THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/14/12 – 2 or 3 Things I Know About Gir)

Here we see Giraud, Dionnet and Druillet, three of the founders of Les Humanoïdes Associés, circa 1980 - Bernard Farkas, the Ismael Hernandez of the group, is not pictured. The image is cropped from a staff photo in Métal Hurlant #50, and I had planned to include it in last week's post, but the artist best known as Moebius was positioned too close to the fold and I couldn't get a scan done without a beam of light shining down the length of his body; I rarely expect precognition from my HP Deskjet All-in-One, but credit where it's due.

Like many readers, I've found myself going through some old Moebius comics for the last few days. Above we see an odd little exhibit from the annals of English translation - a 1974 'drawn interview' with the artist originally published in L'Écho des Savanes, with questions by Numa Sadoul, here reoriented for publication in the 1990 Atomeka Press comics anthology A1 #4, with lettering by Woodrow Phoenix and tones by Dave Elliott & Garry Leach. It catches the artist in a transitional period between his popular breakthrough in Pilote -- the restrictions of which he had tired from -- and the founding of Métal Hurlant later that year. When asked if he is planning to found his own magazine, Moebius cracks that he'd already bought Pilote on the sly in 1947.

Really, most of Giraud's responses betray a puckish, sarcastic quality greatly foreign to the wise, elven spiritualist presiding astrally over the past 72 hours. This only reinforces the diversity of Moebius' approaches to comics art, which, I find it useful to remember, were grown in no small part from the Kurtzman/Elder (especially Elder) satires that cradled many of the American underground comics, a scene Moebius later claimed had taught Europeans how to express true feelings in comics - that was in the 1990 Dark Horse-published Moebius 0, an Epic-style album devoted mainly to compiling his pre-Hurlant 1974 project The Horny Goof, an improvised fantasia of a man with a semi-permanent erection which reintroduced the Moebius name to comics and anticipated The Airtight Garage in terms of freewheeling composition.

And it wasn't just the French that received a slightly more physical introduction to the artist:

The top image here comes from the 1977 paperback anthology National Lampoon Presents: French Comics (The Kind Men Like), translating works from Pilote, L'Écho des Savanes and Fluide Glacial as a sort of companion to the same year's launch of the Métal Hurlant-based Heavy Metal magazine. That puts La tarte aux pommes -- just published in Hurlant's doomed sibling anthology Ah! Nana earlier that year -- on par with Arzach as one of the very first Moebius comics ever seen in English... and it had words! The bottom version is from the 1988 Epic album Moebius 6, in which the artist reflects on the story, a collaboration with Claudine Conin, his spouse at the time, crediting it with "a special kind of dream-like feel to it that I've rarely achieved since." Conin presented him with images depicting the half-aware erotic imaginings of an adolescent girl, which Moebius fused with American iconography and (to my eyes) not a little Crumb-like underground styling.

This is particularly evident in the b&w image, perhaps aided a bit by translators Sophie Balcoff, Valerie Marchant and/or Sean Kelly straining to make the text and title just a little more smutty. As it often goes, however, the more sniggering interpretation is also a touch more puritanical where it counts, as the motorcycle-riding brother character barks a slightly more active, demanding "C'mon, I'm taking you home," to Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier's gingerly "C'mon! I'll take you home now," placing the emphasis on the scene up top on the male figure and his comedic mistake at taking a child to such an adult place, while the bottom version squarely foregrounds the girl's own experience, her brother standing as a more neutral facilitator to her agog witnessing.

The latter colors, by Claudine Giraud -- I am unsure of the relation -- make this focus extremely clear in isolating the girl in cool blues and whites from much of the activity going on around her, at least when not in the confines of her bedroom, a safe space, or the concluding kitchen, where she obviously cannot reveal her burgeoning sexuality to Mother. They are equally plain in the end, though the colors ensure us that some force exists in the girl's head, though it is an uncontrollable, scary thing; I'm not thrilled to see so much intricate linework swallowed by color, but this collaboration does show how some aspects of a story can be intensified (or potentially preserved from the vagaries of translation) by certain aspects of the art.

There were other, personal sexual works by Moebius, many left alone in black & white. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the directness of erotic work kept the artist in touch with his origins. Take the above undated gag image from the '60s...

And compare it with this, the best drawing from the 1994 album Angel Claw (translated by NBM in '96), a collection of unrelated sex drawings presented on every right-hand page, while a new sequential set of images accompanies frantic, vamping text by Alejandro Jodorowsky on the left in a metronomic style similar to the pair's first collaboration, 1978's The Eyes of the Cat, though its real origins are in The Horny Goof, both in its start-and-stop visual style and the improvisatory nature of its construction. Moreover, while much of the book concerns itself with blood and masks and an utter fascination with bodily modification -- climaxing in the image of a mutating woman suspended in mid-air, spilling voluminous cords of sausage-thick energy from every point of egress -- you can see in those chomping male faces a reflection of the old, parodic Moebius, prone to caricature in way most of his later works were not.

Which is not to say there are no other commonalities between periods.

This is an early '60s page from Hara-Kiri, the birthplace of the Moebius name; you could rightly call it juvenilia, though a good deal of earlier cowboy stuff exists in so long a career.

And here is the conclusion to The Airtight Garage, featuring much the same man-in-hat mystery imagery, though it is certainly an 'adult' work. "To me," wrote the artist, again in Moebius 0, "'adult' means to be free in spirit, to know no bounds, to accept no moral restrictions, especially those imposed by somebody else." The Airtight Garage embodied this philosophy, fusing together images from all over the artist's still-young career in breakneck fashion, its latter-day colors again providing some isolating effect, though here as representative of not youth but adult triumph, of the confident secrets adults can hold while entering unfamiliar terrain, or even while stepping away from the drawing board as the 'real' world reasserts itself. This was the character of the artist's 'adult' comics, at their best.

Above, we see the final images from Moebius' contribution to 2011's The Someday Funnies, the last page the artist saw published in English during his lifetime, though of course it dated from much earlier. This one is signed "Gir," in keeping with the cowboy environment he populated through his Blueberry, but it retains a whiff of mystery. You can, of course, turn to the back of the book and realize it's drawing a comparison between American natives and airplane hijackers of the '60s, but the beauty of Moebius' art is that it also carries both a specific personal resonance to him and his life of icons, along with a nearly subconscious pull that suggests a fully-fledged world inside the page, here, finally, again an expression of desire, and a joke as well.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.



Corto Maltese Vol. 1: The Ballad of the Salt Sea: Hey, more Eurocomics! You've been expecting this Hugo Pratt release, one of the classics of the '60s, here presented as an 6.8" x 9.5" softcover with the colors from its 1991 revision. The publisher is Universe, a division of Rizzoli; $25.00.

Gary Gianni's MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories: On the other hand, I was not expecting this 8" x 11", 168-page, Michael Chabon-introduced Dark Horse hardcover to pop up, since I hadn't a clue it was being published. Nor can I find all that much information about it, although we can safely presume it will collect illustration classicist Gianni's various MonsterMen stories from the back of Hellboy and elsewhere. I recall this stuff being close in tone to Mignola's wackier works -- The Amazing Screw-On Head, for instance -- but with the added touch of Gianni pushing his scrupulously-hatched images to absurd and grotesque ends. A revisit may prove interesting; when Dark Horse reprinted 2002's Screw-On Head a few years back it read like some horrific, inadvertent catalyst for a full decade of nooseworthy whimsi-pop steampunk Victoriana, despite its individual merits, and I wonder if this even-more old-timey romp, 20th century setting or not, will carry some similarly sick grandeur in our troubled era of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Samples; $24.99.



Crossed: Badlands #1: In which Avatar fully embraces this Garth Ennis/Jacen Burrows-created semi-zombie comic as its flagship series by launching an ongoing iteration to be released at a biweekly clip. That sounds like an awful lot of survival-horror-in-a-world-where-most-of-humanity-is-reduced-to-base-desires to produce, but the publisher apparently has work scheduled through issue #13, so who knows? Of interest here is an inaugural three-issue storyline by the creators (each serial will stand alone), marking Burrows' first comics work since Neonomicon wrapped; he'll return in issue #10 with writer David Lapham (whose Crossed: Psychopath with former Eros Comix all-star Raulo Cáceres is out in collected form this week), while Jamie Delano & Leandro Rizzo handle issues #4-9. Preview; $3.99.

Saga #1: Also here for the duration if god's willing & the creek don't rise is a new Image ongoing, marking the return of Y: The Last Man co-creator Brian K. Vaughan -- one of the preeminent front-of-Previews comic book writers of the '00s for many readers -- to longform comics serialization after some time spent as a scriptwriter for the television series Lost, among other pursuits. Created with artist Fiona Staples, it's a sweeping thing about family and galactic war which the publisher's solicitation eagerly compares to Star Wars and Game of Thrones, launching with a double-sized introductory chapter. Preview; $2.99.

Womanthology: Heroic: It's easy to get lost in abstractions with as high-profile a discussion topic as this -- an all-female anthology for charity boasting of 140 contributors of some sort, which famously raised over $100,000 through its Kickstarter funding drive -- so the presence of 300 pages of IDW-published stuff on your local merchant's shelf will surely prompt some interested flipping through comics, interviews, how-to guides, history bits and more. Contributors include Ann Nocenti (who just made a return to superhero comics last week in Green Arrow #7), Trina Robbins, Colleen Doran, Gail Simone, Miss Lasko-Gross, Jill Thompson and the aforementioned Fiona Staples. Official site; $50.00.

Crime Does Not Pay Archives Vol. 1: You got the sampler last year, so now Dark Horse launches into the obligatory costly comprehensive reprint phase of this 'vintage disreputables' effort. Samples; $49.99.

Showcase Presents: Young Love Vol. 1: Aw, but why turn to violence when you can enjoy the sweet agony of heartbreak all to yourself? This is DC's line of b&w reprints, and now its doing early '60s romance comics, collecting issues #39-56 of the title in 544 pages; $19.99.

Twin Spica Vol. 12 (of 12): Closing out Vertical's release of Kou Yaginuma's sensitive space school story with a 400-page package. The next big new release from the publisher is a summer all-in-one edition of Sakuran -- an early '00s serial about an ambitious Edo period courtesan from the very good Moyoko Anno -- recently confirmed to include all of the color sequences from the Japanese original; $13.95.

The Smurfs Vol. 11: The Smurf Olympics: But enough of these '80s French comics, how about some proper Belgian Smurfs from 1983? That's what you'll get in this latest NBM/Papercutz release, perfect for making your Corto Maltese purchase seem that much bigger; $5.99 ($10.99 in hardcover).

Stan Lee's Secrets Behind the Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week from the University Press of Missi... sorry, I mean Pure Imagination. It's a softcover reprint of a 1947 Famous Enterprises paperback in which Stan the Man -- then but a lad of 24 -- turns your body on to the Secrets Behind the Comics. No doubt an interesting artifact of the era from an already uniquely-positioned perspective, and I'm told there's an offer where you can send in your work for a personal evaluation by the future Moebius collaborator for the low price of $1.00 (may not be valid); $20.00.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: You may or may not encounter Nancy at the shop this week, but Diamond assures me that other collections are en route. First there's a new printing of The Complete Crumb Vol. 1: The Early Years of Bitter Struggle, now expanded to 208 pages with newly-discovered Crumb brothers funnies from the early '60s; $24.99. And The Complete Peanuts Vol. 17: 1983-1984 takes us further into the age of Spike and the like; $28.99.