I read the news of French artist/cartoonist/awesome guy Jean Giraud’s death as I browsed Twitter Saturday morning between gulps of cheap, bitter coffee. The news chewed at my stomach, not because it was highly improbable or deafeningly tragic, but because in the last few weeks I’ve felt as if I was beginning to truly appreciate Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius and Gir) and his work.
It was inevitable among the Internet’s rush to memorialize that his life would be reduced to a few soundbites. They’re now ubiquitous. He’s the man who defined the look of Alien, Tron and Blade Runner (an overestimation, and slightly rude to the other visionary talent who worked on those movies, but fine. It’s not like Moebius’ greatest achievement was drawing for Hollywood, anyway.) He was besties with Hayao Miyazaki (fair enough, but this information says little about him, instead bridging a superficial gap to people disconnected from his work, similar to the way Brian fucking Bendis was selected to write the foreword to the US edition of The Incal.) You get the idea.
I’m not writing this for people who are intimately familiar with Jean Giraud and want to revel in his magnificence. I’m writing this for you, for people who know next to nothing about Moebius, and perhaps associate him with a certain kind of impenetrability complimented with an air of pretentiousness. Moebius comics are a real pain in the ass to find translated into English, often running for ludicrously high prices on the secondary market. And a lot of his later work still isn’t translated, so as a result, there aren’t a lot of English-speaking Moebius experts out there. I’m certainly not one of them.
You Should Read The Incal
The Incal is a science fiction comic created between 1981 and 1989, available uncensored and most affordably from the UK. Written by the moderately insane Alejandro Jodorowsky, it’s everything science fiction should be: weird, exotic, unnerving, and psychological. And drawn by Moebius’ hand, it’s a work of art, gorgeously imbued with his epic sense of atmosphere and space.
It is said Moebius is one of the few to bridge the gap between “art” and “comics.” If you accept the highfalutin logic of that maxim, it’s true. Moebius can be as appreciated in the comic shop as he is in the museum gallery. Still, I find it most rewarding when his abilities are focused towards telling a story. Even if comics were held in high esteem as an artform, the simple fact is most traditional artists could never draw good comics, because it takes too much work. Moebius excelled at it, and he excels at it in this story.
The Incal is a sweeping adventure in which a crystal artifact causes upheaval across the universe. A petty, whoring detective sporting 18th century European clothes named John DiFool comes across the Incal shortly before creatures willing to kill for it come across him, and over the course of his tactical retreat he makes friends (a man with a wolf head, and a universe-feared assassin named The Metabaron, for example), and enemies (including a president with a penchant for cloning and body impermanence.)
The Incal is fun, unpredictable, and just plain weird, three things which you can say about comics with increasing rarity. And unfortunately, it’s meager taste of Moebius’ capabilities. Somewhere beyond tumblr posts, platitudes, and aged comic scans, Moebius the comic artist can be found in all his breadth and width. I hope American publishers realize we all deserve the privilege of knowing him and work out the logistical details necessary to get more of his material published over here.