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Upon A Star (1985), page 37. Moebius.
Of all the reams of beautiful comics made by the legendary French cartoonist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, I think this page is my personal favorite. Moebius is one of the rare artists whose work becomes more and more interesting the further it goes from story content and straight depictive drawing. His renditions of the human figure are flawless, and he’s one of the best designers comics have ever had, but his art reaches its greatest intensity and elegance when it’s at its simplest, presenting not futurist vistas or eye-popping creatures, but elemental forces, strong and simple. Crystals, still skies, light projections; these transcendent subjects, not much suited to instigating story action but perfect for mesmerized contemplation, have inspired Moebius’s most transcendent drawings.
Moebius’s art always feels like it’s straining at the barriers of reality, negotiating the points where the way things really look meet the fundamental, cryptic forms to which his pen is best suited. He’s a storyteller whose most potent skill is abstraction, and that’s why this sequence is such a perfect example of his work. It’s got every facet of his drawing style prominently displayed: shimmering auras, softly psychedelic colors, smooth, laser-sculpted forms, an ebullient sense of movement, a thin, clean line whose delicacy is matched only by its immediacy. Style itself becomes subject here. It’s at least as easy to focus on the virtuosic level of craft Moebius brings to this page as it is the actual content, which is hermetic and mysterious, perhaps even downright incomprehensible.
That isn’t a knock on the page, though. Even if the larger meaning of the radiant silver forms’ celestial dance is anyone’s guess, the specifics of what’s going on are crystal clear. Moebius’s straightahead, wide open framing of the scene makes it the easiest thing in the world to understand that these two shapes are drifting apart as they fly off into the heavens, no matter what significance that event might hold. These three panoramic views communicate all the loose swiftness of action comics with a compositional method more common to abstract painting. Each frame presents the full forms, with plenty of space left around them to place them solidly in their environments. It’s a relaxed, refreshingly naturalistic approach to tracking movement over a page, especially when compared to the usual method of showing motion in comics, which cuts off hands or arms or legs with panel borders to suggest gestures too quick for the “camera” to follow. The way Moebius frames this scene is almost filmic, trusting the audience to see the motion in the panels rather than motion created by their outer borders.
It’s one thing to create in-panel motion with recognizable forms like machinery or vehicles or human figures, quite another to do it with completely alien ones like those on this page. The specifics of the action we’re seeing here, the way these shapes are moving, is a mystery. What Moebius does give us is the speed lines streaming off them, straight and unbroken until the panel borders abut them, indicating smoothness and velocity, grace. Combined with the evocative starscapes they’re set against, and the awe-inspiring shift from magenta to purple to indigo that backgrounds them, we know that they’re moving upward and outward. And that is all — from what and to what are not considerations on this page — but the exhilarating sense of life Moebius gives to stiff, metallic objects makes it hard to care or even think about their ultimate purpose.
That’s the real genius of this page, its dealing not only in abstract form but abstract content. Moebius creates something that’s crystal clear in and of itself, an eminently readable page that’s also a beautiful work of art. And yet when one attempts to attach any larger meaning to it, anything beyond the immediate fact of two silver angles speeding away, it falls apart, becomes utterly opaque. This is comics art as free as it can be made, free of story, free of symbolism, free of anything but the shapes and colors in its panels. But when those shapes and colors please the eye, when the sum effect of the pictures is greater than each individual one, that’s enough. This page tells a story in its own way, but it also reminds us that comics are art, line and tone on the page, and they can be just as successful when the story is in thrall to the pictures as when it’s the other way around.