The career of Jean Giraud, a.k.a. Moebius, the name through which is known outside the French-speaking world, spans over six decades and across many genres and series.
His first professional experience was an apprenticeship under Joseph “Jijé” Gillain, drawing some pages for the Western series Jerry Spring. It was from this collaboration that the 1963 Fort Navajo book would seed. Pre-published in Pilote, written by Jean-Michel Charlier, this would be the first volume of the acclaimed series Blueberry, which lasted with its original authors until 2005, counting 28 titles, several off-shoots and a lackadaisical cinema adaptation in 2004 (dir. Jan Kounen).
Giraud contributed with a few Kurtzman-Elder-influenced short stories for Hara Kiri also in the early 1960s, trying out a new signature: “Moebius.” However, it is the 1973 short “La Déviation” which is seen by some as the true beginning of the Moebius graphic persona. Although Giraud signed it as “Gir,” he considered it as a manifesto, to break from his more commercial work that the author perceived as a stylistic prison. This new facet would come to full fruition around 1974-1975, with his groundbreaking, realist and frankly disturbing “Cauchemar blanc.” considered by French critics B. Lecigne and J.-P. Tamine has a herald of the “nouveau réalisme.” It was also in 1975 that Giraud created an association with Philippe Druillet, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Bernard Farkas, Les Humanoïdes Associés, founding the trailblazer independent sci-fi magazine Métal Hurlant. This is the magazine that would pre-publish Moebius’ own first commercial and critical successes: the wordless, dreamy episodic adventures of “Arzach” and the, at least in its genesis, automatic writing-styled “Le garage hermétique.” He continued to collaborate on other titles, however, as a colorist, for instance, not to mention the continuation of Blueberry.
However, the series that would make “Moebius” a household name was the Incal saga, begun in 1980 with L’incal noir, and which would extend across several albums until the interrupted Après l’incal/Final Incal. This was a project written by Alejandro Jodorowski, whom Moebius had met for the (aborted) project of adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune to the screen. Jodorowski and Moebius would create a few other projects together, from the 1978 book Les yeux du chat to the 1992-1998 trilogy La folle du Sacré-Coeur. The Incal, as well as a few spin-off series, would be extended without Moebius.
To a certain point, “Giraud” and “Moebius” would seem like completely different artists (younger readers might not be aware that it was the same person, enjoying one series oblivious to the other), not only where genres were concerned, pitting realistic western against fantastic, dreamlike science fiction, carnal eroticism against blissful spirituality, but also in graphic style. In the Blueberry series, for instance, the artist amply used a coherent, dense hatchwork and shading effects with a slick, finished look, whereas in Incal, numerous short sci-fi stories and, to an even larger extent, his solo saga Le monde d’Edena (5 volumes, 1983-2011), employed a much more refined line work, very close to the ligne claire style. Contrastingly, a number of his works also sport a loose, almost sketchy, blob-like line. However, absolute distinctions would be fraught with difficulties, because the author would soon “contaminate” one of his signatures with the style from the other (this is particularly noticeable after the 1990 Blueberry: Arizona Love, whose script Giraud completed himself, after Charlier’s death). Depending on the projects, Giraud could swiftly switch or mix his styles, all of which were based on his mastery of figure drawing, his mythical speed, and large experience in many methods of expression.
Born in France, Giraud traveled to Mexico quite young, spent his military service in Germany and Algeria (but not in combat), and was a restless soul throughout his life. He lived in communities, moved to L.A., experienced multiple spiritual disciplines and smoked marijuana openly and consciously. These autobiographical traits would find a way into his work in the shape of a certain atmosphere: the 1988 one-shot Tueur de monde, for instance, is a strange sci-fi poem dedicated to Amanita muscaria.
The six volumes of Inside Moebius, published between and 2004-2010, finds the author trying to come up to terms with his long career, his doubts, his creative anxiety as well as establishing a dialog with a completely new scene of comics, both in his country and abroad. If the 1973 “La Déviation” story could be considered somewhat autobiographic, neither Giraud nor Moebius would choose that genre as their territory. Triggered by his giving up smoking marijuana, unanchored by realism and waking life, Inside Moebius is a sort of hallucinated, stream of consciousness self-examination: the author meets his younger self, many of his characters, such as Major Fatal (from the Garage books), Blueberry and Arzach, other characters such as Osama Bin Laden and a nightmarish Mickey Mouse called “Jean-Michel”, reliving perhaps some of his conversations with Charlier. Lively discussions about his will and art ensue, to the point that one can see this project as an essayistic journal.
An icon of Franco-Belgian comics, he has also created work for the U.S. market, namely with Silver Surfer: Parable, with Stan Lee in 1984, and in Japan with Icare, drawn by Jiro Taniguchi, in 2005. Apart from his work on comics, Giraud would sign numerous illustration jobs, paintings, and cinema and animation character design and storyboards, for films such as Alien, Les maîtres du temps, Tron, Willow and so forth. There are a number of unfinished projects as well, and some art volumes collected his never-produced work.
In terms of historical importance, heterogeneity of style and unbridled imagination, Moebius’ work has been extremely influential within the Francophone scene but also beyond it. This influence will probably continue for years to come.
See also: Hara-Kiri; Ligne claire style; Pilote