Jean Giraud, why did you agree to take on this project?
I get a huge number of requests. Some, such as yours, have
a greater legitimacy than others, in the sense that they
transcend the purely professional and serve a clear public purpose.
Thus, the ICRC’s request could not be treated lightly.
Your organization — the Red Cross Red Crescent —
is now part of our planet’s consciousness and is the
custodian of a universal thought which has the human being
at its centre. It was a fascinating prospect, therefore,
to retrace the historical construction of this thought, at
least, in this case, from the battle of Solferino.
How did you go about this particular assignment?
On an artistic level, I had to reconcile the requirements
of historical accuracy with the need to produce a comic strip
that was understandable to everyone. In other words, I had
to rely heavily on old photographs and a quite substantial
body of documentation, while using plot devices characteristic
of comic strips that enabled me to give my imagination free
rein. For example, on the first page, Henry Dunant is seen
explaining to a French colonel what led him to organize relief
for all of the wounded. In fact, we do not know if that exchange
took place. But the most important thing for me was to explain
clearly the motives behind Dunant’s actions and to show
how exceptional they were.
I constantly switched between three graphic styles: one very
fanciful, almost adolescent, another much more realistic,
closely influenced by photographs of the day, and the third,
reminiscent of a certain type of symbolic illustration, designed
to portray all the force and brutality of specific events,
such as the First World War. In the last instance, I put a
great deal of my emotions and my family’s past into
the drawings. I am quite a whimsical person; I have always
liked to convey emotions through a multitude of styles.
What is your view on present-day humanitarian action?
Things are not as clear-cut as they used to be. The plethora
of actors and of those claiming a particular humanitarian
niche breeds confusion. The ethical basis and competencies
of some of them are questionable. We know that some organizations
are manipulated, even created from scratch by political powers.
The ‘humanitarianization’ of military interventions
over the last few years is also worrying. But soldiers are
human beings like the rest of us; they can feel the need to
act otherwise than by weapons.
Today, the power of the media is such that we feel compelled
to act, be it in Darfur, Tibet or elsewhere. We are carried
away by our enthusiasm and by a slightly wild thinking that
can lead to excess. Add to that the West’s residual
guilt over its colonial past and the exploitation of this
bad conscience by certain states… it’s very complicated.
I was very happy to do this work for the Movement because
it is clear to me that you are constantly striving to remain
independent and to do your work without discrimination, based
solely on need, whether in times of war or of natural disaster.
The fact that you rely throughout the world on volunteers
who know the terrain and the real needs of the population
can help to avoid mistakes. It is unquestionably one of the
Do you believe in the existence of fundamental values?
Of course. The weakest must not be crushed: it is a basic
concept. We have a tendency to rush to the aid of the defeated.
But I try to take a step back each time, in particular with
respect to how the media is portraying the situation. The
status of victim does not automatically accord you all the
Moreover, we tend to demonize certain states without understanding
that nations act according to a logic that far exceeds the
lifetimes of individuals. We forget to reintroduce history
into our vision of the world. In my view, there exists a collective
unconsciousness within each human group and we cannot only
analyse what happens through a humanitarian or individual
prism alone. It calls to mind what Konrad Lorenz said about
doves: they are a symbol of peace, but they are neither more
nor less fierce than any other animal. Survival takes precedence
over all else.
There are many things that are repellent to an honest man,
but what makes us revolt should also prompt us to ask what
we do that others may find revolting. In so-called rich countries,
millions of people are left by the wayside. They are caught
up in financial, political, organizational or conceptual storms.
What are we doing for them? Today, we should be fighting man’s
self-destructive tendencies and trying to preserve our ecosystems.
The Earth may one day look like Easter Island: deserted but
with magnificent monuments. But I remain an optimist! If we
fail as Homo sapiens, I am convinced that another life form,
and one with awareness, will take our place.
Jean Giraud, alias Moebius.