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.