1963. This is the year when Mike S. Donovan began to get noticed, somewhere in the Far West. Mike is a nice guy, honest to himself, loyal to friends, sometimes a bit undisciplined, but with a great heart. He’s also pretty handy with guns, as he rings his colt quicker than a bell. Maybe his name would mean little or nothing at all to most of you, but that’s just because I forgot to mention the nickname by which he is best known: Blueberry.
In a span of, well, more than forty comic books published from 1963 to these days, Lt. Blueberry is probably one of the most famous Far-West characters ever, sharing his Olympic glory with the likes of Tex Willer (Italy), Lucky Luke (France) and a few others. The man behind the drawings – the scripts of the first adventures were written by Jean-Michel Charlier – is a 25 years old guy born in Fontenay-sous-Bois whose name is Jean Giraud, but that some time later will be known by the name of Moebius.
But who’s this artist, and how comes he wanted to change his name? When dit it happen and why? Well, if you ever thought that Giraud became ‘Moebius’ in the 70s, think again.
In the early 60s, French satirical magazine ‘Hara-Kiri’ began to publish some comics written and illustrated by Jean Giraud. These strips were far different from the western stuff Giraud was realizing for his Blueberry, and quite groundbreaking for the period, mixing science fiction, social satyr and surrealism with unusual ease, therefore he wanted to give to his new material a peculiar, revolutionary mark. To make sure this new production of his had nothing to do with the whole ‘Far West’ phenomenon, Giraud operated a proper transformation of his ‘artistic’ self. The result was the name ‘Moebius’, that came out after a German mathematician of XIX century, very well known for his invention: a curve strip or tape that, after being cut lengthwise generates a paradoxical unique strip of double-length, rather than two separate strips. Giraud, fascinated by the very paradox of the strip, created a new course in his own work, highlighting the difference with his more ‘traditional’ Blueberry – a true Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hide split of personality.
Under the name of Moebius, Giraud realized quite a lot of strips for Hara-Kiri in the former half of the 60s, along with new stories of Blueberry, when – all of a sudden, we would say – he temporarily dropped his Moebius-Mr Hide side for a while. Eventually, this side emerged again around 1973-74, with a more SF oriented production. The time was different, now: it was the 70s, and counter-culture was spreading its influence over Europe as it did in the USA. With a crew of likewise people (Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Philippe Druillet, Bernard Farkas and few others) Moebius joined Les Humanoides Associées and instantly found himself at perfect ease. The Humanoides starship took off in 1974 and by then Arzach (aka Harzack, Arzak, etc.) was born. Arzach was a strange character indeed, a lonely man dressed with a bizarre outfit and a high, conical cap on his head, riding a huge bird from one side to another of a no less bizarre landscape. Most of the episodes of Arzach were coloured with vivid tints, and had no text or dialogues whatsoever, leaving the meaning of the story to the readers’ imagination alone.
Science fiction became a staple diet for Giraud, from now on better known for his alter ego Moebius. Writer and director Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to involve him in his project about a film version of Dune, ten years before the 1984 David Lynch one. This surrealistic script, based upon Frank Herbert’s book, should have had Salvador Dalì playing as the emperor. Jodorowsky’s Dune was never realized, as many financial and technical problems occurred. Despite this, only four years after the Dune fiasco, Moebius was called to contribute with his pioneering view to the most shocking SF movie of the Seventies: Ridley Scott’s Alien. His baroque concept of spacesuits was universally accepted as ‘revolutionary’ by both the director and the producers.
In the latter half of the Seventies, Moebius launched one of his better known series: Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius (The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius). This new work didn’t have a proper story, nor it had a script to be followed strictly. In an interview, Moebius said that there wasn’t even a plot for Le Garage. He realized three 2 page episodes that – apparently – had nothing to do with one another. In the fourth episode he tried to connect all details and characters and create a story, but that was that and ‘Le Garage’ still remains an excellent example about how a comic strip can be adventurous even without a script, a work-in-progress whose universe and single episodes can be expanded indefinitely beyond limit.
Shortly after ‘Le Garage’, Moebius and Jodorowsky meet again to plan a new series. The Incal, probably the best known work of Jodorowsky and Moebius, is a proper space saga, but with very strong mystical and esotheric elements. Realized in six volumes (L’Incal Noir, L’Incal Lumière, Ce qui est en bas, Ce qui est en haut, La cinquième essence – Galaxie qui Songe, La cinquième essence – La planète Difool, these are the French titles), from 1981 to 1989, The Incal saga is the story of a clumsy private detective, John Difool, who – rather reluctantly – becomes the key element of a plot of cosmic importance, whereas a whole human galaxy is threatened by a combination of negative factors.
In 1982, Moebius was also involved in the making of “Tron”, one of the most groundbreaking films ever made and probably the first to talk about virtual reality, in an age when the most sophisticated personal computer was the Commodore 64!
Despite Moebius – in his other, traditional self – didn’t stop to write and draw new stories of Blueberry, in 1983 he produced another SF masterpiece, a graphic portfolio for the French car manufacturer Citroën called ‘The Star’ (Sur L’Étoile in French). The Star proved to be a great success both with critic and public, and spanned other five books known as “The World of Edena”, earning a place alongside other Moebiusian series.
During the years, Moebius fame went from strength to strength, his masterpieces translated in many languages, his fans being a continuously growing community. Among his supporters and friends can also be counted other worldwide famous artists like Federico Fellini, Hayao Miyazaki, Milo Manara and many others.
Moebius’ career was dense of revolutions in the very way of making comics. If there’s a world ‘top 10’ of the most innovative artists, I believe Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud should be included in the first five places, his work extremely influential to – at least – two generations of illustrators.
It’s a long way from Blueberry’s first appearance, don’t you think? Has Moebius fired his last shot? I don’t think so. I’d rather imagine him, in an indefinite time, jumping on Arzach’s huge bird and flying away – as a cowboy in the deep space – in search of an airtight garage where to spend the remains of life.