How Moebius revolutionised comic art

This archive interview looks at the artist that inspired Star Wars, reinvented French comics, and pioneered surreal illustration.

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

"When I started, I set myself a direction – a trajectory like a rocket in the sky. At the end I will blow up, but I don't know where"

When ImagineFX magazine spoke to the art legend Moebius in 2010, a year before his death, he looked back at a career of innovation and constant creativity. Here's the interview as it was published on 14 December 2010.

Moebius, real name Jean Giraud, isn't the man you'd think he'd be. He's an enigma, a legend in France who's always wanted to be loved abroad for his American comics. He's also humble, despite a 50-year career that's seen his art anchored at the heart of modern sci-fi and fantasy.

Directly and indirectly, he's influenced Hollywood's greatest film-makers, including George Lucas and Ridley Scott. At the age of 22 he pioneered adult graphic novels, taking comics in a new, metaphysical direction.

When questioned about his venture from the world of mainstream comic art to that of surreal, often abstract and fantastical illustration, the artist offers a practical observation: "The possibilities as a professional illustrator are very small. Sometimes I prefer to escape and just do my own thing – it's more exciting."

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

In 2011, the year before his death, Moaebius was commissioned to create nine images for French manufacturer Hermes. Here's one...

In 1963, as a young man, Jean began working on the Western comic strip Blueberry with Jean-Michel Charlier, the director of French publisher Pilote. Blueberry was a visually realistic and authentic cowboy adventure.

It was also an instant hit with readers. Jean would sign off his art for the episodes as 'Gir'. He'd created his first pseudonym. Following the death of Jean-Michel Charlier, Jean carried on creating Blueberry comics (to date, he's written and illustrated 30 volumes).

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

In the 1960s in France Blueberry was as popular as any Marvel or DC creation, though the titular character is in fact American. Here's an image from the comic

But the artist was yet to become himself. Gir had developed into Jean's signature for comics about adventures and Westerns. "I wanted to do something else," says the artist, "so I took a new signature for an artist's name: Moebius."

There's been a lot written about what the name means. It was reportedly inspired by the Möbius strip, the two ends of which fold together to create a one-sided loop. In an official biography, Jean has said, "Going from Giraud to Moebius, I twisted the strip; changed dimensions. I was the same and yet someone else.

I only spent 10 days on Alien and two months in LA at Disney for Tron

Moebius is the result of my duality." These days, he's more pragmatic, and almost embarrassed of his past statements: "When I chose the name I was very young: just 22."

"It was an idea with nothing special in mind, a nice name with a good sound and strange flavour. After a time it became interesting because there was a lot of background behind the name – mathematics behind the strip."

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

As Moebius, Jean created his own set of icons; drawing on crystals, meditation and dreams to inspire his work. “It’s a great pleasure, pleasure and suffering at the same time,” says Jean of his need to keep finding a creative inspiration

Origins aside, the product of Jean's alter ego took the comic world by storm. In 1973, as Moebius, he teamed up with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet and Bernard Farkas to create Les Humanoïdes Associés (United Humanoids). The outfit launched Métal Hurlant, later to become Heavy Metal magazine in the US.

As Gir, Jean's style was realistic, picking influences from film and photography and basing worlds on real places. But Moebius was able to explore new environments, developing a rich, detailed style that would bring alien civilisations to life through vivid, evolving imagery.

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

Here's a stunning piece of detailed line work from the artist's portfolio Mystere Montrouge

Métal Hurlant and its strips were spurred on by the growing underground press and comics movement in America in the 70s. "The idea was to be free, completely free, with no boundaries," remembers Jean. "Choosing the subjects, prose and style was free – my work was sci-fi and fantasy; I wanted to be provocative."

This sense of freedom manifested in pieces such as space and time odyssey Le Garage Hermétique (The Airtight Garage), The Long Tomorrow (which influenced Blade Runner) and the fantastical Arzach, a dialogue-free comic following a lone explorer and his winged alien creature.

How Moebius revolutionised comic art

This is an image from Arzach, the comic that first brought Moebius world-wide acclaim

Arzach changed everything. Under the name Moebius, Jean was able to create a new language for comics. Freed from the constraints of a conventional script, the strip was a non-linear, expressive and surreal fantasy that asked the reader to form meaning from the images.

Next page: more on Moebius and his art...