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Tributes to Jean “Moebius” Giraud

Page from Upon a Star

We’ve asked a variety of different cartoonists to share their impressions of Jean “Moebius” Giraud in the wake of his passing at the age of 73. This page will be updated as more tributes come in.

Paul Pope (THB)

Moebius.

It’s not the name of a man, it’s the name of a thing– a mathematical phenomenon, a paradox, an impossibility. The name conjours up images of Escher and his red marching ants, navigating the one-sided band of paper for all eternity. And just so with Moebius the artist. From a distance, he can seem like an unapproachable impossibility–almost not even a man at all, but rather an unstoppable, ageless artistic force. A generous, glowing presence– a life-spirit living somewhere amidst the endless curves and lines and colors which have poured out from under a patient, steady hand, always new and unique, always commanding, no matter how many years go by.

Jean “Gir” Giraud, was the other side of Moebius, a man who liked to laugh and eat and talk and listen to music, a quiet extrovert who genuinely liked to be around people, who loved Paris and Jimi Hendrix and Miyazaki, who relished good food and a good joke–especially if it was a double-entendre or some other rich play on words (in either English or French…he was fluent in both). And he took his royal status in stride, his second wife Isobelle a constant, silent companion, the Yoko to his John. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone literally holding court, until I was around Jean/Gir/Moebius with his fans. Well, in truth, he held court with practically everybody we’d meet, for he was and is one of the most well-loved French citizens today. You’d walk into a random cafe in Paris for a drink, and there would be a Moebius poster or print, framed behind the bar in a place of honor. It could seem at times like he was everywhere. Almost everybody you’d meet, even people without any ties to comics or film, had a Moebius story, or at least knew his name. We share the same publisher in France, and so in the final years, in various cities and settings, I was fortunate to be able to spend a few good times with him. His nickname for me was “Pol Pot”. He would introduce me to others as Pol Pot, which never got old.

Forgive me if it sounds cliche, but his death comes as a complete shock to me. The thought of him dying literally never crossed my mind. He seemed so youthful and at home in his own skin. I know that as he got older his health issues caused him to stop drawing for seasons at a time. He didn’t want to rely on traditional surgery and medicines to deal with his issues, he preferred “softer” holistic healing methods. In his later years, he had phases where all he could muster were scribbly layouts– which, while raw, were still beautiful and full of force. These wandering lines traced his physical pain. And then, there he would be–back in full command of his faculties. His 2008 BD for Dargaud, a new chapter of the on-going Belgian thriller, XIII, was one of the top selling graphic novels in the Franco-market. And after some 5 decades worth of Westerns, you’d think he couldn’t possibly produce a new edition of Blueberry, which would be even better than his earlier works, but he did. From these commercial works he’d move on to other staggering, inscrutable, sui generis works, such as La Faune De Mars, or 40 Jours Dans Le Desert B (the later, a title in French translating to roughly “40 Days Without The Herb” –that is to say, “Without Pot”… and to add a further level to the joke, “le desert B” and ” les herbes” are phonetically similar.) He did it, again and again. He outstripped artists more than half his age, and we all loved him for it.

I heard about it almost as soon as he passed. I happened to be awake in the middle of the night and got the news from a mutual friend. And I didn’t want to believe it– it was within half-an-hour of the death, the news hadn’t hit the media yet, so I half-hoped it was just another celebrity internet assassination, which seems to be the morbid pastime of foolish, callous pranksters these days. I believe I’ve never met a more tranquil person than Jean. He radiated a powerful spiritual energy. It was almost impossible to even think of him as an old man, because in some weird way, he really wasn’t old. He had a quality which I’ve only rarely seen in adults– a sort of childlike fascination with, well, practically everything. It kept him preternaturally young and curious and powerful.

I would say he will be missed, but his work lives on, his spirit with it.

The ceremony for Jean will be held Thursday March 15th at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Paris. On the invite the family says purple and white are to be the dominant colors. Which is fitting– purple for a King, white for a Sage.

Brian Chippendale (If ‘n Oof):

With the passing of Moebius the light in the world grows dimmer. He was a talent with no true peer. The man could draw anything real or imagined. Anything! His work is glorious! You could be a good cartoonist with a mere fraction of his power, a fraction of his expansive consciousness. But you cannot copy Moebius because all you would do is fail. We can just be inspired by the breadth of his understanding, and be forever grateful.

James Jarvis (De Profundis):

He achieved an amazing thing – the creation of a visual language completely his own that seemed to come from nowhere else. You can’t make drawings with those marks without looking like you’re aping him.

Michael Allred (Madman):

I was just told Jean “Moebius” Giraud has died. Strange to realize I’ve never been on this planet without him sharing it. I hope he is somewhere wonderful that we all will be able to someday join him. His work made me imagine those kind of possibilities. When I was reintroduced to comics as an adult a few crucial works appeared to me that inspired me beyond fandom to try to actually make comics myself. Upon a Star by Moebius was one of those works. Marvel/Epic had just started their “Moebius series” of books and I harassed the comic shop to make sure I got them as soon as they arrived. It lit me up. And I became fascinated with Jean “Moebius” Giraud the artist and the man, hunting down anything and everything by him and about him. Intoxicating. Endlessly inspiring.  I doubt there is much he’s done that I don’t have or haven’t seen. But I sure hope there is. His recent Arzak series was stunning and I hope he left us more. Selfish, I know. I’m so happy I crossed paths with him a few times. He was always so friendly and enthusiastic. I admired the man every bit as much as the artist.

Anders Nilsen (Big Questions):

It’s hard to put into words what Moebius meant to me as a young kid who liked to draw. but his impact was huge. Looking at his drawings was thrilling. They seemed sometimes even to overwhelm his stories with a subtle, deeply felt content all their own. They were magical and ineffable, and yet super straightforward and descriptive all at the same time. He did beautiful things with color, but his black in work was often even more compelling. He created deeply textured, atmospheric, viscerally satisfying and clearly readable pictures all with a thin, even black line, which was virtuosic without the expressiveness or descriptive contour of a brush, a fact that was very relatable for me as a kid who did most of my own drawing with the ballpoints and felt-tips I had at hand in my backpack at school. Looking at his work made me want to draw more, and to draw better. He demonstrated in a very concrete way that the drawing could convey every bit as much content as, and sometimes much more than, any dialogue or surface detail of plot. He’s a giant, and the shadow he casts over the medium is long indeed.

Zak Sally (Sammy The Mouse):

There’s certain artists whose potency is so overwhelmingly powerful that when they show up, everything changes. Moebius might’ve been two of those artists. As an artist or cartoonist, looking at his work is always revelatory: any way you come at it, from his sickening technical skill to the raw imagination on display or just the indefinable, cohesive vision that he brought to whatever his pen touched– the only description possible is awe-inspiring. “Visionary” and “genius” are words that get slopped around a whole lot more than they should, but Moebius was both, without question.

Frank Santoro (Storeyville)

I’m saddened by the loss of Mr. Giraud. I was lucky enough to meet him once – his drawing, his words, his artistic approach have all had a profound impact on my life and my art. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Words cannot express my gratitude.

Dash Shaw (BodyWorld):

Moebius was a religion to many cartoonists I knew growing up. His work was traded, copied and discussed fervently. It was a whole way of looking at the world. I only met Moebius, the person, twice: once I showed him a cartoon I made and he laughed at it, the second time my cartoonist friend ran over to his table at a Dargaud dinner and gave him a mini he made. He ran back and we glanced over and Moebius was flipping through it laughing his ass off. So all I know about the person was that he was nice enough to appear to enjoy younger cartoonist’s work, or maybe he was laughing at us…  I don’t know…  He seemed very happy and relaxed to me.

Will Sweeney (Tales from Greenfuzz):

Since I discovered Moebius’ work it has been a constant inspiration to me.  I remember staying with a friend in France and reading Le Garage Hermetique for the first time, I was stunned by the scope of his imagination, the weird humour and the characters and situations that seemed to come from some alien subconscious. Last year I made a pilgrimage to Paris to see the Moebius Transforme show at Foundation Cartiér, seeing original drawings from 40 Days dans le Desert B turned my brain to green mouldy fungus. Moebius warped, transformed and altered our perception of the possible with his incredible skill and imagination. Our universe just got a lot smaller.

John Workman (Heavy Metal art director, 1977-1984; designer and letterer):

I was aware of Jean Giraud and his work for years before the time in 1977 when I was working on staff at DC Comics and … at the newsstand in the lobby of the Warner Building … I bought issue number one of Heavy Metal. Seeing the art and writing of Moebius changed me in so many ways. The only prior near-equivalent could be found in the aftermath of my having picked up (literally … off the ground … from a corner of a parking lot of a super market in Aberdeen, Washington) the first issue of Zap.

Less than a year after my purchase of HM1, I was working for the publishers of Heavy Metal. A lot of the fun that I had (and that I hoped would flow on through to the readership of the magazine) was in getting a look at the Moebius material that we were reprinting from various European sources. I took somewhat humorous notice of the fact that a good half of the art submissions that regularly came into the editorial offices (the ones that weren’t “inspired” by the paperback covers of Frank Frazetta) represented second- and third- and fourth-rate attempts at being Moebius. His influence was already being felt among so many people who wanted more than anything to make a career of writing and drawing comics.

Early in the next decade, I looked into the eyes of the man himself as he sat across from my desk in my HM office. His English was quite good (light years beyond my French), and we had a wonderful conversation that day. I’d long worried about the many times when I’d taken liberties with his comics work, the most notorious example being my taking three unrelated illustrations that he’d done and putting them together as a one-page comics story with a Workman/Moebius credit line. He put my mind to rest about such possible transgressions and anticipated my questions concerning the English (or maybe we should call it “American”) lettering that I’d done that had replaced his French originals. Giraud told me that he’d been happy with my attempts to catch the “feeling”of his unique lettering. To this day, I’m not sure that I believe what he said, especially when I ponder our continuation of that subject when we began to speak of Alex Toth and Frank Thorne and Jim Aparo and the others who often lettered their own comics art.

Moebius told me then that he never understood the thinking of the American artists who didn’t letter their own comics. He said that not handling the lettering on the stories that he did would be equivalent to carefully drawing a group of figures in multiple panels and then calling in someone else to ink all the heads of those characters.

My most solid memory of that day was the aura of kindness and calmness that radiated from Moebius. He was a man who understood where he was in relation to the rest of the world. He was at peace with the past and the future. I’ve met other people with similar qualities … Dave Eaton, Basil Wolverton, Bill Morse, and Art Scott all come to mind … but the degree to which the best of humanity can be summed up by one individual seemed strongest in Jean (Moebius) Giraud.

After I was gone from the amazing experience that had been my years at Heavy Metal, I was having lunch one day with Archie Goodwin. I gave him a phone number that would put him in contact with Moebius and urged him to give the man that just might be the all-time greatest comics artist a call. He did, and Marvel started putting out collections of books by Jean Giraud. I wound up lettering a few of them and, a bit later, one of the courier services delivered a package sent from Marvel to my house. I opened it and found several of the Moebius books. I was starting to skim through the first, already noticing the state of the paper and the printing, when I immediately stopped at the title page. There … and on corresponding pages in the other books … Moebius had signed his name and written a kind greeting to me.

I know we’ll have his work around us and within us forever, but the world will be a little less wondrous without the presence of the man himself.

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17 Responses to Tributes to Jean “Moebius” Giraud

  1. Pingback: Rest in Peace: Jean “Moebius” Giraud (8 May 1938 – 10 March 2012) » Ragged Claws Network

  2. bkmunn says:

    Love that John Workman Zap #1 anecdote!

  3. Pingback: More memories of Moebius | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  4. Pingback: The Strips of Moebius Go On Forever | SVA Library Blog

  5. Bill Crane says:

    ‘Thank you’ seems such a trite phrase, but ‘Thank you Moebius’ is a heartfelt sentiment. And thank you John Workman – my first experience of Moebius’ work was through Heavy Metal. I bought every one of them that featured his work. I was taken not only by his art but by his vast and wonderful imagination. His influence upon me ranges from a continuing pursuit of his work to the books I read (the Airtight Garage led me to Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius) along with the films I watch. My life has been enriched by it. I believe that the renaissance in comics and comic book art stems, in no small degree, from the integrity and skill that were manifest in his artistry which was capable of portraying not only beauty but the grotesque as well. His art was (and continues to be) bountiful; it will inspire others for generations.

  6. Phil says:

    Kim, is there any chance of Moebius’s work getting translated and published here in the US?

  7. Kim Thompson says:

    All I can say is, see the thread following my obituary. Even the Humanoids, a company co-founded by Giraud who in principle has the rights to release much of Moebius’s work in the U.S. subject to the vetting of (before) the Girauds and (now) Giraud’s widow, has had a very, very tough time securing any kind of approval for a number of years. (I have personal experience of stonewalling/bottlenecking on that front, by the way, that dovetails entirely with these stories.)

    Basically, most of Moebius’s work is controlled by someone who either has no interest whatsoever in seeing his work published in English or has contractual/financial demands so extravagant that it’s not possible to do so — and is resolutely uncommunicative to boot.

    I don’t foresee this changing soon, or maybe ever, but who knows?

  8. Scott Grammel says:

    So the downside of Moebius’ cultural prestige and financial success in France and Europe is that he didn’t have to bother about the English language market? Classic good news/bad news if ever I’ve heard it.

  9. Kim Thompson says:

    I would on principle never propound the idea that it’s better for corporations to hold the rights to cartoonists’ work rather than the cartoonists, but there are cases where a cartoonist’s obstinacy or bloody-mindedness will sabotage the dissemination of his work, and it’s hard not to feel a twinge of regret. Certainly a parallel case would be Steve Ditko in the U.S.: There are probably half a dozen publishers who would LEAP at a chance to put out a nicely produced, properly distributed edition of his best MISTER A and AVENGING WORLD work, but they remain stuck in those amateurish, distributed-out-of-a-garage semi-self-published editions that almost no one is aware of. Alan Moore’s scuttling of any 1963 collections is a similar case. Do I wish Moebius, Ditko, and Moore had sold their work to a publisher and had to tolerate reprints they (or their wives) did not approve of? No. Well, intermittently, when I’m weak and covetous. But principle is principle and cartoonists should own their work, and you’re gonna end up with a few Howard Roarks — certainly an appropriate analogy in at least one case.

  10. patrick ford says:

    Kim, Isn’t Barnaby another instance where the estate for a long time placed a higher value on the work than publishers were willing to pay?
    Hope all is going well with that one because I’ve been getting by on the Blue Ribbon collections for 20 years.

  11. Kim Thompson says:

    No comment on the first part. I can only say that in today’s capitalist society it is a very, very small minority of licensors or creators who remain completely intractable, and sometimes things change. (The same rumor was going around about the Pratt heirs and CORTO MALTESE and, well, would you look at that.)

    We expect to send the first BARNABY book to the printers next month (for release during the summer), so it’ll be a little late by real-world standards and shockingly on-time by Fantagraphics *coughPOGOSWARTENANCYcough* standards.

    I am getting a little embarrrassed at how this entire website is turning into “Ask Kim Thompson to promote Fantagraphics” Central; I promise readers that these are not all plants.

  12. Michael Grabowski says:

    I had heard that about Barnaby as well, owing to the commercial value of the Purple Crayon stuff, but I’m glad that that seems to have been overcome.

    I believe Skippy falls into this boat as well.

    Kim, I think the way around almost-wishing corporations controlled this stuff is to wish instead for the return of “public domain” as a real destiny (and not just accidental) for all commercial works after a generation or two, though that still wouldn’t solve the Moebius problem for quite awhile.

  13. Kim Thompson says:

    I believe both that you are correct on SKIPPY and that a SKIPPY announcement is actually right around the corner (no, not from us, so I’m not being coy — or a least not THAT coy) — further proving my point that sometimes things do change and keep the faith, baby.

  14. pulphope says:

    Hey Kim– I liked your encapsulation of the later-day Moeb work, Inside Moebius. I’ve been reading it and considering his last decade’s worth of work a lot lately.

    Also– fans of Moeb ought to seek out Moebius Ouvres, which collects all of his Metal Hurlant works–hundreds of pages of prime material– http://stuartngbooks.com/art-books/artists-a-z/last-name-m/moebius-oeuvres-les-annees-metal-hurlant.html

    Expensive, but worth every penny.

  15. Kim Thompson says:

    Hi, Paul, and thanks.

    I agree, and Moebius is an artist where it’s a little less crucial to be able to read every word. This book is already sold out in France and fetching higher prices among collectors on French eBay than what Stuart is charging, so yeah, I’d jump on it. (I’ve got my copy.) The Humanoids are now chopping up the material and releasing it in smaller books, so it is becoming available (in French) again in its original format. But I also have four of the six original orange-colored Humanoids hardcovers from I think the 1980s, so I’ve got the same material a couple of times…

  16. Anthony Thorne says:

    No need to be coy. SKIPPY was announced a couple of months ago.

    http://www.libraryofamericancomics.com/catalog/series/2139/

  17. Kim Thompson says:

    Oops, so it was. Sometimes I lose track of the information I’ve been told in confidence and the information that’s been officially released. So yes, SKIPPY, IDW, congratulations to Dean and the guys on having secured this.

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