Writer(s): Jean-Michel Charlier
Artist(s): Jean Giraud (Moebius)
US Publisher: Last Gasp of San Francisco
This collection narrates the adventures and misadventures of a southern-born gentleman, who after various vicissitudes ends up undertaking various missions for the north, and eventually cruising the whole states.
I had written this review a few months before the death of Jean Giraud (Moebius) and had been postponing it, making room for other blog entries, when the news arrived.
I guess now is more of homage than a review. But nevertheless, I feel that American audiences haven’t given this masterpiece the attention it deserves and this visionary, the credit that is due to him.
When you approach this series, please leave behind all pre-conceived ideas you may have of what to expect of a western.
The US, the mother of the genre per se, underwent a process of trivialization in an attempt to make comics more child-friendly, and this happened courtesy of the Comic Code Authority, and thus, westerns lost all veracity, all rawness, and in general failed to display all the rough and tough-ness of the times they were set in; they became little more than Disney versions of the genre.
So, I guess it was up to the French to show us how westerns were supposed to be done. (Sad Joke)
The main reason why this collection has to be treated as a masterpiece is because of the equal degree of masterful treatment in which the script and the art worked.
The absolutely engaging scripts that Jean Charlier threads has so many layers and depth, and creates such a rich tapestry of personalities that they could be considered wonderful adventure books on their own right. Ulyses Grant, Chihuaha Pearl, and Angel Face are just some of the characters that populate these tales, and each one of them has gained a spot on the history books of comics.
The team of Charlier and Moebius became legendary partially due to the meticulous research that the pair did for their stories; the writer in order to portray a veritable and historically accurate western, and the artists going over myriad of obscure visual references for the vignettes.
And the result shows in spades.
The towns are full of mud, and dirt, and smoke. The people are dirty and dusty. The saddle looks at times like works of art. The native americans wear different paints depending on the tribe they belong to, and the mood they are in. The revolvers have different lengths and the barrels and drums match the brands of the manufacturer…
You can learn more about the west during the period narrated here than in ALL the western comics published between 1955 and 1990 in the US. Like I stated before, you can thank the Comic Code Authority for that (and that is another blog entry I have been working since a few months ago; it is coming, I promise). The rites of the native american tribes are represented in so much detail and faithfulness that it looks like the script was research through an anthropology text-book.
But here is the most admirable part: A good story never takes second place to realism. Charlier always blended an amazing caper full of double-crossings, intrigues, greed and lust, and the realistic details on the story only served to lend more veracity to the tale.
Moebius took to illustrating these westerns like the pro he is, but used these series to experiment and perfect his already masterful craft.
One factor that is never highlighted enough, is the clear dominance of the european page format over the american page size.
Usually in the US, comics are drawn in 11X14 sheets, while in europe they used a bigger size, that facilitates more vignettes per page, and makes for a more dynamic read on the hands of a master such as Moebius.
If you are wondering why, in France comics are supposed to be sold (if not at first print, eventually) as luxurious and hard-cover albums, in bookstores and to be displayed in public libraries. Not all comics. But most comic artists aspire to make comics that will be displayed in libraries.
And it is common for european publishers to compile comics in album and collectors formats that has never been done in before in the US.
For example, from my trips to Spain and France, I brought back luxurious albums compiling all of Milton Cannif’s Terrry and the Pirates series, back in the late 1980’s, and the collected bibliography of The Spirit by Will Eisner in luxurious volumes in French before it was ever attempted to be published any of them in the states.
Like I said, if you don’t want to get it for the amazing art, you may want to get it for the amazing stories. Never before has history interwoven such a grand soap opera tale in the world of comics!
Characters change attitudes, people are flawed, heroes are tragic, and villains are sympathetic.
Also it should be noted that before Harry Potter and the tragic characters of Twilight established a Young-Adult market, Charlier and Giraud were already writing for this demographic. I lost count of how many parents I’ve seen introduce their own young teen kids to westerns or to comics using the adventures of Blueberry, and how many adults still refer to them in reverence and awe, for exactly the reasons i exposed here: Great art, with amazing stories.