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Alexandre Gilbert

Métal Hurlant: Flight and Fall of Jean Giraud

Moebius, Japan Expo 2004 (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
Moebius, Japan Expo 2004 (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)

2025 is the 50th anniversary of Métal Hurlant, the protocyberpunk magazine founded by Moebius, who inspired Ridley Scott (Alien), James Cameron (Terminator, Avatar), William Gibson (Neuromancer), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Rintaro (Metropolis), Hayao Miyazaki (Nausicaä), Lana & Lilly Wachowski (Matrix, Sense 8), Zack Snyder (Sin City), Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse) or even David Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network , Mindhunter). In 2024, Christophe Quillien published Jean Giraud alias Moebius.

Has Jodorowsky discovered Moebius at a gas station near the Cannes festival promoting El Topo (1971)?

Christophe Quillien: It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date of the meeting between Jodorowsky and Moebius. Late 1974, early 1975. Jodorowsky always recounted that while he was preparing Dune and looking for an artist, he stopped at a gas station to refuel. At the time, albums were given out in exchange for a certain amount of fuel, and Blueberry was one of them. He thought to himself about this Western comic, “the artist is really good, I’m interested.” This is the legend Jodo always tells: he went to a production house to see one of his friends, and he didn’t know that Giraud and Moebius were the same person until he discovered it there and decided that this was the person he needed to draw the storyboard for Dune. That’s why I would place the meeting much later than 1970 because El Topo was presented at Cannes in 71 and released in France in 75, and indeed Giraud drew the poster, but as far as I know, he hadn’t met Jodorowsky yet. When he returned to Mexico the second time in 1964, he illustrated Jodorowsky’s poems without knowing who he was.

So, during Jodorowsky and Moebius first mutual serendipitous appearance on French television (Volume, 1970, 1971), they do not know each other yet. We’re just after May 68’s Pilote rebellion against René Goscinny, who took it very badly.

Christophe Quillien: Druillet has always been very respectful of Goscinny. Giraud hesitated to bring him into Pilote, and Druillet had to insist. I recently met a journalist from France Info named Jean-Christophe Ogier, who does a comic book column, and he told me that he once hosted a meeting with Giraud. When mentioning this event, Giraud started crying and said, “I killed Goscinny.” It’s a shame I couldn’t include it in the book, but it’s still not very clear because the meeting was supposed to be at Jean-Claude Mezières’ place to discuss Pilote and propose new ways of working. But as many people wanted to attend, they ended up meeting in a café near the Palais Royal, and more people joined in, like those from Atelier 63, Raymond Poivet, Robert Gigi, and perhaps some angry young people from the Beaux Arts workshop. Charlier wasn’t present but might have been informed at the last moment. Giraud told them not to come because they would be challenged.

Goscinny was seen by the Belgians as a leftist threat.

Christophe Quillien: I wouldn’t go that far, but Goscinny wanted to play a role in defending the authors. They had planned to set up a sort of authors’ union with Charlier and Uderzo, involving French and Belgian creators. They were betrayed by two people, whose names I don’t know, who called the publishers to warn them of a brewing revolution. Goscinny, Charlier, and Uderzo were blacklisted and went through a difficult period in the mid-50s. Afterward, they returned to France, launched Pilote, and so on. A big book came out about Pilote that I haven’t read. I wouldn’t describe Goscinny as a revolutionary but rather as someone committed to defending authors’ rights.

Because Pilote was founded by collaborators.

Christophe Quillien: A mix of La Cagoule and far-left people.

After the war, former SS started mingling with former resistance fighters.

Christophe Quillien: This was the case with the illustrators of the somewhat collaborationist magazine Le Téméraire, who were later found at Vaillant, like Raymond Poïvet from Les Pionniers de l’Espérance. At that time, all the illustrators at Pilote wore ties except Giraud, while Druillet had thick glasses and a beard. Giraud always had issues with authority, and just by the way he dressed, Goscinny represented authority. All his life, he wore a tie and suits, no matter the heat. Even when everyone else loosened up, and Charlier took off his tie, Goscinny continued to dress impeccably. I think his ideas weren’t necessarily in line with his way of dressing, and it was quite unfair to attack him. Giraud once said, “he was on the parents’ side.”

It was the Maoist era when children rebelled against their parents.

Christophe Quillien: Goscinny was very sensitive. That’s why this event took on such significance. He wasn’t that funny. He got angry quite easily and was reportedly upset even by an unknown fanzine’s critique. So, he may have overreacted. This wasn’t the case with Charlier or J.G. Mezières told me that before ’68, Goscinny already intended to evolve Pilote to tackle more adult subjects. Pilote in the 60s was for teenagers. Goscinny still brought very innovative people to Pilote. Philémon in ’64 and ’65 was not an easy choice. People wrote in to say Philémon was awful. He also brought in Druillet, who did science fiction, even though he didn’t like science fiction at all. Goscinny was someone who didn’t impose his tastes on public choices. He believed you shouldn’t ask the public what they wanted to read. So, I find it all the more unfair to attack him; it would have been better to target Dargaud. He was really the boss with a very managerial vision of his role. I think they misdirected their attack, but he was alone. He was overwhelmed by the era’s context, his rebellious side, and had difficult relations with Goscinny. “We were like two armies marching, trying to find common ground for discussion but failing. Maybe I was a bit jealous because Goscinny had the ability to shine and had a quick wit”, he said. There might have been some jealousy. I really think this May ’68 story got blown out of proportion.

Druillet, made posters for Greystoke, Quest for Fire, and The Name of the Rose but Moebius worked on Alien, Tron, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element.

Christophe Quillien: Yes, Druillet exploded before Moebius ; he was already doing science fiction like Mezières, while Giraud was doing westerns.

Science fiction movies are western in space with guns fighting aliens.

Christophe Quillien: Valérian, maybe, but not Moebius, who only broke out later because he lagged behind for a long time since Blueberry remained very classic, a treasure hunt story, the defense of Native Americans, and then it’s Charlier. We shouldn’t give Giraud too much credit. In 1973, he ventured into the fantastic, with the supernatural intruding into everyday reality, with La Déviation and became Moebius with L’homme est-il bon ?, still in Pilote, and then we’re really into science fiction. The shift happened between 1974 and 1975 when he created Métal Hurlant and Arzach. But it’s humorous science fiction. He used to say, humor is my life insurance; it prevents me from taking myself too seriously. When Jean-Pierre Dionnet launched Métal Hurlant and sought support, he promoted Philippe Druillet as the great French science fiction author, not Giraud.

How has he shifted to Hollywood and become a myth?

Christophe Quillien: It’s very exaggerated, of course, but when he worked on Dune, he collaborated with Dan O’Bannon on The Long Tomorrow, which Ridley Scott drew inspiration from for Blade Runner and The Incal, particularly the wells. Druillet even said, Jean is nice, but I was already doing wells in La Nuit, a kind of deep city. I found that in a Marvel comic where The Fantastic Four find themselves in a kind of pipe.

Or Star Wars, where Jedis keep on falling into pits, not to mention Batman, TDKR‘s prison.

Christophe Quillien: Yes, much later, Ridley Scott offered Giraud to work on Blade Runner, but I believe Giraud fundamentally wasn’t cut out for cinema; he was meant to work alone at home. Sylvain Despretz, who knew Ridley Scott well, told me he’d go to London for a day, return home to the Pyrenees, draw his costumes, and mail them. Ten days of work and fifteen years of fame. He played an important role but much less so than H.G. Giger. In fact, Métal Hurlant claimed Blade Runner stole everything from Moebius, but that’s nonsense.

It’s a french pattern, to say computers, internet and multi-touch screens, were french inventions, Cybernetics coined by Ampère, and the Man-machine by Descartes, Harrison Ford’s character in Blade Runner being a nod to this. Has George Lucas, as he said, really stolen everything from Druillet and Mezières?

Christophe Quillien: Of course not. Ridley Scott looked at a lot of references but Blade Runner was very different from the initial concept that had Deckard’s apartment drawn by Giraud. The difference is the monumental city, the vertical layers, and the rain, none of which were Giraud’s ideas. He came up with something completely different, inspired by his walks in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Giraud was always a joker. It’s not because we have one or two drawings that we revolutionize everything. Blade Runner owes much more to J.G. Ballard than to Giraud. For the sets, Ridley Scott met with Japanese people, did all this work on typography, and created these futuristic 2049 markets that are very Tokyo-like. This notion of a city inspired by a concentration of references didn’t come from Moebius; it’s rather from O’Bannon, who wrote the script, and a collective reference point shared by many people at the time.

Jean Giraud, in 2008, told me, Luc Besson he worked with on The Fifth Element acted as a “gentleman-thief.”

Christophe Quillien: Coming from Giraud, that’s quite savory. There’s a completely kleptomaniac dimension to him. In 2011, Laurent Wauquiez awarded him the Medal of Merit and, in a humorous speech, thanked all the collaborators he had shamelessly pilfered from. There is a fanatical website that catalogs all of Giraud’s inspirations. Some scenes in Blueberry come from Hollywood films, images of Patti Smith in Rock & Folk. He said after The Fifth Element, “Besson didn’t try hard, he just reused The Incal.”

James Cameron’s monster in The Abyss and flying pterodactyles in Avatar remind one of Moebius. 

Christophe Quillien: All these people read Heavy Metal, the American version of Métal Hurlant. Moebius published Arzach there, which later influenced Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and George Miller (Mad Max). Not to mention Miyazaki, and the pterodactyls in Nausicaa that are reminiscent of Arzach.

Sergio Leone who influenced Moebius, took inspiration from Kurosawa, this Noh theater way, of staying still during 45 minutes before bursting into tears.

Christophe Quillien: Giraud was very influenced by American culture; he lived in the USA for five years. (…) We also find in his more marginal work an erotic aesthetic that was in the air at the time.

Metaphors of reproduction are at the heart of films he influenced, such as Alien, Tron, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, to Avatar.

Christophe Quillien: Yes, however, I believe Giraud was not at all into metaphor but rather into seeking something very straightforward.

Star Wars films were incredibly gory; tearing off arms, cutting off hands, portraying barely naked prostitutes kissing their brother in an Oedipal plot.

Christophe Quillien: This followed a period of terrible frustration at the time of the creation of the X rating. Giraud had a bit of an SM side; sex for him was very cerebral, very voyeuristic. There was a duality in him, with very beautiful things turning into bloodbaths. (…) The Japanese were also inspired by Giraud’s work. But the arrival of manga in France really started with Dragon Ball, Akira, and Saint Seiya in the Club Dorothée.

… in which the journalist Michel Chevalet appeared after creating the show L’avenir du Futur, following Volume, in a less underground way. Giraud was influenced by science, architecture and aeronautic’s costumes, ships, etc.

Christophe Quillien: Flight and fall are at the heart of his work.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.
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