Moebius Gives 18 Wisdom-Filled Tips to Aspiring Artists


Jean Giraud, aka Moe­bius, was a com­ic book artist who com­bined blind­ing speed with bound­less imag­i­na­tion. He shaped the look of Alien, Empire Strikes Back and The Fifth Ele­ment. He reimag­ined the Sil­ver Surfer for Stan Lee. And he is an acknowl­edged influ­ence on every­one from Japan­ese ani­mat­ing great Hayao Miyaza­ki to sci-fi writer William Gib­son.


In 1996, the Mex­i­can news­pa­per La Jor­na­da pub­lished a lec­ture giv­en by Moe­bius called “Breve man­u­al para his­to­ri­etis­tas”  – a brief man­u­al for car­toon­ists – which con­sists of 18 tips for aspir­ing artists. If your Span­ish isn’t up to snuff – mine cer­tain­ly isn’t – then there are a cou­ple trans­la­tions out there. Some­one called Xurxo g Penal­ta cranked out a direct ver­sion in Eng­lish, but to get the true nuances of Moe­bius’ wise words, famed illus­tra­tor William Stout’s excel­lent anno­tat­ed ver­sion is best.

For instance, Moebius’s first tip is “When you draw, you must first cleanse your­self of deep feel­ings, like hate, hap­pi­ness, ambi­tion, etc.”

Stout ampli­fies this with the fol­low­ing:

These feel­ings are typ­i­cal­ly emo­tion­al prej­u­dices that func­tion as a block to cre­ativ­i­ty.

This was some­thing I learned from draw­ing and hang­ing out with anoth­er French­man, the bril­liant car­toon­ist-illus­tra­tor (and reg­u­lar Atlantic Month­ly con­trib­u­tor) Guy Bill­out, when we were trav­el­ing togeth­er in Antarc­ti­ca and Patag­o­nia back in 1989. Until I spent time with Guy, I had no idea how many pre-con­ceived notions and assump­tions I held with­in me regard­ing peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions and what a block they were to the flow of my cre­ativ­i­ty.

Divorc­ing your­self from such emo­tion­al­ly blind­ing pre-con­cep­tions allows you to see things with fresh eyes. Solu­tions and ideas then flow with much greater ease. I have noticed with all the cre­ative genius­es I have met that they all share a child­like delight with what­ev­er or whomev­er they encounter in life (they can even find amuse­ment in life’s vil­lains). For them, all cre­ative bar­ri­ers are down; life and cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing for them is like con­stant­ly play­ing. They gush great ideas all day long like a foun­tain.

All of Stout’s anno­ta­tions are like this. It should be required read­ing for any­one even vague­ly inter­est­ed in visu­al sto­ry­telling. Below are Moe­bius’ orig­i­nal obser­va­tions. Stout’s thoughts on Moe­bius can be found here.

1) When you draw, you must first cleanse your­self of deep feel­ings, like hate, hap­pi­ness, ambi­tion, etc.

2) It’s very impor­tant to edu­cate your hand. Make it achieve a lev­el of high obe­di­ence so that it will be able to prop­er­ly and ful­ly express your ideas. But be very care­ful of try­ing to obtain too much per­fec­tion, as well as too much speed as an artist. Per­fec­tion and speed are dan­ger­ous — as are their oppo­sites. When you pro­duce draw­ings that are too quick or too loose, besides mak­ing mis­takes, you run the risk of cre­at­ing an enti­ty with­out soul or spir­it.

3) Knowl­edge of per­spec­tive is of supreme impor­tance. Its laws pro­vide a good, pos­i­tive way to manip­u­late or hyp­no­tize your read­ers.

4) Anoth­er thing to embrace with affec­tion is the study of [the] human body — it’s anato­my, posi­tions, body types, expres­sions, con­struc­tion, and the dif­fer­ences between peo­ple.

Draw­ing a man is very dif­fer­ent from draw­ing a woman. With males, you can be loos­er and less pre­cise in their depic­tion; small imper­fec­tions can often add char­ac­ter. Your draw­ing of a woman, how­ev­er, must be per­fect; a sin­gle ill-placed line can dra­mat­i­cal­ly age her or make her seem annoy­ing or ugly. Then, no one buys your com­ic!

For the read­er to believe your sto­ry, your char­ac­ters must feel as if they have a life and per­son­al­i­ty of their own.

Their phys­i­cal ges­tures should seem to emanate from their character’s strengths, weak­ness­es and infir­mi­ties. The body becomes trans­formed when it is brought to life; there is a mes­sage in its struc­ture, in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of its fat, in each mus­cle and in every wrin­kle, crease or fold of the face and body. It becomes a study of life.

5) When you cre­ate a sto­ry, you can begin it with­out know­ing every­thing, but you should make notes as you go along regard­ing the par­tic­u­lars of the world depict­ed in your sto­ry. Such detail will pro­vide your read­ers with rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ter­is­tics that will pique their inter­est.

When a char­ac­ter dies in a sto­ry, unless the char­ac­ter has had his per­son­al sto­ry expressed some way in the draw­ing of his face, body and attire, the read­er will not care; your read­er won’t have any emo­tion­al con­nec­tion.

Your pub­lish­er might say, “Your sto­ry has no val­ue; there’s only one dead guy — I need twen­ty or thir­ty dead guys for this to work.” But that is not true; if the read­er feels the dead guy or wound­ed guys or hurt guys or whomev­er you have in trou­ble have a real per­son­al­i­ty result­ing from your own deep stud­ies of human nature — with an artist’s capac­i­ty for such obser­va­tion — emo­tions will surge.

By such stud­ies you will devel­op and gain atten­tion from oth­ers, as well as a com­pas­sion and a love for human­i­ty.

This is very impor­tant for the devel­op­ment of an artist. If he wants to func­tion as a mir­ror of soci­ety and human­i­ty, this mir­ror of his must con­tain the con­scious­ness of the entire world; it must be a mir­ror that sees every­thing.

6) Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky says I don’t like draw­ing dead hors­es. Well, it is very dif­fi­cult.

It’s also very dif­fi­cult to draw a sleep­ing body or some­one who has been aban­doned, because in most comics it’s always action that is being stud­ied. It’s much eas­i­er to draw peo­ple fight­ing — that’s why Amer­i­cans near­ly always draw super­heroes. It’s much more dif­fi­cult to draw peo­ple that are talk­ing, because that’s a series of very small move­ments — small, yet with real sig­nif­i­cance.

His counts for more because of our human need for love or the atten­tion of oth­ers. It’s these lit­tle things that speak of per­son­al­i­ty, of life. Most super­heroes don’t have any per­son­al­i­ty; they all use the same ges­tures and move­ments.

7) Equal­ly impor­tant is the cloth­ing of your char­ac­ters and the state of the mate­r­i­al from which it was made.

These tex­tures cre­ate a vision of your char­ac­ters’ expe­ri­ences, their lives, and their role in your adven­ture in a way where much can be said with­out words. In a dress there are a thou­sand folds; you need to choose just two or three — don’t draw them all. Just make sure you choose the two or three good ones.

8) The style, styl­is­tic con­ti­nu­ity of an artist and its pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion are full of sym­bols; they can be read just like a Tarot deck. I chose my name “Moe­bius” as a joke when I was twen­ty-two years old — but, in truth, the name came to res­onate with mean­ing. If you arrive wear­ing a T‑shirt of Don Quixote, that tells me who you are. In my case, mak­ing a draw­ing of rel­a­tive sim­plic­i­ty and sub­tle indi­ca­tions is impor­tant to me.

9) When an artist, a real work­ing artist, goes out on the street, he does not see things the same way as “nor­mal” peo­ple. His unique vision is cru­cial to doc­u­ment­ing a way of life and the peo­ple who live it.

10) Anoth­er impor­tant ele­ment is com­po­si­tion. The com­po­si­tions in our sto­ries should be stud­ied because a page or a paint­ing or a pan­el is a face that looks at the read­er and speaks to him. A page is not just a suc­ces­sion of insignif­i­cant pan­els. There are pan­els that are full. Some that are emp­ty. Oth­ers are ver­ti­cal. Some hor­i­zon­tal. All are indi­ca­tions of the artist’s inten­tions. Ver­ti­cal pan­els excite the read­er. Hor­i­zon­tals calm him. For us in the West­ern world, motion in a pan­el that goes from left to right rep­re­sents action head­ing toward the future. Mov­ing from right to left directs action toward the past. The direc­tions we indi­cate rep­re­sent a dis­per­sion of ener­gy. An object or char­ac­ter placed in the cen­ter of a pan­el focus­es and con­cen­trates ener­gy and atten­tion. These are basic read­ing sym­bols and forms that evoke in the read­er a fas­ci­na­tion, a kind of hyp­no­sis. You must be con­scious of rhythm and set traps for the read­er to fall into so that, when he falls, he gets lost, allow­ing you to manip­u­late and move him inside your world with greater ease and plea­sure. That’s because what you have cre­at­ed is a sense of life. You must study the great painters, espe­cial­ly those who speak with their paint­ings. Their indi­vid­ual paint­ing schools or gen­res or time peri­ods should not mat­ter. Their pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with phys­i­cal as well as emo­tion­al com­po­si­tion must be stud­ied so that you learn how their com­bi­na­tion of lines works to touch us direct­ly with­in our hearts.

11) The nar­ra­tion must har­mo­nize with the draw­ings. There must be a visu­al rhythm cre­at­ed by the place­ment of your text. The rhythm of your plot should be reflect­ed in your visu­al cadence and the way you com­press or expand time. Like a film­mak­er, you must be very care­ful in how you cast your char­ac­ters and in how you direct them. Use your char­ac­ters or “actors” like a direc­tor, study­ing and then select­ing from all of your char­ac­ters’ dif­fer­ent takes.

12) Beware of the dev­as­tat­ing influ­ence of North Amer­i­can com­ic books. The artists in Mex­i­co seem to only study their sur­face effects: a lit­tle bit of anato­my mixed with dynam­ic com­po­si­tions, mon­sters, fights, scream­ing and teeth. I like some of that stuff too, but there are many oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties and expres­sions that are also wor­thy of explo­ration.

13) There is a con­nec­tion between music and draw­ing. The size of that con­nec­tion depends upon your per­son­al­i­ty and what’s going on at that moment. For the last ten years I’ve been work­ing in silence; for me, there is music in the rhythm of my lines. Draw­ing at times is a search for dis­cov­er­ies. A pre­cise, beau­ti­ful­ly exe­cut­ed line is like an orgasm!

14) Col­or is a lan­guage that the graph­ic artist uses to manip­u­late his reader’s atten­tion as well as to cre­ate beau­ty. There is objec­tive and sub­jec­tive col­or. The emo­tion­al states of the char­ac­ters can change or influ­ence the col­or from one pan­el to the next, as can place and time of day. Spe­cial study and atten­tion must be paid to the lan­guage of col­or.

15) At the begin­ning of an artist’s career, he should prin­ci­pal­ly involve him­self in the cre­ation of very high qual­i­ty short sto­ries. He has a bet­ter chance (than with long for­mat sto­ries) of suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing them, while main­tain­ing a high stan­dard of qual­i­ty. It will also be eas­i­er to place them in a book or sell them to a pub­lish­er.

16) There are times when we know­ing­ly head down a path of fail­ure, choos­ing the wrong theme or sub­ject for our capa­bil­i­ties, or choos­ing a project that is too large, or an unsuit­able tech­nique. If this hap­pens, you must not com­plain lat­er.

17) When new work has been sent to an edi­tor and it receives a rejec­tion, you should always ask for and try to dis­cov­er the rea­sons for the rejec­tion. By study­ing the rea­sons for our fail­ure, only then can we begin to learn. It is not about strug­gle with our lim­i­ta­tions, with the pub­lic or with the pub­lish­ers. One should treat it with more of an aiki­do approach. It is the very strength and pow­er of our adver­sary that is used as the key to his defeat.

18) Now it is pos­si­ble to expose our works to read­ers in every part of the plan­et. We must always keep aware of this. To begin with, draw­ing is a form of per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion — but this does not mean that the artist should close him­self off inside a bub­ble. His com­mu­ni­ca­tion should be for those aes­thet­i­cal­ly, philo­soph­i­cal­ly and geo­graph­i­cal­ly close to him, as well as for him­self — but also for com­plete strangers. Draw­ing is a medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the great fam­i­ly we have not met, for the pub­lic and for the world.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in March 2015.

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Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch Moe­bius and Miyaza­ki, Two of the Most Imag­i­na­tive Artists, in Con­ver­sa­tion (2004)

In Search of Mœbius: A Doc­u­men­tary Intro­duc­tion to the Inscrutable Imag­i­na­tion of the Late Com­ic Artist Mœbius

Moe­bius’ Sto­ry­boards & Con­cept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • coffeestainoniqtest says:

    LOL, I would actu­al­ly love to see old, and ugly women char­ac­ters in comics. All the old bitch­es I know have fas­ci­nat­ing lives and per­spec­tives. They’re the key ele­ment of what’s miss­ing in so many bor­ing old comics and oth­er draw­ings.

  • David Hutchison says:

    “Draw­ing a man is very dif­fer­ent from draw­ing a woman. With males, you can be loos­er and less pre­cise in their depic­tion; small imper­fec­tions can often add char­ac­ter. Your draw­ing of a woman, how­ev­er, must be per­fect; a sin­gle ill-placed line can dra­mat­i­cal­ly age her or make her seem annoy­ing or ugly. Then, no one buys your com­ic!”

    Great list of tips and although the above advice may be true that no one will buy your com­ic I don’t agree that women should be drawn dif­fer­ent­ly from men.

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