It was on Saturday that I saw the news. Moebius had died after a long fight with cancer. This stung. A bummer like few things. See, as a teen I was the worst kind of comic book hipster. I paid the exorbitant cover price for a copy of Uncanny X-Men that featured the wedding of Cyclops and Jean Grey and after recovering from what felt like a grand mal seizure, I realized that I had spent an awful lot of money on the one comic where the X-Men had officially jumped the shark and swore off major-label publishers and super heroes for good (it didn’t last but you get my drift). Instead I began shopping on the high shelves at my local shop, going out of my way to buy the weirdest shit imaginable and while this often meant shelling out for Daniel Clowes’ Eightball or a weirdo road trip adventure called The Cheese Heads, it also meant stumbling my way into the world of Euro-comics and it wasn’t long before I found myself scouring comic shows to assemble a collection of books illustrated by French artist, Moebius.
Comic books from Europe have always carried with them a more sophisticated vibe and back in the day when I was a kid I felt like this made me stand out from my friends who actually gave a shit about the ongoing adventures of Wolverine and his woefully underaged female sidekicks. Desperate attention seeking behavior on my part notwithstanding, European comics often served a dual market. Here in the states, comic books had always been served up for children and as adults, hungry for the nostalgia of youth, we continued to buy Punisher comics even though he’d been turned into a black guy, killed off and then brought back as an Angel with a duster full of heavenly guns. In places like Europe and Japan, however, the medium grew up with the consumer and among the glut of adult comics coming out of France, Belgium and Italy, the group of titles that most easily caught my eye were by Moebius. Moebius perfected the art of hyper detail without going overboard. Plenty of American artists adopted this style but tended to go bananas with it (Todd McFarlane, I’m looking at you). Moebius kept a tight leash on his stylistic flourishes and for it we were rewarded with exceptional character illustrations. No matter who he worked with, be it Alejandro Jodorowsky on the incomprehensible acid space opera, The Incal or his own western series, Blueberry, every page in whatever book you read burst with thin line detail that had no trouble communicating the way-out concepts Moebius’ writers were often handing in.
Through trips to the film-related sections of book stores, it would later turn out that before I’d even laid eyes on The Silver Surfer: Parable (my first introduction to Moebius, thanks in part to a fascination with all things Galactus), I’d seen the work of Moebius in concept art and this was often the most fascinating shit to me. In the last few years I’ve devoted plenty of words to lamenting the movie that never was, the Jodorowsky directed adaptation of my favorite science fiction novel, Dune. Giraud had been tasked by Jodorowsky with production design for all things House Aterides as well as some character concepts and the stuff that Moebius came up with was positively mind blowing. Being the fan that I am of the David Lynch film, had Jodorowsky managed to pull of his Quixotic dream, the Moebius designs would have changed the way we watch sci-fi movies. To boot, he’d contributed outstanding concept art for Alien, Tron, Willow and Masters of the (fuckin’) Universe..
Lastly, no tribute to Jean Giraud would be complete without a mention of the seminal sci-fi anthology comic (some might say magazine), Heavy Metal. Everybody knows Heavy Metal. Depending on where you bought it it was either kept next to the Playboys or next to the comics, both places being inappropriate spots for the magazine. Heavy Metal was Giraud’s home for the wildest shit kicking around in his head. Originally published in France, Heavy Metal, or Metal Hurlant, carried with it a particularly anything goes French vibe and explicit sexuality was an essential element to many a story. Look no further than the Moebius/Dan O’Bannon contribution, The Long Tomorrow for a taste of what I mean. Written during their tenure on Jodorowsky’s team of production maniacs, The Long Tomorrow has been namechecked by just about every important figure in science fiction with George Lucas lifting the design of the Empire Strikes Back probe droid right from its pages, William Gibson explaining that the general visual style of Neuromancer was pulled from those pages as well as the setting of Blade Runner.
Here in the United States we had comic book titans like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to steer the style of comic book art. Their European counterpart was Moebius. Less a force of design and art, Moebius was a force of nature. His art and visual prowess so powerful that even if you don’t realize it, your own illustration style has been influenced by him as the people who inspired you were first inspired by Moebius. The world lost a powerful science fiction mind on Saturday and Jean Giraud will be missed. I strongly urge all reading this to seek out everything you can by Moebius. It’s a genuinely mind-expanding experience to read the comic books he was involved in.
Jodorowsky has a reputation for way out psychedelic movies but while he hasn’t made a movie in forever, he has been studying the shit out of psychoanalytics and the Tarot, evident in The Holy Mountain. Never being able to get Dune off the ground clearly stuck in his craw and throughout his comic books, he got to explore ideas conjured up during the Dune period and came to life on the page with the help of Moebius in the form of The Incal, a sort of metaphor for the gnostic journey to the godhead. The Incal is about the trials of John DiFool, a mostly worthless layabout who likes to fuck robots and smoke cigars and not do much of else. Several forces in the galaxy, including extremely powerful forces of galactic government and alien races are going nuts for The Incal, a massively powerful crystal that falls into the possession of DiFool who must keep it out of the hands of the most powerful people in the galaxy whether he wants to or not. It’s incredibly fucking strange stuff.
Western comics are nothing new but American western comics tended to mirror the camp found in any given 60′s western television series. In Europe, however, the Spaghetti Western vibe with its gritty anti-heroes easily found its way to Moebius’ page in this, what is considered to be his magnum opus. Blueberry follows the many adventures of Lieutenant Mike Blueberry, a blending of Clint Eastwood and James Bond (and totally not in that Hokey Wild, Wild West way). In later years, the book would dip its toe into psychedelic and spiritual waters, inspiring American western characters like Jonah Hex. This quality was eventually blown way out of proportion in the Jan Kounnen adaptation of the comics, which features a lengthy psychic battle during a peyote trip . It’s been a while since I looked but last I knew, getting your hands on the out of print English translations of the comics meant parting with LOTS of money.
The Silver Surfer: Parable
Confession: I think Stan Lee is a lousy writer. Indeed, he was responsible for some absolutely vital parts of pop culture with his output at Marvel but when it came to writing dialog, I can barely stand it. However, the Silver Surfer: Parable redeems him quite a bit in my eyes and I feel like it had a lot to do with Moebius being on the set. The Surfer is probably the best character that the two could have chosen to work with and the character’s philosophical, head-shop past enabled Moebius to run wild in his usual psychedelic way. The comic brings Galactus back to earth putting in motion the means for mankind to kill itself off so that he can eat the planet. It’s a fairly basic plot summary but inside is all commentary that at the time was extremely relevant to American culture as the climate of televangelists was coming apart at the seams. Galactus announces himself a god and a hungry TV preacher hitches his wagon to that in order to gain personal power. There’s a lot at work here about faith, power and corruption that if you ask me, is way out of step with your usual Stan Lee script.
I’ve only actually seen bits and pieces of Arzach over the years as it’s one of Moebius’ greatest works for Heavy Metal that came out in bits and pieces through the years. There’s actually nothing to read as the adventures of Arzach are wordless picture stories taking place in strange, extremely psychedelic fantasy settings. Often times, Moebius’ work in these stories made think that he put up posters of artwork by Frank Frazetta and wondered on the page what the rest of those fantasy worlds looked like. Like most of Moebius’ best stuff, these collections are way out of print and may cost quite a bit.
Further reading: http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/jean_giraud_moebius_1938_2012/