The Artist Behind the ‘Communion’ Book Cover

Whenever the topic of alien abduction is brought up in conversation, nine out of ten times someone will say, “I don’t know much, but that book cover with the alien head…”

And we all know which book they are referring to. Whitley Strieber’s 1987 best-selling non-fiction work, Communion. Here is the official synopsis of the book from the back cover:

“On December 26, 1985, at a secluded cabin in upstate New York, Whitley Strieber went siding with his wife and son, ate Christmas dinner leftovers, and went to bed early. Six hours later, he found himself suddenly awake…and forever changed. Thus begins the most astonishing true-life odyssey ever recorded — one man’s riveting account of his extraordinary experiences with visitors from”elsewhere.,.” how they found him, where they took him, what they did to him and why…Believe it. Or don’t believe it. But read it — for this gripping story will move you like no other… will fascinate you, terrify you, and alter the way you experience your world.”

Whitley Strieber – Author Photo

The front cover of this book first greeted me in the basement of a church in Syracuse, NY, when I was fifteen years old. The church had a book sale every Saturday and I was always looking for UFO treasures that somehow may have found their way there. And this particular Saturday, I struck gold. I’d already been entrenched in UFOs for a few years at this point, but I hadn’t looked in the abduction phenomenon too closely because, in all honesty, it terrified me. The idea of UFOs not only zipping through our skies but that the occupants inside them could possibly be taking human beings against their will and conducting experiments on them? It was far too dark and disturbing for me. But I somehow gathered the courage in that musty church basement and picked the book up, paid fifty cents for it, and instantly fell in love with the cover. It was warm, inviting, and the eyes of the alien would pierce my heart and my curiosity for many years to come.

I’d spent so many years as a UFO researcher wrestling with the abduction phenomenon, but one thing always remained constant; this haunting image from Strieber’s work. It transcended the story told in the actual pages of the book and became a cultural icon when it came to the portrayal of what would be known as the alien “grey” and may have even influenced many abduction accounts thereafter.  And I’d always been curious about who created the image and how it was created, but never followed through with actually pursuing my curiosity. But after some recent correspondence with several people over on my Twitter account, a man named Michael was able to track down information on the artist who created this powerful and iconic image. From there, I did a little digging and found a small, but fascinating interview with the artist, Ted Seth Jacobs.

Jacobs’ artistic career has spanned more than five decades. Born in 1927, he began teaching at the age of eighteen, as an occasional substitute for his Art Students League instructor. At age fifteen Ted Seth Jacobs won first prize in a nationwide contest for high school art. He began exhibiting in New York galleries in 1952 and in 1952,  where he won first prize in the nationwide Stacey scholarship contest. Since then, he has had over seventy one-man exhibitions in America and in France, where he continues to exhibit. He has also participated in numerous group exhibitions and received hundreds of portrait painting and drawing commissions, as well as a large number of commissions for mural paintings.

In the following interview, we discover how the image was created and Jacob’ personal thoughts on UFO and abduction phenomena. Originally conducted in October of 1999, the interviewer, Wilson Bryan Key, asked the following questions, among others, on his blog. Here is a portion of the interview with Communion artist, Ted Seth Jacobs:

Ted Seth Jacobs – Artist

Would you share your reflections on your painting for Whitley Strieber’s Communion? Were you pleased with the painting? And were you consciously trying to convey a female alien being, and if so, how did you go about this without the standard clues that reveal the gender?

The Communion cover, on the other hand, was not tampered with. It was painted in my small apartment on East 83rd St, in NYC. Whitley sat with me first for a drawing of the Alien. As I sketched, he would indicate how to change the portrait so that it would more match what he saw. It was, I believe, the process used by police sketch artists. Every last detail was corrected according to his instructions. At one point, he said the image corresponded exactly, but exactly, to what he had seen. With Whitley beside me for the subsequent session, I began to paint the image on a wooden prepared panel, going through the same process as for the drawing, until Whitley finally said the image was exact. I had the picture hanging in my apartment for about five days while the paint dried thoroughly. If I may mention a completely subjective anecdotal impression, the thing was scary as hell! It had a powerful presence, very penetrating and somewhat hypnotic. As to the gender of the Alien image, to tell the truth, the subject didn’t come up. I don’t even know if the ‘greys’ have gender as we understand it. Whitley corrected the developing image to have a certain fragility, a vulnerability. I suppose we Earthlings usually associate these qualities with femininity.

Would you say a little bit about yourself and how you came to paint this cover?

I had been an enthusiastic follower of the UFO phenomena since the 1940s. I would buy most of the books that came out and subscribed to various journals. In one book, it was mentioned that the then leading researcher into Alien/human encounters was a man named Ted Bloecher, who lived in NYC. I looked his name up in the phone book and found he lived a block away from me. I rang his bell, and we became quite good friends. Of all the UFO researchers I had met, to my mind Ted was the purest. He was interested in the subject for its own sake and looked askance at others who greatly cashed in on the results of their researches, in money or media attention. Ted introduced me to Budd Hopkins (a fellow artist and then a friend of my brother Jay Jacobs.) Budd asked me if I would be interested in working with abductees, recreating in graphic form what they remembered, again, in the manner of a police artist. I was very happy to do that. I also did a pastel painting illustration, from the description of a young abductee, that was included in Budd’s book Missing Time.

I think it was in the late 1970s or early eighties, that NBC-TV did a special on the UFO enigma, and I was asked to work with the abductee who was being interviewed. He didn’t want his face shown, so it was shadowed into obscurity, and the camera was focused from behind me, on my hands sketching the image. Permit me to mention, that when doing all these reconstructions, I had the feeling of being in some kind of telepathic contact with the minds of the abductees, and so able to get such close resemblances. This, however, may only be the ravings of my own deranged imagination!

Anyway, it was through Ted and Budd that I was introduced to Whitley. In my NYC days, (my wife and I now live in France) I became quite a close friend of Whitley and Ted, and we often spent much time in our respective apartments. I also did the drawings used by the model makers who produced the creatures for the film version of Communion. For a struggling artist, the whole thing was a nice little cottage industry. I painted a portrait from life of Whitley, which I hoped would be used as the cover for Transformation. It was a straight front view, but I painted blacked-out alien eyes on Whitley’s face. Again, I thought it was a very powerful image, very scary! And to me, it conveyed the essence of the subject. Whitley bought the portrait, but I was asked to paint another alien image for the cover.

For the complete interview with Ted Seth Jacobs, please CLICK HERE

It’s quite clear that Ted Seth Jacobs is a very talented artist. A quick search for his work turns up some of the most beautiful portraits of realism I have ever seen. His philosophies on life and art are also quite revealing and show an artist who cares deeply for the work he creates. And with the rendition of the alien that will forever be etched into my mind and the minds of many others, it makes me forget the terrifying abduction experiences of Strieber, and focus on a non-human intelligence interpreted through the mind and talents of one brilliant human being.

More of Ted Seth Jacobs’ work can be found by CLICKING HERE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts