For the last 30 years or so, every time I've gone into a comic book store, I've first checked to see if there was anything new by French artist Moebius. On Saturday, March 10, that search ended when Jean Giraud, Moebius' not-so-secret actual name, died in his home outside Paris. He was 73.
While I have a soft spot for America's caped crusaders and outlandish supervillains, ever since I first discovered Moebius' work during a trip to Paris with my high school French class, I stopped really caring whether Batman was cooler than Superman.
Instead of drawing muscle-bound men in leotards bashing one another, Moebius spun out infinitely complex and imaginative worlds full of ordinary people involved in surreal, dimension-spanning misadventures. Though his work has only occasionally been published in the States, his influence has resonated throughout pop culture. Working decades before the term “graphic novel” was ever coined, Moebius produced comic novellas that inspired directors like George Lucas and Ridley Scott, both of whom hired him to work on costume and set designs for their science fiction films.
In the early 1960s, Jean Giraud began his career illustrating a set of Western comic books featuring a gun-slinging anti-hero, Blueberry. Though he hadn’t traveled out West at the time, the books are classics of their kind. After a decade drawing in a gritty but rather conservative style, Giraud began experimenting in his spare time. Breaking free of cowboys and six-shooters, he went wonderfully nuts—drawing elaborate stories that didn’t have much point, but were so rich with perfectly realized details, it was easy to get lost in a single comic panel. Rather than being grim and squinty-eyed, his characters were exotic and often funny.
Creations in his new, cosmic comic style, enhanced by his fine pen and ink work, he published under the name Moebius. Eventually, he left his desperado persona in the dust, drawing under his pseudonym almost exclusively. The longer he worked under his new identity, the stranger and more lavish his work became.
Often he wrote and illustrated his own stories, but one significant exception is a collaboration he did with writer and film director Alejandro Jodorowsky. The series, known collectively as The Incal, features the character John DiFool and his concrete seagull sidekick caught in a lengthy chase that goes from straight-up science fiction with blasters and aliens to something far more cerebral, spiritual and celestial. An English translation was recently re-published.
It’s not just the strangeness of Moebius’ worlds that may have alienated American publishers and audiences, though. Whereas superheroes in the States continue to have chaste romances with people they can never reveal themselves to, Moebius’ characters often revealed all, and had sex. Lots of it. Or, in some cases, tried to. A favorite story I’ve never seen translated into English features a character who spends the entire comic frustrated by and persecuted for his persistent erection—until he finds people who sympathize with his plight.
Perhaps his greatest story, The Airtight Garage, features a character named Major Grupert in a dreamlike quest that turns out to have all been happening in the major’s head during intercourse.
I can only hope that when Jean Giraud wakes in the great beyond, he finds a similar happy ending.