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The story of an idea –
in pictures

 

Renowned French artist Jean Giraud, alias Moebius, has created a comic strip charting the history of the Movement from 1859 to the present day. Here he shares his views on the world and contemporary humanitarian action.

 

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 Movement’s strengths.

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 virtues.

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.
©DIDIER REVOL

 

 

 

 

Interview by Didier Revol
ICRC communication officer.

The animated publication, The story of an idea, is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish free of charge from the ICRC and the International Federation.

 

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