Review: Arzach (1975-’87) by Moebius

In the long and fruitful career of Jean Giraud, AKA Moebius, there exists an intriguing sequence of short painted stories, collectively known as Arzach. These stories appeared through the years in the Heavy Metal (Metal Hurlant) comic magazine and over time people began to notice this recurring character in Moebius’ comics. The character in question is a figure, usually with a cap on his head and a cape, riding a giant pterodactyl-like featherless bird. He is alternately known as either Harzack, Harzac, Harzak, Arzak, Harzakc and Arzach.

Arzach comics are usually without text. Only a few of the later comics have Arzach speak as Moebius began to add context and mythology to the world of this creation, but in the beginning, Arzach was only a visual thing, erupting straight from some inner demons of Moebius himself. They were nothing but giant painted panels by Moebius in which Arzach flies on his bird through fantastical landscapes full of canyons, ape-like monsters and resting skeletons of giant animals. These stories aren’t particularly deep or meaningful. They are short, often ending in some silly punchline. But for the artist, Giraud, this character Arzach developed into some kind of personal symbol. A spirit creation. He painted numerous canvasses and panels with nothing but Arzach on his bird, seen flying from one perspective or the other. It was an image full of potential, full of wonder about fantastical worlds. Keep drawing him and he becomes something like a meme. 

Moebius applied his fantastic talent at composing entire pages in which the panels click together just so that they tell very physical, dynamic sequences. It is very impressive how he plays with the layout of pages. The drawing and colouring itself is also very impressive, and is best appreciated in a large, deluxe format in which you can admire every little pencil stroke. At the time when the first Arzach comics were published, they caused a little revolution because text-less stories were uncommon at the time, and Moebius really tried to regard every panel as a little painting and put that much effort into them.

According to Moebius, he was in a bad place, emotionally, when he started drawing Arzach comics. He had a very bleak image of the world. And the Arzach stories are full of death. Look at the pterodactyl that Arzach rides. It looks a bit like a skeleton, with the colour of bone. A prehistoric death bird. The strange, desolate landscapes and lack of textual context also creates a mood of a dream sequence. 

There are only a handful of finished Arzach comics, but each episode add a little mystery to its world. There are groups of miserable green men – who are they? – and science fiction ideas creeping in about mechanical birds. Moebius added Mexican-like landscapes, where he once spent some time. It is one of his most famous and significant creations, even though there is not much material, all in all, if you put everything together. He reused ideas from Arzach in later work. The pterodactyl bird for instance pops up in The Incal as John Difool’s pet companion, and the ape-like monsters return there as well as mutants. 

I personally found his artwork quite inspiring. Not just the fantastical landscapes and the creation of a character that through repetition becomes some kind of icon, but also the drawing style and how the stories take shape. They diminish in raw power in the later episodes, and the quality of the first few stories must be due to Moebius’s tortured state of mind at the time. Glad he got better, though.


This entry was posted in Books, Comics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Review: Arzach (1975-’87) by Moebius

  1. Bookstooge says:

    That pteradactyl reminds me of a turkey before you stick it in the oven (Thanksgiving is coming up for us Americans so I’m thinking in that vein for almost everything at the moment 🙂 )

    I was going to say how I wasn’t sure if textless stories would work for me but I had to stop and realize that a lot of the comics and graphic novels I’m currently reading have made me appreciate how the drawn picture can say something just as much as a block of text. It’s usually harder to decipher but it’s just as vibrant.

    Is this a hardcover or digital version? And how did you come across it?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. savageddt says:

    That is some great looking panels man. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bormgans says:

    Cool, didn´t know this existed. The Incal is on my Christmas lost, I hope somebody will buy it for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ola G says:

    These look great, and even if I didn’t know about the depression I guess I could infer it from these panels – they are wonderful but also have this feel of utter loneliness or even desolation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Review: The World of Edena (1983), by Moebius | A Sky of Books and Movies

  6. Pingback: Manga Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982-95) by Hayao Miyazaki. An ecological SF epic to rival Dune. | A Sky of Books and Movies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s