Photo reference comes under a lot of scrutiny in comics, particularly when a figure or character is based on a real photograph and little artistic license is used apart from tracing the original photo.  Yet, numerous artists use photo reference for posing, posture, the shape of hands and body types in certain action sequences, and routinely post such images to their social media feeds to give readers a greater glimpse behind the curtain of comics creation.  Recently, Dave Gibbons even stated that photo reference is an important tool of comics creation: “don’t make the mistake of looking at another artist’s stylizations, or you will fall victim to their exaggerated effect.  It’s much better to look at photographs” to build a mental library for an artist (How Comics Work).

Photo reference by comics artists is nothing new, however.  I thought it might be fun to take a master such as Moebius (Jean Giraud) and put together a short collection of his photo references for his long-running Blueberry series.  Additionally, Jean has discussed his use of photo reference and its importance in his work in an interview with Kim Thompson.  Jean notes “one could work from photographs in a pinch, but the work wouldn’t have the same intrinsic quality. It’s true: you can be very adept at drawing from photographs, and yet completely lose the scope, the dimension of the original.  You lose the perspective; there are so many details to transcribe that you get lost within the billions of pieces of information. Working from nature teaches you to synthesize.”

Jean Giraud’s love of the American West is well known and Blueberry stands as a testament to his long fascination with the majestic beauty of the frontier and its inhabitants.  In fact, in the European imagination, the American West has found a home not witnessed domestically in the past thirty or forty years in film, comics, and television.  This fascination owes its origin to Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Shows in the 1880s that toured Europe and performed for royalty across the continent.  Yet, even before Cody, Europe was enamored with the Americas, particularly its Indian peoples as numerous travel diaries, journals, etchings, drawings, and paintings, and letters attest to.

It is unclear where Jean found the majority of his photo reference for Blueberry—whether film posters or lobby cards perhaps, or later cinematic magazines, it remains a mystery; however, when looking at Jean’s drawings and the originals it is very clear their impact on him.  Several of these appeared on a website that I can no longer access to give proper credit to.  Others are ones I have cobbled together from various image searches.

First up is a scene from John Ford’s 1946 Western My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Walter Brennan as Clanton where Jean uses thick hatching techniques in his rendering.

Another Western Giraud milked for sketching and drawing is Howard Hawks’ 1959 Ricky Nelson platform Rio Bravo, which starred John Wayne and Dean Martin, as well as Brennan again.

Or in this scene from Alexandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 Western El Topo:


What or who Giraud created these for remains unknown.  It is doubtful they ever saw publication and may have been done for himself or as gifts.  Yet, some photo reference found its way directly into his comics and covers for Blueberry.

Here we see Giraud base an entire book cover, 1995’s Mister Blueberry vol 24, on a older photo of actor James Garner from the television series Maverick.

Most of Giraud’s cinematic adaptations appeared in the 1990s.  This is the case with the 1991 reissue of Lieutenant Blueberry and the cover based upon 1990’s Dances With Wolves.

Or in this 1969 film The Desperados: 

Yet covers were not the only source for Moebius.  Interiors also reflected his cinematic love as seen in this sequence from Rio Bravo and Blueberry.

Or in this from Hondo: 

Or, these two pages taken from Blueberry vol 26 Geronimo the Apache:


As much as John Wayne  was a recurrent source for Giraud, so too was Charleston Heston for Blueberry as seen in the next two images:

Even Jean’s personal work at times reflected photo reference of significant Western characters that were real historical people as seen in his homage of Chief Joseph.

This is hardly an exhaustive collection of Jean Giraud’s photo reference from Western history and cinema. If you have any images you’d like to share, please contact me via twitter @nathanwilson0 and I’ll include them here with proper reference and credit given.  I’d like to thank Dave Elliott for his help in finding some of these photos.

UPDATE: Guy Pradel (@Pradaldi) shared a French website with me that has several other Western images Giraud used in Blueberry.  One of the most striking examples of photo reference is from Chihuahua Pearl:

Moebius also admitted in in 2010 interview that Arizona Highways Magazine was a constant visual source for landscapes and scenery in Blueberry.