By Bob Clark
In honor of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s recent passing, this piece is rerun.
The wonderful thing about science fiction set in outer space is the sheer size of it all. Though the cosmos isn’t exactly as infinite as hyperbole would suggest, it’s certainly almost inconceivably vast, far too far and wide for any single traveler to circumnavigate, even with the highest of technologies and the longest of lifespans. It is also too large for any single imagination to conquer definitively– more than any other setting for speculative sagas both grounded in professional rigour and unbound in flights of fancy, the night skies of outer space have been and remain the most reliably florid landscape for enterprising storytellers to weave tales of adventure and excitement the likes of which have little earthly comparison, and unlike so many of our own terrestrial locales for such mythic spin, it’s an environment big enough for everyone to share. After a while, nearly all of the locales we tell stories in around our own provincial planet grow stale from the influence of a handful or so storytellers and artists from whose shadow even the greatest masters can never fully escape. Westerns will always carry a debt to John Ford, Noirs will always bear the tell-tale fingerprints of Lang and German Expressionism, and literary fantasy will forever carry a debt to the hallmark tomes of Tolkien and all the Arthurian tradition that came before it. But space? Ah, there’s a canvas so wide and deep it all but puts to shame even the most accomplished contributions to its legacy beyond the stars. It’s a tapestry with room enough for a diverse assembly of creators to start at whatever fringes they choose and develop their weave in full, sometimes never quite overlapping with their brethren in all but the most superficial of family resemblances.
Jules Verne can take us to the moon on page, and Kubrick to the lunar monolith, beyond Jupiter and even infinity without owing too large an IOU to the French master. George Lucas can take us through hyperspace to a galaxy far, far away and never even have to worry about paying a toll for crossing through Buck Roger’s or Flash Gordon’s territories. Hideaki Anno can send teenage-piloted robots out into the universe or world-threatening alien monstrosities down to Earth without it crossing the same tracks as Leiji Matsumoto’s express lanes. Simply put, space is a big enough territory for all of the sci-fi masters of our world or any other to share, and as such there’s a quaint charm to the idea that the myriad worlds of all these creators might be shared, in some metafictional sleight of hand. As such, one wonders where exactly the worlds of director Rene Laloux’s features would be situated in the cosmos, owing so much as they do to their respective co-writers and artistic designers. Last week’s La Planete Sauvage would not be what it is without the sketchy illustrative style of Roland Topur, and next week’s Gandahar would be hard to imagine without the crisper designs of Phillipe Caza. Of all his feature collaborations, however, none are more affected by the presence of his co-conspirator than 1982’s Les Maitres Du Temps (“Time Masters”), where celebrated French comic-book artist Jean Giraud brought his inimitable sensibilities to the big-screen and in full, living animation for the first time. Though throughout the course of this film we may criss-cross from one celestial body to the next in the breadth of the Laloux galaxy, from start to finish our feet remain firmly rooted on Planet Moebius.