Valerian: The Birth of a Saga


February 2, 2022

With the 2017 release of the blockbuster Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, we had posted a series of articles over a span of a week to help get you in the mood for some serious spatio-temporal fun! From the origins of the series, to exclusive interviews and character spotlights, you’ll find everything you need to know about Valerian, the sci-fi saga that started it all.

How it all began

“Before us, no one had ever told adventure stories like that. In this series, anything is possible. Each new book can take us absolutely anywhere we want.”Jean-Claude Mézières

“Science-fiction is an incredible way to ‘superheat’ reality.”Pierre Christin

What we’re looking at here is quite simply one of the best comics series of all time. Both a classic of the ‘Ninth Art’ and a science-fiction masterpiece.

But the success of the series didn’t come overnight! It has been fifty years since the start of Valerian, with the epic saga gradually taking full form over the decades. Someone discovering the series today, at a time when heroic fantasy and virtual reality have become commonplace, might find Valerian to be a bit simple — just another intergalactic epic playing with the mysteries of time and space.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! At the time of its creation, Valerian was truly a groundbreaking work. Artist Jean-Claude Mézières and author Pierre Christin’s creation was in fact the original archetype that gave rise to all the rest (see “Valerian: A Model for Star Wars”). A little trip back in time is all it takes to understand that and see the series with fresh eyes. What those who didn’t experience the 1960s firsthand can’t imagine is just how gray and dull much of the world was. So much had yet to be invented. France in particular, still under the thumb of an aging De Gaulle, was a stuffy, shut-off land, with highly structured norms and customs. At the time, nothing hinted at the remarkable cultural, technological, and social revolutions to come. As Christin himself put it, the country was “incredibly archaic.” All in all, it was a dreary place to be.

Cover art for 'The City of Shifting Waters' (Dargaud 1970, Cinebook in English 2010).

Go west, young men!

To escape this morose world of conformity, Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin decided to cross the Atlantic. The U.S.A., a new progressive culture, new frontiers — all of it was theirs for the taking! Mézières at the time was an artist in training, dazzled by the vast, open spaces of the west. As for Christin, he found himself a professor of French literature at an American university. They had traveled separately, but as Christin put it, it was a grand “maiden voyage” for both of them, leaving behind the heavy atmosphere of France in favor of more exotic inspiration, and a breath of fresh air. It was in 1965 in Salt Lake City, capital of the steadfast Mormons, where the creators’ paths crossed. They had met previously some twenty years before, but this time the stars were in alignment, and a new future opened up before them. Those looking for the birthplace of the Valerian saga need look no further — it was there, in the grand, open spaces of the west that the famous interstellar explorer came into being, and where these two friends from yesteryear would finally “bring to life a world in Technicolor.”

Jean-Claude Mézières rides west, circa 1965.
Pierre Christin roadtripping across the USA.

What’s in a name?

In the beginning, the series was titled Valérian, agent spatio-temporel (Valerian, Spatiotemporal Agent). In 2007 and then again starting in 2016, the publisher Dargaud updated the cover layout, switching to a new, cleaner Valerian title and logo, under which the full series will gradually be reissued. Internationally, too, the series’ heroes have often changed names to better fit each language and country, including: Valerian & Veronique (Germany), Valentin & Linda (Scandinavia), Varerian & Rorurinnu (Japan), Valeriano & Laurelinos (Lithuania), Ravian & Laureline (Netherlands), and Walerian & Laurelina (Poland)!

A mix of foreign covers for 'Valerian.'

Originally published in Valérian l’intégrale #1 and Valérian l’intégrale #7 (Dargaud 2016-2017). Text by Stan Barets. Header image © Christin & Mézières / Dargaud

UP NEXT: A behind-the-scenes interview with creators Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin, alongside Luc Besson, director of the movie adaptation Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.