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Epic 1970s French Space Comic Art

Link - article by Avi Abrams

DRB Time-Slice:
Year: 1970
Category: Fiction
Country: France

Long time ago (in the 1970s), in a Galaxy far far away (well, actually, in France),
two space pilots (Valérian and Laureline) were battling the forces of Evil

One of the most interesting developments in European cultural life of the 1970s was the rise of baroque, intricate, sophisticated comic art tradition, and a veritable Golden Age of science fiction comic art in particular, led by such French magazines as "Metal Hurlant", "Pilote" and "Pif" ("Metal Hurlant" was later replicated in America as "Heavy Metal" magazine). This explosion of highly-detailed, almost Art Nouveau-ish, comic masterpieces has been gracing European news stands for most of the 1970s and 1980s - including ground-breaking work by legendary Moebius, Spanish artist Esteban Maroto (specializing in sensual heroic fantasy) and later by Argentine artist Juan Gimenez, of the "Metabarons" fame - who routinely came up with some of the most beautiful space adventure images ever put on paper by anyone.

(art by Jean-Claude Mézières)

Today, however, we will concentrate on French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline (info), created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières - whose work influenced not only famous French movie directors (Luc Besson and his "Fifth Element"), but also - oh boy... George Lucas himself and production design for his "Star Wars" original trilogy.

Check out the shape of Valerian and Laureline spaceship - this was an admitted prototype for the "Millennium Falcon", first drawn out back in the 1960s:

There are more parallels with "Star Wars" that we care to mention here (even famous American scifi artist Frank Kelly Freas admitted that the French series was full of "so many stealable ideas..."), but the original tradition of Space Opera in the grand old manner of Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett (and don't forget Jack Vance!) gave birth to many 1970s-styled space adventures, "Star Wars" being only a part of a much bigger genre. French space comics of this period belong to a more elegant, sexy, sophisticated kind of grand space epics - somewhat exemplified by the "Barbarella" movie, Italian Druuna graphic novels, and by the Japanese "Space Adventure Cobra" manga series. There was plenty of good story-telling and style/fashion galore, wrapped into a galaxy-spanning romp with a slightly decadent twist.

We already covered some of the 1950s-1970s British, Japanese and Russian science fiction artists, and when we speak about French SF art, work of Jean-Claude Mézières deserves a closer look, even though it was not of the same calibre as surreal art by Moebius, it was detailed and inspired enough to influence many creative visionaries of the 1970s, including George Lucas.

If you find these flying taxicabs vaguely familiar, that's because they were later included in the "Fifth Element" movie by Luc Besson:

France in the 1970s had a very special love affair with space adventure style, not in the least aided by epic electronic music by Jean-Michel Jarre and Didier Marouani of "Space" pop group. Valérian and Laureline comics series fit quite well with this soundtrack:

Valérian and Laureline experienced many adventures in and out of space and time together, most of which fall into a familiar "quest and rescue" pattern, but others going on wild tangents in alternate worlds with elements of heroic fantasy and steampunk thrown in for good measure. Some of the episodes feel kinda like Alan Burt Akers' (pseud. of Kenneth Bulmer) installments of Dray Prescott "sword & planet" series, still very popular in Europe (the latest installments in this series are published only in German translation, and were never published in English) - while others remind me of "Dr. Who" British franchise.

In any case, visually these stories are a treat - and today, with the proliferation of often-generic and cheap-looking computer art, this warm hand-drawn "analog" approach gives a reader much better appreciation for "Wonder of the Spaceways", in my humble opinion:

Baroque spaceships (complete with ghost-ridden halls and gargoyles sticking out into the void of space) feature in many "Valérian and Laureline" episodes, being a major influence on "Metabarons" by Juan Gimenez later in the 1990s:

In future articles we will have a look at other French space comic art from "Pilote" and "Pif" magazine, a beautiful, stylish vision of the future which cares for how it looks, feels and fashions itself - not losing the sensibilities of Art Nouveau and turn-of-the-century Paris, but relishing and preserving them:

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



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Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, isn't Luc Besson's movie "The Fifth Element" ?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, valerian et laureline, i'm French, and i grew up with those two, actually getting the whole series in my bookshelves, and because of you i'm about to watch it, again and the few artwork book by Meziére, including the one about the work he done on The Fifth Element, for wich he work with a dozens of young artist during a few month.

anyway, it's great that you gives kudos on this series for being so inspiring, including star wars stuff.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Germany we call the Comic "Valerian und Veronique". It´s great. I love it.

Blogger Praveen said...

Love these drawings. You can see where a lot of films got their inspiration. Also, reminds me of Ralph Mcquarrie's stuff.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Anonymous Jessica said...

Wow!! Valérian and Laureline looks incredibly interesting. I am definitely going to check it out!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the comic that inspired Luc Besson for the looks of the Fifth Element. Fun fact, at this years Comic Con it was anounced that he's licensed the comic and will turn it into a movie.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mezieres didn't just inspire Luc Besson, he designed concept art for the movie. The design of the city, the cabs, leeloo's sarcophagus, the diva, phloston paradise interior -- it's all Mezieres.
Another fun fact: the clothes in Fifth Element are designed by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great art. Mezieres is fantastic. Check this out as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK8B10_oY5g (features some great Mezieres art)

Anonymous JP said...

Some musical accompaniment for your scrolling pleasure:




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