La Cité Feu

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.

Métal Hurlant N°82
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron
Métal Hurlant N°82, Tron

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).

La Cité Feu, 1st hardboard portfolio edition
La Cité Feu, 1st hardboard portfolio edition
La Cité Feu, 1st hardboard portfolio edition

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.

La Cité Feu, “Le Hall” (The Hall) & introduction
Lead Poisoning, book
Lead Poisoning, p102

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.

MŒBIUS”

La Cité Feu, portfolio

Each plate of La Cité Feu (City of Fire) portfolio flows like richly detailed scenes from a cinematic epic.

La Cité Feu, plate 1

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 2

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 3

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 4

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 5 “La Rue” (The Street)

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”.

La Cité Feu, plate 6

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 7

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.

La Cité Feu, plate 8 “La Métro” (The Subway)

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.

La Cité Feu, 2nd softcover portfolio edition
La Cité Feu, 2nd softcover portfolio edition
La Cité Feu, plate 7 alternative colouring

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.

East Meets West, portfolio
East Meets West, portfolio
East Meets West, portfolio

Miyazaki-Moebius

Miyazaki-Moebius (2004)
Monnaie de Paris
23.5 x 30.5cm, 104 pages

Two great masters renowned the world over, Hayao Miyazaki auteur of Japanese manga & anime and Jean Giraud “Moebius” genius of French bandes dessinées & science fiction film, and were for years also mutual admirers of each other’s art.

Miyazaki-Moebius, book
Miyazaki-Moebius, back
Miyazaki-Moebius
Miyazaki-Moebius

These two creatives titans would join forces and hold a prestigious joint exhibition simply titled ‘Miyazaki-Mœbius’ held at the Monnaie de Paris in France between 1st December 2004 to 13th April 2005.

Miyazaki-Moebius, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Miyazaki-Moebius, Blueberry
Miyazaki-Moebius, My Neighbor Totoro
Miyazaki-Moebius, Le Garage Hermétique/Willow
Miyazaki-Moebius, Princess Mononoke/Airtight Garage (Metreon)

This exhibition revealed great creative parallels between both artists and featured 300+ original drawings and images on display. For those who could not make it to the event, an accompanying catalogue was released showcasing some of the pieces from the exhibition.

Miyazaki-Moebius, My Neighbor Totoro/Nemo
Miyazaki-Moebius, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind/Alien
Miyazaki-Moebius, Spirited Away/The Fifth Element

The Story of The Fifth Element

The Story of The Fifth Element (1997)
Titan Books
27 x 27cm, 244 pages

Following the home video release of Luc Besson’s science fiction movie The Fifth Element (1997), a special collectors edition box set was announced, containing within a widescreen VHS copy of the film and also accompanied by a large making of book titled The Story of The Fifth Element. Each box set is individually numbered and inspired by the look of the elemental stones found in the film.

The Fifth Element box set, front
The Fifth Element box set, back
The Fifth Element box set, inside
The Story of The Fifth Element, book
The Story of The Fifth Element
The Story of The Fifth Element
The Story of The Fifth Element
The Story of The Fifth Element, Moebius interview

Found on pages 160-161 of The Story of The Fifth Element is an interview with Moebius recalling his time working on the designs of The Fifth Element:

“In 1982 I was really affected by the release of a film called The Last Battle. It was an emotional encounter. Subsequently, I learned about the pre-carious conditions under which the film had been made. In order to make up for the lack of funds, the project seemed based primarily on the resourcefulness, creativity and especially the determination of its very young director.

For a long time it was a cult film, and I was delighted to belong to that group of lone individuals who had been struck by this remarkable talent.

My intuition was soon confirmed: Luc Besson went from one success to another. But I didn’t want to share my special discovery, since the more popular he became, the more my secret cult would vanish…

Ten years went by. Luc Besson was preparing himself for a new battle and asked me if I wanted to take part. It was magic to be face to face with the person who unknowingly has touched you with his imagination. This type of encounter is always moving… Later, I found out that the feeling was mutual. Luc was an avid reader of comic strips. To cut a long story short, brief though our meeting was, it was heartening to know that we both shared the same feelings.

Luc preferred to tell me the story of The Fifth Element rather than giving me the script to read.

It was a colossal adventure, and he described it to me with an enthusiasm and innocence that made me feel like following him – I felt the power of a fearless and boundless imagination.

The Fifth Element: purely playful and entertaining science fiction. Take as a starting point the idea that the universe is as wonderful and terrible as the reality in which we live today. Discover another planet and invent a story of the future based on the basic values of today.

I followed the story with wonder. I was beyond emotion – the images were already in my mind. I felt that he would never make an artificial film, but develop instead a set of themes. I could imagine these as having a slightly esoteric flavour, like his previous films, especially The Big Blue. Luc makes very spectacular, popular films that are imbued with a kind of inner clarity that is neither theoretical nor organic, not even social. It leads the audience to places that dazzle the mind. Does he do this consciously or spontaneously? I’d rather think that he works by instinct…

Drawing is a solitary activity and for someone who is a pathological artist like myself, it was a great pleasure to leave Blueberry to work on a film. In conjunction with the graphic novel I was preparing, I was trying to connect temporarily with the permanent team of The Fifth Element. I was a bit like a repairman who comes in specifically when the idea mechanism has stopped. Luc or Dan Weil called me to inject some fresh air, to bring new energy to the team. This wasn’t easy, as Luc was very sure about certain things and had requirements stipulated for certain key areas, but apart from that, he plunged ahead in complete insecurity. For this film, he had to clear and explore his own unconscious. And as for us, we were as lost as he was – feeling our way around, guessing – we were delving into the process bringing him back “nuggets” of information or nothing at all. And then, as the drawings and designs began to accumulate, the visual universe became clearer.

Collaborating on a project with a team is a shared effort and a constant stimulation. There is a “reassuring” side to working for someone; I find it less stressful. Basically, you’re not alone. Luc was the one who used to say: “Stop, that’s good – don’t touch it anymore!” He was the judge, not me. It’s so hard to do a drawing properly. I had the tendency to search for perfection constantly. Fortunately or unfortunately, schedules stand in the way of the designer’s limitless ambition. He may want to unhook the stars, but he ends up only getting street lamps. So, the lack of time occasionally forces me to let unacceptable details go by, so that I view each graphic novel reprint with dissatisfaction.

In my opinion, the character portrayed by Bruce Willis is a compromise between Blueberry and John Difool. It’s touching, and yet typical at the same time. We all communicate together; you’re part of a cultural interconnection. There’s a little bit of telepathy here; you create comics like others make books or films. It’s a constant exchange – like sharing a mantle of energy.

In working with Luc I discovered a characteristic that I’d already observed in other artists. Here is someone who remains faithful to the dreams of his adolescence – his books, thoughts, tastes and the worlds he was fond of when he was fifteen or sixteen. He has retained an imagination overflowing with the idea that “anything is possible”. He lacks the distant and disdainful view of the confidence of youth, as opposed to many adults who deliberately break contact with their adolescence so that they no longer have to face or endure painful memories. But this decision also means cutting yourself off from all the joy and wonderment of childhood. For me, Luc has the appearance of an adult with all the trappings of authority, responsibility and experience. But he also has learned how to keep the ability to play with reality. I find that his childlike side, which seems misplaced in so many adults, forms the basis of many great artists’ personalities.

Time passes very quickly behind the drawing board. You live, you get on with you life. You dismantle your life and remake it. Then suddenly you look up and realise that time has made a fool of you.

For Luc, The Fifth Element represents years of investment and energy. For me, it remains a lovely memory of an all too short journey that allowed me to travel to another place and time and to meet new and exciting people.

Five years have passed since that time. And I’m happy to look this film with a fresh eye and with the same eagerness and anticipation as the public.”

The Story of The Fifth Element, Army Cruiser
The Story of The Fifth Element, The Diva
The Story of The Fifth Element, Korben Dallas’s apartment
The Story of The Fifth Element, Korben Dallas’s apartment

 

2001 Après Jésus Christ

2001 Après Jésus Christ / 2001 After Jesus Christ (2000)
Stardom
24 x 16.5cm, 40 pages

On the hardcover of 2001 Après Jésus Christ (2001 After Jesus Christ) the central protagonist Jesus (or Isa) stands alone within an empty desert landscape, facing towards the east. This cover would later be paralleled for the French 2nd Edition of 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” (40 Days In The Desert “B”) but instead with the Techno-Boudha seated on the ground, holding a bow and arrow, also facing (and taking aim) towards the east.

2001 Après Jésus Christ & 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” French 2nd Edition (2001) front covers
2001 Après Jésus Christ & 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” French 2nd Edition (2001) back covers

2001 Après Jésus Christ opens with a preface written in French by Max Armanet titled Nouvelle apocryphe (New Apocryphal) giving an insight on the project’s creation and the premise of the narrative. On the pages on the left of 2001 Après Jésus Christ is an accompanying story also written in French by Jean-Luc Coudray and opposite on the pages on the right is Moebius’ illuminating artwork.

2001 Après Jésus Christ, préface
2001 Après Jésus Christ

Where the title of 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” contained an allusion to the titular Abrahamic prophet, 2001 Après Jésus Christ makes direct reference to the historical figure but reimagined 2 millennia later by Moebius. Through artistic interpretation, Moebius’ Jésus is athletic, bohemian and Middle Eastern. Moebius’ art inside feels vaguely Ligne Claire (clear line) in style but with subtle line details, filled with natural, earthy colours that are occasionally juxtaposed with splashes of luminescent tones.

2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ
2001 Après Jésus Christ

2001 Après Jésus Christ uses a thicker print stock than 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” but instead with a fine horizontal grain and as with with 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” also printed in Italy at Artegrafica Silva.

2001 Après Jésus Christ

40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”

40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” / 40 Days In The Desert “B” (1999)
Stardom/Moebius Production
24 x 16cm, 72 pages

40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” (40 Days In The Desert “B”) is a wordless, dreamlike masterpiece told in 70 beautiful drawings. The story revolves around a shamanic figure (also known as the Techno-Boudha) seated alone in the middle of a featureless desert landscape who whilst sitting in deep meditation is visited by many supernatural visions and soon the protagonist (and reader) are taken on a surreal transformative journey. The “40 days” in the title of this work is an allusion to the number of days and nights that the Abrahamic prophet Jesus (or Isa) is said to have spent fasting in the desert wilderness whilst resisting temptation.

40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” front covers, French 1st Edition (1999,top-left), 2nd Ed (2001,top-right), 3rd Ed (2008,bottom-left) & Japanese Ed (2009,bottom-right)
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” back covers
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” book spines

Moebius executes a tour de force in glorious highly detailed draughtsmanship on every millimetre of every page of 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” with his medium of choice the Rotring Rapidograph technical drawing pen. Employing full hatching/crosshatching & stippling throughout whilst utilising different pen thinnesses (0.35mm, 0.18mm, 0.13mm) to channel decades of artistic expression into each carefully crafted drawing to create a sense of depth and movement within each line. The final spellbinding result for the viewer after reading from end to end is a truly inspiring epiphany to behold.

40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, dedication to wife Isabelle
40 Jours Dans Le Désert “B”, ou la Stratégie de la Démence (or the Strategy of Dementia)
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.1
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.11
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.17
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.20
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.30
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.32
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.41
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.51
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.54
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.55
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.58
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.60
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.61
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.62
40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”, p.64

In 2010 to coincide with the Moebius Transe Forme exhibition at Fondation Cartier in Paris, France held between 2010 to 2011 that would sadly be Moebius’ last exhibition, a DVD was released called Métamoebius which features 2 documentary films directed by Damian Pettigrew, the first Métamoebius (2010) and an earlier documentary Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999). Of particular mention within the documentary Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry is a rare glimpse of Moebius drawing the final pages of 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B”!

Métamoebius DVD
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook
Mister Gir & Mike S. Blueberry (1999), 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” original sketchbook

In the CTN animation eXpo 2010 – An evening with Moebius interview hosted by Animation Director John Musker, Moebius recalls his memories of 40 Days Dans Le Désert “B” (at 1:35:30) and shares some wonderful insights behind it’s creative process:

“…And this is different, it’s a series of drawings I did in 1999. I was doing Blueberry and after a day working on Blueberry I wanted to rest a little doing that. Instead of watching TV, I used to spend my time drawing…You know, I had a book with me and I was carrying that book everywhere, to the dentist or waiting for the bus… I used to do those drawings without pencil and mainly with my Rotring, total improvisation you know because it is an accumulation of lines and details.”