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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Three

Advice and Philosophy
Without Jean Giraud knowing it (he always treated me as a peer), I took him on as a sort of guru or, at least, as a loose guide to my career and our philosophy of making the world a better place.

Both Moebius and I love the comics work of Richard Corben. It brims with great technical expertise (beyond that of nearly every comic artist) and rich, clear storytelling. When Giraud was asked about some recent work of Corben’s, I made a copy of Moebius’ written response. I posted it on my studio wall (it’s still there) and used it as a guideline in the direction, selection and execution of my own work. Here is what he wrote:

“Today, in our field, there is so much talent and recognition that we are reaching a saturation point. An artist should no longer strive only for breathtaking craftsmanship; he should, instead, try to help us live better, either by dressing the wounds that are constantly being opened by society, or by offering solutions to get us out of the mess we’re in…But it’s going to be difficult and we have a lot of work to do.”

Moebius and Fans
Giraud was always gracious with his fans. It’s a tradition in Europe for comic book artists there to freely draw sketches for them. Jean’s could often be quite elaborate, which leads me to one of my favorite Moebius stories.

One day at the Silver Snail, the largest and most prominent comic book shop in Toronto, a sign went up in their front window announcing that Jean “Moebius” Giraud would be making an appearance at the store.

A fourteen year old fan saw the sign and rushed inside.

“Is it true?” he exclaimed. “Moebius is coming here?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“He’s really, truly going to be here?”

“Yes.”

“Will he be signing things?”

“Yes.”

“Does he do sketches?”

“I understand he does, on occasion.”

The excited boy returned to the Silver Snail nearly every day, asking the same round of questions and receiving all the same answers.

Finally, the big day arrived and that boy was the very first in line to meet Moebius. After being introduced, the boy shoved a large sheet of fine Strathmore paper in front of the great artist.

“I want you to draw Arzachk flying on his bird creature over an army of battling aliens. He has a beautiful woman on the back of his bird and flying creatures are trying to attack them….”

The boy went on and on, describing a vast elaborate scene with hundreds of figures.

The owner of the Silver Snail happened to catch some of this and exploded.

“You ungracious little jerk! This great artist comes here all the way from Paris and you make demands on him like he is your own personal art slave. I am going to escort you out of here…”

At that point Moebius raised his hand and calmly spoke.

“Non; eet eez not necessary. Theeze thing I will do for him.”

Jean picked up a pencil and proceeded to draw. He drew Arrzack; he drew Ahrzack’s bird creature. Giraud drew everything that kid had asked for and more. There were literally hundreds of figures, aliens, beasties and other creatures in the finished drawing, all interacting with one another. It was a drop dead, stunning masterpiece, an equivalent in quality and detail to this Arrzaak spread:

Completed, the shop owner held it up for the rest of the folks in line to see. Upon viewing this extraordinary work the entire line burst into spontaneous applause.

The owner presented the drawing to the boy, who walked away in a numbed daze, staring at his Moebius picture without seeming to blink.

A half an hour later the boy was back. He thrust the drawing in front of Moebius with a demand:

“Ink it.”

The shop owner nearly burst a blood vessel.

“You ungrateful little monster! HOW DARE YOU?!! I have never seen such rude behavior. Give me that damn drawing. I am going to personally throw you out of here! I don’t want to ever see you in my shop ever again, you obnoxious, spoiled brat…”

Again, Moebius silenced the shop owner by calmly raising his hand.

“Non, my friend…please. Theeze I will do for him…”

Moebius located the biggest, fattest black marker on the table, then proceeded to ink in every single delicate pencil line of his drawing until the entire picture was nothing but a mass of black, each stroke bleeding into the others.

The boy looked at the vanished masterpiece in pure shock, then slowly looked up at Moebius.

“I asked for too much, didn’t I?”

With a twinkle in his eye, Moebius responded:

“Today, you have learned sometheeng…and I have learned sometheeng.”

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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Two

First Meeting
I first met Jean Giraud at the Hollywood Hills home of my close friend, Mad cartoonist Sergio Aragonés. Jean was visiting Los Angeles, probably for some film-related work. Sergio and Jean were already friends, having met in Paris. By that time I was well acquainted with the breadth of Giraud’s fine work. We hit it off immediately.

I enjoyed and was dazzled by my first conversations with Giraud. The residue of what he said and how he said it lingered with me for days. Like the art he produced as Moebius, each sentence or thought he expressed usually had about seven layers of meaning.

There was the simple surface meaning of what he said, the metaphysical meaning of his conversation, the spiritual meaning, the metaphorical meaning, the poetic meaning and so on.

Jean didn’t labor to come up with so much subtext to his conversations. For him it was as natural as breathing. He was simultaneously gentle and joyful, constantly exuding a quiet celebration of life and art.

Lifestyle
Jean Giraud maintained an extraordinarily flexible and vibrant lifestyle. Often, he would get on a plane, fly to somewhere like Tahiti, promptly establish a residence there and then eventually send for his family.

Or not. An extremely prolific artist, these trips stoked his imagination and fueled his creative fires. His two week stay in Venice, Italy resulted in an entire book:

Using what Jean saw in Venice as an inspirational point of departure, Giraud produced masterpiece after masterpiece from that short trip.

In addition to his regular bread-and-butter gig of his highly popular Lieutenant Blueberry comics, he continued to produce volume after volume of gorgeous comic art under his Moebius pseudonym.

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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD (1938-2012) :
A Remembrance – Part One

First Exposure
I was introduced to the work of Jean Henri Gaston Giraud in the early 1970s when a friend, cartoonist Scott Shaw!, took me to visit with his pal and fellow comic book collector (Dave Clark, I believe), a student at UCLA. Once inside the sanctity of his dorm Dave began excitedly pulling out issue after issue of the French comic magazine Pilote.

Dave was especially enthusiastic about sharing the work he had discovered by a comic book artist in the magazine who signed his name “Gir”. Dave explained that “Gir” was a pseudonym for the artist’s real name, Jean Giraud.

Gir was the artist on a regularly serialized comic strip starring a Jean Paul Belmondo look-alike named Lieutenant Blueberry, one of the first Western anti-heroes to appear in comics.

To my shock and amazement, it was the best damn Western comic book art I had ever seen — better than any American Western comics.

Once I had perused page after page of this magnificent art, Dave told me that Giraud had also recently begun drawing some science fiction themed comics. Dave pulled some out and showed them to me. These he signed with the mysterious nom de plume of “Moebius”.

Unlike the juicy brush inking of the Blueberry comics, the Moebius art was all fantastic pen work. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like it in comics.

As soon as I returned home to my Hollywood apartment, I purchased my own overseas subscription to Pilote. Receiving page after page, week after week of the divine art of Jean Giraud was one of the highlights of my youth in the 1970s.

A few years later, Moebius and a few other French cartoonists formed the group known as Les Humanoides Associes in order to publish their own all-new science fiction comic book monthly. They titled it Métal Hurlant (Screaming Metal).

The first issue featured a new character created by Moebius named Arzack.

Arzachk (whose name was intriguingly spelled differently every time it appeared in the strip) had no dialogue or text whatsoever.

The stories were told strictly with pictures. The drawings were executed in pen and ink, then lovingly hand colored with watercolor. The mysterious Arszak character flew about on a sizeable, white pterodactyl-like creature. The art was some of the finest Giraud had drawn up to that point, a real milestone in comic book storytelling.

I did whatever was necessary to obtain every issue of this new French magazine — which wasn’t quite as easy as simply buying a subscription. Issues seemed to reach these shores in random order. Eventually, the stories in Métal Hurlant were (horribly) translated, licensed and republished here by the National Lampoon people in a monthly American version of the magazine, Heavy Metal. I joined Moebius and company in August 1977, proudly becoming Heavy Metal magazine’s first American contributor.

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The San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Sixteen

Lots accomplished since the last post. I am close to finishing; I’d estimate one more week or less.

This mural’s animals are pretty much done. I have been focusing on the plants and landscapes and uniting the color and value systems within the painting. I changed the blob of a tree shape to the right of the long tailed weasel into a California juniper. The meadowlark is now perching on a dead juniper trunk and branch.

I’ve given better definition to the palmettos in this section. I still need to add the tarantula coming out of the burrow.

The flowers and leaves of the datura (the white flowers below the bobcat) are better defined as is the sagebrush and general landscape.

This section is close to being finished. I worked some more on the flat top buckwheat, the bunch grasses, prickly pear and the midground and background landscape.

I still need to finish the mural’s entire sky but that shouldn’t take very long.

Next: Completion!

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See You at WonderCon!

I spent yesterday at WonderCon, one of the three shows (WonderCon, APE and Comic-Con International) run by the Comic-Con folks. It’s usually in San Francisco at the Moscone Center, but this year it takes place at the Anaheim Convention Center on Katella Avenue, across the street from Disneyland.

If you miss the old vibe of Comic-Con, well, it’s here at WonderCon. There’s not as much TV/Movie emphasis and yesterday there wasn’t a wait (often four hours at Comic-Con with no guarantee of getting in) for any of the panels. People can actually move about (it’s not Sardinesville like Comic-Con) and have real conversations at this show (there’s two more days, today and tomorrow).

I’m a little under the weather (I’ve got a cold), so although it would be advised not to shake hands with me, I’ll be happy to chat with you. I brought a selection of my books and art to sell. Abu and the 7 Marvels and Flesk Prime were my two big sellers yesterday. If you missed out on the big, fat Bruce Timm book (the entire run sold out in a heartbeat), our publisher, John Fleskes, brought a few to sell that he had stashed away (the Flesk Publications booth is right next to mine). Last chance! If there is anything you’re looking for in particular from me, e-mail me (see contact button on this site) and I’ll bring it tomorrow. Save on shipping charges!

A great place to be sheltered from this crappy weather (L. A. just got hit with an Arctic storm), I look forward to seeing you at WonderCon today and/or tomorrow!

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The San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Fifteen

Here is the current state of the modern San Diego wildlife mural. As you can see, now that the birds and mammals are pretty much done. I am rapidly progressing on the plants and landscape.

Modern Mural, Section One

I think this is perhaps the best sycamore tree I’ve ever painted. Note how it looked sort of cartoon-y in its early lay-in. Hopefully, it looks more natural now. I detailed the red cedars just to the right of the sycamore. I also worked on the poison oak behind the black bear, and a little bit on the foreground prickly pear and the bunch grasses to their right.

Modern Mural, Section Two

I paid more attention to rendering the mid-ground yucca here, as well as the palmettos between the yucca. I added detail to the misty distant mountains, too.

Modern Mural, Section Three

The ground beneath the bobcat has much more texture and interest now, especially since I added the datura flowers just below the bobcat. I haven’t yet painted their leaves, though. There is more rendering in the sagebrush and the foreground prickly pears. I softened the edges of most of the painting’s flying hawk and eagle wings, and brought some of the sky color into them to make them more a part of the picture.

Modern Mural, Section Four

The foreground prickly pear on this side of the mural has received more detail, and the flowers of the century plant/agave are no longer just a big, pale blob. I still need to detail the leaves at this agave plant’s base. I added more specific detailing to the distant mountains, too. I haven’t yet enlarged the size of the flat top buckwheat flowers above the yellow-billed magpie.

That sort of airbrush-y sky in the upper right corner is not the way the painting looks right now. When I shot this, I didn’t notice the shadows of the leaves of the tree the painting was leaning against until I had downloaded my photos. I didn’t feel like re-shooting it just for that corner, so I did a quick, crude, crappy touch-up in PhotoShop.

I’ll be more careful next time…

Next: More Refining of This Painting

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A Sad, Sad Week…

This last week or so has been a really bad one. We lost my dear friend and one of the greatest comic book artists of our time Jean “Moebius” Giraud, my friend and founder of the Firesign Theatre Peter Bergman, E. C. comics great John Severin, Davy Jones of The Monkees, classic Disney songwriter Robert Sherman and Star Wars designer (and a main reason I was able to break into the film biz) Ralph McQuarrie.

If Death comes in threes, we got the Double Whammy this time.

I will be writing about my pal, that creative giant known as Moebius, here shortly, sharing some of my favorite stories concerning this genius with you.

Until then, I’ve got to knuckle down and try to work through my sadness.

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Creating the San Diego Murals – Part Fourteen

My kidney stones have left the building. This is the longest they have ever lingered. I am back on my San Diego Zoo murals.

I added this little desert cottontail to the picture. After doing so, I realized I had made him too small, so I repainted the wee feller.

Upon my medical recovery I got a bit carried away with my new found energy and enthusiasm. I made up a list of all the Pleistocene fauna from San Diego that still exists there today. It ended up being 23 mammals and 23 birds. All 46 creatures (plus the rattlesnake, tortoise and two species of toads; sadly, I couldn’t figure out a way to include the 7 other snakes and 7 lizards of the era as well) are now depicted in the modern San Diego mural. You won’t see most of them very easily in this and the subsequent pictures of the other sections of the mural, as they include 11 small rodents. Some of the birds (like the burrowing owl in the last section) are pretty well camouflaged, too.

I did this knowing that whatever is in the modern mural also has to be included in the Pleistocene mural. Not only that, each animal has to appear in roughly the same spot in each mural. So, as you can imagine, it took some planning. Fortunately, I’ve got those dark foreground areas — a perfect place to hide little critters in both pictures.

I painted the badger twice (too big the first time).

I am still planning to do some more work on the airborne birds. Too many hard edges make them look like stickers on the mural. I need to soften lots of those edges and bring some of the sky color into the tops of their wings to make each one more a part of the picture.

Once I finished the animal life I began working on the foreground, mid-ground and background landscape elements, like the dried mud basin (what’s left of the pond in the Pleistocene mural) behind the bobcat, as well as the hills and mountains in the image below.

The flowers of that big agave (century plant) are no longer a large, pale blob. I still need to work on the plant’s leaves at its base, though. I gave a nice curve to the dead agave stalk to make it more interesting than the straight vertical of its lay-in. I like the impressionistic looseness of the flattop buckwheat above the yellow-billed magpie. Now that I am looking at it in this small form, though, I can see the round buckwheat blossoms need to be larger in their relation to the magpie.

I also like that the blue of the magpie wings gave me a way to bring some of the sky color down into the lower part of the picture.

I’ve already done more work on this mural since these photos. Watch for my mural update next Sunday or Monday (I’ll be appearing in Cleveland this Thursday-Saturday).

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Happy Belated Birthday, Obie & Kong!

I apologize; I have been remiss. Yesterday was the birthday (March 2, 1886) of stop motion animator/special effects whiz Willis O’Brien (affectionately known as “Obie”), the man who gave life to King Kong.

By sheer coincidence, March 2 (in 1933) was also the date of the premiere of the greatest film ever made, King Kong.

So, a regrettably belated but deeply sincere “Happy Birthday!” to both o’ youse scrappers.

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Mexico — To Be or Not To Be?

I have a dilemma here, a subject on which I would like your feedback.

I’ve been invited to be a guest at a comic convention this summer in Mexico City. I love Mexico and its people. I’m a notorious foodie, and Mexico has the finest, most varied and oldest complex cuisine in the world. My family and I have done extensive travel around various parts of Mexico and lived in Mexico City for most of a year while making Conan the Destroyer. We have had incredible times in Mexico.

Sadly, since those visits, Mexico (especially in recent years) has become a very dangerous place to visit. Kidnapping has become a cottage industry in Mexico City. My friends who still live there warn me not to return, even for a quick visit. The teen son of friends of friends was kidnapped. After the ransom was paid, the kidnappers left their son’s body for them in an abandoned car. Yes; after they paid the ransom.

I live in Los Angeles and have spent some extended periods of time in New York. I know that folks outside these cities consider them to be very dangerous. I don’t. Having lived in both places, I know where the bad neighborhoods are and avoid them. No reasonable person would judge all of L. A. solely from a visit to a bad stretch of Compton or New York from a visit to the worst parts of Harlem (to Harvey Kurtzman’s horror, Harlem was the first place I visited in New York; I found it wonderful). The news loves heinous crimes (“If it bleeds, it leads”), so that’s often what gets reported — not the nice things that happen in those cities on a daily basis. This makes me wonder if my newly established fears of visiting Mexico are perhaps a bit exaggerated and unfounded.

I’d be taking my wife, a beautiful blonde who surprisingly (to the Mexican natives, anyway) speaks fluent Spanish. We have been in one extremely scary situation (with the Mexican police in Merida; another story for another time) in the past, but my wife and I consider that an aberration, especially considering the wealth of positive experiences and people we have encountered throughout Mexico.

I hate the thought of giving in to the Mexican criminals and allowing them to control where I can and can’t visit — or who their own people can or can’t see and meet. It is not in my nature to succumb to that type of bullying; it’s more natural to me to defy and stand up to it.

Of course, if I’m a guest and there is any publicity in that regard at all, that could easily make me (or my wife) a potential target.

As you can see, I am conflicted here. What do you think? Give in to a somewhat reasonable fear or take the risk on behalf of my fans down there?