Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jean Giraud (Moebius) 1938-2012

Jean Giraud (Moebius)
I spent some time trying to select the right images for this post. I found the top one particularly appropriate; if there’s any artist that I associate with magic coming to life from the pages of a book, it’s French comics artist, illustrator and movie concept artist Jean Giraud, more commonly known by his pen name, Moebius.

I was saddened to learn that Giraud died today, March 10, 2012, at the age of 73.

Of all of the fantastic artists and illustrators who have worked in the medium of comics, from the Golden Age newspaper greats to the present era of “graphic novels”, Giraud is my favorite. He is also one of my favorite illustrators, and for that matter, one of my favorite artists of any kind.

I’ve often said that he demonstrated more imagination and creativity in a few of his offhand sketches than many professional comics artists and illustrators will display in their entire careers.

Prolific, inventive and restlessly experimenting with variations of style while following his own individual path of artistic exploration, Giraud left us with a wealth of extraordinary images, from the outrageous to the sublime.

Unfortunately, he isn’t as well known here in the US as he should be, partly because he didn’t (with a few exceptions) draw spandex-clad superheroes or saucer-eyed manga girls, and partly because the publishers here didn’t quite know what to make of him.

Admittedly, his own writing style, which at best could be called “stream of consciousness”, didn’t lend itself to coherent stories as much as flights of wild visual fantasy. He worked best as a storyteller when he put his brilliance in the service of more straightforward writers, notably collaborating with filmmaker and author Alexandro Jordorowski on a long science fiction series called The Incal.

As much as I admire his fantastically imaginative science fiction illustrations and comics (for which he adopted the name “Moebius” and made well known contributions to the original Metal Hurlant anthologies in France), I actually think Giraud’s best comics work was his most restrained, in the service of the superb western series Blueberry, set in the post-Civil War American west and written for most of its run by Jean-Michel Charlier.

Giraud lent his imagination and artistic and character design skills to a number of well known films, including Alien, Tron, Willow, The Abyss and The Fifth Element.

Giraud’s impact on other comics artists, illustrators and concept artists can’t be overstated. Even if not a household name to the American comics reading public, his impact was widespread among the artist community.

In France and Belgium, and the rest of Europe for that matter, he is much better known. France named him a “national treasure” and his work was recently the subject of a major exhibition at the Foundation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain in Paris (also here).

Unfortunately, Americans who want to purchase books of his work are at a disadvantage. Though Marvel Comics published a good series showcasing his work in various areas (including a nice run of Blueberry) in the 1980′s, and their Epic imprint followed with a nice hardbound series of art books in the 90′s, and Dark Horse Comics published a nice series of black and white titles in the 90′s (though in an inexplicably small format), these are out of print and in many cases unreasonably priced from used book sources.

Here are reviews of some of the titles available on Amazon. American readers might try to order through an importer like Stuart Ng Books, where a few Moebius volumes can be ordered for reasonable prices.

The official Moebius website, though worth a browse, unfortunately does not do a very good job of showcasing his art.

The best source I’ve found for his work on the web is an unofficial Tumblr blog called Quenched Consciousness, that has posted numerous files in a wide variety of his work. It’s not particularly organized, as explained here, but wonderful to look through nonetheless. (Frankly I’m surprised it’s still up. My advice is to enjoy while you can.)

There are also smaller galleries on Contours, Comic Art Community and Comic Art Fans (also search).

[Note: some of the images to be found on these sites, and perhaps in other sources of Moebius images, are distinctly NSFW and not suitable for children.]

Another way to get a glimpse of his work is to simply do a Google image search for Moebius or Jean Giraud.

There is a three part BBC documentary on him on DailyMotion (part two and three), a brief video of him drawing on a Wacom Cintiq at a 2009 convention in Angoulême and a 1987 interview in The Comics Journal.

I had the pleasure of meeting Giraud at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention in 1991. He was a delightful, soft-spoken and modest gentleman (in the best sense of that word), and was generous enough to do a wonderful convention sketch for my wife (above, second from bottom).

I also had the pleasure at the time of looking through a small sketchbook that he carried with him. He used it, along with pen and a portable watercolor kit, to do beautiful color drawings of scenes he encountered on his travels.

I think what impressed me most about that meeting, in which he was doing numerous (free) sketches for those who asked, was the almost casual way he seemed to draw, as though he had simply connected his unconscious mind to his drawing hand and turned off everything in between.

My long time fascination with his work bears out the overall impression I have of Giraud, that he was (similar to my assessment of Rembrandt) someone who drew and painted as naturally as most of us breathe.

25 thoughts on “Jean Giraud (Moebius) 1938-2012

  1. Dave Dubé

    The first time I saw this guy’s work was in a magazine, and I do not remember where. I went looking for more, because his style reminded me of one of my all-time favorites – Winsor McCay.

  2. Marta Argast

    Molto bello questo tributo all’arte di Jean Giraud. Sono in moltissimi a rimpiangerlo tra estimatori, editori, cineasti e registi. Tra i molti, anche Fellini che gli rese omaggio dando il nome di Moebius a uno dei personaggi del film «Casanova». Tanto per citarne uno.
    Colgo l’occasione per esprimere i miei complimenti all’autore del blog che seguo sempre con grande gioia anche se non commento a causa delle mie scarse conoscenze dell’inglese.

  3. Charley Parker Post author

    Marta,
    Thank you for the comment. I wasn’t aware that Fellini had named a character “Moebius” in his film Casanova as a tribute to Giraud.

    Google Translate: Grazie per il commento. Non ero consapevole del fatto che Fellini aveva nominato un “Moebius” personaggio Casanova nel suo film come un omaggio al Giraud.

  4. Brian Harrison

    Dammit ! We seem to be dropping like fly`s just now. This is terrible news so soon after Ralph McQuarrie passing away.
    Great tribute Charley, beautifully expressed, and thank you for the wonderful images you have chosen.

  5. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, Li-An. I tried to select drawings that would introduce Giraud to people who were not familiar with his work and who usually were more interested in other genres of art.

    For the benefit of other readers, Li-An is also a French comics artist. You can read his blog post about just that topic, how the period in which you discovered Moebius determines your view of his work, here (FR: in French). English speakers can get the gist of the article using a Google Translate version.

    You can also see Li-An’s post Moebius et moi (FR), or Moebius and me (Google Translate English)

  6. Garry Jones

    I’ll never forget when I discovered Moebius when I was 15 years old standing at a magazine rack and saw Heavy Metal on a self.The cover alone caught my eye,I could not believe what was between the covers.It changed my life and when I saw a few pages of ‘ARZACH’and’Jerry Cornelius’s Airtight Garage’,I was blown away.To this day I still can’t get enough of Jean Giraud’s artwork.He will always be my all time favourite artist.I still cannot believe that he is gone.Great post Charley.

  7. Difool

    Giraud/Moebius is without a doubt the best comic book/graphic novel artist of all time.

    A nicely written article, except one thing: Blueberry is NOTHING compared to major Moebius’ works like Arzak or Incal or Feral Major, Garage Hermetique etc. There are quite a few artists that can do great, conventional action comics on the highest level, like Blueberry. Rosinski, Serpieri, Zorad, Breccia, whatever. But NOONE can do unconventional things that MOEBIUS did. He was unique in what he was doing.

    It’s ridiculous to think other way around.. so it needs to be pointed out that you’re wrong on this one, Mr Charley Parker. A nice selection of Giraud/Moebius art though.

  8. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Difool (first name “John”, I presume).

    I appreciate your point of view, and while I’m not suggesting that Blueberry is Moebius at his most inventive and imaginative — that aspect of his talent shines brightest in the some of the works you mention — I will maintain that it is in Blueberry, where he is at his most restrained, that he is also at his best in terms of his skills as a comics artist and visual story teller.

    I absolutely love his work at its most fantastic, as in The Incal and Garage Hermetique, when he lets his imagination run wild; but his work on Blueberry has an uncanny tactile presence, a feeling of grit and texture and dust in your mouth immediacy that has never been matched in comics. I think it is also when he is at his most restrained that he is at his highest level as a draftsman and illustrator.

    You’re right that he outshines most other comics artists, even Kirby, at the unconventional and imaginative, but I think he also takes action adventure comics to another level as well, putting him in the ranks of best ever adventure comics artist with greats like Alex Raymond and Hal Foster.

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