French comic art legend Jean 'Moebius' Giraud died at the age of 73 on 10 March 2012. He leaves behind a 50-year body of work that covered iconic comics, concept art, and manga.This interview was taken from the January 2011 issue of ImagineFX magazine. Be the first to read ImagineFX articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing.
The man behind the name
Moebius, real name Jean Giraud, isn’t the man you’d think he’d be. He’s an enigma, a legend in France who’s always wanted to be loved abroad for his American comics. He’s also humble, despite a 50-year career that’s seen his art anchored at the heart of modern sci-fi and fantasy. Directly and indirectly, he’s influenced Hollywood’s greatest film-makers, including George Lucas and Ridley Scott. At the age of 22 he pioneered adult graphic novels, taking comics in a new, metaphysical direction.
When questioned about his venture from the world of mainstream comic art to that of surreal, often abstract and fantastical illustration, the artist offers a practical observation: “The possibilities as a professional illustrator are very small. Sometimes I prefer to escape and just do my own thing – it’s more exciting.”Blueberry beginnings
In 1963, as a young man, Jean began working on the Western comic strip Blueberry with Jean-Michel Charlier, the director of French publisher Pilote. Blueberry was a visually realistic and authentic cowboy adventure. It was also an instant hit with readers. Jean would sign off his art for the episodes as ‘Gir’. He’d created his first pseudonym.
Following the death of Jean-Michel Charlier, Jean carried on creating Blueberry comics (to date, he’s written and illustrated 30 volumes). But the artist was yet to become himself. Gir had developed into Jean’s signature for comics about adventures and Westerns. “I wanted to do something else,” says the artist, “so I took a new signature for an artist’s name: Moebius.” Same but different
There’s been a lot written about what the name means. It was reportedly inspired by the Möbius strip, the two ends of which fold together to create a one-sided loop. In an official biography, Jean has said, “Going from Giraud to Moebius, I twisted the strip; changed dimensions. I was the same and yet someone else. Moebius is the result of my duality.” These days, he’s more pragmatic, and almost embarrassed of his past statements: “When I chose the name I was very young: just 22. It was an idea with nothing special in mind, a nice name with a good sound and strange flavour. After a time it became interesting because there was a lot of background behind the name – mathematics behind the strip.”
Origins aside, the product of Jean’s alter ego took the comic world by storm. In 1973, as Moebius, he teamed up with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet and Bernard Farkas to create Les Humanoïdes Associés (United Humanoids). The outfit launched Métal Hurlant, later to become Heavy Metal magazine in the US. Another change
As Gir, Jean’s style was realistic, picking influences from film and photography and basing worlds on real places. But Moebius was able to explore new environments, developing a rich, detailed style that would bring alien civilisations to life through vivid, evolving imagery.
Métal Hurlant and its strips were spurred on by the growing underground press and comics movement in America in the 70s. “The idea was to be free, completely free, with no boundaries,” remembers Jean. “Choosing the subjects, prose and style was free – my work was sci-fi and fantasy; I wanted to be provocative.”
This sense of freedom manifested in pieces such as space and time odyssey Le Garage Hermétique (The Airtight Garage), The Long Tomorrow (which influenced Blade Runner) and the fantastical Arzach, a dialogue-free comic following a lone explorer and his winged alien creature. Arzach and its legacy
Arzach changed everything. Under the name Moebius, Jean was able to create a new language for comics. Freed from the constraints of a conventional script, the strip was a non-linear, expressive and surreal fantasy that asked the reader to
form meaning from the images.
“It was the first time a book had no dialogue, and it was intentionally provocative,” says Jean. “The character was so mysterious, and the silence was part of that mystery. It’s like a silent movie but with an artistic style and unique colours. The pictures have their own power, and without words the meanings come directly from the images, characters and landscapes. So the story can be seen in one picture.”Hollywood Calling
Jean’s visions caught the imaginations of film-makers. His friendship with the writer Alejandro Jodorowsky, who he’d worked with on Arzach, led to assignments in Hollywood. He was asked to design costumes and sets for the original movie adaptation of Dune, but the project was never filmed. Despite this, Jean was in vogue, and soon Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott hired him to work on concepts for Alien. The visual language of Jean’s comics was loved in Hollywood, but the artist is dismissive of his impact: “I only spent 10 days on Alien and two months in LA at Disney for Tron. Willow was 15 days’ work. I’m not a specialist in cinema, I’m a comic artist and illustrator first.”
With more film work in the 80s, Jean moved to LA and founded Aedena. While there, he illustrated a Silver Surfer graphic novel for Marvel. “I met some people, including Stan Lee. We had lunch – he said we should work together. I said yes and two days later received the story,” says Jean, recalling the events as anyone else would remember a trip to the shops. “It was a different way of working. He sent me a synopsis with no titles and wrote the dialogue straight onto my drawings. I drew the story and he wrote the words – a great professional and a nice man.”
As a young artist, Jean had always been fascinated by Western illustration, and here he was working at Marvel with Stan Lee. “My style is very American,” he says. “I like the way US artists work. It’s an artistic tradition that’s very strong. I wanted to be part of it, and in a way I succeeded.” A very French affair
In 1989, Jean returned to France and took more commissions for comics and illustrations. He also began working with Jodorowsky and Les Humanoïdes Associés again, on the graphic novel Le Monde d’Edena (The World of Edena) and a new Arzach book, released in 2010 along with volume six of the Inside Moebius series. He’s revisiting abstract fantasy, tackling metamorphosis and waking dreams, which have always permeated his work. In his art, form is permeable: men turn into women, animals and plants become one and alien creatures invade bodies and contort.
It’s a style Jean sees as at odds with classic French tradition. “In France, the accent is on style and identification,” he says. “The artist wants to be known and recognised quickly. They’re not interested in perfection or examination; they look for style. I try to link that with a search for a better work, better perception, better reflection; a search for truth. The purpose is not to realise this, but to be in that position of searching.”
Despite everything he’s achieved in his career, both artistically and critically, Jean is still modest, almost apologetic; he’s still in love with the role of an artist. In a final moment of reflection, he and Moebius are brought together: “When I started, I set myself a direction – a trajectory like a rocket in the sky. At the end I will blow up, but I don’t know where.”