Jean Giraud had one of the most interesting double lives in comics history. Under his own name, he co-created the legendary western comic 'Blueberry' with writer Jean-Michel Charlier. He also used the shortened signature of "Gir" for this series. As Moebius, he was one of the most innovative and influential comic artists of the 20th century, known for groundbreaking science-fiction and fantasy works like 'Arzach', 'The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius' and 'The Incal'. Moebius was at the forefront of a new wave of experimental comic authors, who gathered in the comics magazine Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) and the publishing label Les Humanoïdes Associés. Giraud's own artistic influences were Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt Van Rijn, Winsor McCay, Harold Foster, Jijé, Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb and Jean-Claude Mézières.
Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in Nogent-sur Marne, a commune in the eastern suburbs of Paris, on 8 May 1938. Giraud was largely raised by his grandparents, with whom he lived in Fontenay-sous-Bois since his parents' divorce in 1941. He grew up reading comics and watching American B-Westerns, while developing a passion for drawing. His mother encouraged him to further pursue his artistic ambitions, and he took art courses from an early age. He enrolled at The Duperré School of Applied Arts in Paris, where he studied alongside Jean-Claude Mézières and Pat Mallet for two years. While feeling no desire for designing wallpaper and furniture, he started drawing his own western comic strips, inspired by Belgian artists like André Franquin and Morris. He also published his first illustrations in Fiction magazine.
After leaving the Academy in 1955 he went to live with his mother in Mexico for eight months. There, he was exposed to mind-expanding substances, sex and the desert for the first time. The experience had an enormous impact on his future life and career, both as Giraud and as Moebius. Back in France in 1956, he sold his first comic story ('Les Aventures de Frank et Jérémie') to Far West, a western magazine edited by Marijac. Through Mézières he subsequently got the opportunity to work for the children's publications of Éditions Fleurus, such as Fripounet et Marisette, Coeurs Vaillants and Âmes Vaillantes between 1956 and 1958. His contributions were mainly short stories of an educational and historical nature, and he also provided artwork to a publication called Sitting-Bull. He spent his military service in Algeria and Germany, where he made illustrations and comic strips for the army monthly 5/5 Forces Françaises. Another contributor to this magazine was André Chéret.
Back in civilian life, Giraud became an apprentice of Joseph Gillain, the classic Belgian comic artist known as Jijé. He inked the episode 'La Route de Coronado' of Jijé's western series 'Jerry Spring', which was published in Spirou magazine in 1961. Jijé learned Giraud the finer points of the comics profession, training him in creating simple lay-outs, effective usage of black, rhythm in storytelling and working with photo documentation. He also worked on comic stories for Bonux-Boy (1960-1961) and Total Journal (1966-1968), two advertising comic magazines edited by Jijé's son Benoît, who had become a close friend of his. In 1961 and 1962, Giraud and Mézières were artists at Studio Hachette, where they participated in collections like 'L'Histoire des Civilisations'.
When scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier proposed Jijé to create a new western series for Charlier's magazine Pilote, Jijé suggested Giraud for the assignment. The first story, 'Fort Navajo', premiered in Pilote in October 1963. The initial set-up featured an ensemble cast, but the character of Lieutenant Mike S. Donovan, a.k.a. Blueberry, quickly took the centre stage. Along the way, he received two sidekicks, namely the boozing gold prospector Jimmy McClure andRedneck, an expert on Indian matters. However, Dargaud, the original publisher of the books, continued to use the series title 'Fort Navajo, une Aventure du Lieutenant Blueberry' until 1973.
The first 'Blueberry' cycle dealt with the American Indian Wars, and consisted of more basic adventure stories in the tradition of Charlier's other series, such as 'Buck Danny', 'La Patrouille des Castors' and 'Barbe-Rouge'. Giraud based Blueberry's original looks on the French western actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, while his artwork in general was still heavily inspired by Jijé. As the series evolved, Giraud became more and more influenced by the western movies of Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Sam Peckinpah, American comic artists Milton Caniff and Hal Foster, and Western painter Frederic Remington. Giraud's brushwork became grittier, and his involvement in Charlier's scripts increased. Giraud let his character age as the stories progressed, which was highly unusual in comic series at the time. The stories and the action became more hard-boiled after Pilote began to focus on a more mature readership in 1968.
The series gained full maturity when Giraud and Charlier made a cycle about a hidden treasure of Confederate gold in Mexico. This story arc consists of the albums 'Chihuahua Pearl' (1973), 'L'Homme qui Valait 500.000 $' ('The Half-A-Million Dollar Man', 1973), 'Ballade pour un Cercueil' ('Ballad for a Coffin', 1974), 'Le Hors-la-loi' ('The Outlaw', 1974) and 'Angel Face' (1975). The flawless hero of 'Fort Navajo' had by now transformed into a normal human being, one who wasn't safe from being manipulated, betrayed and tortured. Giraud's explicit graphic portrayals of the dirty and sweaty Far West with all its violence and dangers paved the way for other European western comics, such as 'Comanche' by Hermann and Greg, 'Jonathan Cartland' by Michel Blanc-Dumont, 'Durango' by Yves Swolfs and even the later 'Jerry Spring' stories by Jijé.
A dispute over royalties with publisher Georges Dargaud led to a more complex publication history of 'Blueberry' stories after 1973. Stories were prepublished in Nouveau Tintin (1975), Métal Hurlant (1979), Super As (1980), L'Écho des Savanes (1981) and Spirou (1983), before they were published directly in albums. The books were published by Fleurus, Novedi and Alpen, before Giraud returned to Dargaud in 1995. In addition, Giraud and Charlier had been presenting scenes from Blueberry's younger years in Super Pocket Pilote from 1968. Dargaud published three books with these stories in 1975 and 1979. Three new installments of 'La Jeunesse de Blueberry' ('Young Blueberry') were created by Charlier and New-Zealand artist Colin Wilson at Novedi between 1985 and 1990. During their dispute with Dargaud, Giraud and Charlier created 'Jim Cutlass', another western comic of which one album was published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1979. Giraud revived the series in 1991 and wrote six more books for artist Christian Rossi at Casterman until 1999.
While Giraud and Charlier had basically renewed the western comics genre with 'Blueberry', Giraud embarked upon even more innovative territory under his pen name Moebius. He had first used the name for a couple of short stories in the satirical monthly Hara-Kiri in 1963-1964. Starting in 1969, Moebius made a series of science fiction illustrations for sci-fi novels published by Opta, which marked the beginning of Giraud's exploits outside of the mainstream. Giraud further developed his Moebius persona while on a hiatus from 'Blueberry' between 1974 and 1979. With comic artist Philippe Druillet, journalist/writer Jean-Pierre Dionnet and financial director Bernard Farkas he launched the revolutionary comics anthology Métal Hurlant in December 1974. The men gathered under the collective name Les Humanoïdes Associés, which also became the name of the associated publishing house. Métal Hurlant published mainly avant-garde science fiction and fantasy comics. Besides aforementioned authors, it also ran work by international creators like Richard Corben, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, Enki Bilal, Caza, Serge Clerc, Alain Voss, Berni Wrightson, Milo Manara, Jordi Bernet, Antonio Segura and Frank Margerin. A licensed US edition called Heavy Metal was launched in April 1977. The final issue of the original run of Métal Hurlant appeared in 1987, but Les Humanoïdes Associés has continued to publish comics and graphic novels in France since then.
Moebius experimented with every aspect of the comics medium. He switched from drawing with a brush to a pen, which resulted in more open drawings with influences from the "Clear Line" style. He crafted highly imaginative worlds and creatures, while his narratives are mainly based around improvisation and character development instead of plot. An essential character in Moebius' output is Major Grubert, a rather stereotypical explorer inspired by Frank M. Buck's 1930 novel 'Bring 'm Back Alive'. The character had first appeared in a short story for Pilote, and then in experimental and surreal stories for France-Soir and Fluide Glacial. He was also instrumental in one of Moebius' masterpieces, 'Le Garage Hermétique' ('The Airtight Garage'). In this series of often confusing short stories, Major Grubert encounters several entities seeking to invade an asteroid in a pocket universe. Another notable character is Jerry Cornelius, a secret agent created by sci-fi and fantasy author Michael Moorcock as a sort of "open source" character for other authors to work with.
'Le Garage Hermétique' was serialized in Métal Hurlant between 1976 and 1979, and in the US edition Heavy Metal from 1977. The original French book version was published in black-and-white under the title 'Major Fatal' in 1979. The story was colorized for the US publication, and has been published both as a graphic novel (Titan Books, 1989) and a 4-issue comic book series in 1992. The comic is widely praised because of its improvised nature, which makes the reader a witness of the artistic process of story development, while it also leaves a lot open to the reader's own interpretation. Therefore, 'The Airtight Garage' is not only a journey through a fictional world, but also through an artist's mind. In later years, Moebius created sequels like 'L'Homme du Ciguri' ('The Man from the Ciguri', 1995) and 'Le Chasseur Déprime' (2008), while the first Moebius book at Éditions du Fromage, 'Le Bandard Fou' ('The Horny Goof', 1974) can be considered a prequel. Major Grubert has continued to appear in Moebius' work throughout his career, and was also the central character in the "sketchbook graphic-novel" 'Le Major' in 2011.
Moebius' talent for creating strange and desolate landscapes was even more showcased in 'Arzach', a collection of short comic stories about a silent warrior riding on a pterodactyl-like creature. The stories have no balloons, captions or onomatopoeias, which makes up for a surreal and psychedelic reading experience. Even the main character's name seems disturbing, as Moebius spelled it differently in every story (Arzak, Arzach, Harzac, Harzach, Harzack). The installments appeared in Métal Hurlant in 1975 and 1976 and were collected in book format in 1976. Moebius returned to this character at the end of his life, when he planned to explore the character's origins in a trilogy. Only the first book was published under the title 'Arzak: L'Arpenteur' ('Arzak: The Surveyor') by Glénat in 2010. The second and third installment were never created because of the author's death in 2012.
Moebius' first collaboration with avant-garde comics writer and film director Alejandro Jodorowsky was in 1975, when he did creature and character designs and storyboards for Jodorowsky's planned movie adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi novel 'Dune' in 1975. The project was never completed, but Moebius and Jodorowsky continued to work together on comics projects. After releasing the comic book 'Les Yeux du Chat' at Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1978, they created a comics classic with 'L'Incal' ('The Incal'). The saga focuses on P.I. John Difool, who receives the Light Incal, a crystal of enormous powers. The original series by Moebius and Jodorowsky was published in six books by Les Humanoïdes Associés between 1981 and 1988. It was the first installment in Jodorowsky's own sci-fi universe known as the "Jodoverse", which also includes 'Meta-Barons' (drawn by Juan Giménez), 'The Technopriests' (drawn by Zoran Janjetov) and 'Mégalex' (drawn by Fred Beltrán). A sequel called 'Après L'Incal' was started by Jodorowsky in 2000. Moebius drew only the first book; the second and third installments were drawn by José Ladrönn. The character's early years were explored in 'Avant l'Incal' by Jodorowsky and Zoran Janjetov (1988-1995) and a final cycle called 'Final Incal' was produced by Jodorowsky and Ladrönn (2008-2014).
Moebius was highly influenced by drugs and the philosophies of French New Age guru Jean-Paul Appel-Guéry and Swiss nutritionist Guy-Claude Burger for his next major work, 'Le Monde d'Edena' ('The Aedena Cycle'). The artist's journeying lifestyle also left its mark on the comic; the installments were drawn in Tokyo, California and France. The cycle had its origin in a promotional comic Moebius had made for French car manufacturer Citroën in 1983 ('Une Croisière Citroën sur l'Étoile'), in which two characters are transported to a "Garden of Eden" in another galaxy. Éditions Casterman collected the rest of what has to be Moebius' most philosophical series in four books between 1988 and 2001. Main themes are dreams, nutrition, health, biology and sexuality, structured societies and the archetype of good and evil. The series was published in English by Marvel/Epic comics between 1988 and 1994. Moebius and Jodorowsky also made 'Le Cœur Couronné' (1992-1998), a comics trilogy about the affair of a Philosophy professor with a delusional student, as well as the erotic one-shot 'Griffes d'Ange' (1994).
Another notable comic by Moebius is 'The Long Tomorrow' (1976), a futuristic crime noir short story written by Dan O'Bannon, who also did the special effects on Jodorowsky's 'Dune' project. The story has been a huge source of inspiration for George Lucas' 'Star Wars' film 'The Empire Strikes Back', Ridley Scott's sci-fi film 'Blade Runner' (1982) as well as the fashion in the videoclip for 'Firestarter' by The Prodigy (1996). Compilations of Moebius' other short stories were published by Les Humanoïdes in books like 'Double Évasion' (1981), 'La Citadelle Aveugle' (1989) and 'Escale sur Phargonescia' (1989).
From 1983, Moebius was active in merchandising his properties. He co-founded the publishing label Aedena in 1984, while his wife Claudine Giraud oversaw Starwatcher, a company specialized in publishing and distributing related products. Based in Los Angeles, Moebius got most of his graphic novels published in the US through Marvel Comics. He furthermore worked with Stan Lee on a two-issue mini-series starring the 'Silver Surfer' for Marvel's Epic imprint in 1988 and 1989. Under his own Aedena label, he produced the portfolio 'La Cité-Feu' (1985) with Geoff Darrow, and he published 'La Nuit de l'Étoile' (1986), a sci-fi comic written by Moebius and drawn by Marc Bati.
Giraud had been writing comic stories for other artists since the early 1970s. For Pilote, he wrote the initial episodes of the post-apocalyptic comic 'Jason Muller' for Claude Auclair in 1970, as well as a couple of short stories for Jacques Tardi. His further scriptwriting work includes six books of 'Altor' with Marc Bati, a comic initially published under the title 'Cristal Majeur' (Dargaud, 1986-2003), and 'Little Nemo', a sequel to the classic American newspaper comic 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' by Winsor McCay, which was drawn by Bruno Marchand (Casterman, 1994-2002). Giraud and Bati have also made a comic book based on George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' ('La Ferme des Animaux' at Novedi in 1985). In 2005 Moebius wrote the French manga story 'Icare' for Jirô Taniguchi (Éditions Kana). With Jean-Marc Lofficier, who also translated most of his works to English, he worked on the scripts of a couple of stories set in the same universe as 'The Airtight Garage'. 'The Elsewhere Prince' was drawn by and Eric Shanower and published by Epic Comics in six issues in 1990, while Jerry Bingham did the art for 'The Onyx Overlord', which was published in four issues in 1992. Witch scriptwriter Jean-Luc Coudray, he made 'Les Histoires de Monsieur Mouche' in 1994.
Not surprisingly, 'Blueberry' also changed into a different direction because of Giraud's work under his alter ego Moebius. Especially after Jean-Michel Charlier's death in 1989, Giraud further developed the character's background and deeper emotions. He completed the final story he had started with Charlier, 'Arizona Love' (Alpen, 1990), and wrote and drew five more albums, which form the 'Mister Blueberry' cycle (1995-2005). Instead of following Charlier's plan of rehabilitating Blueberry and sending him back to the army, Giraud decided to turn his protagonist into a loafing civilian who spends his days playing poker. He also added another spin-off to the 'Blueberry' universe, which focused on Blueberry's adventures as a marshal in the war against the Apaches prior to the Confederate gold storyline. The first two books of 'Marshal Blueberry' were drawn by William Vance (Alpen, 1991, 1993), while the third one was drawn by Michel Rouge (Dargaud, 2000). In the meantime, the 'Young Blueberry' series was still continued by François Corteggiani and Michel Blanc-Dumont, although with no creative input from Giraud.
A third planned spin-off about an elderly Blueberry was called 'Blueberry: 1900', and was supposed to be drawn by François Boucq. Giraud wanted Blueberry to reside with the Hopi tribe and meditate under the influence of mind-expanding substances, while a comatose President McKinley is levitated in his bed. The project was halted by Philippe Charlier, the son and heir of Jean-Michel Charlier, who found this new direction too far away from the creative integrity and legacy of his father. However, the psychedelic hallucinations did end up in the 2004 movie 'Blueberry, l'expérience secrète' starring Vincent Cassel, Michael Madsen and Juliette Lewis (with Jean Giraud in a cameo role). The film was no commercial success, but did gain a certain cult status as a "trip film". Since it deviated so much from the source material, the Charlier heirs demanded that their family name should be removed from the credits.
Besides the abandoned 'Dune' project, Jean Giraud/Moebius has participated in the development of several movies. He did storyboards and concept designs for Ridley Scott's movie 'Alien' (1977), 'Tron' by The Walt Disney Company (1982), René Laloux's 'Les Maîtres du Temps' ('Time Masters', 1982), James Cameron's 'The Abyss' (1989) and Luc Besson's 'The Fifth Element' (1997). A comic album with stills from 'Les Maîtres du Temps' and a companion book with storyboard drawings and photos were published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1982. In 1985 Moebius headed for Tokyo to work on the script and conceptual art for 'Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland' (1989), an animated film based on Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland'. Giraud also made original character designs and did visual development for the Warner Bros movie 'Space Jam' in 1996. In the 1990s, Giraud worked on a planned movie adaptation of 'The Airtight Garage', which remained unreleased due to financial problems. The Chinese 3D-CGI feature film 'Thru the Moebius Strip' (2005) was based on an original story and designs by Jean Giraud.
Several artbooks with Moebius' drawings and paintings have been published, such as 'Starwatcher' (1986), 'Made in L.A.' (1988), 'Quattre-vingt huit' (1990), 'Chaos' (1991), 'Chroniques Métalliques' (1992), 'Fusion' (1995), 'Une jeunesse heureuse' (1999). He additonally made illustrations for books and magazines, including an edition of Paulo Coelho's novel 'The Alchemist'. He also worked with Coelho on the video game 'Pilgrim' in 1997. In 1999, Giraud released 'Giraud/Moebius - Histoire de mon double', which featured a biography of Giraud by Moebius and vice versa. From 2004 to 2010, Stardom published 'Inside Mœbius', an illustrated autobiographical fantasy featuring many of his longtime characters, such as Major Grubert, Blueberry and Arzak. The project covers 700 pages and was published in six hardcover volumes.
Jean Giraud was invested with a knighthood in the Ordre National du Mérite in 2011. He died in Paris, on 10 March 2012 at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer. One of his final comics created under his own name was 'La Version Irlandaise', the first of a two-part volume in the 'XIII' series, which was released at the same time with its companion piece by the regular authors William Vance and Jean Van Hamme in November 2007.
An interview that Numa Sadoul had with Jean Giraud was published under the title 'Mister Moebius et Docteur Gir' at Albin Michel in 1976. It was reprinted by Casterman in 1991 in 'Mœbius : Entretiens avec Numa Sadoul', which also contained later interviews. A large career retrospective called 'Trait de Génie Giraud/Moebius' was on exhibit in the Comics Museum in Angoulême, and an extensive catalogue edited by Thierry Groensteen was published for this occasion.
With an oeuvre fuelled by mind-expanding drugs and New Age philosophies, Moebius has created a legacy which remains an inspiration to science fiction and fantasy authors to this day. He is considered one of the most influential comic artists since Hergé, and among his many and diverse admirers are comic authors like Hergé, Stan Lee and Marc Sleen, film directors Federico Fellini, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Quentin Tarantino, and novelists Paulo Coelho, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson. He was an influence on the work of Hayao Miyazaki, William Stout, Emmanuel Roudier, Arno, Georges Bess, Dominique Hé, André Juillard, François Boucq, Geof Darrow, Louis Paradis, Martin tom Dieck, Milan Mišic, Katsuya Terada, Jean-Jacques Sanchez, Zalozabal, Karel Verschuere, Jan Bosschaert, Stedho, François Schuiten, Frank and Thierry Van Hasselt. 'Arzach' was a major influence on the development of the 'Panzer Dragoon' videogame by Team Andromedia in 1995. 'The Airtight Garage' inspired by the name for a San Francisco-based bar and videogame parlor and for a band from Washington DC (1993-1996).