"It was the first time a book had no dialogue, and it was intentionally provocative," says Jean. "The character was so mysterious, and the silence was part of that mystery. It's like a silent movie but with an artistic style and unique colours.
The pictures have their own power, and without words the meanings come directly from the images, characters and landscapes. So the story can be seen in one picture."
Jean's visions caught the imaginations of film-makers. His friendship with the writer Alejandro Jodorowsky, who he'd worked with on Arzach, led to assignments in Hollywood.
He was asked to design costumes and sets for the original movie adaptation of Dune, but the project was never filmed. Despite this, Jean was in vogue, and soon Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott hired him to work on concepts for Alien.
The visual language of Jean's comics was loved in Hollywood, but the artist is dismissive of his impact: "I only spent 10 days on Alien and two months in LA at Disney for Tron. Willow was 15 days' work. I'm not a specialist in cinema, I'm a comic artist and illustrator first."
With more film work in the 80s, Jean moved to LA and founded Aedena. While there, he illustrated a Silver Surfer graphic novel for Marvel. "I met some people, including Stan Lee. We had lunch – he said we should work together."
"I said yes and two days later received the story," says Jean, recalling the events as anyone else would remember a trip to the shops. "It was a different way of working. He sent me a synopsis with no titles and wrote the dialogue straight onto my drawings. I drew the story and he wrote the words – a great professional and a nice man."
As a young artist, Jean had always been fascinated by Western illustration, and here he was working at Marvel with Stan Lee. "My style is very American," he says. "I like the way US artists work. It's an artistic tradition that's very strong. I wanted to be part of it, and in a way I succeeded."
In 1989, Jean returned to France and took more commissions for comics and illustrations. He also began working with Jodorowsky and Les Humanoïdes Associés again, on the graphic novel Le Monde d'Edena (The World of Edena) and a new Arzach book, released in 2010 along with volume six of the Inside Moebius series.
He's revisiting abstract fantasy, tackling metamorphosis and waking dreams, which have always permeated his work. In his art, form is permeable: men turn into women, animals and plants become one and alien creatures invade bodies and contort.
It's a style Jean sees as at odds with classic French tradition. "In France, the accent is on style and identification," he says. "The artist wants to be known and recognised quickly. They're not interested in perfection or examination; they look for style.
"I try to link that with a search for a better work, better perception, better reflection; a search for truth. The purpose is not to realise this, but to be in that position of searching."
Despite everything he's achieved in his career, both artistically and critically, Jean is still modest, almost apologetic; he's still in love with the role of an artist.
In a final moment of reflection, he and Moebius are brought together: "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."
This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 65.
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