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moebius/jean giraud doc, bbc4

From:     blp
Category: Art
Date:     24 September 2007
Time:     06:05 AM

Review:

I discovered Heavy Metal Magazine when I was 12 and living in Kenya. I read about it first in an
article on the back page of the Herald Tribune, then found to my surprise that I could buy it in
various shops around Nairobi. After that my parents had to have a little private debate to decide
whether I should be allowed to read it since it had graphic drawings of nudity and sex in it. I have
a vague memory of them emerging from some closed room to give me the nod.

My defense had been that I liked the art and, really, didn't want the nudity. I might have wanted
nudity in another context, but, for some reason, not mixed up with my comics. Even so, it felt like
a bit of growing up because, initially, I actually didn't really like the art. It seemed wrong to
me, having neither the clean, machoistic force of Marvel/DC, nor the grimy aggression of American
underground comics. The artist who provoked this reaction first and most strongly was Moebius. As it
happened, his story Shore Leave was the first thing I ever read in these magazines. I started
reading it crouching in some store in central Nairobi and was so affronted by its style that I  shut
the magazine almost immediately, then couldn't stop thinking about it and had to go back a day or
two later and buy it. It was the first time I had that great artistic experience of finding
something so wrong and yet so right. 

There were a couple of geniuses in this magazine at the time: Rod Kierkegaard Jr. and Dick Matena
were the other ones who stood out for me, but Moebius was easily the best. Shore Leave was actually,
I think, devoid of sexual imagery,  but the drawing style itself felt like something forbidden. As
I've said, it was devoid of the machismo and brutality that characterised American comics. There was
often something fey and pretty about Moebius' male characters, but, more than that, the drawing
itself seemed sort of fey initially, for all its assurance, having a very hand drawn feeling line
and a lack of darkness about it, a gentleness. Colours, likewise, were often strikingly beautiful
and had a sunniness to them. I might be about to tell you that it was at this point that I realised
I was gay and have Moebius to thank for my early release from the closet, but I wasn't and I think
that would be to slightly miss the point, which was that he was showing me that a different form of
masculinity was possible. 

It would be boring to reduce the magic of this work down to some muted gender political point except
that such a point seems inseparable from the quality of the art. Kirby Dick's brilliant recent
documentary 'This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated' paints a picture of a mainstream cinematic culture in
America that's tightly engineered to promote deeply reactionary, militaristic and conventionalist
depictions of masculinity, very much at the expense of women and gays. A Newsweek film critic
interviewed by Dick put it bluntly: 'I'm going to use the F word: fascism.' This was the culture I'd
been growing up in, either in America or at American schools abroad. Moebius for me was probably
like Morrissey is for a lot of American kids. He opened up the world for me, through aesthetics. The
aesthetic was better because it wasn't bound by these stupid, bullshit macho rules. It meant he was
freer to explore great strangeness and beauty and do so with enormous wit. It made the work sexier.
It struck me watching the doc last night that fantasy art has a bad rep because the fantasy it
depicts is so unfantastic  endless leaden oil paint retreads of muscular barbarians rescuing
big-titted babes from dragons and elves on quests  whereas Moebius, eschewing all these dull
conventions, was producing worlds of endless, schizo possibility that Deleuze and Guattari might
have approved of.

It was good to see him being recognised by the beeb last night and good to see that, at its best,
his work still makes me incredibly excited. I'm never quite sure if this is just something I've
never managed to grow out of, but I find it really hard to believe it is and I suppose I've been
trying, here, to explain why. 


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