NEW YORK - Jean Giraud - a French comic book artist whose dark, intricately drawn fantasy worlds exerted a profound influence on graphic novels worldwide and on US science fiction films such as “Alien,’’ “Tron,’’ “The Fifth Element,’’ and “Avatar’’ - died Saturday at his home outside Paris. He was 73.
The cause was cancer, according to a statement by his publisher, Editions Dargaud.
Mr. Giraud, who used the pen name Moebius in much of his work, was seen in the comic book world as a kind of artist-avatar of the unbounded interior human landscape. In France, where the line between popular and serious art often blurs, he was a source of national pride. Jack Lang, the French minister of culture in the 1980s and early 1990s, told Reuters that Mr. Giraud’s work “made him the figurehead of this unique art form in France.’’
His reputation as a comic book master was established in 1963 with “Les Aventures de Blueberry,’’ a Wild West story about a fugitive Union Army lieutenant running from the law. His densely packed panels depicted a US West he knew mainly from the movies. But the drawings conveyed both the minutest natural details and an outsider’s sense of the menace lurking in the vast badlands, a combination that would later come to define his science fiction work, as well.
Mr. Giraud drew 28 volumes of the Blueberry story, the last in 2005. Fifteen were published in English in the United States between 1977 and 1993.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Giraud worked for the French comic magazine Pilote and helped start Metal Hurlant, a monthly comics magazine that was introduced in the United States as Heavy Metal. Its stable of graphic artists produced an array of book-length stories that combined science fiction, horror, and erotica.
The best known were Mr. Giraud’s tales of the character Arzach, a wordless series about a warrior who soars over the desolate terrain of a distant world on the back of a pterodactyl-like creature and eventually enlists the help of a disillusioned graphic artist from Earth to help him fight an enemy they share.
Mr. Giraud, whose pen name referred to the disorienting, curved plane known as the Möbius strip, was often compared to M.C. Escher, the Dutch master of mind-boggling, dimension-bending graphic art.
Rick Carter, a production designer who won an Academy Award for art direction for the 2009 film “Avatar,’’ told The Los Angeles Times that Mr. Giraud’s influence was profound. “The inspiration I always felt from the art of Moebius was that I believed he truly saw the imagery he depicted and was actually not making it up,’’ he said.
Mr. Giraud worked on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted 1975 film version of the celebrated science fiction novel “Dune,’’ which was unrelated to the version finally released in 1984 and directed by David Lynch.
Although the film was never finished, his reputation for translating dystopian visions into artistic imagery led director Ridley Scott to hire him to draw the preliminary designs for his 1979 film, “Alien.’’
In interviews, Mr. Giraud said he was not sure how he came to be involved in the making of what came to be considered a science-fiction horror classic.
“I do everything with no premeditation,’’ he said. “The things just happen to me.’’
Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born near Paris. His parents divorced when he was 3, and he was raised by his grandparents. He began drawing illustrations and comic strips in his early teens, sold his first story at 15, and became an advertising and fashion draftsman at 18, after two years of art school. He adopted the pen name Moebius in 1963, when he began drawing the Blueberry stories.