Retro-Futuristic World of Laurent Durieux

Durieux was born in Belgium and studied graphic design at the College of Advertising and Design in Brussels. After over 20 years as an illustrator, he made his way into the world of screen-printed movie posters, creating new art for films such as Back to the FutureThe Birds & Forbidden Planet, The Iron Giant and King Kong.

Laurent Durieux doesn’t actually live in a retro-futuristic world imagined by H.G. Wells and designed by Raymond Loewy.
In Durieux’s world, 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.

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”, which caught the eye of the film’s director, Steven Spielberg. The climb from relative obscurity began, though, in 2011, when Durieux  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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”