Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY NOT SO FAR AWAY ... THERE WAS VALÉRIAN


Princess Leia: Fancy Meeting you here.
Laureline: Oh, we've been hanging around here for a long time!"

A long time ago, sometime in the mid-eighties when music sounded terrible and men rolled their jacket sleeves up to their elbows, in a town many miles away (Woolwich to be precise), I picked up a comic book called Ambassador of the Stars, drawn by Jean-Claude Mézières and written by Pierre Christin. The book followed one of many adventures of two spatio-temoral agents, Valérian and Laureline. I pretty quickly discovered within a matter of pages that this was quite a remarkable book. I adored the story and the artwork. There were a further three books but I'm not certain I managed to get all of them on the pocket money I had. World Without Stars was one of them. The other I'm pretty sure I picked up was Welcome to Alflolol (I distinctly remember reading Welcome to Alflolol under my desk during a science class at school ... I call that studying).

There have been a couple of attempts to translate all the books. There were four published in the mid-eighties which is when I first discovered them, and then recently iBooks published Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (collecting "On the Frontiers, The Living Weapons, The Circles of Power). Unfortunately iBooks folded after declaring bankruptcy so it would seem no more translations are forthcoming. Impatient, I have since taken to collecting the books in French. They are to this day excellent. It's also exciting to see how from the first few books like Les Mauvais Rêves, published in 1967, how much Mézières style develops over the course of a small handful of books. The characters develop, the backgrounds however, with all their detailed and lived qualities, remain remarkably consistent.


"VALERIAN'S originality lies not only in the profound humanism that permeates Christin's text and the 'anti-heroic' quality of the main character, although these elements are not negligible. Nor does it rely on LAURELINE, VALERIAN'S companion, who is without a doubt one of the most non-confor­mist female characters in the history of comic books. To my mind, what is basically a question of originality — and originality there certainly is — owes a lot to Mezieres' creations : machines, scenery and creatures. Obviously when we read AMBASSADOR OF THE SHADOWS today in 1981, we no longer have that sense of disorientation we felt when we first discovered it. The decks of Central Point are haunted by machines, vessels and even stranger beings which now seem quite familiar to us."
- Daniel Riche
(article paru dans Ambassador of the shadows, 1982)
Foreword for the unsucessfull english edition of 4 translated Valerian album

As a Star Wars fan, the books aesthetically ticked all the right boxes. Here was a world as well realized, if not better realized, than Star Wars, and yet, as I was to learn, Valerian pre-dated Star Wars (Valerian started back in 1967).



For any fan of Star Wars looking for another lived-in universe, or even jaded Star Wars fans looking for a new place to call home, Valérian is the genuine original article. Seek it out.


9 comments:

paulhd said...

It really is a wonderful series. I was pretty shocked at home much 'influence' on Star Wars it had, I really had no idea.
getting the French editions seems to be way to go, I'm thinking I'll probably have to do this for Lewis Trondheim's McConey/Lapinot books.... can't read a word of French so Babelfish'll be getting a work out:)

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Clone Wars indeed. I've added a cartoon to the start of this post showing Mézières reaction to Star Wars, back in the early eighties. It should be noted that Leia's bikini outfit in Jedi strikingly resembles Laureline's outfit from "World Without Stars" hence why she's wearing the same outfit in this scene.

Doug Chiang, one of the designers on Phantom Menace, acknowledged keeping a set of Valerian books in his library.

There's going to be an animated series based on the books coming out this year, but more on that in Thursday's post.

Andrew Glazebrook said...

Cool stuff !!

I think one of the biggest things Star Wars stole from was the look of Naboo and the City of Theed from James Gurney's Dinotopia books.

I. N. J. Culbard said...

James Gurney's take on the Dinotopia swipe:

http://www.dinotopia.com/statement.html

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Here's also a LINK to three comparisons between Valerian: Ambassador of the Shadows and Star Wars. Note the carbon freeze from Ambassador of the Shadows AND Empire Strikes Back.

Andrew Glazebrook said...

I love the " George Lucas himself called me the day after the movie came out." I'd have thought it was a bit late to be concerned by then. If he was a friend of Gurney's he should have just brought the guy on board.
It's like the tale where Lawrence Kasdan said he met Lucas 2 days before The Phantom Menace premiered and Lucas says something like,'Hey I was going to call you about helping out on The Phantom Menace screenplay' Kasdan was like, yeah sure it's a bit late now don't you think !?

D.TAYLOR said...

Great post Ian. Nice to see Mezieres getting some credit for his work on Star Wars at last!
I`ve been a big fan of his for many a year and havn`t been able to watch any of the SW films since without thinking of the great master. In fact it`s hard now to spot any originality in the SW films if you know of Bilal, Moebius, Mezieres, Wood, Raymond ect...And I have to admit, or demand attention to the fact (!)that some of my own humble work has morphed it`s way into the SW universe! No, nothing is sacred to old George.
(I`m talking about my Tongue*Lash books by the way...adults only!)

Faz Choudhury said...

I've never read any Valerian, I'm not that up on the sci-fi side of things - and the things I am familiar with are more TV and film based.

I bought a copy of the ibooks collection you mentioned after we spoke on the phone. I've only thumbed through it at this point but it does look great and I'll be giving it a proper read very shortly!

CaNNoNFoDDa said...

Cinebook are now translating Valerian and Laureline. The second volume in the series is coming out in July, with plenty more to follow.

http://www.cinebook.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=4034