Moebius changed my life.
More than once. Many times. Before I began reading his comics, before I was even reading comics.
Jean Giraud, either directly through his involvement or indirectly through his influence, created the aesthetic behind Alien, Blade Runner, Akira, Neuromancer, The Fifth Element, Tron, The Abyss, Frank Miller’s Ronin, Frank Quitely’s X-Men, Geoff Darrow, Walt Simonson, Mike Mignola, Taiyo Matsumoto’s No.5, the Empire Strikes Back, and Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind – all of which I’d obsessed over and metabolized long before I ever read a single page of Moebius’ comics. The most resonant image of the future, the one which has dominated both the fringe and popular cultures of the past 30 years on three separate continents.
No artist, let alone a comics artist, has been as singularly influential on the way we as a species see ourselves moving forward. For good or ill, since Moebius, and his contemporaries, imagined what we now think of as the modern urbanized city (or the cyberpunk city), we couldn’t have conceived of it. While that idea has many, many precedents, none of them ring as true. None of them are still relevant. Not one of them captures what city blocks teeming with dozens of kinds of people all together in one space. Walls of faces, some alien, all familiar. None have the locations and trappings of “the future” as used, lived-in. Science fiction in the past 30 years is indelibly linked to Moebius, he is everywhere you look.
Like Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka, Jean Giraud/Moebius didn’t just create the dominant style of comics in his own country, which would have been more than enough to secure his legacy as one of the great of the medium. No, instead, all three of these men created multiple idioms and styles throughout their careers. Shedding and discarding as they went. Moebius as we think of him is not only the crystals, desert vistas, and labyrinthine densely populated city streets. We must not forget that Moebius not only reinvented how science fiction could be drawn, but also placed an indelible stamp on westerns, fantasy art, metafiction, autobio comics, humor strips, and in one instance American superhero comics.
The kinds of comics I love, that I seek out, have Metal Hurlant and it’s creators as the basis of their DNA. In creating Metal Hurlant in 1974 with Les Humanoïdes Associés (consisting of Moebius, Phillipe Druillet, Jean-Pierre Dionnet, and Bernard Farkas), sidestepped the previously dug troughs where comics existed before it – a vein of intelligent, conceptual, and first and foremost lushly illustrated comics that didn’t exist before they made a place for it. From all over the world, not only European artists but US, South America, all over the world. What Metal Hurlant (and later Heavy Metal in the U.S.) created was a place for the kinds of comics that speak more profoundly than the ridiculous art/genre divide that still plagues the medium.
In a medium where so little is profound, even the worst of Moebius’ comics achieve a level of serenity simply by how they have been drawn. Each panel is imbued with a sense of absolute assurance of the line conveying meaning, motion, feeling, story. Moebius’ surfaces are tactile, his characters are not only defined by their design but by expression, by how they carry themselves, how they move. His pages are fraught with detail, but rarely are those details overworked or sterile. The consistency of his hand gives his landscapes and cityscapes a kind of depth that is different from the way most illustration renders depth; his faces convey just how deft and expressive his hand could be – and how that meant a face battered by life or one untouched by stress.
The poetic continually pervades his work, sometimes in the beauty of his settings, sometimes in the stories themselves. But often there is an element of the story where his characters sidestep the conventional for the transcendent. There is a drift, a space in his stories like the Adena books, like Incal, like The Airtight Garage, like Arzak, where stories conclude or derail into flights of sheer fantasia. Scenes that don’t lend themselves to discussion, let alone dissection, because the point of the thing is that they are not just story points and they are not just crazy visuals. They manage to be inexplicably logical to the story while remaining unpredictable.
That is what really makes Moebius’ passing something that needs people to write on it. Yes, he’s a truly stunning and original artist. Yes, he’s the inventor of not just a dozen styles of comic art — some of which people have based their entire careers on. Yes, he’s had his hand in designing some of the greatest visual spectacle Hollywood ever produced, and he’s inspired even more. And more than that, he’s probably had the most significant effect as an artist on how humanity can imagine the future as any artist in the past century. None of that is as important as the poetry Moebius could do create with images.
And that’s why I think any and all obituaries or tributes to the man are going to fall short. His entire career was about creating moments that can’t be talked about, showing us ambiguities with the only the most lifelike lines. Moebius as an artist had an astounding effect on not only our medium, but our world, and even that hardly stands up to his constant drive to make impossible moments real. And that he does it without corrupting what could easily described as the most sacred of scenes.
He was a hero. You can say that without any qualifiers. The only respectful thing to do for this man isn’t to sum him up, memorialize, or to talk about what he means to me (though, it must be said, he means everything), but to simply say thank you.
Thank you for everything. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Godspeed.
- Sean Witzke March 2012 Emma Peel Sessions 69