The French comics icon, painter and fantasy illustrator known as Moebius is dead at 73, according to the BBC and other news outlets in Europe.
Jean Giruad had been in declining heath in recent months and the last few years have been a struggle between his restlessly creative mind and his profound vision problems. His stature in the creative community, however, has only grown as new generations of illustrators, digital artists and videogame designers discover the alien souls and surreal landscapes in his work and use it as compass point from the past.
The Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain in Paris staged a lavish five-month exhibit of the artist’s work that included small humble sketches and majestic wall-sized pieces and nodded to the some of the characters that he returned to again and again, among them the unspeaking Arzak, who glides above the peaks and canyons of distant worlds, and Michael “Blueberry” Donovan, the peripatetic American Civil War vet who first roamed a Leone-like Old West in 1963.
Giraud began using the pen name Moebius in the 1960s (and he also signed the name Gir to some of his work) and that name would become as resonant as Kirby or Frazetta to scholarly souls within the Comic-Con sector. This year marked the 55th anniversary of his first published work and the release last year of “Tron: Legacy” was a reminder of his work and influence among filmmakers; he was responsible for design elements in 1982’s “Tron,” “The Fifth Element” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien” but the sci-fi and fantasy visions he put on the page and on canvas echoed in the production design of dozens of films.
Giraud’s last major interview may have been for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar story that was published last April after appearing first here on Hero Complex. Here are the opening paragraphs of that story:
For his fans, the man called Moebius could never live up to the mystery conjured up by that name. Like Houdini or Hendrix, Fellini or Frazetta, the 72-year-old French artist’s name has become supercharged by the unreal, which has made it disconcerting to see him sipping from a beige coffee cup in a hotel room near the Burbank Airport while a maid attempted to lug her vacuum cleaner through the doorway. “We need a moment,” the artist said with a Parisian bow of the chin and an apologetic smile. “It’s time to talk about art.”
The name on his passport is Jean Giraud and he was born in May 1938 (just one month before Superman arrived in a small rocket from another planet in the pages of “Action Comics” No. 1) and he has long been regarded as the most important cartoonist of his country. That phrase, however, falls wildly short of capturing the essence of his career and breadth of his influence through comics, book covers, paintings and movie work. As filmmaker Ridley Scott said last year of the Moebius influence on contemporary sci-fi film: “You see it everywhere, it runs through so much you can’t get away from it.” Perhaps, but the artist is still caught off guard by the breathless reception he gets these days. In late November, Giraud made a relatively rare visit to the U.S. to speak at the Creative Talent Network Animation Expo and again and again he was approached by fans and younger professionals who gushed.
“They said that I changed their life,” Giraud whispered in amazement. “‘You changed my life.’ ‘Your work is why I became an artist.’ Oh, it makes me happy. But you know at same time I have an internal broom to clean it all up. It can be dangerous to believe it. Someone wrote, ‘Moebius is a legendary artist.’ I put a frame around me. A legend — now I am like a unicorn.”
The affable artist has been enjoying a surge of affection in his home country too with the large and lavish exhibit at Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain recently staged in Paris. The collection features enormous pieces — entire walls have been given over to the artist’s oddly serene images, which veer from Old West frontiers that Sergio Leone would find welcoming as well as fantastic beasties that seem to roam the dream-time landscapes bordered by the imaginations of Winsor McCay and Rene Magritte. Also Moebius has just returned to his most famous fantasy character, Arzak, the traditionally tight-lipped traveler who, after 36 years of gliding in silence, speaks for the first time in the hardcover comic book ”Arzak: L’Arpenteur” (which has yet to be translated for the English-reading audience).
The recognition is plainly pleasing to Giraud but bittersweet realities tug at the corners of his smile. He is dealing with profound vision problems and finds that the time devoted to his true love, writing and drawing comics, is diminishing as he uses his hours to paint the large commission pieces that sell for tens of thousands of dollars. And though he has enjoyed some memorable success in Hollywood (he was responsible for design elements in “Tron,” “The Fifth Element“ and Scott’s “Alien“) he looks back on his work with film as a sour reminder of what could have been if timing, geography and luck had worked in his favor. He relates all of this things with a wink and a shrug…
We’ll have more on the death of Giraud and his legacy.
– Geoff Boucher
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