For Moebius

March 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

News is breaking across the Internet that comics artist Jean Giraud—Moebius—has died at the age of 73. Here’s a link to a French-language obituary from Le Monde. I wish I had met Giraud, wish I told him what his bizarre, sexy, visceral and ultimately healing vision of the world(s) had meant to me. I wrote a couple of pieces about Moebius for The Panelists, and one is below, about a panel from the Blueberry album The Outlaw (1974). It was originally posted on January 6, 2011.

The House of Genre

Originally from LE HORS LA LOI (THE OUTLAW, Dargaud, 1974), written by Jean-Michel Charlier and drawn by Jean "Moebius" Giraud. The above panel is from Marvel/Epic's translation of THE OUTLAW in BLUEBERRY 2: BALLAD FOR A COFFIN (1989).

…time to draw the next box. In this panel, Mike Blueberry rides his horse to Guffie Palmer’s dilapidated house.

You start by lightly penciling in Blueberry and the abandoned shack in the foreground, and Guffie’s house in the background. As you tighten your pencils, you playfully decide to draw Guffie’s “dump” as similar to the Bates mansion in Psycho. (The movie fans who read Blueberry for allusions to Ford, Peckinpah and Leone westerns will surely catch this nod to Hitchcock.) Once the main elements of the composition are clearly defined, you transition to inking, using brush lines to indicate the textures of different surfaces: think feathering on the stones, and heavier, suppler lines for the wood of the fence and the beam. You move your brush across the panel, adding patches of grass to the land, and spot blacks to Blueberry, his horse, and the lightning-split sky behind the house. Details pile up. You consciously emulate Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, and other adventure strip artists in your attempt to create a picture that is simultaneously realistic and dramatic.

The picture is beautiful, but you’re curiously unfulfilled by its beauty. When you began Blueberry ten years ago, you devoted endless hours to honing your craft, even as Charlier’s plot became more baroque, more complex. You would write later that “I think I had been at the top of my form, at least in terms of the excitement and pleasure I derived, with the previous stories, The Lost Ducthman’s Mine (1972) and The Ghost with the Golden Bullets (1972). Now I felt like a marathon winner who just crossed the finish line, and who is told that he must run again, and again. I had a feeling of frustration, of being trapped.” You’ve poured your youthful enthusiasm into a series that you’ve outgrown; your vocation’s become a job, and sometimes a chore. You get angry and depressed when you think about drawing cowboys, horses, haunted houses, genre tropes and chessboard plots for the rest of your career.

From "The Detour," originally published in PILOTE in 1973; this page is from ARZACH (Dark Horse, 1996).

So you decide to break out of the box and reinvent yourself with a new pen name, “Moebius.” You change your art style, and write trippy, messy scripts. Deviating from a linear plot becomes a symptom of blessed freedom.

Your heart flows through your images again. You cleave your career in two: as Moebius, you explore new roads with new collaborators (particularly Alejandro Jodorowsky), but you also continue to work with Charlier, partially because Blueberry is the cash cow that subsidizes Moebius’ rebellion. But after Moebius becomes world-famous, and even after Charlier dies in 1989, you continue to tell new stories about Mike Blueberry. You ride back again and again to the haunted house, the House of Genre, you felt so compelled to escape. Why? Are you smuggling some El Topo sensibility into Blueberry‘s Ford/Peckinpah/Leone world? Or do westerns–and popular genres in general–mean more to you than you ever realized?

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