Les Inrockuptibles Magazine. 10/20/2010
Moebius the mutant
His name is also Jean Giraud, whether he is drawing the Incal or Blueberry. He is one of the rare comic artists to switch from sci-fi to western. Transformation is the theme of his large exhibit at the Cartier foundation.
by Clarisse Bouillet and Anne-Claire Norot
He is a man of two names and multiple activities: Author and artist of cult comics, from Blueberry to the Incal; co-founder of the experimental and transgressive, sci-fi comics magazine Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) in 1975, ; Concept artist for movies (Alien, Tron, The Abyss, The 5th Element…) Unique on the French comics scene, he shattered the forms and codes of his art and is celebrated around the world. He releases today “Arzak l’Arpenteur” (Arzak the Surveyor) bringing back to life the hero of a classic story he published in 1975. To pay tribute to his protean and ever reinvented career, the Cartier foundation offers him an impressive exhibit on the theme of transformation.
Interview> You are at the same time Jean Giraud, creator of lieutenant Blueberry and Moebius author of science-fiction comics. Why this dual identity?
Moebius: It was vital for me to take a pseudonym; I needed a password to navigate from one world to the other and to be able to come back. But Jean Giraud and Moebius were always one. There was a transformation of comics in the ’60s/’70s and I’m one of the few to have made it through. I feel I’ve made it through without abandoning my roots.
The idea of transformation is recurring in your body of work and is also the theme of your exhibit.
What interest me is rather the difficulty to keep one’s identity and shape through metamorphosis. It might come from my bipolar nature but I always had trouble keeping stable forms. Something slides in me making things evanescent. The theme of transformation therefor became evident. When my characters live a normal life then all of a sudden starts seeing outgrowth coming out of their body, it’s not normal, it’s monstrous, almost a cancerous pathology, a cellular anarchy! The physical instability I translate in my drawings is like the fear of madness, a sort of metaphor for mental instability.
“Arzak l’Arpenteur” is the sequel to Arzach a story you started 30 years ago. How did your character change?
Thirty years ago, this story without words, very mysterious was somewhat transgressive. Arzach was like a ball of energy. You can see it in the drawings, the theme, the changing spelling (the spelling of the hero’s name changes constantly -ed.) and the use I’ve made of it over the years; years he spent going through various incarnations. I’ve used him in posters, drawings, films… Most of the time I called him Starwatcher “The one who observes the stars”. Recently, the publishing company we created with my wife, focused on some of my less mainstream works and wanted to be more ambitious. We thought it would be good to have a real title with a hero. Besides, Japanese producers had asked me an outline for an animated feature. I wrote a scenario with Arzach. The production collapsed but the scenario remained. “Arzak l’Arpenteur” is what came out of all this.
You started drawing when you were very young, in the ’50s. What attracted you to comics?
I come from a family with no artistic background, neither from my father’s side who was from the bourgeoisie, nor from my mother’s side who’s family were farmers. What led me to draw were two things. In my Grand Parents library was a substential collection of 19th century books – not literature, picture books, etchings from Gustave Doré, Edourd Riou or Alphonse de Neuville. And at the same time, at school, I was exposed to the culture of my age and time influenced by “Tim l’Audace, “Les Pieds Nickelés”, “Tintin”… That explains those two poles: the Moebius pole, through all the 19th century iconography and comics, producing simple images for children on a theme of adventure.
How did you learn your trade?
I’ve worked with Joseph Gillain (Spirou, Jerry Spring…) for a year. You could say he initiated me. I was already full of creativity, I had sold a lot of stories to newspapers but it was going in every directions, without shape. Gillain structured my drawing forever, it was fantastic. A trip to Mexico in 1956 brought me new themes announcing Moebius but the gestation process was long. It’s only once I got back to Paris that I found through science-fiction a possible bridge between my publications in newspapers and my artistic aspirations.
You have worked on the movies Alien and the Fifth Element. How did you discover science-fiction?
When I was a teenager, my father brought me a magazine named “Fiction” and told me to read it. I did [laugh] and really liked it! This monthly publication featured short stories from American magazines and some French short stories too. I’ve discovered all the classic authors like Heinlein, Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance and Philip José Farmer who quickly became my writers of reference. I loved socio-cosmic sci-fi, or the idea of a man put on an alien environment representing humanity.
Was this interest in science-fiction the drive to create Métal Hurlant in 1975?
It was necessary to create this magazine. At the time to reach a maximal creative ability, an artist had to jump through incredible hoops. Hergé had created a kind of magical but powerful misunderstanding: to make people believe he was working for an audience of children when in fact he was working for everybody, by removing from his creation anything sexual. We wanted to break out from this way of doing business. Breaking out meant working inside, in your head but also socially, because there were very active monitoring structures in place- Board of education, elected officials, parents associations and the police. Don’t forget that when we released Métal Hurlant we also created a magazine called “Ah! Nana” its feminine and feminist equivalent. We stopped publication after 9 issues when we were summoned to the Quai des Orfèvres (Paris Police Central Headquarter) and were forbidden all advertising – A death sentence for a magazine.
You were pushing it though…
Well no, it was because of the special issue on incest, it was cool! [laughs] In any case it was rocking the boat. At the time we had to experiment, we were trying to establish a spectrum of what was possible. In order to achieve that, we had to test the limits. But the shaking and shocking wasn’t that deliberate. It’s like at the end of the class when students run out to the schoolyard. They scream but after 30 seconds they start calming down. We were in our screaming phase! It was neat. We had the feeling to be in sync with everything that happened in literature, music, fashion and art. An artistic explosion in every direction.
Do you still like transgression?
Not systematically but there are moments when it’s necessary. Today we are more in a period of resistance, the consolidation of things we took for granted, things we thought to have conquered but didn’t really. It’s not easy. And all these people who by nature like transgression have to contain their impatience.
Resistance to authority, is that important to you?
I really have a problem with authority and those representing it, whether it’s a cop or someone around me becoming authoritarian. Every time I have to make a conscious effort to take a step back. Break myself from my pathology of resistance. I have to reconsider the entire social structure to tell myself this manifestation of authority could be justified by 2 million years of evolution or something! In reality, I’m an antibody with legs! [laughs]
You’ve never made a mystery of your use of drugs.
It was part of the culture at the time; I’ve used cannabis as a tool, in small doses. I was smoking natural weed neither treated, nor grown. An inhalation, even a light one connected me to a different perception of the world, of myself and my emotional baggage, words references. My relation to cannabis is singular: I was initiated in Mexico in 1956 by artists who gave me a road map: only use weed to transcend and never put your personal integrity in danger. I’ve never found myself in a situation of addiction. I dissociate myself from the profane way drug use permeated our western societies. To see friends light up a joint before breakfast was my wake-up call. I told myself: “Damn, we’re out of the sacred!” Cannabis is a cruel master, powerful and dangerous, you have to approach it very carefully and a lot of mistrust.
Are you comfortable with your success?
I very quickly considered my talent as an artist like an all access card, with all its implications and risks of corruption. Success gives you power, allows you to cut in the line. Recently I was at the post office to pick up a package and I didn’t have my ID. The guy tells me “Don’t worry Monsieur Moebius, I’ll bringing you your package”
Every time I’m questioning myself in order not to take it for granted. You don’t start an artistic career by telling yourself “I’m going to be famous and I want to be loved”. I take success with peace of mind. The exhibit at the Cartier foundation is a will to move forward, to progress, to stretch visuals as far as possible without restrictions. I wanted to be famous, not only from my contemporaries but also in the future and find myself reintegrated in the past. Also be famous with the angels, known by the hierarchies, celestials or not! [laughs]
V-ati obisnuit cu succesul?
Consider talentul meu de artist ca fiind un card de liber acces, cu toate implicatiile si irscurile de coruptie. Succesul iti da putere, iti permite sa te bagi in fata. De curand, eram la oficiul postal pentru a ridica un colet si nu aveam cartea de identitate la mine. Tipul imi spune „Nu va faceti griji, domnule Moebius, va aduc eu coletul”.
De fiecare ma pun sub semnul intrebarii ca sa nu mai aiu in serios. Nu incepi o cariera artistica spunandu-ti ” Voi fi faimos si vreau sa fiu iubit”. Iau succesul cu liniste sufleteasca. Expozitia de la fundatia Cartier [ultima, retrospectiva] este dorinta de a merge inainte, de a progresa, de a extinde artele vizuale cat mai departe posibil fara restrictii. Voiam sa fiu faimos, nu numai pentru contemporanii mei dar si in viitor si ma aflu reintegrat in trecut. Si sa fiu faimos cu ingerii din ierarhiile ceresti sau nu [rade]