Valérian and Laureline (Valérian et Laureline), also known as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent (French: Valérian: Agent Spatio-Temporel) or just Valérian, is a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. First published in the magazine Pilote in 1967, its latest installment was published in 2007. All of the Valérian stories have been collected in graphic novel album format, comprising some twenty-one volumes plus a short story collection and an encyclopaedia. Valérian is one of the top five biggest selling Franco-Belgian comics titles of its publisher, Dargaud.
The series centres around the adventures of the spatio-temporal agent, Valérian, and his redheaded female companion, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time. Valérian is a classical anti-hero, strong and brave but with a tendency to follow the orders of his superiors even if he feels, deep down, that it is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, his companion Laureline manages to combine sex-appeal with intelligence and independence making her one of science fiction's most notable heroines. Influenced by classic literary science fiction, the series combines elements of space opera and time travel. Christin's scripts are noted for their humour and strongly liberal political slant while Mézières' art is noted for its vivid depictions of the alien worlds and species Valérian and Laureline encounter on their adventures.
Many of the stories have been translated into several languages, including English. The series has received recognition through a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême. An animated television series, Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, was released in 2007.
However, since the end of the story The Rage of Hypsis (Les Foudres d’Hypsis) in which Galaxity disappears from space-time as a result of a temporal paradox the pair have become freelance trouble-shooters travelling space and time offering their services to anyone willing to hire them while also searching for their lost home.
In the first two albums Valérian travels through time in a two-seater device, the XB27, which transports him to the various relay stations that Galaxity has hidden throughout time (e.g. in Bad Dreams (Les Mauvais Rêves) the relay is hidden below a tavern). In subsequent stories Valérian and Laureline use the saucer-shaped Astroship XB982 (which made its debut appearance in 1969 in the short story The Great Collector (Le Grand Collectionneur)). The astroship is able to travel anywhere using a spatio-temporal jump, a sort of hyperspace drive enabling near-instant transportation anywhere in space and time.
The initial albums were generally straightforward good versus evil adventure stories that employed a great many well-worn clichés. However, thanks to Pierre Christin's interests in politics, sociology and ethnology, as the series progressed the situations typically arose from misunderstandings or ideological differences between various groups that could be resolved through reason and perseverance. The core theme of the stories is an optimistic liberal humanism: the adventures aren’t about defeating enemies but about exploring, facing challenges, and celebrating diversity. Thus, according to academic John Dean, Christin “as a rule works into his narratives political, environmental and feminist concerns – thereby showing social ills are universal, no matter on what planet you land”.
These themes are underpinned by the vivid drawings of Jean-Claude Mézières whose “visually stunning backgrounds: complex architecture, futuristic machines, otherworldly landscapes and odd-looking aliens” are what John Dean calls “staples of Mézières' seeming boundless visual inventiveness”, resulting in what the artist Pepo Pérez likens to “National Geographic, but on a cosmic scale”.
Initially, the early stories present Valérian as a typical square-jawed hero figure, who is strong and dependable (although an early running joke was that despite being a time-traveller he is always running late, especially when summoned by his boss). However, as the series progresses, he is increasingly portrayed as somewhat knuckle-headed. In World Without Stars (Le Pays sans Etoiles), he gets recklessly drunk on the colonists' home-made booze, in On the False Earths (Sur les Terres Truquées), the historian, Jadna, views him as useful only as cannon-fodder and nothing else while in Heroes of the Equinox (Les Héros de l’Equinoxe), he comes across as woefully inadequate compared with the champions he is competing against. Although devoted to Laureline, he has been led astray by other women, such as in Heroes of the Equinox and Brooklyn Station, Terminus Cosmos.
When Galaxity disappears in The Rage of Hypsis he contemplates following his fellows into oblivion, much to Laureline's horror. Even afterwards, he feels the loss of Galaxity much more than Laureline, as it is his birthplace.
The name Valérian has a Slavic origin and means “brave” or “valiant”. Valérian was created by Mézières and Christin as a reaction to the fearless boy-scout (e.g. Tintin) and American superhero characters that were prevalent in comics available in France at the time. Instead they sought to devise a “banal character” with “no extraordinary means of action”. Eventually, with Christin feeling that they had gone too far with this angle and that the Valérian character had become too stupid, from The Ghosts of Inverloch (Les Spectres d'Inverloch) onwards, Valérian was made more sympathetic and given a greater slice of the action.
In the early stories Laureline generally sits in the background while Valérian saves the day in whatever situation the pair have found themselves in. However, as the series develops, Laureline's position begins to change. World Without Stars, in which the two characters are separated for most of the adventure, allows Laureline to step out from under Valérian's shadow for the first time and she proves to be more than an equal to Valérian in ensuring that their mission succeeds.
Welcome to Alflolol (Bienvenue sur Alflolol) brings Laureline's rebellious nature to the fore; unlike Valérian she has not been born and raised by Galaxity and is prepared to not only question their authority but openly rebel against them when their orders run contrary to her sense of morality. It also demonstrates her impulsive streak; she sides with the native Alflololians against Galaxity and Valérian with no thought for the personal consequences she may have to face herself. Her position as the true star of the series is cemented in Ambassador of the Shadows (L'Ambassadeur des Ombres) which is virtually a solo adventure for her as she searches the vast space station Point Central for the kidnapped Valérian and the Earth Ambassador. Later, when acting as independent agents, it is Laureline who questions the ethics of some of the jobs they are forced to take to make ends meet, notably in The Living Weapons (Les Armes Vivantes).
Despite being independent and efficacious Laureline is not afraid to exploit her considerable sex appeal if it is to her advantage. For example, she attracts the attention of the Emperor of Valsennar in World Without Stars while she manipulates Crocbattler and Rackalust in Brooklyn Station, Terminus Cosmos and regularly charms the Shingouz when negotiating with them for information. She has even posed in the French edition of Playboy in 1987.
She also has a certain affinity for animals such as the Alflololian Goumon in Welcome to Alflolol to the Grumpy Converter from Bluxte, first seen in Ambassador of the Shadows, to the Tüm Tüm (de Lüm) and the Tchoung-Tracer, both introduced in On the Frontiers (Sur les Frontières).
The name “Laureline” was invented by Mézières and Christin who were seeking a name that would sound “medieval” and “soft”. The name has proven popular and there are now several thousand women in France who bear the name Laureline, the first one born in 1968 just a year after the publication of Bad Dreams. There have also been variations such as “Loreline” and “Laurelyne”. Laureline was initially created just for the first story, Bad Dreams but recognising that they had a female character who was different from the bimbo types common to comics of the time Mézières and Christin fell for her and, in response to positive reader feedback, retained her for the subsequent stories.
The character of Albert is partially influenced by that of August Faust, the main character in the strip The Extraordinary and Troubling Adventure of Mr August Faust (L'extraordinaire et Troublante Aventure de M. August Faust), written by Fred and drawn by Mézières in 1967.
There had been French science fiction comics before Valérian such as Kline's Kaza the Martian (a childhood favourite of Mézières), Roger Lecureux and Raymond Poivet's Les Pionniers de l'Espérance (The Pioneers of Hope) (which Christin found tired and repetitive) and Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella. Barbarella is famous for its strong, female, titular character but Christin has denied any influence on the character of Laureline stating that she was inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex as well as the burgeoning feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, contemporary reviews of the early stories by Jean-Pierre Andrevon describe the books as “Forestienne”. Mézières and Christin were also heavily influenced by literary science fiction such as that by Isaac Asimov (especially The End of Eternity), Jack Vance (especially The Blue World), and John Brunner. Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier have also suggested that Poul Anderson's Time Patrol books, about an official organization dedicated to protecting time from interference, are a major influence on the series.
Christin has also cited the Whodunit genre — notably novels by Georges Simenon and Ed McBain — as an influence on Valérian since they taught him, as a writer, that all characters in a narrative must be seen to have motivations.
Mézières' drawings in the early albums were influenced by such “comic-dynamic” artists as Morris (Lucky Luke), André Franquin (Spirou et Fantasio) and Jack Davis (Mad magazine), leading to Jean-Pierre Andrevon to refer to Valérian as “a kind of Lucky Luke of space-time”. As the series progressed, Mézières developed a more realistic style, akin to that of Jijé, though in more recent albums he has returned to the more cartoonish style of the earlier stories.
Several commentators, such as Kim Thompson of The Comics Journal, film critic Jean-Philippe Guerand and the newspaper Libération, have noted certain similarities between the Valérian albums and the Star Wars film series. Both series are noted for the “lived-in” look given to their various settings and for the diverse alien creatures they feature. Particular instances of similarities between the two series, which the above have cited, include:
Mézières' response upon seeing Star Wars was that he was “dazzled, jealous... and furious!”. As a riposte, Mézières produced an illustration for Pilote magazine in 1983 depicting the Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa meeting Valérian and Laureline in a bar surrounded by a bestiary of alien creatures typical of that seen in both series. “Fancy meeting you here!” says Leia. “Oh, we've been hanging around here for a long time!” retorts Laureline. Mézières has since been informed that Doug Chiang, design director on The Phantom Menace, kept a set of Valérian albums in his library.
Mézières has also noticed similarities between some of the sets in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian and the planet seen in Birds of the Master (Les Oiseaux du Maître) and between some of the production sketches for the alien fighters in the 1996 film Independence Day and Valérian and Laureline's astroship.
The 1999 Danish film Mifune's Last Song, directed by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, features a character, Rud, who is a fan of Linda and Valentin (as Valérian is known in Denmark) who believes the character of Liva is in fact Linda (i.e. Laureline).
Jean-Claude Mézières himself has worked as a concept artist on a number of science fiction film projects. The first of these was in 1984 for director Jeremy Kagan who was attempting to adapt René Barjavel's novel La Nuit des temps (The Ice People). The film was never made. This was followed, in 1985, by a proposed adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's novel Hard to Be a God for director Peter Fleischmann. This film was eventually finished in 1989 though Mézières' concepts for the film were barely used. The art Mézières produced for both projects was later published in Mézières Extras.
In 1991 Mézières began work producing concept art for the director Luc Besson for his film The Fifth Element. When the project stalled and Besson moved on to work on the film Léon in 1994, Mézières returned to Valérian for the album The Circles of Power (Les Cercles du Pouvoir). This featured a character, S'Traks, who drove a flying taxi around a great metropolis on the planet Rubanis. Mézières sent a copy of the album to Besson who was inspired to change the background of Korben Dallas, the lead character of The Fifth Element, from a worker in a rocketship factory to that of a taxi driver who flies his cab around a Rubanis-inspired futuristic New York. Mézières produced further concept drawings for Besson, including flying taxi cabs. He also re-used certain aspects of the design of the space liner seen in the 1988 Valérian album On the Frontiers for the Fhloston Paradise liner seen in second half of the film. The Fifth Element was finally completed and released in 1997. The importance of the four classical elements to the film is similar to the significance the elements have in the two-part Valérian story Métro Châtelet, Direction Cassiopeia and Brooklyn Station, Terminus Cosmos. However, Besson has claimed that he first came up with the idea for the film at the age of 16 which would pre-date the publication of these two albums.
Ambassador of the Shadows was later republished in English in album format as were World Without Stars, Welcome to Alflolol and Heroes of the Equinox by the short-lived Dargaud-USA in the United States of America between 1981 and 1984 and in the United Kingdom by Hodder-Dargaud in 1984 and 1985.
In 1989 it was announced that NBM Publishing were going to reissue the four English language albums published by Dargaud-USA and also release a translation of Empire of a Thousand Planets but nothing seems to have come of this.
Heroes of the Equinox was republished in July 1996 in black and white by Fantasy Flight Publishing (an offshoot of Fantasy Flight Games) in two issues as standard American sized comic-books as part of an unsuccessful attempt to translate and print several European comic book series including Spirou et Fantasio and Lucky Luke.
In November 2004, iBooks published Valerian: The New Future Trilogy (ISBN 0-7434-8674-9) collecting the albums On the Frontiers, The Living Weapons and The Circles of Power in one volume reduced to standard American graphic novel size. These were the only Valérian stories iBooks published and the company has since declared bankruptcy.
The scripts have been written by a French team under the supervision of Peter Berts while Charles Vaucelles was responsible for the realisation of the characters and Vincent Momméja was responsible for the design of the locations and spacecraft. Music is by Alexandre Azzaria. In the French dub of the series Valérian is voiced by Gwendal Anglade and Laureline by Mélodie Orru. Three trailers were released to promote the series: the first on 24 April 2006, the second on 10 October 2006 and the third on 30 August 2007.
The series differs from the original comics in that Valerian comes from the year 2417, instead of 2720, and meets Laureline in the year 912 instead of 1000. Whereas in the comics Valerian takes Laureline back to the 28th century without any trouble, in the animated series this results in Earth disappearing from the solar system.
According to Animation World Network, "Time Jam - Valerian & Laureline sets out to answer the question: Where on Earth has Earth gone? Valerian and Laureline, our two young heroes, seem to be the only representatives of the human race in the unsafe galaxy where the nightmarish Vlagos are conspiring to control the world. Sent out on an assignment by the head of STS (the Spatial-Temporal Service), Valerian and Laureline discover the existence of a time-portal, a mysterious phenomenon, which may hold the key to the recovery of Earth. The series from Dargaud Marina mixes 2D and CGI animation with an anime touch”. The series has also been sold to Belgium, Spain, Israel and Morocco.
The notion of making an animated adaptation of Valérian dates beck to at least 1976. In 1982, Mézières produced concept art for an episode titled The Asteroids of Shimballil (Les Astéroïdes de Shimballil) which was later published in 2000 as an appendix to the album release of Bad Dreams. In 1991, Dargaud Films financed the production of a three minute pilot, directed by Bernard Deyriès and animated by Studio 32 in Paris and Luxembourg, but nothing came of this venture. Several stills from this pilot episode were published in Mézières Extras. Another pilot, directed by Florient Ferrier, was made by the French animation studio 2 Minutes in 2001. Nothing came of this attempt either.