Jean Giraud, Moebius, passed away today. He was, arguably, one of the most influential artist of our time and a personal inspiration of mine.
The first time I encountered Jean Giraud’s work was, unfortunately, in the movie “Heavy Metal.” I say unfortunate not because I didn’t like the movie – I love it – I was a young teenager, it was a simi-adult, kick-ass animated movie with nudity! Of course, I love it. But it was an unfortunate introduction to Moebius because it did not, could not, do his work justice. Shortly after that, Epic Comics began to release a series of collections, translating Moebius’s comic work. I bought the first book because it reminded me the Heavy Metal movie – I didn’t know who Moebius was then. The book blew me away. The art was like nothing I’d seen before. Every story seemed to have its own flavor and style but none of the styles were derivative of work I’d seen before. Every approach was something completely new. Now, of course, Jean Giraud had his inspirations the same as any artist and I have since come across works that I believe were influences for Moebius but, even with that understanding, he made his work entirely his own. More so than any artist I know, Moebius was willing to reinvent himself and do something completely different. Most of us find what style works for us and are too scared to change – what if people don’t like it, what if they don’t hire me! But Jean didn’t care…well, I don’t know if he cared or not, but he did let the fear stop him. I truly admire that.
After picking up that first book from Epic, I quickly began educating myself about this mysterious French artist. With each of the Epic collections I picked up I delved deeper into the alien, yet familiar, mind of Moebius. The artwork was jaw dropping but, in truth, I struggled with the stories – I tried to understand them. Some I did, some I did not. Neil Gaiman said of Moebius’s storytelling, “[the stories are] More like stream-of-consciousness art meets Ionesco absurdism.” This is very accurate, but as a teen, I didn’t understand and I didn’t get it. But it also didn’t matter. There was something about his storytelling – even if you never read a single word – that mesmerized you, made you feel like there was a great riddle held within the surreal trappings of the story and, if you could just break the code, it would change your very perception of the world around you. And in some ways that was true, because my perceptions of what a comic book could be, did change. My perception of what art is, what style is, changed. Moebius never let himself become too comfortable in his art. If he felt his work was becoming stagnant, he changed. At that time, I prided myself on being able to recognize an artist solely by their style, by how they drew a face or hands, or how they inked, etc. That’s all well and good but it is easy to get lost in style and think that’s all there is to art. Moebius blew that notion apart for me. Style was just a tool, no more than a brush or a pen. It was a means to an end, not then end itself. Moebius painted with style and technique in the same manner someone might push oil across a canvass. He used it to convey an emotion, a thought, a purpose in ways I had never considered. For some artist, myself included, experimenting with multiple styles can result in a big incongruent mess. The brilliance of Moebius is that there was always something unique and recognizable to him in whatever style he was employing – from realistic, to cartoony, to absurdly surreal. It all seemed to work together in ways that were just magical.
I went on to collect as much of Moebius’s work as I could find – which was sadly little in the States compared to his body of work. I started collecting the Heavy Metal magazine – which inspired the movie. It was a fantastic anthology, full of wonderful writers and artist but I soon found myself uninterested with the book if there was no Moebius story – so I started collecting the back issues to find more of his work. Later, I learned that Heavy Metal was the Americanized version of Metal Hurlant – of which Moebius was one of the creators – and I managed to get my hands on a couple of issues of that as well. I couldn’t read them, given they are in French and I didn’t pay attention in French class but there was a delight in having them nonetheless.
Over the years, I have tried to mimicked Mobius’s work from time to time. In fact, recently at a comic convention, someone requested a sketch with the theme of Air – that was it. The first thing that came to mind was Mobius’s Arzach character flying his odd lizard bird creature effortlessly through the air. So, this is the sketch I did:
Yeah, I know, it’s a far cry from Arzach, but what can I say.
I’ve explored many different styles and techniques in my art thanks to Moebius. Never with the elegance or brilliance Mr. Giraud brought to his work but it did keep things interesting for me – if no one else. I always wanted to meet Moebius, to thank him for the inspiration and to see what kind of person he was. Despite the fact that I seem to make an ass of myself whenever I meet someone who I really respect, I’m sad that I’ll never have the chance to make an ass of myself in front of him.
Rest in Pease and thank you, Jean Henri Gaston Giraud (Moebius) 8 May 1938 – 10 March 2012