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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #6

Not really a dead hose; more like an undead horse. This is one of my drawings, not Jean's.

6) Alejandro Jodorowsky says I don’t like drawing dead horses. Well, it is very difficult.

Maybe Jean doesn’t, but I do! Me love drawing dead things. Of course, this wasn’t really the point that Jean was making…

Beautifully executed Moebius pen and ink drawing from his book Angel Claw.

It’s also very difficult to draw a sleeping body or someone who has been abandoned, because in most comics it’s always action that is being studied. It’s much easier to draw people fighting — that’s why Americans nearly always draw superheroes. It’s much more difficult to draw people that are talking, because that’s a series of very small movements — small, yet with real significance.

Building to the action in this Jack Kirby "Mister Miracle" page.

I learned this in a big way from inking Jack Kirby — the king of America’s superhero artists. Jack’s work is famously known for the jaw-dropping power of his action scenes — but I learned that one of the keys to Jack’s making those scenes so powerful was the quiet moments that happened beforehand. It’s about the heightening of emotion using contrast. Plus, if you look at Jack’s work, you’ll see he mastered the difficult task of making those quiet scenes interesting. One of the ways he did that was by never forgetting the humanity of his characters and expressing that humanity in each panel.

Superhero battle jamboree drawn by the talented Leinil Francis Yu.

This counts for more because of our human need for love or the attention of others. It’s these little things that speak of personality, of life. Most superheroes don’t have any personality; they all use the same gestures and movements (at this point in the lecture, to the amusement of the audience, Moebius imitated gestures of ferocity, running and fighting).

I would have liked to have seen that!

Next: The Importance of Clothing

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists bt Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #5

Every story begins with a journey, whether physical, intellectual or spiritual (or all three).

5) When you create a story, you can begin it without knowing everything, but you should make notes as you go along regarding the particulars of the world depicted in your story. Such detail will provide your readers with recognizable characteristics that will pique their interest.

It’s all those little details that come to you that will make your created worlds that much richer. I don’t know about you, but I find that if I don’t make notes then there’s a very good chance of my forgetting those details later.

When a character dies in a story, unless the character has had his personal story expressed some way in the drawing of his face, body and attire, the reader will not care; your reader won’t have any emotional connection.

Your publisher might say, “Your story has no value; there’s only one dead guy — I need twenty or thirty dead guys for this to work.” But that is not true; if the reader feels the dead guy or wounded guys or hurt guys or whomever you have in trouble have a real personality resulting from your own deep studies of human nature — with an artist’s capacity for such observation — emotions will surge.

It’s like what English actors often say: There are no “small” roles. Unless you invest every character — even the most minor of them — with a believable, human and interesting history, the deaths in your story will become mere body counts and your reader will not be involved or care about those who died.

By such studies you will develop and gain attention from others, as well as a compassion and a love for humanity.

Love each character you create; it will show.

This is very important for the development of an artist. If he wants to function as a mirror of society and humanity, this mirror of his must contain the consciousness of the entire world; it must be a mirror that sees everything.

Heavy stuff. But I would expect no less from Moebius.

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #4

It was Gir's careful observations of life in Mexico that make this Lieutenant Blueberry scene live and breathe.

The above picture (you can click on it to make it larger) provides a nice visual transition from our discussion of perspective to Moebius‘ advice regarding the drawing of people, as it encompasses both.

4) Another thing to embrace with affection is the study of human body — it’s anatomy, positions, body types, expressions, construction, and the differences between people.

I often tell my students or budding artists that the quickest way to get good is through lots of life drawing. If you can draw the human form you can draw just about anything else, as most of the objects we encounter in life are designed to fit the human form, whether they be tools, bicycles, cars or architecture.

Life studies by Jean Giraud.

An airport is a great place to sketch and observe people. You’ve usually got time to kill and you’re able to observe many types of people who are often involved in emotionally charged situations (like waiting for a loved one they haven’t seen in years or departing from someone very near and dear to them).

One of the reasons I love watching 1930s movies is their casting. Those films always have an incredible range of faces and body types — not just pretty, young twenty-somethings.

Note the diversity of characters in this Moebius study of human (and alien) nature..
Two of my friends working together: Moebius inked and colored this Geoff Darrow drawing.

Drawing a man is very different from drawing a woman. With males, you can be looser and less precise in their depiction; small imperfections can often add character. Your drawing of a woman, however, must be perfect; a single ill-placed line can dramatically age her or make her seem annoying or ugly. Then, no one buys your comic!

Boy, ain’t that the truth! I put myself through art school painting watercolor portraits at Disneyland. I averaged 80 per day. I began to dread having a pretty girl sit in my chair for a portrait. I learned very quickly that I’d have to slow, slow down, otherwise I ran the risk of her not looking good in the portrait, as every line counted. One little slip could mean the difference between plain and beautiful. A single misplaced line could age her ten or twenty years. With guys, though, I could play fast and loose. It seemed like the rougher and more casual I was, the better and more masculine they looked.

Note the smooth simplicity in the rendering of the woman vs. the roughness in Gir's handling of the male characters.

I learned in art school that the path to success in the commercial world was the ability to draw and paint beautiful women.

Occasionally, Jean would use photo reference --- but he was never a slave to the photo. He would always ended up making it his own.

For the reader to believe your story, your characters must feel as if they have a life and personality of their own.

Although it's science fiction subject matter, through his observation of life's details Moebius has created a world that feels very real.

When I design films I invent a mini-history for each character. This goes a long way to informing the design of their costumes, their environment, what they own, what’s important to them…

This process helps make the characters real to me. My philosophy is that if they’re not real to me, I can’t expect them to be real to my audience.

Their physical gestures should seem to emanate from their character’s strengths, weaknesses and infirmities. The body becomes transformed when it is brought to life; there is a message in its structure, in the distribution of its fat, in each muscle and in every wrinkle, crease or fold of the face and body. It becomes a study of life.

Moebius character design for Willow.
A completely different character for Willow.

One of the great things about Mort Drucker’s caricatures is that he not only nails the likenesses, he pays close attention to the body type, posture and overall physical attitude of whomever he is caricaturing. He’s not just exchanging heads.

Note how skillfully Mort Drucker captured John Wayne's very particular posture and body language.
Moebius and Friends

Next: Story

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The Power of the Tangent

This is a sidebar issue, reflecting on a issue that my friend Rick Catizone brought up.

Rick was concerned about the near-tangents in one of Moebius‘ pieces. I answered that what Jean did might have been deliberate.

I learned something about tangents when I was working on a mammoth picture for a book cover. In art school we were told to always avoid them (tangents, not mammoths). I accidentally discovered one way to positively use them.

This is the uncropped version of my mammoth cover painting. In trying to figure out where to crop the art for publication, I experimented with different croppings. The one that amazed me (because what happened so went against what I was taught in art school) was this one:

I found that putting the outer vertical edges as close as I could to the outer curve of the mammoth’s tusks, by creating that near-tangent, my picture suddenly appeared three-dimensional. The visual tension/vibration created by the close proximity of the tusks to the border perimeter made the tusks look as if they were coming out of the picture.

That was the cropping I ended up using for the cover.

That’s it.

Now, back to Moebius.

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #3

Perspective achieved by Moebius in an a combination organic and architectural environment.

3) Knowledge of perspective is of supreme importance. Its laws provide a good, positive way to manipulate or hypnotize your readers.

This low angle view by Gir emphasizes the drama and places the reader at audience level.
A nice bird's eye perspective by Gir for a Lieutenant Blueberry story serves to establish the geography of the story's setting for the reader.

It is better to work from reality and draw within real spaces, instead of attempting to create your perspective by copying from photographs.

Simple one point perspectives like Gir Blueberry panel this can be very effective. A favorite camera view of films from the 1930s, I use it in my storyboards all the time.

Jean Giraud was a master of perspective. Another master in this discipline is the Belgian comic book artist Hermann Huppen (known simply as “Hermann”). I especially like what Hermann did with perspective in his western series Comanche.

An effective opening splash panel by Hermann for his Comanche graphic novel series draws the reader right into the story.

Many of the panels in his Comanche books look like they’re in 3-D.

Hermann places his viewer right with the cowboys.

They draw you right into the world Hermann has created, involving you and making that world seem even more real.

Hermann uses perspective in this mostly organic setting to convey a real sense of space.

When you work from photographs you are working from a second hand distorted view. The camera has only one “eye”, so you’re not seeing in 3-D. There is also the distortion of the lens to take into consideration. It is nearly always better to draw from life, no matter whether it’s people, landscapes or architecture. Your work will always be better than if you had used a photo.

This high angle view by Hermann is incredibly three-dimensional.
Hermann uses perspective to make the reader feel the cattle is going to pass right under him.
A fine bird's eye view by Hermann.

An exception to this is when it is important to capture a likeness (as with movie posters or in depicting historical figures). Obviously, you can’t always get a movie star to pose for you at your studio. It’s harder still to revive the dead for that purpose (plus, there’s the smell and rot factors).

Depth here is this organic landscape is achieved by Hermann using perspective and values (dark and light systems).
A journey with Moebius is always an illuminating trip (in all meanings of the word).
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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #2

A precise thought and composition, quickly executed by Moebius as a design for the film Alien.

2) It’s very important to educate your hand. Make it achieve a level of high obedience so that it will be able to properly and fully express your ideas. But be very careful of trying to obtain too much perfection, as well as too much speed as an artist. Perfection and speed are dangerous — as are their opposites. When you produce drawings that are too quick or too loose, besides making mistakes, you run the risk of creating an entity without soul or spirit.

As you can see, there are at least two opposing elements at play here.

High technical skills give you the freedom to play without worrying about screwing up. If you become too skill-obsessed, however, you run the risk of killing the spirit of whatever you’re trying to convey. Your pursuit of perfection and control might eliminate the chance for what we call “happy accidents”, those little happenstance miracles that are often the key to what brings a picture, panel or page to life.

A nice combination of tight and loose in this portrait of Lieutenant Blueberry by Giraud.

The pursuit of speed, however, can end up making you sloppy or undisciplined. It can be difficult to recapture those skills you have honed over the years if you continually indulge in such looseness in your attempt to become a faster artist.

“Good enough” is not. You should always attempt to do your absolute best, whether it means working slow or fast. Always do what your pictorial premise requires of you.

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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud

18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud
A Brief Manual for the Cartoonist

Xurxo Penalta translated (and then revised) Moebius’ list of advice for artists from Spanish to English. I thought I would do my own translation of my friend’s words and then annotate them. Xurxo’s translation can be found at:

The original August 18, 1996 lecture (compiled by Perez Ruiz) appeared as a post in Spanish on the internet at:

I could be wrong, but I believe the lecture was made at a convention in Mexico City.

Jean and I each considered the other to be a genius (I was right, Jean was wrong). I think you’ll find these observations by Giraud, at the very least, stimulating food for thought. Jeans observations are in bold; my annotations aren’t.

1) When you draw, you must first cleanse yourself of deep feelings, like hate, happiness, ambition, etc.

These feelings are typically emotional prejudices that function as a block to creativity.

Art by Guy Billout

This was something I learned from drawing and hanging out with another Frenchman, the brilliant cartoonist-illustrator (and regular Atlantic Monthly contributor) Guy Billout, when we were traveling together in Antarctica and Patagonia back in 1989. Until I spent time with Guy, I had no idea how many pre-conceived notions and assumptions I held within me regarding people and situations and what a block they were to the flow of my creativity.

Divorcing yourself from such emotionally blinding pre-conceptions allows you to see things with fresh eyes. Solutions and ideas then flow with much greater ease. I have noticed with all the creative geniuses I have met that they all share a childlike delight with whatever or whomever they encounter in life (they can even find amusement in life’s villains). For them, all creative barriers are down; life and creative problem solving for them is like constantly playing. They gush great ideas all day long like a fountain.

Next: Technical Skills

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The Big G in Color

The Big G – 1941

My pal Barry (and a few others) asked to see the color version of this piece. Here’s a quick, unprofessional digital snap (hence, the distortion) of it.

Tomorrow I shall begin a series of very special thoughts by Jean (Moebius) Giraud on art, comics and their creation, as well as my annotations and observations on what he had to say. Don’t miss it!

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Planet of the Apes Art Show Opens TODAY!

General Kong

The opening for Art of the Apes, the Planet of the Apes-themed art exhibition debuts today at 6:00 PM (the opening goes until 10:00 PM) at Creature Features (see my “Appearances” section for address and details).

I hope to see all of you there! And I can hardly wait for the next Apes movie! Two weeks!

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Godzilla – 1941

Here’s a quick digital snap of my big Godzilla piece prior to coloring. The final coloring has almost been completed; as soon as it is, I’ll post it.

This is Godzilla attacking Tokyo in 1941. He’s being attacked by Japanese Zeros. That’s a vintage Japanese WWII sub in the foreground.