Over the weekend, an influential French artist Jean-Claude Mezieres died at the age of 83. While his work is relatively obscure to American audiences, the DNA of his imaginative long-term creations Valerian and Laureline The series made its way into American cinema, and the comic remains a classic in the European comic book canon.

As Le Monde wrote:

“Rarely has a French comic strip author so inspired cinema, especially American cinema. Without its innate sense of direction, science fiction would never have become such a fertile genre within the 9th art.

Born on September 23, 1938, Mézières grew up in the suburbs of Paris and met his lifelong friend and eventual collaborator Valériane Pierre-Christin at a very young age – in an air-raid shelter during World War II. Inspired by his older brother and the comic strips of his youth, the young Mézières pursued illustration as a vocation. At 13, he was published for the first time in a French newspaper, the children’s newspaper Le Figaro, and at 15, he joined the Institute of Applied Arts in Paris for four years. Among his classmates were Patrick (Pat) Maillet and a young John Giraud (later known as Moebius). His classmates Giraud and Mézières would develop a lasting friendship built on a shared love of science fiction and westerns.

European comics:

“Despite his training in applied arts in Paris in the 1950s, Jean-Claude Mézières will not make a name for himself by drawing wallpaper. It is in fact his childhood passion for comics that will be the common thread of his career.

After his military service, Mézières worked briefly as an illustrator on the ephemeral of the publisher Hachette. history of civilization books, before creating an art studio with Benoit Gillain in 1963 (fulfilling various roles as an illustrator, photographer, layout artist and graphic designer, mostly for advertising).

Fascinated by the imagery of the Wild West and America seen in comics and in the cinema, Mézières had long wanted to travel there. In 1965, he got his wish – thanks to a friend of Gillain’s father, Mézières got a work visa for a factory in Houston, Texas. He did not reach the factory, instead spending a period traveling and hitchhiking across the United States. With funds exhausted and his visa only allowing him to work at the factory, he contacted his old friend Pierre Christin, who had entered academia and was at the time working as a professor of French literature at the University of Utah to Salt Lake City. Christin gave him a place to sleep and helped him get a job as an illustrator for a local advertising agency and a Mormon children’s magazine. children’s friend. He also sold photographs from his travels and got to work on a ranch, fulfilling his childhood cowboy dreams. Salt Lake City was also the place where Mézières met his future wife, who at the time was a student of Christin.

The limits of his visa having been reached, and the work at the ranch having dried up, Mézières and Christin collaborate on a short comic Punch Rum [Rum Punch]. A copy was sent to old friend Giraud who was working on the comic western at the time Blueberry for the highly influential children’s magazine Pilot. Giraud showed it to his editor Rene Goscinny (of Asterix and lucky Luke fame, also published in Pilote). rum punch was published in the March 24, 1966 issue. Another collaboration was also published in July 1966. The money from these tapes helps pay for the flight back to Mézières.

Returning from the United States, Mézières went to the offices of Pilote in search of a job and landed his first job on a serialized comic, The extraordinary and disturbing adventure of Mr. August Faust [The Extraordinary and Troubling Adventure of Mr August Faust] but found the scripts provided by collaborator Fred to be very restrictive.

A chance meeting with Christin, back in France, leads them to seriously discuss a new collaboration – but instead of doing a western (since there was already a lot of competition from Giraud Blueberryat Goscinny lucky Luke etc), Christin suggested they do science fiction. They threw a tape at Pilote and Goscinny gave the green light. Valerian was born.

The Valerian series (later renamed Valerian and Laureline) began in the November 9, 1967 issue of Pilote and ran for 15 issues. Subsequent series (and collected albums) soon followed.

Cinebook hardcover collection cover

Set in the 28th century, the main characters act as “space-time agents” bent on protecting time and space from mischief and malfeasance. The first scenario Bad Dreams [Bad Dreams] features Valerian and Laureline’s first encounter and ensuing storyline The city of moving waters was the first to be released as a collected album, in 1970 (bad dreams it took until 1983 for a collection). 24 albums were produced by the duo for publisher Dargaud before the series officially ended in 2010.

From: Shadow Ambassador

The characterization of Valerian as the stereotypical cool, collected – though often ignorant – male hero and the smart, capable Laureline proved successful at a time when women’s rights and liberation movements were gaining momentum.

From: Welcome to Alflolol

The incredibly immersive visuals of Mézières in Valerian helped establish the potential success of science fiction as a genre of the 9th art. Paired with 60s contemporaries Philippe Drouillet (Lone Sloane, also published in Pilote) and Eddy Paape (with writer Greg’s Luke East, published in the weekly Tintin), together these works set the stage for the groundbreaking anthology Screaming metal in 1974.

Valerian and Laureline have been translated into many languages. In English, it was randomly released. In 1981, the seventh story of Valériane, Shadow Ambassador was serialized in heavy metal. Three other stories were published in English by Dargaud USA between 1981-1984. After further hesitant attempts to release the series in English, the fullest finally came in the 2010s when UK publisher Cinebook began translating and releasing the series in individual softcover albums and later in books. hardcover collections to coincide with the 2017. Luc Besson movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Mezieres
Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

The series has proven to be incredibly influential with its visual DNA making it star wars1982 Conan the Barbarianand The fifth Element (the latter of whom Mézières worked as an uncredited concept artist).

Mézières’ work was acclaimed and respected during his lifetime. He has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix d’Angoulême in 1984 and an Inkpot award at San Diego Comic Con in 2006.

He rarely deviated from working on Valerian and when you think of him you instantly think of the series and every gloriously done page, and Mézières seemed to enjoy that and his accomplishment. In an interview with Ligne Claire in September 2021, on the occasion of the release of a career-spanning art book, the interviewer said [translated by DeepL]:

Interviewer: What we will remember above all is Valerian?

Mézières: My only comic strip and that’s enough.

*

Jean-Claude Mezieres
September 23, 1938 – January 23, 2022

For more:

  • Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières discussed valerian with Paul Gravett at the French Institute in London in 2017. A recording is available here.
  • An interview with The Comics Journal was published in 2004 and is available in their digital archive (but is behind a paywall)
  • Mézières sketches his characters:

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