words to that effect. A reasonable worry – I’d seen Bisley sketching at the con’ I’d attended a year previously and he did look mildly terrifying, with his long hair and tats (though he rather sweetly signed the copy of Monster Massacre that I picked up, so he can’t have been all bad. I didn’t get a sketch from The Biz as he was at the height of his fame and the queue was enormous) I then tried to get him to do me a Sandman, but was again knocked back, because Chris, entirely reasonably, didn’t really know the character design. What was I to do? At this time, all that Halls was really known for in the comics world was an episode of Dredd in the Megazine. I believe his Mean Machine series for the title had been announced, but I was entirely unfamiliar with the character at that point in time. I already had my Staples Dredd and didn’t want another. What other options were there?

Then it occurred to me that there was other published work in the man’s past. As well as that small amount of strip work, Halls had done a number of covers for Dark Horse International’s Aliens comics. More than that, he had actually been involved in the production of Alien 3, I believe designing the ‘Dogburster’ for the film. According to the research I did for this post, he was due to illustrate a Grant Morrison script for the Aliens comic, but the UK iteration was cancelled when D.H.I. shut its doors and receded back across the pond. It was presumably never completed, possibly never started, as no US edition was ever printed either. I think that I would have been aware that Halls was involved in the production design of the Stallone Judge Dredd atrocity at that point, news of the film filtering through The Galaxy’s Greatest as it was, but would have had no idea what characters he would have been involved with, so didn’t go with it (apparently it was primarily the Mean Machine designs, though I’d convinced myself it was the ‘ABC Robot’, based predominantly on Bisley and Kevin Walker’s designs for Hammerstein from the ABC Warriors – a shocking mixing of continuities, but I digress). No, an Alien it would have to be and an Alien I received.

It’s a wonderful piece of artwork and probably the one with the most detail put into it that I forced anyone to draw. The Bisley school comes through in the sharp points in the chin, jaw and elbow, even the teeth to an extent. It’s a very assured sketch of the head – so few preparatory marks made and no evidence of corrections being made during the process. Understandable I suppose, if he had been spending most of the year previous drawing Giger inspired creations. The exposed ribs of the creature are deftly expressed with a few lines and a bit of shading, while the leg and arm, though vague still convey the beast’s spindly limbs convincingly. The presence of the weird funnels that first appeared on the creature’s back in the Ridley Scott film is a wonderful touch, they being something that I imagine most people forget about (it’s certainly not something that leaps to mind when I think of them) and shows an exceptional knowledge of the character design. Vaguer even than the limbs, the great curving arc of the tail, with its little scorpion sting frames the whole thing really nicely. And then the dedication. I’ve long since convinced myself that the dedication was “Hugs & Kisses”, a sign off I’ve used on vast swathes of correspondence since, being so impressed by its use here. Except that looking at it properly for the first time in donkeys, I see that it’s actually “Love & Kisses.” This calls into question everything I thought of as a memory and makes me wonder if I should change my sign offs from this time forward. We shall see…

Halls disappeared from the comics world in ‘93 and has never returned to it as far as I am aware. Over the years I wondered what might have become of him, though never really went out of my way to try and find out. My questions were answered in January of last year (Christ, was it really that long ago?), in this column by Joe McCulloch on The Comics Journal website. It transpired that Chris had carried on working in the film industry and that Halls wasn’t actually his surname, but that of his stepfather. His film work had been done under his given name.

Cunningham.

Yes, Chris Cunningham.

That Chris Cunningham.

Those amongst you who are unaware of his work, Cunningham spent most of the ’90s directing music videos for a variety of artists, ranging from Gene and Jesus Jones, to Autechre and Squarepusher, to Madonna and Bjork (for All Is Full Of Love, which is rather good). These culminated at the end of the decade with two astounding collaborations with the Aphex Twin on Come To Daddy and Windowlicker, the latter of which is still one of the finest videos I have ever seen. Other short film work followed, including a video installation at the Royal Academy called Flex (a naked man and woman float around in space, embrace, fight and have anal sex – there don’t seem to be any clips online, believe me, I’ve looked), Monkey Drummer for the Anthony d’Offay Gallery (both with Aphex soundtracks), another proper Aphex collaboration called Rubber Johnny for Warp films (still never seen it) and various commercials amongst other things. Wikipedia seems to think he took time off from film work in 2005 to “learn about music production and recording”, which has apparently resulted in him producing a couple of tracks for The Horrors and doing a reworking of I Feel Love with Donna Summer (before she died). Other than that, a Gucci advert, a Gil Scott-Heron video and a Grace Jones photo shoot, I can’t find any evidence for him having been up to much over the past five years. There are vague references to him writing screenplays online, but apart from an aborted involvement in an adaptation of Billy Gibson’s Neuromancer a decade ago, I’ve found no references to what they may be about. His website might have details, but this steam powered machine I’m working on only brings up some unsettling music and confused stop motion images from his videos in between the buffering. If there’s a link there to get into the site, I’m bollocksed if I can find it. Have a go yourself if you like.

Oh and here’s Windowlicker, if you’ve somehow failed to have seen it.

I started writing the above in early August. Hopefully I’ll have the next one ready before the next scheduled apocalypse, but I will promise you nothing. Um, happy Christmas? You, know, just in case…

3 Responses to “Convention Sketches – Part Five”

  1. Mark Wilden says:

    Well crikey and blimey! A Chris Cunningham original. I remember confusing him for a while with the unrelated Chris Cunningham who runs Toytronic Records and was half of the electronic duo Abfahrt Hinwil in the early ’00s. I don’t think I knew of his comics past. But then why would I, I guess.

  2. Gappy says:

    I find this image oddly fascinating.

  3. myeyesmyeyesmyeyesmyeyes says:

    Why did you have to make me see Windowlicker? WHY?

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