Yesterday, after a long battle with cancer, the world lost one of the greatest comic book illustrators who ever lived, Jean Giraud, also known by his pen name Moebius.
Not only was Jean Giraud among the absolute best, but he was also among the most underappreciated, at least in America. He spent much of his career working on comics in France, and unlike European imports such as Herge (Tintin) or Jacques Tardi (The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec), Jean Giraud didn’t have the privilege of his books being translated and sold widely. Now, they are the coveted possessions of collectors. To this day, the only comic I own featuring artwork by Moebius is a short installment he did for an old issue of Dark Horse Presents.
The work he is perhaps best known for is called The Airtight Garage, a loose, sprawling sci-fi epic taking place over many worlds. I desperately want to read this, but can’t find it anywhere. According to wikipedia, he also worked on storyboards and character designs for the films Alien, Tron and Willow.
I’m hit especially hard by his passing because he was one of the last remaining practitioners of a drawing style I absolutely love: ligne claire, or clear line as it’s known to us. This is a style that first gained prominence in Herge’s Tintin books, and it’s something you see in other early classics like Asterix, Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, and Little Lulu. While the style had similarities, Jean Giraud took it as far from those books as you could get. While clear line involves a minimalist, smooth use of lines, Moebius introduced texture into his drawings, adding hundreds of tiny lines to create a sense of depth that is sorely lacking in Tintin.
True fans of sci-fi won’t find a better artist out there than Jean Giraud. It wasn’t just his style that was amazing, but also his choice of subjects. So many of his panels resemble the Mos Eisley cantina, which is the best scene in Star Wars: A New Hope if you ask me. If you look at his pictures, they’re stuffed with civilized aliens, flying reptiles, and the occasional steampunk motifs, such as soldiers wearing 19th century style pith helmets while on distant planets.
Hopefully, one of the comic book companies will take the initiative and start reprinting The Airtight Garage for those of us in America. Until then, we can at least look at examples of his art online. Here’s a site I recently found featuring many of his illustrations. If not for Moebius, we very likely wouldn’t have pencilers like James Opena, Frank Quitely, and Moritat, all of whom utilize a clear line technique mixed with Moebius’ distinct textured look.
You can also see some of the artwork of Jean Giraud on his Comic Art Community page.