In a post written in the memory of influential French comic artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud following his passing in 2012, Neil Gaiman describes the excitement of discovering Giraud's stories and their incredibly sophisticated art at the age of fourteen, even though his French wasn't good enough at the time to actually understand them. In the same post, Gaiman also describes how, in his twenties, he finally got to read Giraud's stories in translation, and discovered that "they weren't actually brilliant stories. More like stream-of-consciousness art meets Ionesco absurdism."
This impression pretty much sums up the experience that awaits readers in The World of Edena, a new hardcover volume which collects in English translation all the stories in one of Giraud's signature science fiction cycles. (Portions of the story have previously been published in English from the late '80s to the mid-'90s.) To be sure, we need to see more of Moebius's work in translation—the last time one of his genre works was given a proper English release was five years ago, with the release of The Incal by Self Made Hero, so Dark Horse's promise to release more classic works by Moebius is definitely a good thing. But The World of Edena reveals some of Giraud's shortcomings: his love for the absurd and the outrageous tended to work better when he collaborated with more natural storytellers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky (who wrote The Incal)  or Dan O'Bannon (with whom Giraud collaborated on the seminal science fiction story "The Long Tomorrow"). When Giraud did both the art and the story, he tended to abandon the plot and get lost within his personal musings, and often gave the impression that he just randomly drew whatever came to his mind at a given moment in the hope that something would stick. Some of his solo works managed to overcome this problem—his silent masterpiece Arzach is a strong example—but others didn't. The World of Edena sadly belongs in the latter category.
The World of Edena opens with the story's protagonists, Stel and Atan, a couple of spacefarers who find themselves stranded on a remote planet. This opening story is very much reflective of the problems that accompany the rest of the volume: it is beautifully drawn, with detailed backgrounds that move from empty wastelands to huge junkyards, and it's even thematically interesting (the story was originally drawn as a promotional piece for car manufacturer Citroën, and, despite the commercial presence of the company's car in the story, Moebius managed to make his admiration for the brand's technology-as-art approach feel honest); but within a relatively small number of the opening story's pages, Moebius already makes it feel like a total narrative mess. In a series of seemingly random events that bear little connection to each other, the protagonists find their way to a strange structure which soon afterwards transfers them to another strange planet called Edena, where the true plot is supposed to begin.
Alas, this second beginning also takes time to happen, because upon their arrival to the new world's jungles (again, gorgeously illustrated), the two protagonists keep themselves busy mostly with deep questions of whether or not to eat organic fruits after so many years of consuming synthetic food. This part of the story, other than being boring and uneventful, is also embarrassingly preachy in a New Age kind of way (and Moebius's poor choice of adding little fairies to the scenery emphasizes this impression). However, after an overlong journey to seemingly nowhere, Moebius suddenly makes things interesting when the stay on Edena begins to have its effect on the protagonists, turning them from genderless and asexual into a male and a female.
This transition works brilliantly in the graphic passage from the "clear line" innocent look of the characters in the early chapters to a more realistic design. It could have been much more—a deep commentary on gender roles—though what readers are mostly left with is Moebius's habit of drawing his female characters naked. Still, the story definitely kicks into high gear once this twist takes place: there's a struggle to save the planet, an interesting (if not always coherent) look into the world's underground oppressive society, and it all holds up pretty well until the concluding chapters. Here, it seems, Moebius decided (again) that making narrative sense was too hard for him, so he returned to his comfort zone of loosely connected nonsensical pivots, which continues all the way to an abrupt ending.
As with other works by Moebius, The World of Edena demonstrates his huge influence on key genre works, notably the Wachowski sisters' The Matrix (1999) and also, sadly, its lackluster sequels. Hayao Miyazaki's manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1982-94), and its 1984 animated adaptation, also show the heavy influence of Moebius in general, and The World of Edena in particular. But in both cases, Moebius's admirers managed to outdo him in the storytelling department, at least when it comes to The World of Edena. I hope that Dark Horse's choices for future re-issuing of Moebius's works in English will take their pick from his better materials.
- Yes, I imagine that even Jodorowsky himself never dreamt of being described as a "natural storyteller" of all things, yet reading The Incal—especially in comparison to Giraud's solo works—makes his storytelling abilities shine.[return]