Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Moebius 1938 - 2012

For this week my blog will be dedicated to the memory of master artist Jean Giraud and his two alias – Gir, the gritty Wild West realist and Moebius the dream surrealist. 

Jean Giraud who died on Saturday March 10th 2012 aged 73.

Outside of my involvement with Games he was my number One inspiration in all things art.

Ever since I was a child I have loved comic strip art, there is something about the visual story board nature of the work and the clean crips lines and colours that have so captured my imagination - more so than books, music or even film (which comes a close second). As an adult I still love graphic arts but I have never really indulged in macho super hero stories, I find them a little samey and tiresome - I was always more into the fantastical abstract nature of visuals and story telling where anything was possible and things were a little less coherent and suprising, Moebius was that perfect fit.

It is true to say I am in awe of his artistic output, his work triggers all the right areas of my imagination; from the crowded futuristic streets of the Long Tomorrow, the aerial wonders of Arzak to the beatiful visions of Desert B. It is hard to sum up the sheer volume of work from this multi faceted artist who has given me and many others so some much enjoyment over the decades.

Moebius preparing giant works of art at the Transe Forme exhibition in Paris 2010.

A starting point - France

In Giraud's native France comic books, or Bande Desinee as they are known, are not seen as a niche art form as they are in the UK but are accepted as classical art and a part of the mainstream culture. You are just as likely to see an exhibition for Moebius in France, or the many other talented French BD artists as you are say, Monet, or other classical artists. French BD’s are also beautifully painted/illustrated book and are released as gorgeous A4 sized hardback volumes, they make US graphic novels look like cheap mass produced pamphlets.

Every year I take a trip to Paris to recharge my creative batteries and excitedly trawl through the Bande Desinee shops of the city in the hope of discovering a new piece of Moebius art or a book that I had never seen before.

In the UK there is no website or news channel in the English language that is dedicated to the  arena of French BDs, it is the tyranny of living in an English speaking country in that so much of our "culture" is imported from America and less so from our European neighours. For me the French BD market is a mystery that I experience like a treasure hunt, never knowing what I am going to unearth next.

In France Jean Giraud/Moebius is an art superstar and one that is unfortunately not that well know in the UK. At home we seem more obsessed with trendy celebrity designer artists of the moment than true artistic visionaries in it for the love of the art and the long haul.
Jean Giraud with David Lynch at a printing press in Paris.

I have spent hours flicking through my Moebius books or gazing at a surreal illustration, they are like a puzzle box that I vainly try to decipher. The draftmanship of his art is astounding, the visual language is beautiful - my mind is always taken on a journey when I look at Moebius' work.

My next visits to Paris will be tinged by sadness knowing that I will never see a new piece of Meobius artwork that exists beyond March 2012 but also grateful for the huge body of work he leaves behind, some of which I will attempt to highlight in the following texts.

Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) - Moebius

I first discovered Moebius in the pages of Metal Hurlant, which became known as Heavy Metal when published in the US. As a curious young teenager when I found a stash of the Heavy Metal magazines hidden under my parent’s bed for reasons that you can see in one of the images below. I was confused by the images that adorned the pages – the colourful highly detailed strips looked like science fiction and fantasy but they were also very pornographic, it felt very naughty and adult, a forbidden world that I should not be looking into but one which stimulated me in many ways! So I put the exotic magazines back under the bed but the images had been seared into my brain and the damage was done.

Metal Hurlant, first published in 1974 (some five years before Star Wars), was a ground breaking science fiction magazine that was formed by a group of talented French artists and writers that included Jean Giraud. The nearest comparison in the UK would be 2000AD (1977 onwards) which was very much aimed at children unlike the very adult material found in Metal Hurlant. One ground breaking strip that started life in Metal Hurlant was created by Moebius and is known as Arzak.

Arzak is a beautifully rendered world featuring a silent hero who flies across an ancient alien world atop a giant flying bird made out of concrete! Moebius was to return to this world time and time again throughout his years. Arzak had two unofficial offspring – the books and film Nausicaa of the valley of the wind (1984) and the video game series Panzer Dragoon.

Pages from Arzak. I saw the top page for sale in a gallery in Paris - it wasn't cheap!

Moebius was so taken aback by the similarities between Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Arzak that he travelled to Tokyo to visit the fledgling Ghibli Studio and demanded to see Miyazaki. Miyazaki admitted that he was a fan of Moebius’ work and thankfully the two became great friends and even worked together on a joint exhibition in Paris (2004/5) – Miyazki/Mobius: Two Worlds, Two Hands for a Single Soul.
I still remember excitedly heading to the exhibition building and having my heart in my mouth when I saw the flags that hung along the exterior of the hall proclaiming; Miyazaki/Moebius! I spent an entire day pouring over the sketches, paintings and productions samples from Miyazaki and Moebius. It was a treat that I shall never forget.

Miyazaki discusses the work of Moebius.

Moebius was never one for simple narratives, his stories and worlds are dream like, surreal, abstract but work within a logic all of their own that seem to make sense. Do not look for super heroes or gun toting American muscle men and black cloaked villains when you read a Moebius strip. What I think continues to attract me to Moebius and Miyazaki's work is that their narrative are made up of shades of grey and not just black and white good versus evil. Each artists work has a strong connection with nature and I am sure this is what attracted the two maasters to each other's work.

Other popular strips that Moebius created within Metal Hurlant are the adventures of Major Grubert who first appeared in the story The Airtight Garage (Le Garage Hermetique). Major Grubert is a pith helmeted debonair hero who travels through different dimensions encountering a cast of strange and exotic aliens and humans with magical powers.

You can certainly see the influence Moebius had on artist Geof Darrow. Darrow later worked with Moebius on a portfolio of illustrations known as City of Fire (which is now very rare). Darrow later went to work with the Wachowiski Brothers on The Matrix movies.

Concept art in film and the influence of Moebius on film

Jean Giraud has inspired generations of artists, graphic designers, film makers and video game concept artists and designers for decades, many paying homage directly and some doing so without ever knowing it. Prominent film makers such as Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Hayao Miyazaki, Felini and Joderwosky have either worked directly with Jean Giraud or have admired his art.

Throughout my mid teens and without knowing it I was being further influenced by Giraud's creations - even thought I did not know it at the time, I was to see his work pop up in popular films like Alien, Tron, Blade Runner and even Star Wars – Lucas was a well known Moebius fan and his Tattoine world owes a lot to Moebius’s alien desert worlds.
I discovered that apart from drawing and writing countless graphic strips Giruad was also working as a concept designer in Hollywood and at Disney, he later went on to design the alien creatures and environments of James Cameron’s The Abyss and later was the conceptual basis of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

Perhaps my favourite Moebius film concept design is that of the astronaut outfit worn by the doomed crew of the Nostromo in Alien. This outfit is a mix of deep sea diver and a samurai and still to this day looks fantastic - being both futuristic and retro at the same time adds to its timeless appeal. The costume design (particularly the helmet) was homaged recently in the Duncan Jones film - Moon.

Alien - The best astronaut designs ever commited to film - possibly so.

One of the most lauded science fiction films for its vision of a gritty futuristic city - Blade Runner, owes a huge debt to Moebius. Ridley Scott a self confessed Moebius fan kept copies of Heavy Metal magazine to draw on for reference during the making of Alien. The long Tomorrow which was first published in Metal Hurlant was a story co-created by Dan O-Bannon (who co-incidentally was also the original writer of Alien) and Moebius. The story became Scott's unofficial design bible for Blade Runner. In the opening intro by Ridley Scott on the recent Blade Runner special edition an original Moebius drawing can be seen on the wall behind Ridley Scott - a sneaky homage to the debt the film owes to Moebius.

Amongst the low life and trash of the 199th level of the city from the Long Tomorrow - template for Blade Runner's city.

You can see the design of the flying cars from the same story used by Luc Besson in his movie - The Fifth Element.
A piece of Alien concept art adorns the cover of a magazine.
One of Moebius' many concept designs for the ground breaking computer graphics film - Tron.

Blueberry - the work of Gir

 Before Moebius there was Jean Giraud’s other persona – Gir. Gir was the realist and he worked on the popular gritty Old West series of books - Bluebery. In stark contrast to the dream worlds of Moebius, Gir’s work is grounded in reality, full of arid canyons, mountainous landscapes, filthy Western towns, a colourful cast of outlaws, heroes and villains.
Gir had been working on the Blueberry books from the early 1960s for the French magazine Pilote, Blueberry is as popular as Tintin and Luck Luke in its native France.

The "Moebius" alias came about during the early 1970s when Giraud had a yearning to break free from the constraints of realism and move into the surreal and science fiction, so he created the name Moebius so that he could work outside of his Blueberry work. Eventually Moebius consumed Gir and in 2005 Giraud drew his last Blueberry book. 

When I visited the exhibition Moebius-Transe Forme at the Foundation Cartier in Paris I was taken aback by a huge encyclopaedic book that contained all of Gir’s Blueberry work within, it must have been thousands of highly detailed pages! The entire career of most artists would have normally have been summed up in that one gigantic volume but for Jean Giraud it was only a small portion of his overall oeuvre.

I own a massive beautiful print of this artwork, that saddly, I only bought in Paris a few weeks before Giruad's death.

A film was made of Blueberry starring Vincent Cassell as Lt Blueberry. The film featured an extended trippy drug induced dream section that was pure Moebius and not quite true to Gir. It was as the Moebius persona was too strong to resist and had seeped its way into the fabric of the film's reality. I am sure Moebius must have been very happy with that sequence in an otherwise traditional film.

Gir's humourous take on the Japanese Lone Wolf/Baby Cart manga and transplanted into the American West.
The contrast in Jean Giraud’s work is staggering, even in his later years he was still developing new styles as an artist, never being content to work in just one medium or style.

The Incal - Moebius working with Jodorowsky

Moebius would team up with Spanish film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Sante Sangre) to create a number of fascinating BD books, the most popular of which is The Incal. Moebius and Jodorowsky were a perfect team, not least because of the love of Mexico that the two shared – both Giraud and Jodorowsky had lived in Mexico for many years. Jodorowsky and Moebius seemed to exist in similar magical spiritual head spaces and together they created a whole Space Opera universe that featured a cast of characters based on Tarot cards and a story that featured metaphysics and a satire on religion.

Before working together on books the two had colaborated on an aborted film version of Dune which pre-dated Lynch's film version by some years. For Dune, Jodorowsky had recruited an amazing art team that consisted of Moebius, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss, with special effects work being directed by Dan O'Bannon. Salvador Dali was to play the Emperor of the known Universe and Pink Floyd were to provide the soundtrack. There is no doubt that this film version of Dune would have been a wild ride indeed! Due to spiralling budgets Jodorowsky's Dune was sadly lost to the limbo of development hell. The art team would stay together and move onto Ridley Scott's Alien movie.

A documentary detailing the development of Jodorowsky's Dune is to be released in 2012 and is one I cannot wait to see. The passion for the project from Jodorowsky is clear to see and hear in the following trailer...

Jodorowsky discussing his time in "development hell," a place that I too am very familiar with in my games work.

Years later Jodorowsky would try to sue Luc Besson on plagiarism grounds for his film The Fifth Element, due to its blatant similarities to The Incal, a film on which Moebius seved as a concept designer!

Further Moebius works - what dreams may come...

Moebius continued to expand the possibilities of his worlds and the spirituality they conatin within, his art taking on more organic forms as he moved away from the limitations of human experiences and even the human form itself. In later interviews Moebius said that he no longer cared for recreating accurate representations of the human form in his drawings, it was his subconscious at work and the mind should not be hindered by the technicalities of physical barriers.

In later years Moebius produced many large scale beautiful painting such as this one.

Moebius experimented with organic shapes, he draws lots of inspiration from natural rock formations and crystals.

One of many large painting commissioned from Moebius depicting Desert B.
Whilst living in Mexico for many years the young Giraud would love to explore the open landscapes and would find great inspiration in the rock formations, canyons and open skies. His love of Mexican culture, desert landscapes and his love of Wild West movies is very visible in his work.
It is no secret that for a while Giraud experimented with various drugs and was so taken aback by the visions he had under the influence of mushrooms that he vowed never to take magic mushrooms ever again.

Giraud discussing his out of body visions whilst under the influence.

Moebius and Japan

In another country where comic art is also accepted as an art form and a part of mainstream culture is Japan. I have already mentioned the influence that Moebius had had on the young Miyazaki which came in the form of Nausicaa but there was a further direct collaration between the French artist and a Japanases Manga atists and this came in the form of the book - Icaro.
Moebius had worked with Japanese artist and writer - Jiro Taniguchi, to produce Icaro, with Moebius on writing duties. I had always loved a previous book by Taniguchi by the title of The Walking man (which I highly recommend) - this was the simple tale of a Japanese salary man who one day decides to walk a different route home from work and re-discovers the simple pleasures of the world around him from when it is viewed form a different perspective. When I had learned that Moebius had collaborated with Taniguchi I could not wait to see the book.
In Icaro our hero who has the power to fly simply wants to escape his high tech prison and to able to fly above the Earth. Icaro is imprisoned in a high techh laboratory like a caged bird by a scientific organisation. The freedom to fly and experience life from a different perspective or aspect is a common theme found in both the works of Moebius and Taniguchi. The artwork and story in Icaro is impressively detailed with a delicate poetry all of its own.

Inside Moebius

 In the last few years of his life Giraud’s health began to falter and he battled to retain his eyesight and to keep on working. As Moebius he wrote and illustrated a series of books that he created without any fore planning and was a stream of consciousness that spills out over the page - titled Inside Moebius. In the books the older Giraud wrestles with all of his differing personalities and his creations. He bickers with his younger self, argues with his consciousness (who occasionally appears as an infuriating Mickey Mouse character) and journeys through various desert worlds that exist within his mind – the different deserts representing different aspects of his inner world. The books are drawn straight onto the page in the style of coloured sketches or doodles that form a narrative stream of consciousness from Giraud as he reflects on his life's work and what it all may mean. I have no idea as to if the writer and artist knew at this point that his health was ailing but the books do seem to conjur up the portrait of a man nearing the end of his work and looking back on his life with a sense of pride, whimsy, humour and possible frustrations.

The stream of consciousness that is Inside Moebius. Some sections of the book certainly give Picasso a run for his money.

Last books - Moebius

Moebius' later work began to take on a more hallucinogenic subconscious tone, none more so demonstrated in the book 40 days dans le desert B in which a hooded robed character meditates in the subconscious landscape of desert "B." In the book we are treated to amazingly detailed full page illustrations of mind bending transforming landscapes and visions as our metaphisical narrator meditates on his surroundings.
If you want a snap shot of Moebius' later visionary work then I would highly recommend tracking down this book but it is becoming increasingly harder to find.

The visions that await you in "Desert B."

Other books of note are the wonderful small sized (about A6) hardback pocket books - La Faune de mars and Major. Both are beautifully produced tiny books that feature hundreds of tiny ink drawings that Moebius had produced many years ago. After seeing the walls of the Transe Forme exhibition adorned with these hundred of tiny original drawings these two volumes have become two of my favourite books.

For his last books (that I am aware of) Moebius returned to two of his best loved characters – Major Grubert and Arzak.

Chasseur DePrime is a beautifully illustrated demonstration of the power of Moebius’ line work. Again the narrative soars through traditional story telling techniques and high levels of the abstract.

Tome 1 of – Arzak: L’Arpenteur which was all drawn digitally and shows that Giraud moved with technology. Giraud would do frequent experimental jazz shows at art festivals where he could be found drawing with his Wacom pen and computer free-styling his paintings along to experimental Jazz.

Closing thoughts on an artistic legacy...

On this page today, I have presented to you only a small fraction of Jean Giraud's life long work but I hope I have highlighted to you why I love his work so much and its influence on popular art and culture.

For me Giraud is like Salvador Dali, Picasso, Robert Crumb and Sergio Leone all stirred into one and that still wouldn’t be the whole of the man.

 My experience of Jean Giraud’s work has been like visiting an archeological dig whereupon I had uncoverd an ancient alien culture that I have little understanding of. I can see all the pieces but I have no idea how they all fit together.
I am always drawn back to Moebius’ vast amount of work in the hope of deciphering the art, of discovering some new hidden secret within those worlds of the surreal, the terrible and the beautiful. Everytime I look at Moebius' work it feels like my mind has been opened, expanded and all without the need for taking any sort of drug. The art is liberating, it allows one to soar above the world to enter a dream reality.
The fact that I have to go to France to hunt for new works as so little of Giraud's work has not been translated into English or is available outside of France (some would say that this is a criminal loss) makes the art seems even more enigmatic, exotic and mysterious. Even without the ability to read many of his works the art transcends the limitations of my langauge skills, all I need is my imagination to enjoy the pictures. Words are not needed when encountering dreams.

Do not be sad at the passing of an artist but revel in what they leave behind for the present and the future.

For further information on Jean Giraud's art you can watch the BBC documentary on Youtube, but I would like to stress that it is no comparison to actually looking through his books or seeing the actual artwork for real.

Jason Wilson - March 13th 2012


  1. A beautiful and deeply personal piece J. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. You are welcome Dave, I don't think it is possible to sum up all of Jean Giraud's work but I hope it inspires some who are not familar with Moebius to go out and seek his art.

      Dave was very fortunate to have been a good friend of Jean and his time with the artist can be read on Dave's excellent blog here...


  2. I've been collecting Moebius since he passed thanks to tributes such as this. But one story eludes me and that is the version of The Man From the Ciguri that is included here (the image that starts with the alternative Grubert saying "It's a nice piece". I have the dark horse edition but if you could tell me what edition this image is from I would be extremely grateful! Though like all other leads I'm kind of expecting to hear "I got it off the net somewhere".

    Maybe I've fallen for some elaborate joke...

  3. Thanks for the comment. It is great that people are rediscovering the work of Moebius. I have a huge collection of books by Moebius and sadly the english language versions are in a sorry state of being out of print, something I hope they rectify soon.
    There have been english language reprints around the early/mid 90s (if memory serves me correctly) by Epic Comics, Dark Horse and Titan Books. For some of these editions Moebius redrew and added additional pages that are changes from the French editions. I was trying but failing to find a copy of a monthly comic that reprinted Moebius' work, by Epic I think it was that had additional pages from The man from Ciguri that contained those changed pages. I'll keep on looking and post when I find it.
    In the meantime, a French biography of Moebius was printed in France last year. It contains a comprehensive bibliography of every Moebius book published and all of the subsequent foreign editions, as well as all of his exhibitions and film work etc. The bulk of the book's text is in French so I am not sure if you would want to pay big money for it if you cannot read French?
    The book is called, "Moebius Ou Les errances du Trait." It cost me 15 euros so beware being exploited by paying big money on ebay etc.

  4. Not to mention "Caliber comics" reprints. It may have appeared in these comics that Moeb' did additional pages for - "Moebius comics."