Moebius’ Heartfelt Graphic Novel
Moebius is a name I’ve heard a lot over the years. Whether you’ve read any of his work or not, chances are you’ve also heard about a project he contributed to or enjoyed the art of somebody he inspired. Hayou Miyazaki, for example, lauded the french artist’s work and even took part in an art show with him. As a concept artist, he was a major contributor to Jodordowsky’s proposed adaptation of Dune, a part of the same team on Ridley Scott’s Alien, a cited influence on Scott’s other major science fiction work, Blade Runner, and once again a concept artist on the likes of Tron, Willow, James Cameron’s The Abyss, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, as well the Japanese anime production Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. So, despite the fact that I’ve loved so many projects he played a role in, it’s always been a bit odd that I’ve never actually read any of his own graphic novels, which have always been where his real reputation was made.
The World of Edana, Moebius’ science fiction epic in which good and evil take the form of the natural world and technology, was the comic I chose to change that. And, given the lofty introduction I just gave him, I’ll just spoil my reaction to the work now and say that I wasn’t disappointed, though I was often surprised.
To begin with, the artwork style of clean lines, flat colours, and little touches of detailing were as well accomplished as any of his drawings I’d seen before. Rather than giving an overall effect of something flat, the simplicity of his shapes actually give the impression of these bulbous three-dimensional forms. And the bright, pastel tones help to create a fantastical science fiction tone that you don’t usually get to see in other forms of science fiction media. Even so, Moebius himself mentions in a foreword for the book that there are a couple of panels he feels to be of particular note, which, as it turned out, seemed to be code for the fact that a handful of other sections in the book just aren’t drawn to a very high standard. The earlier chapters, for instance, feel a lot more rushed in their framing and linework than the crisp precision that in my mind came to define the work.
There is a reason for this I think.
The World of Edena actually began life as a corporate novelty item. The French car manufacturer Citroen was looking for a way to celebrate their anniversary and so commissioned Moebius to create a limited print run comic to be gifted to the executives in the company. As such, what was essentially just supposed to be a glorified advertisement to be pumped out in the space of a day actually became a full-blown passion project for Moebius, something he would reclaim as his own and expand on over a course of years. It’s a testament to how powerful a story can become when the artist puts all of themself into it. In somebody else’s hands, that initial chapter of Edena featuring the Citroen car might have just felt like the work of a corporate shill. But because Moebius discovered his admiration for the design of the car itself and planted it in a world that would inspire him to question what was really important in life, we got a graphic novel that you can actually refer to as a work of art.
Without giving too much away, the story is a bit of a trip in the best kind of science fiction way. The two main characters, a pair of androgynous spaceship engineers, are transported to an Eden-like world where they can discover their humanity for the first time. Once there though, they find that the world has been polluted by the influence of technology. Gradually the two engineers discover the joys of things like food and sexuality and come up against a civilisation of oddballs who have forsaken these things. As you can see from the picture, the drawings for these guys are typically Moebius in their surreal yet believable forms.
However, I was actually taken aback by the amount of humour Moebius brings to them. Their entire city, at the beginning of the story, is suffering from some kind of psychological pandemic. At random, one of their citizens in the background of a panel will start sneezing and within seconds will compulsively attempt to end their own life while everybody around them freaks out like a bunch of clowns in a comedy skit. Of course, this isn’t to say the whole book is some type of ridiculous satire. In general, the heart of the story has a very new age tone to it in Moebius’ exploration of what it means to be human, and, just as important for him, what it means to be a species that experiences the duality of the male and female sex. To some extent, you get the impression he was a little influenced by the thinking of the classic tropes involved in The Hero’s Journey, which taken together with what has kind of become old fashioned thinking in regards to sexuality, probably makes the story feel less revolutionary than it was at the time, but this quirk is easily balanced out by Moebius’ curiosity and passion for what figuring out what life is all about. That is to say, the story doesn’t give me the impression of a man who’d staunchly settled on inalterable answers, but rather of one who was always ready to reexamine what he once believed to be true.
As for the print itself, Dark Horse publishing put together a hefty hardcover copy with the help of the Moebius Production company in France. The size of the pages really show the artwork at its best and the cover illustration utilises a clever use of gloss on top of matte to highlight the bubble that surrounds one of the eponymous spaceship engineers. If you pick yourself up a copy I highly recommend you face the thing outward on your shelf for everybody to see. In the meantime, if you’d like to see more videos about art, then make sure to check out my episode on Anime Architecture, a book that collects artwork and interviews from some of the most important anime directors and background artists from over the past thirty years.