Moebius

moebius

Jean Giraud (1938 – 2012) was a French comics artist, working in the French tradition of bandes dessinées (Franco-Belgian comics). Giraud earned worldwide fame, predominantly under the pseudonym ‘Moebius,’ and to a lesser extent ‘Gir,’ the latter appearing mostly in the form of a boxed signature at the bottom of the artist’s paintings. Esteemed by Federico Fellini, Stan Lee, and Hayao Miyazaki among others, he received international acclaim. He has been described as the most influential bandes dessinées artist after ‘Tintin’ creator Hergé.

Among Giraud’s most famous works are the Western comic series ‘Blueberry’ he co-created with writer Jean-Michel Charlier, one of the first Western anti-heroes to appear in comics. Under the pseudonym Moebius he created a wide range of science fiction and and fantasy comics in a highly imaginative and surreal almost abstract style, the most famous of which are ‘Arzach,’ the ‘Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius,’ and ‘The Incal.’

‘Blueberry’ was adapted for the screen in 2004 by French director Jan Kounen. In 1997, Moebius and co creator Alejandro Jodorowsky sued Luc Besson for using The ‘Incal’ as inspiration for his movie ‘The Fifth Element,’ a lawsuit which they lost. Moebius contributed storyboards and concept designs to numerous science fiction and fantasy films, including ‘Alien,’ ‘Willow,’ ‘Tron,’ and ‘The Fifth Element.’

When he was three years old, his parents divorced and he was raised mainly by his grandparents. The rupture between mother and father, city and country, created a lasting trauma that he explained lay at the heart of his choice of separate pen names. In 1955 at age 16, he began his only technical training at the Arts Appliqués art school, where he started producing Western comics.

At 18, Giraud was drawing his own comic strip, ‘Frank et Jeremie’ for the magazine ‘Far West.’ From 1956 to 1958 he published Western comics in the magazine ‘Coeurs Valiants,’ among them a strip called ‘King of the Buffalo,’ and another called ‘a Giant with the Hurons.’ Already in this period his style was heavily influenced by his later mentor, Joseph ‘Jijé’ Gillain. In 1961, returning from military service in Algiers, Giraud became an apprentice of Jijé, who was one of the leading comic artists in Europe of the time. Jijé used Giraud as his assistant on an album of his Western series ‘Jerry Spring,’ which Giraud inked.

In 1962 Giraud and writer Jean-Michel Charlier started the comic strip ‘Fort Navajo’ for ‘Pilote.’ At this time affinity between the styles of Giraud and Jijé was so close that Jijé penciled pages 17-38 of the fourth ‘Blueberry’ album, ‘The Lost Story,’ when Giraud was traveling in the United States.

The Lieutenant Blueberry character, whose facial features were based on those of the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, was created in 1963 by Charlier (scenario) and Giraud (drawings) for ‘Pilote’ and quickly became its most popular figure. His adventures as told in the spin-off Western serial ‘Blueberry,’ are possibly Giraud’s best known work in his native France before his later collaborations with Alejandro Jodorowsky. The early ‘Blueberry’ comics used a simple line drawing style similar to that of Jijé, and standard Western themes and imagery, but gradually Giraud developed a darker and grittier style inspired by the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and the dark realism of Sam Peckinpah. With the fifth album, ‘The Trail of the Navajos,’ Giraud established his own style, and after censorship laws were loosened in 1968 the strip became more explicitly adult, and also adopted a wider range of thematics. ‘Angel Face,’ the first ‘Blueberry’ album penciled by Giraud after he had begun publishing science fiction as Moebius, was much more experimental than his previous Western work.

Giraud left the series in 1973 leaving the artwork to Colin Wilson, Michel Rouge and later Michel Blanc-Dumont for a few books. He returned to it in the following decade, producing many more very successful ‘Blueberry’ stories, further increasing its already outstanding quality. In 1979 Charlier and Giraud had a disagreement with their publishing house Dargaud over the publishing of ‘Blueberry.’ Instead they began the western comic ‘Jim Cutlass.’ After the first album ‘Mississippi River,’ first serialized in ‘Metal Hurlant,’ Giraud took on scripting the series, and left the artwork to Christian Rossi. When Charlier, Giraud’s collaborator on ‘Blueberry’ died in 1989, Giraud assumed responsibility for the scripting of the series.

The Moebius pseudonym, which Giraud came to use for his science fiction and fantasy work, was born in 1963. In a satire magazine called ‘Hara-Kiri,’ Moebius did 21 strips in 1963–64 and then disappeared for almost a decade. In 1975 he revived the Moebius pseudonym, and with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet, and Bernard Farkas, he became one of the founding members of the comics art group ‘Les Humanoides Associes.’ Together they started the magazine ‘Métal Hurlant,’ known in the English speaking world as ‘Heavy Metal.’ Moebius’ famous serial ‘The Airtight Garage’ and his groundbreaking ‘Arzach’ both began in ‘Métal Hurlant.’

‘Arzach’ is a wordless comic, created in a conscious attempt to breathe new life into the comic genre which at the time was dominated by American superhero comics. It tracks the journey of the title character flying on the back of his pterodactyl through a fantastic world mixing medieval fantasy with futurism. Unlike most science fiction comics it has no captions, no speech balloons and no written sound effects. It has been argued that the wordlessness provides the strip with a sense of timelessness, setting up Arzach’s journey as a quest for eternal, universal truths.

His series ‘The Airtight Garage’ is particularly notable for its non-linear plot, where movement and temporality can be traced in multiple directions depending on the readers own interpretation even within a single planche (page). The series tells of Major Grubert, who is constructing his own universe on an Asteroid named fleur, here he encounters a wealth of fantastic characters including Michael Moorcock’s creation Jerry Cornelius.

In 1981 he started his famous ‘L’Incal’ series in collaboration with Alejandro Jodorowsky.

From 2000 to 2010, Giraud published ‘Inside Moebius’ (French text despite English title), an illustrated autobiographical fantasy in six hardcover volumes totaling 700 pages. Pirandello-like, he appears in cartoon form as both creator and protagonist trapped within the story alongside his younger self and several longtime characters such as Blueberry, Arzach, Major Grubert, and others.

Giraud’s working methods were various and adaptable ranging from etchings, white and black illustrations, to work in color of the ligne claire (French for ‘clear line,’ the style of drawing pioneered by Hergé) genre and water colors. Giraud’s solo ‘Blueberry’ works were sometimes criticized by fans of the series because the artist dramatically changed the tone of the series as well as the graphic style. However, Blueberry’s early success was also due to Giraud’s innovations, as he did not content himself with following earlier styles, an important aspect of his development as an artist.

To distinguish between work by Giraud and Moebius, Giraud used a brush for his own work and a pen when he signed his work as Moebius. Giraud drew very quickly. His style has been compared to the Nouveaux réalistes (‘new realism,’ an artistic movement founded in 1960 in Milan), exemplified in his turn from the bowdlerized realism of Hergé’s ‘Tintin’ towards a grittier style depicting sex, violence and moral bankruptcy. Throughout his career he experimented with drugs and various New Age type philosophies, such as Guy-Claude Burger’s instinctotherapy, which influenced his creation of the comic book series ‘Le Monde d’Edena.’

Many artists from around the world have cited Giraud as an influence on their work. Giraud was longtime friends with manga author and anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Giraud even named his daughter Nausicaä after the character in Miyazaki’s ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.’ Asked by Giraud in an interview how he first discovered his work, Miyazaki replied: ‘Through ‘Arzach,’ which dates from 1975, I believe. I only read it in 1980, and it was a big shock. Not only for me. All manga authors were shaken by this work. Unfortunately, when I discovered it, I already had a consolidated style so I couldn’t use its influence to enrich my drawing. Even today, I think it has an awesome sense of space. I directed Nausicaä under Moebius’s influence.

Pioneering cyberpunk author William Gibson said of Giraud’s work ‘The Long Tomorrow’: ‘So it’s entirely fair to say, and I’ve said it before, that the way Neuromancer-the-novel ‘looks’ was influenced in large part by some of the artwork I saw in ‘Heavy Metal.’ I assume that this must also be true of John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York,’ Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner,’ and all other artifacts of the style sometimes dubbed ‘cyberpunk.’ Those French guys, they got their end in early.’ ‘The Long Tomorrow’ had in fact come to the attention of Ridley Scott and was a key visual reference for ‘Blade Runner.’

‘I consider him more important than Doré,’ said Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini: ‘He’s a unique talent endowed with an extraordinary visionary imagination that’s constantly renewed and never vulgar. Moebius disturbs and consoles. He has the ability to transport us into unknown worlds where we encounter unsettling characters. My admiration for him is total. I consider him a great artist, as great as Picasso and Matisse.

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