I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Values, Puppets, and Telepathic Flying Robot Gnomes: 1982’s Time Masters

by Anthony Galli
Jan. 1, 2018

In a 2011 interview, renowned science fiction artist Jean Giraud remarked, “Outer space is not human but you can visit. You need to be a little bit out there, but you need to stay close to human.” Giraud’s work in comics, under his own name or under his famous pseudonyms Gir and Moebius, has always demonstrated that fine line between the fantastic and the possible.

For example, despite Piel, the 6-year-old protagonist of Time Masters, being stranded on an alien planet with the imminent threat of brain eating hornets and skin burrowing maggots, his spirit guide Silbad is most concerned with Piel’s falling into a lake, because “there’s nothing to keep a kid from drowning-even in a harmless little lake.” It is not the bizarre alien life forms on the distant planet Perdide that concern Silbad, but the all too mundane danger of the little boy drowning that proves most worrisome.

We have, however, gotten ahead of ourselves.

1982’s Time Masters, or, in the original French, Les Maîtres du Temps, which Jean Giraud, as Moebius, co-wrote and contributed original design to, is an adaptation of Stephen Wul’s 1958 novel L'Orphelin de Perdide, or, The Orphan of Perdide. Stephen Wul is, of course, the pseudonym of French dental surgeon Pierre Pairault, who maintained his dentistry practice throughout his career as a science fiction novelist, since he considered his writing as more of a hobby than an occupation.

Wul is also responsible for the 1957 novel Oms en Série, which became more well known by its 1973 filmed title La Planète Sauvage, or Fantastic Planet, also directed, coincidentally, by Time Masters director René Laloux.

Time Masters was produced at a relatively interesting time in animation history. At the time animation was being directed more toward adult audiences, with mature themes replacing the typical childhood attractions that audiences were historically accustomed to. This trend may have begun developing in the late 1960s, with the arrival of underground comics, like The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and the Zap Comix series, among others.

The underground comic scene gave rise to such illustrators as Bill Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead, and R. Crumb, whose unapologetically sexually suggestive work was given mass commercial exposure with his Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album cover in 1968, and, to a certain extent, the world’s first X-rated animated feature film, 1972’s Fritz the Cat.

Fritz the Cat’s director, Ralph Bakshi, went on to direct some of the most interesting and innovative animated science fiction features of the 1970s, including Wizards and Lord of the Rings.

Concurrently, there was a burgeoning science fiction movement in France that gave birth to the groundbreaking French periodical Métal Hurlant in 1974, of which Moebious was a co-creator. Métal Hurlant was bought by National Lampoon and published in America as Heavy Metal beginning in 1977. Much of the content of the American publication consisted of translations from the French version, and it provided Moebius with unprecedented exposure that he had not experienced through his French work.

In 1981, a filmed anthology of original and adapted work from the magazine was released as the film Heavy Metal, featuring uncredited work by Moebius, the cast of Canada’s SCTV, and a soundtrack featuring Black Sabbath, Devo, Donald Fagen, Sammy Hagar and others. It rocks.

Time Masters begins with space explorer Claude and his young son Piel being pursued in their All-Terrain Vehicle until they crash into the barren landscape of the planet Perdide. The word Perdide is very close to the Spanish word “perdido,” which, variously, means missing, irreparable, abandoned, but, most significantly, lost. All of these words could be used interchangeably to accurately characterize the journey of the small boy Piel.

Piel’s father dies in the crash, but not before communicating with his fellow traveler of time and space Jaffar that Piel is stranded on Perdide and needs to be rescued. Jaffa communicates with Piel through an egg shaped space age walkie-talkie painted with the yin-yang symbol. Jaffar and his fellow shipmates give Piel instructions and solace through the walkie-talkie, nicknamed Mike, as they attempt to rescue him.

The adults are entrusted to care for Piel, and, for the most part, guide him through life’s dilemmas without being overtly preachy. In fact, the charm of Time Masters comes in the subtle nuance of the messages it hopes to impart to its audience.

The film is largely an argument for the strength of the individual to overcome the adversities of life, and for the spirit of the individual to endure when it appears that the world is conspiring to drag him or her down. Both of Piel’s parents are dead, but his surrogate family makes a point to focus on his present survival, refusing to allow the tragedies of the past to destroy his character.

The message is made more explicit as Jaffar and company reach Gamma Ten, some sort of death star planet of conformity, whose leader shouts, in a Hitler-like pitch, doublespeak homilies such as, “Difference denies Unity,” and, “Difference must be destroyed.” A race of faceless angel-like forms inhabit Gamma Ten, and we are told, “Once they were normal people. Now they are puppets of that thing.”

That thing.

“I prefer to be destroyed than enslaved,” Jaffar tells the evil Prince Matta before Matta dissolves into the amorphous globular goo of conformity. “Carry him to the glory of sameness,” Gamma Ten’s leader intones as Matta is absorbed into the totality.

Eventually, Piel is rescued, and time has passed, but it is not the same Piel from the beginning of the film, and time moves back again. Mind-reading robot gnomes say cute things like, “Human beings don’t care about the beauty of things, it’s only their value that interests them,” and despite this being science-fiction with evil overlords and brain eating hornets, there is a happy ending after all. Space pirates are freed, and Time Masters turns out to be a very sweet film about a child, but intended for adults, as adults are the ones who are responsible.

Works Cited

“The Moebius Interview” - 1980

Two Moebius interviews (1977 & 1982)

Moebius on his art, fading eyesight and legend: ‘I am like a unicorn’

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.