by Zohra KhanAug 20, 2020
It might not be an overstatement to say that in the world of comic books and graphic novels, very few illustrators have had as much a grip on popular imaginations as Jean Henri Gaston Giraud, or Mœbius as he is better known to the world at large. While his more mainstream contributions may be limited to his work on the Silver Surfer series with Stan Lee, the ripples of his prolific genius reverberate resoundingly across contemporary culture. From storyboarding for the shelved rendition of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose notorious screenplay would go on to shape the worlds of pivotal moments of science-fiction cinema like Alien, Blade Runner and Star Wars, to creating comprehensive worlds within the pages of Métal Hurlant (released as Heavy Metal in the USA, and beyond, with such craft and ingenuity that generations of visual artists passing through art and design schools still refer to his work like instruction manuals. His legacy is strong within diverse undercurrents guiding creative tendencies around the world today.
Appupen, a.k.a George Mathen, the creator of the fantastical world of Halahala and one of India’s most recognisable graphic novelists, discovered Mœbius in the early 2000s through raddiwalas in Mumbai who would sell Heavy Metal magazines along with erotica. Since then he has come to pay homage to the late artist actively in his work. “I couldn’t get any work of his, except online. In 2010, I was taken for the Angoulême Festival in France because my book was out in 2009… he was there, actually, at the festival. I think they were re-releasing Arzach in a new bind or something, so there was a big hoo-ha about Arzach and Mœbius’ work, and he came and he was there signing autographs. I was just standing and watching him from the side. That’s when I actually saw the volume of the work, over there.”
“I made a very… almost conscious decision to just not look at Mœbius for a long time. It was only in my mid-30s that I took the deep Mœbius-dive, you know? I found Tumblr one night, it was about two kilometres of Mœbius imagery, comics, and I think I stayed up until about dawn just going through it all. As an 18-year-old I was really aware that I needed to try and maybe define my own way in the world, but as soon as I spent that night I kind of just thought ‘okay, now it’s time!’ I just think his genius is so towering that it’s almost like a gravitational pull,” recalls Tim Molloy, the author of critically acclaimed works such as Mr. Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye, about his tryst with the legend. “There are tributaries that run off the great river that he was, and they go everywhere.”
According to Appupen, “there is also that meditative angle in most of his works, he is always talking about these higher states of mind”. Themes of transcendence are ever present within his panels, and these are treated with a visual or narrative lightness that makes it easy to get absorbed by the magnetic frivolity of it all. The hovercrafts in his deserted expanses become convenient vehicles for his readers to escape from reality. “You can see the horizon in his pictures and it looks like it’s a long way away, you know? Like they are worlds that you can fall into,” says Molloy.
Mœbius passed away on March 10, 2012 after a long battle with cancer but the worlds he created have only grown as the remainder of his work continues to be published posthumously through the efforts of Mœbius Production (moebius.fr). His significance is apparent in the marks he has made on our collective psyche but beyond what is obvious, his cosmology may have a newfound relevance through the tribulations humanity has been facing through 2020. Ever reverent of life’s absurdities, the strange places and beings, and stranger circumstances, he brought to life a reflexive capacity that can nurture one’s inner world and be a salve for strange times. As we are brought face to face with unforeseen circumstances, such meditations on seeming impossibilities might just help us in imagining the world to be.