Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Jean Giraud (Moebius)
Giraud had an impact on the visual arts that went beyond comic books. He was seen as a figurehead linking the bande dessinés with Modernism and the nouveau réalisme (although he denied any conscious effort to do so); as co-creator of Métal Hurlant magazine, he took comics to an older, more literate audience; and, in cinema, his fans ranged from Federico Fellini to Hayao Miyazaki and his style influenced dozens of others, including Ridley Scott, George Lucas, James Cameron and Luc Besson.
Giraud was modest about his talents, acknowledging the influences of others, notably Joseph Gillain on his work as Gir, and Alexander Jodorowsky, whom he credited with unchaining his vision and allowing it to fly free to create the surreal worlds of Moebius. Even as the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain held a five-month retrospective—“Moebius Trance-form”—of his work, Giraud told Le Figaro that the act of creating images was not as romantic as often portrayed and that it was something rather ordinary; speaking to the LA Times in 2011, he admitted to feeling happy and amazed when he was told by young fans that his work had changed their lives and read statements like “Moebius is a legendary artist”. “A legend—now I am like a unicorn,” he responded.
At 16 he began training at the École des arts appliqués in rue Dupetit-Thouars, Paris, and earned a diploma in applied arts after two years. At the age of 18 he began producing artwork for advertising and fashion and his first substantial comic strip, ‘Les aventures de Frank et Jérémie’ for Far West magazine. He then devoted himself to comic strips, drawing for Fripounet et Marisette, Cœurs villants and Sitting-Bull.
When his mother moved to Mexico to remarry, Giraud joined her for nine months, returning to France to undertake his military service, drawing for the military newspaper 5/5 Forces Françaises whilst stationed in Germany and Algeria. On his release, he visited Belgian artist Joseph (Jijé) Gillain, whom he had met prior to joining the army, at his home near Paris, who hired him as an assistant. Gillain had absorbed the qualities of American storytelling during a long sabbatical to the USA, and introduced Giraud to the works of Milton Caniff and others whose style was highly realistic. Gillain was then drawing Jerry Spring for Spirou and Giraud became his inker on the story La Route de Coronado, published in 1961 and collected as an album in 1962.
In 1961-62, Giraud also worked with Jean-Claude Mézières on the collection L’Histoire des civilisations for Hachette whilst also producing illustrations for the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri where he first began using ‘Moebius’ as a signature.
Drawing, and sometimes colouring, Blueberry filled most of Giraud’s time for the next decade, with each new storyline in Pilote quickly released in album form; sixteen stories had appeared by 1973. Giraud was able to use the time—and the royalties generated by Blueberry—to his own advantage and began exploring new territories. He contributed a number of short stories to Pilote, notably ‘La déviation’ (1973) and ‘L’homme est-il bon?’ (1974), exploring different styles of storytelling and letting his imagination roam free.
Other artists were also trying to break free of the constraints of comics: L’Echo des Savanes was launched in 1972 by former Pilote creators Marcel Gotlib, Claire Bretécher and Nikita Mandryka, marking a new direction for the bande desinees in France.
After one further volume of Blueberry, Giraud teamed up with writer Jean-Pierre Dionnet, artist Philippe Druillet and financial director Bernard Farkas to found Le Humanoides Associés and publish Métal Hurlant (Screaming Metal). Initially conceived as a French answer to American underground ‘comix’, Heavy Metal (as it became in translation) was the launching pad for Giraud’s Arzach and Druillet’s Lone Sloane and very quickly attracted the likes of Richard Corben, Jacques Tardi, Vaughn Bode, Serge Clerc, Enki Bilal and many others. It was in the pages of Métal Hurlant that Moebius experimented with non-narrative (Arzach, 1975) and non-linear (Le garage hermétique de Jerry Cornélius, 1976-79) stories, developing many of the iconic images that were to make Moebius such an influence—the figure of Arzach flying over a barren alien landscape on a pterodactyl or the pith-helmeted Major Grubert, first introduced in ‘Les vacances du Major’ (France-Soir, 1974) and reintroduced in ‘Le major fatal’ in Métal Hurlant before taking a central role in The Airtight Garage.
Giraud was now able to split his time between his various personae: Gir was able to take up the reigns of Blueberry once again, re-teaming with Charlier to produce six further albums. With Charlier’s death in 1989, Giraud turned to writing the series as well as drawing, producing another five volumes between 1995 and 2005. At the same time, he also penned four volumes (1991-97) featuring another western hero Jim Cutlass (another Charlier/Gir creation who had made a single appearance in Pilote in 1976) with artwork by Christian Rossi.
Moebius, meanwhile, embarked on the multi-volume story of L’Incal, which debuted in Métal Hurlant in 1980. Written by Jodorowsky, the story is set in a dystopian galactic empire where rulers, rebels and aliens are all seeking an energy crystal which has fallen into the hands of a shambolic private eye, John Difool. This simple premise underpins an endlessly inventive masterpiece, a relentlessly-paced galaxy-spanning adventure, which, at the same time, charts Difool’s philosophical and spiritual evolution.
In the 1980s, Giraud spent much of his time in America (and briefly in Tahiti and Japan) where, championed by Jean Marc and Randy Lofficier, many of his best works began appearing in translation, some—like the Marvel/Epic edition of The Airtight Garage—newly coloured. His connections with Marvel led him to illustrate the two-part Silver Surfer: Parable, written by Stan Lee.
The series won the the 1989 Eisner Award for best finite series and Giraud (along with collaborators Paul Chadwick and Charles Vess) picked up a second Eisner for the story ‘Concrete Celebrates Earth Day’ in 1991. Translations of Giraud’s work won the Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material in 1988, 1989 and 1991. Giraud had long been recognised for his work, taking major prizes at Lucca (Italy), Angoulême (France) comic festivals and the Salón Internacional del Cómic (Spain). In 1985 he was decorated with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by French president François Mitterrand.
A sequel to The Airtight Garage, L'Homme de Ciguri, appeared in 1995 and Giraud, despite being kept busy with his scripts and artwork for Blueberry and Jim Cutlass, still managed to produce further Moebius works, including an Incal sequel, Le Nouveau rêve (2000), and Ikaru (Icarus, 2001) drawn by Jiro Taniguchi.
Giraud died in Paris on 10 March 2012, aged 73, after a long battle with cancer and is survived by his wife, Isabelle and two children, Helene and Julien, from an earlier marriage.
Examples of Jean Giraud's artwork can be found for sale at the Illustration Art Gallery.