La Cité Feu / City of Fire (1985)
Éditions Aedena/Starwatcher Graphics/Dark Horse
38.5 x 50cm, 3 black & white, 8 colour plates portfolio
In the early 1980s Jean Giraud was briefly part of Jean-Paul Appel-Guéry’s commune/cult and it was during this time that the idea for an animated science fiction film to be called Internal Transfer. For one reason or another the Internal Transfer project unfortunately fell through and Moebius left for Los Angeles, California, leaving behind much unused & unrealised artwork.
It was whilst Moebius was working as a concept artist on Tron (1982) with it’s groundbreaking early use of CGI in motion pictures, that Moebius would meet a then unknown comic book artist by the name of Geof Darrow.
The binding of the La Cité Feu (City of Fire) portfolio feels premium and begs to be handled with care when opening it’s eye-catching hardboard covers. Once you turn over the front hardboard cover, you first see 3 yellow flaps holding the prints together and prevent them from coming loose. When you fold back the yellow flaps you are greeted by a signed and numbered cover plate by Moebius and Geof Darrow in pencil of a limited edition of 950 published by Éditions Aedena in France (there was also a more limited “American lux” edition of 100 published under Starwatcher Graphics).
After the signature and numbering plate is an introduction plate titled “Une Nouvelle Collaboration, Un Nouveau Chef-d’œuvre” (A New Collaboration, A New Masterpiece) and below it is the line art for a piece by Moebius called “Le Hall” (The Hall) depicting a seated figure waiting on what appears to be a park bench, sitting underneath a large, framed, angular graphic as two figures converse on the park bench behind. Darrow would later collaborate on this drawing by Moebius, extending the left and adding a large turtle on roller-skates, carrying many pieces of luggage on top of it’s shell and above the shell a multitude of babies floating up in the air. The turtle appears to be led by a mysterious figure wearing a traditional Japanese kasa hat usually worn by Buddhist monks. This updated version of “Le Hall” (The Hall) was released as a separate coloured, cosigned and numbered print edition of 150.
On another plate is a full page text written by Moebius giving some insight on the creative process behind La Cité Feu (City of Fire) and how the collaboration with Geof Darrow came to be:
“I met GEOF DARROW a few years ago while I was working on the Walt Disney Productions film, TRON.
I thought at the time that no one knew that I was in Los Angeles, but I had not taken into account the perseverance of a true fan, which is how GEOF first approached me.
Happily, we quickly grew to become friends. I saw his work for the first time. It struck me, at the time, as both traditional and modern and it was of course influenced by his own fascination for the Japanese culture.
Each time I visited Los Angeles over the next few years, I was then able to watch as GEOF’s work evolved, wonderfully and rapidly, in both style and themes.
Then, a moment arrived when his art finally reached the point where it had developed a real, strong personality of its own, a trait which is always rare in this field. The artist’s progress had been so fast, that publication could no longer keep up with it.
This relative anonymity was compounded by several other factors.
For instance, there was the definitely strange but poetic quality of GEOF’s universe. And his natural modesty, that sometimes verges upon humility. But even when he is at his most modest, GEOF is still imbued with a strong desire to strive for perfection.
How did our collaboration come to pass?
Does it really matter? A chance conversation, perhaps? But there is no such thing as chance… Or was it because of the perseverant tenacity of our French publisher, Jean Annestay? For there definitely is such a thing as Jean’c tenacity… Who could tell?
In any event, here is how we worked. We began with some ideas and notes for the design of the pages, which I scribbled on the back of an envelope.
Several weeks later, I received the first pencil drawings. Then, working on transparent paper laid over the original art, I began to ink. But I did not merely go over the drawings. Instead, I developed and embroidered each object and each character so that they became true MŒBIUS art, while at the same time, remaining faithful to the vision of GEOF DARROW.
About the title, CITY OF FIRE, and the themes of this portfolio, they were loosely inspired by a concept developed by my friend, JEAN-PAUL APPEL.
The results are here for all to see: seven incredible pages depicting an universe filled to the brim with crazy and fascinating life; seven exceptional children that could never have been, but for this strange marriage.
Each plate of La Cité Feu (City of Fire) portfolio flows like richly detailed scenes from a cinematic epic.
The first plate made by Moebius originally as a layout for the unmade Internal Transfer animated film, captures a futuristic cityscape with several foreboding active volcanoes spewing ash clouds in the distance.
Plate 2 begins the collaboration between Moebius and Geof Darrow of a lively group scene of musicians jamming together on a veranda with rabbit-like creatures in the foreground.
Plate 3 depicts an interior of a 2-storey building, on the ground floor is an artist’s studio/science lab complete with drawing table, scientific equipment and a curious glowing disc in the centre of the space. Up above, on the first floor, groups of people are in conversation and others are looking down with intrigue at the circular object below.
Plate 4 is an aerial scene following 2 riders, each perched upon a large bird (a nod to Arzach who flew on the back of his pterodactyl) as they exchange a hand wave, high above a picturesque green valley and tranquil stream.
Plate 5 called “La Rue” (The Street) depicts a busy street scene and is a large foldout spread, filled to the brim with crowds of people frequenting market stalls or strolling through the promenade surrounded by exotic creatures. In The Art of Moebius, Moebius makes a comment about this piece:
“My favorite bit is the couple kissing by the pillar, in the upper left”.
Plate 6 shows an interior of a large aviary filled with several of those large flying birds as featured in plates 4 and 5, each perched high above as attendants (curiously sporting either a pointed hat like Arzach or a pith-helmet like Major Grubert) climb the steps to help clean and feed these majestic creatures. On the ground below, riders ready themselves to take flight on one of the large birds and in the distance a rider on a large bird can be seen in mid-flight flying out from a large opening.
Plate 7 consists of 1 large image of a social gathering on what looks to be a porch, underneath this large image is 4 smaller images depicting portraits of male and female characters wearing Arzach-like pointed hats which suggests that they may be riders of the large birds pictured or other exotic steeds.
Plate 8 called “La Métro” (The Subway) is a second large foldout spread like plate 5 and shows a busy underground commute scene with many people waiting or conversing at the platform on both sides. However instead of commuters being greeted by a train on the tracks in it’s place is a large, long and many legged reptile with a driver sat upon it’s head and passenger seating located on it’s back.
Éditions Aedena would publish a second La Cité Feu (City of Fire) signed and numbered portfolio edition of 800 but instead in a softcover envelope folio containing the same plates as the original hardboard edition but alternative colouring on plate 7.
In 1993 Dark Horse would publish City of Fire as a unsigned and unnumbered limited edition in a softcover envelope folio that included the collaborated “Le Hall” (The Hall) piece and a recoloured duplicate plate 3 but a plate 7 with the original colouring from the hardboard edition but without the 4 smaller portraits underneath.
La Cité Feu (City of Fire) is no longer available in any of the Éditions Aedena, Starwatcher Graphics or Dark Horse editions and as such has become a hard to find portfolio with sadly no plans at present of bringing it back into print.
In 1986 Éditions Aedena released smaller, postcard sized portfolio boxsets called the ‘Portable Aedena’ series by such artists as S. Rosse, Jean Gir (another alias of Jean Giraud), Moebius, Varenne, G. Bouysse, Liberatore, S. Cadelo, Franquin, Bati, Arno, Manara and also G. Darrow. The Geof Darrow ‘Portable Aedena’ portfolio called East Meets West is a signed and numbered edition of 650 that comprises of 2 black & white cover plates and 10 colour plates. East Meets West follows a protagonist (who bares a strong resemblance to Clint Eastwood) on horseback who is pulling along behind them a wounded figure who was last seen in La Cité Feu (City of Fire) plate 7 and who would come to be known as Bourbon Thret.