Valerian and Laureline – ‘Châtelet Station, Destination Cassiopeia’ (1980).
Jean-Claude Mézières was one of the foremost creators of European science fiction comics. Together with his childhood friend and scriptwriter Pierre Christin, he innovated the genre with the adventures of the spatio-temporal agents Valérian and Laureline (1967-2010), who roam time and space to safeguard the member planets of the Terran Galactic Empire. Unlike the “good-versus-evil” space opera themes of earlier sci-fi comics, the authors interlaced their stories with humor, political satire and strong doses of humanism and feminism. First serialized in Pilote and then published directly in book format, the episodes gradually shifted from a caricatural drawing style to a thorough semi-realistic graphical approach. Mézières proved to be a master in crafting believable space machinery and extraterrestrial worlds, all with their own typical sceneries, monsters and inhabitants. One of the first European comics with a flawed male anti-hero and a strong, independent female lead, the adventures of ‘Valérian & Laureline’ set a new standard for sci-fi comic worldwide. Mézières’s vivid imagery inspired not only his peers, but also the movie industry. Direct influences from the ‘Valérian’ books can be traced back in the ‘Star Wars’ film series. Later in his career, Mézières worked directly for the movie industry too, most notably doing design work for the 1997 film ‘The Fifth Element’ by French director Luc Besson.
Jean-Claude Mézières was born in 1938 in Paris, into a family with artistic talents. His father was as automobile expert and then accountant with a ministry, who enjoyed making watercolor paintings in his spare time. His mother painted on silk and his older brother Jacques drew comic strips for fun. During World War II, the Mézières family lived in Saint-Mandé, a commune in the eastern suburbs of Paris. The foundations of the lifelong friendship between Jean-Claude Mézières and his future scriptwriter Pierre Christin were laid in 1943-1944, when the two met as kids in one of the Saint-Mandé air-raid shelters. Unaware of the danger, the boys had fun playing together. After the war, Mézières’s artistic talents came to blossom. He enjoyed reading OK Magazine, most notably ‘Arys Buck’ by Albert Uderzo and ‘Kaza le Martien’ by Kline, and the ‘Tintin’ albums by Hergé. When his fourteen year-old brother saw one of his drawings published in OK Magazine, it prompted Jean-Claude to pick up the drawing pen too. Seven years younger, he finished his brother’s comic strips and made up his own stories with his favorite characters, including one of Tintin with the superhero body of Uderzo’s ‘Arys Buck’! Among the other early influences on Mézières’s art were André Franquin, Morris and Jijé. Later on, he picked up elements from the American cartoonists Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman, until gradually settling on his own drawing style. Besides comics, Mézières grew a fondness for the American Far West; so his initial ambitions were to become either a comic artist or a cowboy.
‘Robin des Bois’, first comic strip by J.C. Mézi, published in Bonjour Philippine (1955).
In December 1952, Mézières made his debut during the Salon de l’Enfance, held annually in the Grand Palais of Paris. During the fair, newspaper Le Figaro published a newspaper for and by young people, called the Journal des Jeunes. Mézières was selected as one of the artists. Fifteen year-old Philippe Labro served as editor-in-chief and later became famous as author, journalist and film director. Shortly afterwards, Mézières dropped out of high school and enrolled at the Parisian School of Applied Arts (AKA the ENSAAMA). Even though he was trained to make designs for fabrics and wallpapers, he found two fellow students sharing his passion for cartooning: Jean Giraud and Pat Mallet. Keen on pursuing a career in comics, they visited artists like Jijé and Franquin, before landing their first jobs with mostly Catholic comic magazines. One of Mézières’s first assignments was the a comic strip version of ‘Robin Hood’ (‘Robin des Bois’, 1955-1957), adapted by J.C. Adam and published in Bonjour Philippine, a promotional magazine for Philips. At the time, he still signed with “J.C. Mézi”. Mézières and Giraud then became regulars in the children’s magazines of Éditions Fleurus, making both comics and illustrations. With a style mixed between Hergé and Jijé, Mézières’s early strips included gags comic strips starring ‘Bill le Shériff’, ‘Mic’ and ‘Hercul’ in Coeurs Vaillants (1955-1956). His first longer stories appeared in another Fleurus magazine, Fripounet et Marisette, succesively: ‘Les 13 Marches’ (1955), ‘Kass Too et Khan Asson’ (1957, script by Guy Hempay) and ‘Mystère à Dixon City’ (1957).
‘Bill le Sheriff’ (Coeurs Vaillants #43, 1955).
Much of these early works still strongly illustrated the artist’s interest in cowboys and the Wild West. With his old friend Pierre Christin, he additionally made an ill-fated attempt at making an animated western movie. The project stranded with only 45 seconds finished. In 1958, he also had a one-time appearance in Spirou magazine with a two-page installment in the educational feature ‘Les Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul’, written by Octave Joly. After that, his comic career was cut short due to his military service, which he fulfilled in Tlemcen, Algeria, during the Algerian War. Upon his discharge in 1961, he found employment with the art studio of Éditions Hachette. He did the lay-outs for the encyclopedia series ‘L’Histoire des Civilisations’ (1961-1963), and, together with Jean Giraud, he redid the originally Italian illustration material in gouache. Unfortunately, the collection folded with only five of the twenty volumes released. With the help of Giraud, Mézières got acquainted with Benoît Gillain, son of Jijé, who was setting up an advertising agency. Mézières joined him, serving as photographer, model maker and graphic designer. Together, they set up a dummy issue of Total Journal, a promotional magazine for the Total petrol stations.
Jean-Claude Mézières chronicled his stay in the United States in the short story ‘Mon Amérique à moi’ (Pilote Mensuel #4, 1974).
American period (1965-1966)
Mézières spent most of 1965-1966 in the United States, hitch-hiking across the country and having some first hand experience with the cowboy life while working on ranches in Montana and Utah. He eventually headed for Salt Lake City where Pierre Christin was a teacher at the University of Utah. There, he met his future wife, one of Christin’s students. To make ends meet, Mézières did illustration work for a local advertising agency and the Mormon children’s magazine Children’s Friend. With Christin and producer S. Holbrook, he also made a 16mm film called ‘Ghetto’ in commission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People , which denounced the segregation of the black community by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later in life, Mézières returned to the USA on many occasions, making photographs of the American way of life, which he then sold to press agencies in France. His stay in the USA also inspired many magazine articles, published in magazines like Pilote, Tintin and GEO. Mézières additionally provided illustrations and photographs for Pierre Christin’s children’s book ‘Olivier chez les cow-boys’ (1969). Years later, Christin and Mézières on ‘Adieu, Rêve Américain…’ (2002), a nostalgic look on their stay in the States.
‘L’Extraordinaire et Troublante Aventure de Monsieur Auguste Faust’ (Pilote #397, 1967).
By 1966, Mézières was flat out of money. With his visa expiring and no way to pay for a ticket back home, he returned to comics. Back in France, Jean Giraud was working for the comic magazine Pilote, and could operate as a middle man. Teaming up with Christin, he sold Pilote their first collaborative short story ‘Le Rhum du Punch’ (1966), a MAD-style spoof on the rum trafficking between the American colonies and the West Indies. A second one-shot story followed, and Mézières was able to fly back to Europe, followed shortly afterwards by Pierre Christin. He remained associated with Pilote, where he initially continued to make short stories written by not only Christin – who signed with Linus – but also Fred and Jean-Marc Reiser. His first serial was written by Fred: ‘L’Extraordinaire et Troublante Aventure de Monsieur Auguste Faust’ (1967). It was a less rewarding experience for Mézières, because the scriptwriter provided his script with finished storyboards, leaving little creative work to do for the artist. In the end, the Mézières-Christin team-up proved the most successful. Besides their short stories for Pilote, the two men oversaw the final version of Total Journal, published by Benoît Gillain’s P.E.G. imprint between 1966 and 1968. They brought along several Pilote artists to fill its pages, including Claire Brétecher, Gotlib and Nikita Mandryka. Much of Mézières’s early work was later collected in the book ‘Mézi avant Mézières’ (Pepperland, 1981).
First meeting between Valerian and Laureline in ‘Bad Dreams’ (1967).
Valérian & Laureline
After these early projects, Mézières and Christin were ready to try something more enduring. They initially wanted to do a western, but the genre was already well represented in Pilote magazine. Always open for innovation, editor-in-chief René Goscinny then greenlighted their switch to science fiction. The authors wanted to deviate from the traditional sci-fi adventure comics, that mostly featured repetitive good-versus-evil plots. Instead, they took inspiration from sci-fi novelists like Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance and Isaac Asimov, as well as the fantasy elements from E.P. Jacobs’ ‘Blake et Mortimer’ comics. Christin envisioned a more solid futuristic approach, with room for philosophy and political references. Still signing with Mézi & Linus, the authors’ debut episode ‘Valérian contre les Mauvais Rêves’ (‘Valerian against the Bad Dreams’) took off in Pilote issue #420 of 9 November 1967. The album series was launched by Éditions Dargaud in 1970.
Valerian – ‘Empire of a Thousand Planets’ (1971).
The ‘Valérian’ adventures are set in a distant future, when most of mankind is in a permanent virtual-reality dream state, programmed by the so-called “dream service”. Only the Technocrats of the First Circle and a handful of spatio-temporal agents are still in active duty. Valérian is one of those agents, loyally devoted to Galaxity, the Earth’s capital and the center of the Terran Galactic Empire. Coming from the 28th century, he travels through time and space to protect the empire’s interests. In the debut story, he follows a rogue dream programmer to 11th-century France. During his adventure, Valérian is saved by the peasant girl Laureline, who by accident discovers he is from the future. To protect his cover, Valérian has to take Laureline with him to Galaxity. By coincidence – the authors initially didn’t envision such a longterm comic book series – a unique duo was born. Also signing up with the spatio-temporal service, Laureline took the lead in many subsequent stories. Ever since the success of Jean-Claude Forest’s sexy space heroin ‘Barbarella’ (1962-1964), the road was paved for strong female characters. However, Laureline was far more than mere eye candy.
Valérian – ‘The City of Shifting Waters’ (1970).
Valérian – themes
The key element in Mézières and Christin’s stories is the relationship between Valérian and Laureline; initially platonic, later also romantic. More importantly, their constant personality clashes make them one of the most authentic comic duos of their time. The authors took a powerful feminist stance by making Laureline the truo hero of the series. As the more sensitive and intuitive, she is the voice of reason as opposed to the stubborn and uptight Valérian, who follows every order Galaxity gives him. Basically an anti-hero, Valérian is the complete opposite of muscled space heroes like ‘Flash Gordon’. In the foreword to Cinebook’s ‘Valerian – The Complete Collection’ series in the UK, Mézières said he based Valérian’s looks on the French singer Hugues Aufray, described by the authors a “whippersnapper” whom they “didn’t really like”. On the other hand, Mézières considered Laureline “the incarnation of all the women I love”. Not coming from the same background and century as Valérian, she doesn’t share his blind loyalty to Galaxity and its imperialist politics. She often rebels against her superiors and reprimands Valérian for his by-the-book compliance. With these strong but flawed characters, Christin and Mézières added a sense of plausible realism to their highly imaginative fantasy adventures. In addition, putting focus on a young male/female duo was groundbreaking. At the time, most comic book heroines were either sweet young girls or feisty old tarts. It however took until the 20th album and the subsequent reprints before Laureline’s name was added to the official series title. Before that, the books appeared under the banner ‘Valérian – Agent Spatio-temporel’.
In their second and third adventure, ‘La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes’ (‘The City of Shifting Waters’, 1968) and ‘Terre en Flammes’ (‘Earth In Flames’, 1968), Valérian and Laureline visit the post-apocalyptic New York City of 1986. For 28th-century Valérian a date in the faraway past, for the 1968 reader years ahead in the future. In the comic’s chronology, a nuclear disaster caused an enormous tidal wave, ending the world and laying the foundations for mankind’s conquest of the galaxy. In the following seven episodes, the ‘Valérian’ comic grew to its full potential, with the two heros visiting faraway worlds on behalf of Galaxity. Every planet exposed Valérian and Laureline to new civilizations and lifeforms, meticulously visualized by Mézières. Christin used these fictional worlds as allegories for Western imperialism, feminism and the conflict between ecology and industry.
Valerian – ‘Welcome to Alflolol’ (1972).
In both ‘L’Empire des Mille Planètes’ (‘Empire of a Thousand Planets’, 1969-1970) and ‘Les Oiseaux du Maître’ (‘Birds of the Master’, 1973), populations have to unite to overthrow totalitarian regimes. ‘Le Pays Sans Étoile’ (‘World Without Stars’, 1970-1971) illustrates the meaninglessness of war through a literal battle of the sexes. According to Christin’s left-wing humanitarian ideas, solutions are found by exploring, learning and communicating. Instead of defeating the enemy, reaching mutual understanding is the ultimate goal. Galaxity’s own questionable politics are the subject of two standout episodes. In ‘Bienvenue sur Alflolol’ (‘Welcome to Alflolol’, 1971-1972), the peaceful Alflololians return to their home planet, only to find it transformed into Earth’s industrial colony Technorog. The loyal Valérian and the rebellious Laureline have to find a way to enable the natives and the colonists to live together in harmony. In ‘L’Ambassadeur des Ombres’ (‘Ambassador of the Shadows’, 1975), Valérian and Laureline accompany an Earth ambassador to an intergalactic United Nations of different space races. The dominant position Galaxity takes is a clear reference to the western world’s role in global politics.
Valerian and Laureline – ‘Heroes of the Equinox’ (1978).
Despite the political undertones, the ‘Valérian’ stories never become too grim or serious. Pierre Christin’s humor and Jean-Claude Mézières’s vivid imagery offer the perfect balance. Christin served as the series’ ideologist, but Mézières was its true visionary. The artist had free play in his graphic renditions of space machinery, unknown worlds and extraordinary creatures. Mézières took great effort in creating completely new worlds, without falling back to sci-fi clichés. His highly detailed spacecrafts are completely fictional, and bare no resemblances to traditional UFOs or space rockets. Societies are built from scratch. In a way, Mézières passion for the American Far West is reflected in the construction of Valérian’s world. Every episode pushes the galactic frontier forward, introducing new emblematic creatures. Recurring extraterrestrial characters are the three Shingouz, bird-like creatures with snouts, specialized in trading important information. Also notable is the Grumpy Converter from Bluxte, a hedgehog-like animal able to make multiple duplications from anything it eats. Later allies are Ralph, a squid-like creature with strong mathematical powers from the planet Glapum’t, and the Schniarfeur from Bromn, who can take out enemies with his irritating voice and destructive spit. Over the course of the episodes, Mézières steadily improved his craft. In the superhero spoof ‘Les Héros de l’Équinoxe’ (‘Heroes of the Equinox’, 1978), he first experimented with splash pages. When after 1985 serialization in Pilote stopped and the series appeared directly in album format, the page lay-outs became even more dynamic. Adding to the series’ visual atmosphere is the sophisticated halftone coloring of the artist’s sister, Évelyne Tran-Lê.
The bar scene from ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ (1975).
Valérian-Star Wars resemblance
The 1980s marked a return to Earth-based episodes. By then, the ‘Star Wars’ films by George Lucas dominated global pop culture. The movies share much of their imagery with the ‘Valérian’ books: giant floating spaceships, organic designs of sci-fi cities and buildings and a unique depiction of “incidential aliens”. Especially the bar sequence in ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ (1975) shows a great resemblance to the cantina scene in the original 1977 ‘Star Wars’ film. When attending a screening of the movie at the 1977 International Science Fiction Festival in Metz, France, Mézières felt he was watching “an adaptation of Valerian on the big screen.” With already the seventh ‘Valérian’ album in production, the artist was quoted feeling “dazzled, jealous… and furious!” Production designers of the subsequent ‘Star Wars’ installments were clearly inspired by ‘Valérian & Laureline’ too. Darth Vader’s mutilated head after his unmasking in ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983) reminds of the unmasking of the soothsayers in ‘Empire of a Thousand Planets’ (1971). Valérian and Laureline’s XB982 spaceship looks a lot like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and one can easily recognize the Shingouz in Watto, the Toydarian salesman in ‘The Phantom Menace’ (1999).
Drawing made by Mézières following the release of ‘Star Wars’. Valerian and Laureline meet Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia at the Cantina. Leia says: “Funny meeting you guys here!” and Laureline replies: “Oh no, we’ve been here for years!”
Valérian – new story arcs
The ‘Star Wars’ resemblance was one of the reasons why Christin and Mézières set their next ‘Valérian’ episodes on Earth. But they also had a deadline! In the series’ outset, life on Earth as we know it was destroyed by nuclear disaster in 1986. With that year growing closer, the authors had to reconcile the real-life 1986 with the fictional one. In their next four-volume story arc, tackled in the albums ‘Métro Châtelet, Direction Cassiopeia’ (1980) through ‘Les Foudres d’Hypsis’ (‘The Wrath of Hypsis’, 1985), Valérian and Laureline team up with several allies to investigate strange supernatural manifestations on Earth. In the final episode, they prevent the Earth from destruction, which results in a time paradox and the disappearance of Galaxity from space-time. In the next episodes, referred to in English as the ‘New Future Trilogy’ (1988-1994), Valérian and Laureline are space and time wanderers for hire as freelance trouble-shooters. The later installments were characterized by longer, multi-episode storylines, but also by longer interludes between album publications. Growing older, the authors decided to round up their saga and end it with a bang. The final trilogy was named ‘In Search of the Lost Earth’ (2004-2010) and showed Valérian and Laureline investigating the disappearance of Earth. The 21st and final album, ‘L’Ouvre Temps’ (‘The Time Opener’, 2010) brought back many characters and settings from the previous episodes. It concluded the official series with a surprise ending, with Valérian and Laureline starting a completely new life.
Valerian & Laureline – ‘The Wrath of Hypsis’ (1985).
During their 43 years working on ‘Valérian’, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin created one of the most emblematic comic book series of all time. In addition to the comic albums, the two men compiled an encyclopedia with all the alien creatures found in their ‘Valérian’ books: ‘Les Habitants du Ciel: Atlas Cosmique de Valérian et Laureline’ (‘The Inhabitants of the Sky: The Cosmic Atlas of Valerian and Laureline’). It received a special mention by the jury at the 1992 Angoulême International Comic Festival in the Youth Prize 9–12 years category. A supplemented reprint edition was released in 2000. Between 2007 and 2012, Dargaud compiled the full series in seven large volumes. In 2018, Hachette re-released the individual books in a boxed set.
‘Valerian and Laureline’ has been translated in English, German (‘Valerian und Veronique’), Dutch (‘Ravian en Laureline’), the Scandinavian languages (‘Linda og/och Valentin’), Finnish (‘Valerian ja Laureline’), Spanish (‘Valérian y Laureline’), Portuguese (‘Valérian, agente espácio-temporal’), Serbian (‘Valerijan’), Italian (‘Valérian e Laureline agenti spazio-temporali’), Turkish, Polish, Indonesian and Standard Chinese. ‘Valérian’ is one of the few French comics with considerable success in the English-speaking countries. ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’ was the first story to appear in English, serialized in the USA in Heavy Metal magazine in 1981. During the 1980s, Dargaud divisions in the USA and Canada released several graphic novels in English, and in 2004 iBooks published ‘Valérian: The New Future Trilogy’. The complete series was compiled by UK publisher Cinebook in individual books between 2010 and 2017. In 2017-2018, Cinebook also released the French “Intégrales” reprints under the title ‘Valerian: The Complete Collection’.
Valerian & Laureline – ‘On The Frontiers’ (1988).
Although the official ‘Valérian’ series has come to an end, new projects with the characters have been started. In the two albums ‘Souvenirs de Futurs’ (‘Memories from the Futures’, 2013) and ‘L’Avenir est Avancé’ (‘The Future is Waiting’, 2019), the Mézières-Christin duo presents post-scripts and “what if” variations to Valerian and Laureline’s earlier adventures. Pierre Christin also wrote the youth novel ‘Lininil a Disparu’ (‘Lininil Has Disappeared’) with his characters, published by Mango Jeunesse with a cover illustration by Mézières. Under the banner ‘Valérian vu par…’, other comic creators were invited to give their personal take on the characters. The first was Manu Larcenet, with the homage graphic novel ‘L’Armure du Jakolass’ (‘The Jakolass’s Armour’, 2011). Scriptwriter Wilfrid Lupano and artist Mathieu Lauffray followed with ‘Shingouzlooz Inc.’ (2017), a graphic novel focusing on the Shingouz.
While Valérian and Laureline were his main focus, Mézières worked on a couple of side projects. In 1976 and 1979, he made two short stories in direct colors for the French sci-fi magazine Métal Hurlant. These were later included in volume zero of the ‘Valérian et Laureline’ series, to supplement Valérian’s 30-pages debut story ‘Bad Dreams’. Mézières also appeared in the fifth issue of Gotlib’s Fluide Glacial magazine with the black-and-white short story ‘Desert Story’ (1976). Mézières took inspiration from cowboy life for his sole contribution to Tintin magazine, ‘Les Vieilles Histoires de Tonton J.C.’ (1979), and additionally made illustrations for book covers, advertisements and magazines like Futurs, Playboy, Le Monde, France-Soir, Le Nouvel Observateur and L’Express. In newspaper Le Monde, he was a regular illustrator for the ‘Heures Locales’ column (1992). With Pierre Christin, he made the graphic novel ‘Lady Polaris’ (Autrement, 1987), a naval story about the rambling journey of a cargo ship along the ports of Europe. Between 1990 and 1992, Mézières and Christin supervised the ‘Canal Choc’ series, a four-volume series about a young satellite TV channel, published by Les Humanoïdes Associés. The finished artwork was provided collectively by Hugues Labiano, Philippe Aymond and Philippe Chapelle, with such guest stars as Moebius, Enki Bilal, Philippe Druillet and Annie Goetzinger.
‘Baroudeurs de l’Espace’ (Métal Hurlant #7, 1976).
Throughout the years, Mézières participated in a couple of collective projects, such as ‘Les Amis de Buddy Longway’ (1983), a tribute to Derib’s signature creation, and ‘Paroles de Parloirs’ (2003), a prison-themed anthology by Éric Corbeyran for Éditions Delourt. He was one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to ‘Pepperland’ (1980), a collective comic book tribute to the store Pepperland, to celebrate its 10th anniversary at the time. In 1983, he was one of many comic artists paying homage to the recently deceased Hergé in a special issue of (À Suivre), titled ‘Adieu Hergé’. He contributed to advertising comic books for GMF Assurances (‘Histoires vécues à la GMF’, 1993) and UNESCO (‘Dessine-moi l’UNESCO…’, 1996), and participated in the “safe sex” promotional book ‘Les Aventures de Latex’ (FortMedia, 1991) and the comic artists’ cookbook ‘La BD fait sa Cuisine’ (Bagheera, 1999). With Jacques Tardi, he drew the final pages of ‘Celui Qui Achève’ (1991), the unfinished graphic novel of the late Claude Auclair. Mézières paid tribute to Nikita Mandryka in the collective comic book ‘Tronches de Concombre’ (Dupuis, 1995). He was also one of many comic artists to finish the graphic novel ‘L’Arbre des Deux Printemps’ (2000) after the death of Will.
Concept art by Jean-Claude Mézières.
Outside of print media, Jean-Claude Mézières has been involved in the movie industry. His comics were a source of inspiration for many sci-fi and fantasy films – most notably the ‘Star Wars’ series – but since the 1980s he has been working directly on film productions as a concept and storyboard artist. In 1984, he made mock-up comic book covers and characters for the TV series ‘Billet Doux’ (‘Love Letter’), as well as designs for the aborted movie adaptation project of René Barjavel’s novel ‘La Nuit des Temps’ (‘The Ice People’) by director Jeremy Kagan. In following year, he was involved in the German-Russian co-production of ‘Hard to Be a God’, a film based on the 1964 novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The movie was finally released in 1989, but little of Mézières’s contributions were used.
A major ‘Valérian’ fan is French film director Luc Besson. In 1991, the director approached Mézières and his friend Jean Giraud to do design work for his planned sci-fi film ‘Zaltman Bléros’. Some concept art of a futuristic New York was made, but by 1993, Besson moved to the United States to work on his film ‘Léon’ instead. Mézières then used some of his designs for his upcoming ‘Valérian’ book ‘The Circles of Power’, most notably the flying taxi cabs. Following the success of ‘Léon’ (1994), Besson picked up his original movie project and turned it into ‘The Fifth Element’, bringing Mézières back on board as an artist. Mézières most notably designed the Fhloston Paradise liner seen in the latter part of the film, but the flying taxis also remained part of the final production. As a result, the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ (1997) and the ‘Valérian’ comic book ‘The Circles of Power’ (1994) share much of their imagery. Selections of Mézières’s concept art for the movie industry appeared in the art books ‘Les Extras de Mézières’ (Dargaud, 1995) and ‘Les Extras de Mézières No. 2. Mon Cinquieme Element. Decors pour la film de Luc Besson’ (Dargaud, 1998).
Valerian and Laureline – ‘The Circles of Power’ (1994).
Luc Besson also played an important role in the TV and film adaptations of the ‘Valérian and Laureline’ comic books. His motion picture company EuropaCorp was one of the partners in the production of the animated TV series based on Mézières and Christin’s comics: ‘Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline’ (2007-2008). Production was outsourced to the Japanese animation studio Satelight. Reading the comic books since the was ten, Besson dreamt of turning ‘Valérian and Laureline’ into a live action feature film too. He first discussed the possibility with Mézières during their 1990s collaboration, but at the time, technology wasn’t sufficient enough for a production with so many aliens, monsters and space stations. When James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ (2009) came out, Besson felt the time was right. The director independently financed and personally funded the film, loosely basing his script on the comic book episode ‘Ambassador of the Shadows’. ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ was released in July 2017, and starred Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline.
Both Mézières and Christin have received much recognition for their landmark comic series. Individual albums of ‘Valérian’ were awarded on numerous occasions throughout Europe, the first time being the 1970 Prix Phénix in the category “Science Fiction”. For his entire body of work, Jean-Claude Mézières received the prestigious “Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême” during the 1985 comic festival in Angoulême, France. Two years later, both he and Christin were honored with the European Science Fiction Society award for ‘Valérian’. In the United States, Mézières was praised with the 2006 Inkpot Award for an exceptional career at the San Diego Comic-Con. His oeuvre was additionally praised with awards in Spain (Haxtur Award, 2011), Sweden (Adamson Award, 2014), Belgium (Grand Prix Saint-Michel, 2018) and Germany (Max & Moritz Prize, 2018). ‘Valérian et Laureline’ and the visionary artwork of Jean-Claude Mézières have been the subject of many expositions throughout France since the mid-1980s.
However, the greatest honor the authors could receive are perhaps the thousands of Valerians and Laurelines that were born in France alone since the series’ start. Among them is the cartoonist Laurel (Laureline Michaut), who in turn named her son Valérian.
Drawing for the 1985 Angoulême Festival.
Final years and death
In 2021, Dargaud released the art book ‘L’Art de Mézières’ with artwork made for newspapers, magazines and advertisements, as well as concept drawings for other media. The artist announced it was the final release of his career. Jean-Claude Mézieres died in the night of 23 January 2022, at the age of 83.
Legacy and influence
With ‘Valérian and Laureline’, Mézières helped set the standard for a new visual approach of science fiction comics. Launched around the same time as ‘Luc Orient’ (1967-1994) by Greg and Eddy Paape and ‘Lone Sloane’ (1966-1971) by Philippe Druillet, it boosted a renewed popularity of the genre in France, resulting in the launch of the groundbreaking sci-fi comic magazine Métal Hurlant in 1975. In France, ‘Le Vagabond des Limbes’ (1975-2003) by Christian Godard and Julio Ribera and the comic book cycles by Léo (‘Bételgeuse’, ‘Antarès’, etc.) were notable followers, as were the Spanish series ‘Dani Futuro’ by Víctor Mora and Carlos Giménez and ‘Gigantik’ by Mora and José Maria Cardona. In the Netherlands, male-female duos in sci-fi comics popped up in ‘Arman en Ilva’ (1969-1975) by Lo Hartog van Banda and Thé Tjong-Khing and ‘Arad en Maya’ (1970-1975) by Hartog van Banda and Jan Steeman.
Many later artists have cited Mézières as an influence on their work. As a teacher in comic production at the University of Paris VIII: Vincennes-Saint-Denis during the 1970s, Mézières directly tutored a new generation of creators, including André Juillard, Régis Loisel and Serge Le Tendre. Eric Heuvel, Peter Bergting, Didier Tarquin, Paul Pope and Watson Portela have all mentioned Jean-Claude Mézières as an inspiration. In the United States, Mézières received praise from Gil Kane, Frank Kelly Freas, Harvey Kurtzman, Russ Manning, William Rotsler, Walt Simonson, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas and Len Wein. Will Eisner called ‘Valerian and Laureline’ “a wonderful balance of intellect and craft”.
Self-portrait, printed in comic news magazine Hop!
Mézières official site