Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RIP: Jean Giraud 1938-2012

A giant has left us, and, since he was French and didn’t do a moderately lengthy run on the X-Men at some point, there is a lot less fanfare than there should be. Jean was a GIANT in his field, and stands at the highest peaks of what it is to do with comic art. While the rest of the American comic book artists see that there is little beyond the world of superheroes, Jean, the FRENCHMAN, created the sweeping vistas of art that graced arguably the best sustained western comic epic, Lt. Blueberry, and then moved to science fiction, opening Moorcock’s door and exploring the Airtight Garage, designing uniforms for Ridley Scott’s Alien (even doing a short story with screenplay writer Dan O’Bannon that I consider a minor masterpiece). How about mentioning his short humerous pieces? Of the beautiful fantasy, Arzach, or his more lyrical illustrations that have graced more publications than can be counted?

This is not a comic book artist, this was an artist. And one whose craft was beyond remarkable. His visual shorthand showed a degree of craft that matched his vision, and one can only imagine that it was borne out his not being straightjacketed by the narrow minded vision of the American comic book industry.

It was long said that Jack Kirby got to the top of his mountain and couldn’t see the next mountain, and that Gil Kan got to the top of his mountain but didn’t know how to get to the next mountain. Moebius simply didn’t see the valleys between and strode rather effortlessly from one to the next. While I don’t always agree with that analogy, I will make the case the Moebius is the musician who appears to be able to play anything, and his ability and talent masque just how damn hard he worked.

Ah, yes, Moebius. Jean Giraud made the excellent choice to do his science fiction work under the pen name, perhaps freeing himself from the constraints of his western style for Blueberry, perhaps freeing himself from having to be any one thing, since it was clear that the Airtight Garage, his delightful epic serialized in the 1970’s Heavy Metal, took Jerry Cornelius into places that Michael Moorcock’s imagination simply wouldn’t have taken him (which, yes, was the entire point of Jerry anyway wasn’t it?). Heavy Metal, originally the best place to find hand drawn tits and ass for us naughty juveniles in the days before internet porn, now gets to be remembered more fondly for introducing us to European artists whose imaginations weren’t limited to Siegel and Shuster hand-me-downs. (Was there anything like the beautiful open line Moebius illustrations sitting next to Phillipe Druillet’s interdimensional space gothic cathedrals? Even if you weren’t stoned, there was this whole other reality that existed to open up new synapses of your brain just for trying to understand to the artwork.) That the original Airtight Garage may not have had the best translation only adds to the charm of it.

And what to make of the pen name itself? The Moebius strip winds and loops around to itself, never finding a beginning or ending, it is too perfect for the reality jumping of the Airtight Garage which needs neither a beginning or ending but, like all reality, is a series of nows that flow from one to the next.

The Incal work he did is breathtaking, although it has suffered through what appears to some onerous coloring issues that make some versions less than desireable, as well as even more onerous publishing histories of the sort that make me just want to pick them up every now and then and enjoy them in small doses. The wordless Arzach fantasies are a goldmine of subconscious images that resonate on very emotional levels with many. Moebius’ imagery is so good that it has been appropriated into world wide pop culture over the last couple decades.

Jean Giraud was an artist’s artist, a shy man that I met once in passing and, quite honestly, didn’t know what to say to him. He is one of those artists whose work has burned into the visual cortex of my brain and I don’t quite think that its ever going to leave. And it isn’t about copying him, which is terribly difficult since his work was so unique  and it generally looks like you’re just doing a poor man’s Moebius, but it’s about looking at his approach to storytelling and design. His approach was so rich and imaginative. His establishing shots, his character design, he gets his visual perspective right, and when not given a rigid structure, he finds all the subtle ways to make hard visual regression shots work and impossible shots look easy. He was an artist’s artist.

And a real giant.

1 comment:

ad3kpro said...

We have lost a MASTER.