A science fiction comic-strip
« a la française »
par Daniel Riche
Think back to 1975 when STAR WARS and ALIEN had yet to be made. In England, a certain Chris Foss was beginning to make quite a name for himself, and the marvellous spacecraft from 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY filled us with wonder. A new S.F. esthetic was slowly emerging. At the time, the good old rockets of yesteryear and scenery drawn with the requisite curvy lines inherited from the fifties still predominated in most comics. And yet, even then things were starting to evolve...
First published in France, AMBASSADOR OF THE SHADOWS was the sixth album in the adventure series, VALERIAN SPATIO-TEMPORAL AGENT, created by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin. The series had already been running for almost eight years. Its success in Europe showed that it was regarded by fans as one of the best S.F. series. Even then, Mezieres and Christin were starting to get a following.
VALERIAN'S originality lies not only in the profound humanism that permeates Chris-tin'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. But remember 1975...
Then we didn't run the risk of confusing VALERIAN'S craft with that of Hans Solo's Millenial Falcon since Solo hadn't been invented yet. And as far as Central Point and its strange inhabitants are concerned, weren't they the forerunners of Mos Eisley's tavern and its bizarre clients ? Beyond a doubt, it's this avant-garde element that constitutes one of the series' primary qualities. Sooner or later people will realize that the S.F. esthetic which dominates the silver screen, book jackets and comic book art now at the beginning of the eighties, owes as much to Mezieres' and Christin's comic books as it does to Kubrick's film. The proof of this is that you'll find certain frames of VALERIAN reproduced line for line in some French and foreign comic books. The price of glory... The fact remains that the creation of a universe is no easy task, and yet that is precisely what Mezieres and Christin have been doing now for thirteen years. If the very face of Science-Fiction has evolved over the last few years, then we should not forget that it is partly thanks to them.