Despite the general dearth of Moebius works available in English, a scant few are available for purchase. I recently got my hands on a copy of Taboo 4, well known for containing the first English language reprint of Moebius and Jodorowksy’s The Eyes of the Cat. It’s a beautiful print, on big, bright yellow pages, and the story is gorgeously illustrated. Something really shocked me the first time I read it, though – see if you can tell what it is:
Do you see it? Here are two more pages from slightly later in the story:
Did you see it? Almost none of the flagstones match from page to page! Not only do they not match, they’re drawn wildly differently! For example, in the fourth page, the window is lined with individuated stones, completely at odds with the other depictions of the window on previous pages. And that’s only one small example of the myriad differences between pages – Moebius obviously did not care about making sure that every stone in the wall or floor was consistent from page to page.
I’ve given this deliberate decision a lot of thought. Moebius was no slouch, artistically – he could obviously have drawn the flagstones consistently from page to page if he had wanted to. So why the decision to completely alter certain aspects of the architecture from illustration to illustration? For one thing, I imagine it allowed him to focus more on the composition and execution of individual pages – rather than being limited by a single, perhaps restrictive architecture, he was able to compose the page deliberately each time, while only maintaining a token consistency. A quick reader might not notice, and a reader enthralled by the beauty and detail of each individual page wouldn’t necessarily notice (or care) either.
This deliberate inconsistency, and decision to focus on individual panels rather than an overall, highly consistent environment, interests me greatly. If I had guessed before looking closely at these pages, I would have assumed that Moebius was 100% consistent in drawing the architecture, just given the detail and consistency of his work. Learning that he didn’t particularly care about environmental consistency made me curious about similar artists, so I checked out another European powerhouse, Bilal:
Bilal uses close crops which generally disguise specific background elements, but there are a couple larger panels where we are able to see that Bilal and Moebius are playing a similar trick. Note the pile of rocks in front of Horus in the first panel – in subsequent full-body shots, the rocks have either shrunk or disappeared entirely (not to mention the fairly arbitrary puddles of mud/grime around the station.) Bilal’s arbitrary background details are much less noticeable than Moebius’ in this case, because he is careful to crop his panels and change his angles so that he’s rarely showing the same scene twice. This allows him to draw a lot of detail into the background of each panel without having to necessarily duplicate it.
Of course, the question of environmental consistency is very much a question of style. When DeForge mixes things up (like with the couch pattern here):
It’s not really distracting. There’s already a sense of weird motion in DeForge’s art, so the fact that the couch pattern remains the same size even when the “camera” zooms in isn’t particularly jarring. In fact, it would probably be much more distracting if DeForge tried to keep his backgrounds/environment really consistent, given his current style (although I’m sure he could pull it off flawlessly – that man is terrifyingly good.)
An interesting counterpoint: I was willing to bet that Dave Gibbons was absolutely consistent in Watchmen, and as far as I can tell he nearly was. Take a look at the sidewalk on these early pages:
With the exception of a couple small cracks, he’s largely consistent, even in the close up panels of the gutter on page five. It’s still not a hundred percent perfect, but at a certain point I have to wonder if perfection would be worth it. Would anyone really notice? Is it the comics equivalent of wanting to make up a detailed back-story for every character before you even start your book?
Obviously, this isn’t a question worth asking about every artist. Jim Woodring’s style, for instance, is completely unsuited to the idea of totally consistent environments. It’s only really a question for those artists whose style is based heavily in a sense of representational space. And, as far as I can tell, the answer seems to be “don’t sweat it.”
Only freaks look at details like that, anyway.