Le Garage Hermetique de Jerry Cornelius episode 26 (1988), page 1 panel 1. Drawn by Moebius.
For an artist whose popularity is so widespread, transcending the boundaries both of nations and comics genres, Moebius' influence is little seen in American comics. Even a brief glance at one of his panels -- the one above, for example -- speaks of a talent with an entirely individual style, a whole world built of nothing but unique aesthetic devices. Like Kirby or Herriman or Tezuka in their primes, vintage Moebius has no obvious lineage, appearing to have sprung fully formed from the well of pure inspiration. Perhaps this is why Moebius derivations are attempted so rarely in America: his work is so complete and original that to copy it is to attempt not just a new stylistic tic or two, but an entirely different method of drawing comics.
The American artists that have gotten along best with visible seeds of Moebius in their work are those who understand this, and have centered in on one aspect of that method to adapt into their own styles. Geof Darrow has the meticulous detailing, Frank Quitely has the vast open spaces, James Stokoe has some of the visual shorthand, et cetera. Looking at work by one or another of these artists, it sometimes seems that Moebius' craft can be easily broken down into its constituent elements. But looking at the real thing, the effect is and will always be no less than stunning.
First of all, the line is beautiful. It's rivaled only by Crumb's for expressiveness, but its sheer versatility is unmatched. That thin, scalpel-exact but still resolutely handmade trail of black is fully the equal of Moebius' prodigious visual imagination, outlining with ease anything that its master can conceptualize. And his conceptualizations are marvelous things: massive, minimal-lined forms against near-blank backgrounds, bisecting panels into completely unique shapes that are instantly recognizable as the work of their creator. Tiny, perfectly placed bits of detail saturate the pictures' vast open spaces in the impression of total reality more than an over-rendered approximation of it.
The impressionistic approach extends to Moebius' use of color here: a little patch of red and sparse grays join with the gorgeous marks used for shadowing to give the impression of a white space that exists in a full-color world. By allowing his line, which denotes the rest of the forms in the panel, to carry most of the chromatic weight by simply applying the hint of color with shading, he fully integrates the idea of full color into his picture. Any other impression of chroma in the white space is provided by the highly graphic lines in the little red spot, pointing into the white and makign the eye "see" the color continuing into it. What could look like a Frank Miller-style spot-colored picture thus becomes a full-tone image that happens to use a lot of white. This is high-level stuff, something that even the greatest draftsmen don't often come near. In comics reality is always illusory, and Moebius creates illusions so deep and well-formed we almost drown in them.
I chose to spotlight this panel because it more or less directly takes on a favorite visual trope of American comics, that of flying men descending from the sky. (It also functions as a very American, Kirbyist "opening splash" in-story -- however, that's beyond this column's purview.) But just look at how differently from any American Moebius handles this well-worn topic. Rather than a stock close-up that neatly frames the figures, or a hackneyed "looking up from below" angle, the composition instead pulls so far back that the people in it are completely dwarfed, reduced to little more than abstract shapes.
It's an interesting approach that has merit in its own right, but Moebius does everything to sell it to us. He creates monolithic architecture whose massive heft emphasizes the dynamism of the tiny figures. He juts strange perspectives out at us to fix the characters in a real world that's got so much more shape than the typical comics frame's square, boxy "soundstage". He even (unusually) varies the quality of his line, thickening it to give the picture a gigantic, curving sense of depth. There's even a nice dramatic tension between the only two spotted blacks, that used on the one flyer's costume and the one on the other's shadow. The calligraphic, vaguely underground comix-influenced title lettering is just a wonderful bonus, playing with our minds a little by thrusting the panel's artificiality back into our faces. I'm out of time, but I haven't even scratched the surface here. Just take a second with this drawing. Look at it.
It's not like anyone's counting, but this edition of Your Monday Panel marks my 100th post on DTU! Yay!