Welcome to the Retro-Futuristic World of Laurent Durieux

February 8th, 2013

Laurent Durieux doesn’t actually live in a retro-futuristic world imagined by H.G. Wells and designed by Raymond Loewy, but looking at his screenprints of the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking he does. In Durieux’s world (see slideshow below), gigantic robots tower over forests populated by mythical beasts such as Bigfoot and King Kong; city skies are thick with airships shaped like Snoopy, while Buck Rodgers-like vehicles whiz by on slender monorails; and movie monsters are portrayed as sensitive creatures, victims of their grotesqueries rather than revenge-fueled fiends.

“Jean Giraud and his alter ego, Moebius, had a huge impact on my life as an illustrator.”

Though he’s spent two decades as a designer and teacher, the 42-year-old Brussels illustrator and graphic artist was only recently discovered in the United States, thanks to a number of high-profile awards and marquee commissions, including a 2013 screenprint of “Jaws” (above), which caught the eye of the film’s director, Steven Spielberg. The climb from relative obscurity began, though, in 2011, when Durieux (pronounced ‘durio’) was named one of the world’s 200 Best Illustrators by the influential international advertising magazine Lürzer’s Archive. That year, his short animated film, “Hellville,” was selected for screening at several prestigious film festivals.

Durieux’s career really took off in 2012, when Los Angeles-based print publisher Dark Hall Mansion commissioned him to create two Snoopy-themed Giclee prints, each with a variant edition, for Valentine’s Day. That project was quickly followed by a pair of screenprinted posters, also for DHM, based on the 1956 Japanese manga series “Tetsujin 28-go,” which follows the adventures of a boy and his remote-control robot—U.S. adults of a certain age may remember this Japanese title as the 1960s cartoon series “Gigantor.”

Above: In 2012, Laurent Durieux created two versions of “Gigantor” for Dark Hall Mansion. Top: “Jaws,” published by Mondo, 2013.

All this activity did not go unnoticed by contemporary movie-poster publisher Mondo, which released its first Durieuxs—a screenprint for Brad Bird’s 1999 animated feature, “The Iron Giant,” as well as an image of “King Kong”—in May of 2012. More Mondo prints followed in the fall for a show called “The Universal Monsters” at Mondo’s Austin, Texas, gallery. For that exhibition, Durieux contributed five pieces, including a quartet of moody and romantic designs for such Universal Studios horror classics as “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy.” As with most Mondo posters, and all of Mondo’s Durieuxs, those screenprints sold out almost immediately.

“When you get rid of the outline, the comic-book feel disappears and the image becomes something else.”

This year, 2013, has gotten off to an equally rousing start, beginning with the January release of a poster for Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller “Jaws.” Reportedly, the director himself liked Durieux’s design so much, he ordered 25 copies to give as gifts to his closest friends. Thanks to the buzz that followed Durieux’s “Jaws” (prices for prints from the original edition of 525, which cost $60 each, are now hovering around $200), anticipation is building among collectors, who are hoping a new Durieux will be included in Mondo’s annual Oscars drop during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 24, 2013.

According to Durieux, who communicates with the non-French-speaking world through his twin brother, Jack (who also does the lettering on many of Durieux’s posters), the “Jaws” poster that has brought him so much attention and acclaim almost didn’t happen. “When Mitch Putnam and Rob Jones from Mondo called me up and asked me to do it,” he says, “my gut feeling was to say no. I didn’t think there was any way one could do a better job than the original poster and book cover by Roger Kastel. So I decided not to go for the sharp-toothed-monster-attacking-the-boat sort of thing, but to play with the contrast between what we see in the poster and what we know is going to happen. Spielberg always said that what saved his movie was the fact that Bruce, the mechanical shark, wasn’t working properly, so most of the scenes don’t have a shark in them. The movie became Hitchcockian—you didn’t see it but you knew it was there, and that’s what scared us. So I tried to emulate that with my sweet, sunny, postcard-looking poster. The menace is there without being there.”

In the spring of 2012, Durieux created two “King Kong” posters for Mondo, including this one of the beast scaling a New York City skyscraper.

In fact, Durieux grew up amid one of the planet’s most notorious larger-than-life unseen presences in the town of Waterloo, where French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte went down to defeat in 1815. The youngest of five siblings (okay, technically, Laurent is several seconds older than Jack), Durieux was one of those kids who just always drew, from as early as the age of six. Much to Laurent’s consternation, Jack drew, too. “Jack had been complimented by our school teacher on one of his drawings,” Laurent recalls. “I didn’t like that at all. So I thought, ‘I’ll show them.’ I guess I’m the twin that doesn’t like being dominated.”

“I’ve always preferred Sequoias to bonsai trees.”

By the age of 11 or 12, Durieux encountered his first major mentor, illustrator Jean Giraud, who drew comic books under a number of pen names, including Moebius. “Jean Giraud and his alter ego, Moebius, had a huge impact on my life as an illustrator,” Durieux says. “He’s the reason I started to draw seriously. It was like with Jack, you know? I wanted to do better than him. Of course, it was naive of me to think I could ever be compared to such a tremendous talent, but still, that’s what motivated me back then.”

Moebius comic books such as “Métal Hurlant” and “L’Incal” are notable for their almost obsessive attention to detail, as well as their novel approaches to storytelling, typified by a dialogue-free series called “Arzach.” Though Durieux’s imagery is generally cheerier than anything in “Arzach,” that series did teach him the importance of telling stories without relying on dialogue, which is usually the task of movie posters and character-driven screenprints. “‘Arzach’ was a big influence, for sure,” Durieux confirms, “and ‘Métal Hurlant’ was my Bible. I used to trace Moebius’s ‘L’Incal’ strips when I was about 11 years old,” he adds, freely admitting to a common technique used by many young artists to force muscle memory into their impressionable hands. “That’s pretty much how I learned to draw.”

In November of 2012, Durieux produced a pair of Oz images for an exhibition at Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn. The variant edition, seen here, depicted a blue Emerald City. To see the regular version, click on the slideshow below.

Before Giraud died in 2012, Durieux had the opportunity to meet his hero, but not “properly,” as he puts it. “I did shake his hand a few times, but I was so intimidated, I couldn’t say a word. I don’t really regret it, though. Someone once said ‘Never meet your heroes, they are bound to disappoint.’ That’s what helps me live with it, I guess.” Today, Durieux says, “there’s not a line I draw without thinking of Jean Giraud. His passing deeply saddened me and, like many others, I feel sort of like an orphan now. I know this is pretty extreme, but I don’t even go into comic book stores anymore.”

“‘Arzach’ was a big influence, for sure, and ‘Métal Hurlant’ was my Bible.”

In 1988, at the age of 18, Durieux began his formal studies in Graphic Communication at l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre, where he met his second great mentor, Luc Van Malderen, whose bold, almost building-block style could not be more different from Giraud’s. “It’s a different approach altogether,” Durieux says of Malderen’s work. “He is essentially an artist who tries to represent industrial architecture and space in a very graphic and sometimes almost abstract way. His use of color is amazing. Funny enough, his body of work mostly consists of screenprints, but artistically, that’s just about the only thing we have in common. But he taught me one essential thing: Only the result matters, how you get there is irrelevant.”

The place Durieux was headed was somewhere in the retro-future, a world conjured by the likes of H.G. Wells, Georges Méliès, and Jules Verne, but populated by outsize cultural icons, from Bigfoot and King Kong to advertising mascots for Esso gasoline and Bob’s Big Boy hamburgers. Durieux seems to gravitate to larger-than-life subjects, as if to imbue his images with a child’s world view. “Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this,” he says, “but you’re right, I only draw big things! I’m gonna have to start doing images with small things now or people will start thinking it’s a gimmick. On the other hand, I’ve always preferred Sequoias to bonsai trees.”

Durieux’s “Bigfoot,” created for a show at the Acid Free Gallery in 2012, featured two versions. The first (left) was printed in regular inks, but the variant (center) had a slightly different composition and featured glow-in-the-dark inks that revealed a profile of the creature (right). Click any image to see a larger version of all three.

Durieux also enjoys being counterintuitive with subjects. His Universal Monsters, for example, are romantic, tender, even sentimental. “‘The Mummy’ is a love story,” he says, “not a horror movie. ‘Frankenstein’ is so sad and tragic—that scene with the flowers and the little girl gets me every time. ‘Dracula’ is also a romantic character. As for ‘The Wolf Man,’ again, I see him more as a victim than a scary monster.”

Most of Durieux’s images, whether they are based on movie monsters, Charlie Brown characters, or streamlined emerald skyscrapers in the Land of Oz, begin as pencil sketches. “Once I’m satisfied with the general idea,” he says, “I start drawing on the computer. I used to do everything by hand, but I couldn’t get the sort of details and nuances I get working in digital. Once the digital drawing is finished, I do the shadings and, most importantly, I get rid of all the black outlines. When you get rid of that outline, the comic-book feel, of which I’m so enamored, disappears, and the image suddenly becomes something else.”

Durieux’s first break in the United States was pair of Snoopy prints (including this one) published by Dark Hall Mansion in Los Angeles for Valentine’s Day, 2012. The other is in the slideshow below.

Compared to his other work for Mondo and Dark Hall Mansion, “Jaws” probably struck many of his new fans as a great big something else, resembling a mid-20th century travel poster more than anything that might be printed to advertise a film about a man-eating shark (the only reference to the creature is a black section of beach umbrella that resembles a shark’s fin). But after news of the Spielberg purchase got out, interest in Durieux’s “Jaws” went crazy, and prices for the rest of his work rose, too. Though undoubtedly flattered by the attention, Durieux did not realize how opportunistic some contemporary movie-poster collectors could be. When one tried to resell, or flip, a rare artist’s proof of “Jaws” for $775 (it was one of only 20 screenprints actually signed and embossed by the artist), Jack Durieux publicly berated the seller for gouging and the auction was withdrawn.

Spielberg’s “Jaws” prints are from the numbered, unsigned edition of 525, which means the billionaire director doesn’t even have the artist’s autograph (“He couldn’t afford it!” Durieux laughs). But that doesn’t mean Durieux wouldn’t like to have Spielberg’s famous scrawl on a scrap of paper. “I am a huge fan, obviously,” Durieux says. “Who isn’t, right? So yeah, I’d like to have his autograph, maybe on a note that reads, ‘Nice poster, man, but where’s the damn shark!'”

The World of Durieux

BigBoy

Though based in Belgium, the vernacular architecture of Southern California, as personified by Bob's Big Boy, was attractive to Laurent Durieux in 2009.

BigBoy

Though based in Belgium, the vernacular architecture of Southern California, as personified by Bob's Big Boy, was attractive to Laurent Durieux in 2009.

big boy ouline600_1

This detail of the preceding Bob's Big Boy print shows the step in Durieux's process in which the comic-book outlines of his drawing are replaced by detail and color.

Hellville

In 2010, Bob's Big Boy appeared again in a poster for Durieux's animated short, "Hellville."

belgeddes line602_1

A 2005 homage to industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, from illustration (top) to final art (bottom).

MoebiusIncal

This page from "L'Incal, a comic from the early 1980s, features coloring by Yves Chaland and inking by Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius, who is one of Durieux's biggest heroes.

LUCVANMALDEREN

Durieux's other great mentor is Luc Van Malderen, who "tries to represent industrial architecture and space in a very graphic and sometimes almost abstract way."

SnoopyReg

Durieux's first break in the United States was pair of Snoopy prints published by Dark Hall Mansion in Los Angeles for Valentine's Day, 2012.

snoopy-double

Durieux's other Snoopy print, titled "Just Married," was published in two versions, regular (left) and winter (right).

Gigantor-double

Though known in the U.S. and Europe as "Gigantor," this story of a boy and his remote-control robot started out in 1956 as a manga novel called "Tetsujin 28-go."

iron-giant-double

In general, Durieux sketches his ideas freehand (left) before going digital (right). This poster of the 1999 film "The Iron Giant" was published by Mondo in 2012.

BuckRodgersLight

This screenprint of "Buck Rodgers" was created for an exhibition in January of 2013 at the Hero Complex Gallery, which pops up in cities around the United States.

BuckDetail

Durieux fans obsess over the artist's attention to detail, as seen here in "Buck Rodgers."

BuckRodgersDark

The variant version of "Buck Rodgers" features two glow-in-the-dark inks.

KongMarquee

In the spring of 2012, Durieux created two "King Kong" posters for Mondo, including this one of the beast scaling a New York City skyscraper.

KongWindow

A second Durieux poster of "King Kong," also published by Mondo in 2012.

Creature

"Creature from the Black Lagoon" was the first of five Universal Monsters posters created by Durieux and published by Mondo in the fall of 2012.

Frank-double

For Durieux, Frankenstein is a sad and tender figure rather than an out-of-control monster.

Dracula-double

Durieux used his wife's hand as the model for his "Dracula" poster, one of five Universal Monsters published by Mondo.

Mummy-double

For Durieux, "The Mummy" is a straight-up love story.

tracé wolfman_1

Another before-and-after, showing how Durieux's drawings eventually become screenprints.

OzBlueCity

In November of 2012, Durieux produced a pair of Oz images for an exhibition at Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn. The variant edition, seen here, depicted a blue Emerald City and glow-in-the-dark inks.

OzGreen

The regular edition of Durieux's Oz print shows the Emerald City in its more familiar green.

DurieuxWorkspace

Laurent Durieux in his Brussels studio, 2012.

(To learn more about the work of Laurent Durieux, visit his website.)

2 comments so far

  1. Lee Says:

    Just to note that the regular version of the Wizard of Oz print is with the green Emerald City. The more limited variant has the blue toned Emerald City and glows in the dark. (Opposite of what’s described in the slide show) Thanks for the correction! – Ben

  2. I-) Says:

    > For Durieux, “The Mummy” is a straight-up love story.

    that is the way i have always seen it as – a love story, a great love story.

    I-)


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