By Moebius (Les Humanoides Associes)
I’m breaking my own self-imposed rules today to present something just a little bit different and celebrate the talents of France’s most famous master of the comic arts.
Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on May 8th 1938 and raised by his grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941.
In 1955 he attended the Institut des Arts Appliqués where he became friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17 was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.
In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants in a style based on French comics legend Joseph “Jijé” Gillain.
Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria in 1959-1960, where he worked on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises and on returning to civilian life became Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) Western epic Jerry Spring.
A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial ‘Fort Navajo’ in Pilote #210, and soon its disreputable, anti-hero lead character Lieutenant Blueberry became one of the most popular European strips of modern times. In 1963-1964, Giraud produced a number of strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.
He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all inspired science fiction fans – to become the founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts as “Les Humanoides Associes”. Their groundbreaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach…
To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked inks with a brush whilst the futurist Moebius rendered with pens…
Generally I review material produced or translated into English and indeed Arzach did make it into the language of Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Alan Moore in the 1987 Epic Comics/Titan Books Moebius volume 2 – Arzach & Other Fantasy Stories, but to really appreciate the magics and majesty you should try and get hold of the 1976 hardback album or any other early iteration where the tales can be appreciated and enjoyed in splendid isolation and consideration.
Produced utterly without words, the four episodes depict the lonely contemplative flights of a solitary explorer – some say warrior – observing an incredible world and its inhabitants from the lofty perch of a flying lizard.
The first strip ‘Arzach’ finds the silent skyglider passing between the spires of an incredible city, peeking into enticing windows until an angry citizen confronts him. Dealing summarily with his enraged antagonist, the voyeur returns for his seductive reward and gets a big surprise…
In ‘Harzak’ the explorer mysteriously gains and swiftly loses a pack-pterodactyl to carnivorous plants. Woefully short on rations, he then encounters a colossal ape-like monster which reluctantly provides diversion, entertainment and eventually distraction for the cloud-voyager whilst in ‘Arzak’ a fusty old world technician motors across a blistering desert to a fantastic temple. Inside listless creatures mope dejectedly. Enduring physical assault, the sparks enters a bunker and sets about fixing things as, on a screen, the wind-rider paces in frustration, with his ungainly, featherless steed prone and unmoving. With the twist of a wrist a handy screwdriver sets the world to rights…
‘Harzakc’ opens with the lizard rider again spying on a beautiful undraped woman before flying off into a succession of increasingly bewildering and astoundingly spectacular alien scenes of…
Well, that’s for you to decide.
This work more than any other led to an outpouring of fanciful, lavish and enchanting fantasy creations from all over the world, inspiring movie, makers, writers and even comics creators as disparate and far-ranging as Stan Lee and Hayao Miyazaki. These apparently simplistic peregrinations are magnificent visual panoplies open to many interpretations, tapping into oneiric realms of the subconscious and woven with wry humour, but they are not stories in any traditional sense.
Think of them perhaps as staggeringly detailed goads to the imagination of the reader…
Moebius famously created these strips in reaction to his perceived predominance of American superhero comics and consciously stove to reinvigorate the genres and scenarios of the entire comics industry – with terrific results.
A sheer unadulterated dose of primal imaginary power and superlative skill and craft, Arzach is a tome that belongs on the bookshelf of every fan of the art of comics.
Jean Giraud and Moebius passed away on March 10th 2012.
Edition © Les Humanoides Associes 1976. Arzach © 2012 the estate of Jean Giraud. All rights reserved.