Moebius: Floating citadels and all-city planets
Moebius was the master of sci-fi architecture, writes Rory Olcayto
The vertiginous cityscape Moebius conjured for The Long Tomorrow is one of the most influential works of architectural art created in the past 50 years. It first appeared in cult magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal in the UK) in 1976, but its impact beyond comics, his medium of choice, is huge. Sadly the Frenchman, master of spatial representation in comic-book art, died of cancer a couple of weeks ago, aged 73. If you don’t know his work, here’s a short introduction.
In The Long Tomorrow, written by Alien scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon, a hard-boiled detective thriller unfolds on a planet-covering conurbation – an ecumenopolis (a term representing the idea of a worldwide city). Sky bridges and anti-gravity updrafts, now standard fare in Hollywood sci-fi, are set among towering monoliths defined by a stylised Brutalist and Art Nouveau mix.
It has been massively influential – particularly among filmmakers. George Lucas was ‘impressed and affected’ by Moebius, and Ridley Scott claimed The Long Tomorrow inspired his Blade Runner. The artist himself implemented his comic-book vision while production designer on Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, the most literal transfer of his work to celluloid. The literary world was also in thrall, as William Gibson notes: ‘It’s entirely fair to say that the way Neuromancer-the-novel “looks” was influenced in large part by some of the artwork I saw in Heavy Metal. Those French guys, they got their end in early.’ Even Federico Fellini couldn’t resist Moebius’ art: ‘I have nothing but this to tell you, continue to draw fabulous for our joy, all of us.’
Moebius however was more than a science-fiction artist. He was first noticed for his Lieutenant Blueberry strips, a standard cowboy comic. And some of his most famous artwork depicts Venice, ‘a magical city out of time and space’. There is a typical Moebius twist – gondolas don’t float but fly, and canals have been replaced by deep ravines. Another image shows a floating Mont Saint-Michel, as if the citadel has uprooted itself from the shore below. This sense of breaking free from gravity is a recurring theme.
Curiously given his mastery of the subject, Moebius confessed to having no special interest in architecture until he discovered Winsor McCay, the early 20th-century cartoonist who remains a key influence in comic-book art. ‘At first I was scared of architectural designs, because of their difficulty in terms of perspective, etc. When you draw as much science fiction as I do, it is hard not to dabble in architecture. But I remain an amateur. Winsor McCay was a master professional.’ Moebius. Modest. Magnificent. And very dearly missed.