French publisher Dargaud states “Valérian and Laureline” artist Jean-Claude Mézières passed away on Sunday, January 23, aged 83. Mézières drew the sci-fi adventure comic, which he created with writer and childhood friend Pierre Christin, from its debut in 1967, until its conclusion in 2018. He was also well known for his work in the film and television industry, including designing much of the world of The Fifth Element.
Mézières was born into an artistic family in Paris on September 23, 1938; his parents both enjoyed painting, and his older brother Jacques drew comic strips for fun. He and Pierre Christin first met while in an air raid shelter during World War II. Mézières’s drawings were first published by the newspaper Le Figaro in his early teens, and he enrolled at Paris’s Institut des Arts Appliqués aged 15 in 1953. While there, he befriended Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. His first professional work, a Robin Hood comic strip called “Robin des Bois,” scripted by J.C. Adam, was published in Bonjour Philippine magazine from 1955 to 1957. He and Giraud illustrated many children’s comics during this period.
After college, Mézières entered mandatory military service, which he carried out in Algeria (during the Algerian War) until 1961. Following his return to France, Mézières and Giraud formed an advertising agency with Benoit Gillain, where Mézières juggled photography, model making, and graphic design. In 1965, Mézières, who grew loving westerns, fulfilled his childhood dream of visiting the United States, where he reunited with Christin (who was teaching at the University of Utah), and met his wife, Linda. Mézières would often return to the States, and sell the photographs he took there to French magazines.
Mézières and Christin launched “Valérian and Laureline” in the pages of Pilote magazine in 1967. Christin had noticed his friend was unhappy with the work he was being given by the magazine, and suggested they collaborate on a comic together; they chose to do a sci-fi series, despite their time in the American West, because the French market was already saturated with western comics. The story of Valérian, a Spatio-Temporal agent from the 28th century, and Laureline, an 11th century peasant girl who becomes his partner, proved to be a hit, paving the way for more French sci-fi comics like Heavy Metal magazine.
Mézières’s detailed artwork, which emphasized a lived-in universe, diverse aliens, and unique spaceships, proved to be a major influence on artists like “Mighty Thor” creator Walt Simonson, and Star Wars prequel artist Doug Chiang. Mézières’s influence on George Lucas’s original trilogy has been a topic of much speculation among fans, and the artist himself reportedly joked seeing the films left him “dazzled, jealous… and furious!” He commented on the similarities in 1983 with a cartoon of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa meeting Valérian and Laureline in a bar, where Leia says, “Fancy meeting you here!,” to which Laureline responds, “Oh, we’ve been hanging around here for a long time!”
Mézières himself worked on various film projects, including the 1989 film version of Hard to Be a God, and The Fifth Element with Giraud: his artwork of flying taxis in particular (a concept reused from “Valérian and Laureline”), inspired the occupation of Bruce Willis’s character Korben Dallas. (Luc Besson, the director, later went on to helm the film version of “Valérian and Laureline,” Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets.) Other major projects by Mézières included designing art for a France-Rail advertising campaign, and a series of arches called Chemin des Etoiles (The Way of the Stars) for the city of Lille, when it was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2004.
Mézières was recognized with various awards during his lifetime, including the 1984 Grand Prix from the Angoulême International Comics Festival. He is survived by his wife Linda, a daughter, Emilie, and his sister Evelyne, as well as his friend Christin. Tributes to him have been paid by André Lima Araújo, Scott McCloud, Yildiray Cinar, Thomas Astruc, and Walt Simonson, who said, “I am deeply saddened to learn that Jean-Claude Mézières has become a spatiotemporal agent permanently and vanished into the ether, hopefully to join Valerian and Laureline. A great inspiration to me from my earliest days in comics in NYC. Thank you, Jean-Claude. Godspeed.”