English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

November 9, 2009

Hergé and Tintin

Filed under: Online Reports — jeremiahm @ 6:00 pm

Georges Remi, began his career in 1929 as an illustrator and writer of comics for Le Petit Ventième, a monthly supplement designed for the the children of readers of the conservative Catholic newspaper “Le  Ventième” (The Twentieth Century).

Remi achieved great success with the character Tintin and over his career produced dozens of comics featuring the stories about the youthful reporter who, along with his faithful and cynical dog Snowy, travels throughout the world always seeming to become accidently involved in intrigue.  Tintin is a diligent if somewhat accidental detective and hero, fighting injustice wherever he goes, no matter the odds, standing up for his squeaky clean moral code.  Plots and secrets seem to fall into his lap as time and again circumstances tend to bring him into international intrigue.
However Tintin started in Belgium, out of the pen of Remi, signing his name as Hergé, (pronounced “Ehr-Jay”—literally R.J., in French Remi’s initials reversed) who sent his young reporter out in his stead to visit even the most vast and remote places in the world.  Tintin and Snowy or “Mileu” as he was named in French, the little white dog with a taste for whisky,became so popular that he eventually was not only featured in every issue of the small paper, but often graced the cover.  Even some of the adults who read Le Ventième began to take notice.
Hergé, (Georges Remi’s initials reversed, in french pronounced “Ehr-Jay”) and Tintin were fated to long out live the influence of the small conservative newspaper that gave them both birth.  The paper eventually folded but Tintin had many more adventures to go on, and publishing on his own, Remi (as Hergé) published hundreds of serials that were later collected into 23 complete Albums.  A rare incomplete final work was published posthumously.
Two Tintin Album Covers, “Le Lotus Bleu” and the English Translation.
Tintin made his way throughout the world, being translated into just about every language.  The original French editions of the albums are of course highly sought after by collectors, but the faithful adaptations especially in English have left their mark on Western Europe and not solely the French-speaking world.
Ideologically Tintin is very Eurocentric and many of the earliest comics have portrayed this to a point that many critics consider if not xenophobia then outright racism.   (See cover for “Tintin Au Congo,” below–this is one of Tintin’s earliest and most controversial works, as the cover art can readily demonstrate).
The turning point for Hergé and Tintin seemed to be when Remi met a young Chinese immigrant in his native Belgium who enlightened him on the myths and realities of his culture and de-Orientalized the subject enough for Remi to take interest in further researching the countries to which he sent his reporter.  The Chinese boy appeared as an important character towards the end of “Le Lotus Bleu” who opens
Tinitin’s eyes just as he did the authors to the romanticism, mythologization and western hegemony over the Orient.
herge-georges-remi-tintin-au-congo-c-19312From “Le Lotus Bleu” on Remi attempted to do as much research as possible on the lands to which Tintin travelled, and appeared to include messages of social sensitivity.
Hergé never really escaped criticism for his early insensitivities and the album to right has seldom been published in the United States and remains to this day a rare collectors piece.
Further controversies included Remi’s collaboration with the Nazi party when Belgium was invaded by the Germans.  Remi was ultimately exonerated of any wrong doing much on the strength that there were relatively scant depiction of politics during Tintin’s adventures during WWII.
The “Clear Line” Style
Hergé utilized an Italian style of drawing known as La Ligna Clara, or “Clear Line” a method by which shadows ae used sparingly and character is expressed through dark broad strokes giving a very cartoonist and clean look.  Hergé himself stated that he incorporated this artistic element into the fabrication of the story and characters as well.  For example the plots though complex are not multi-dimensional, nor psychologically complex.  It is good guys-versus-bad guys, right versus wrong, the just and the unjust.  It may seem a sterile environment for Tintin to and Hergé to play in, yet Remi’s personal politics and conservative, almost boyscout-esque moralizations seem to be arguably just under the terse and deliberately paced plot-lines.
Where is Tintin Today?
Hergé continued producing and publishing Tintin albums until his death in 1983.

Tintin has branched out to other media, including video games, morning cartoons (some of which are very faithful adaptations of the original albums) and even a musical was produced in Belgium.  The ubiquity of Tintin in Western Europe may signify that the once colonizing continent has not lost touch with a childlike and maybe doting but also promise-filled wonder of the world.

1 Comment »

  1. I love Tintin!
    I didn’t know if it is popular in USA or not. My generation grown up with this stories. I have the Farsi translation of all 24 books and I have all the DVDs. Never get tired of reading or watching them, although I almost know everything by heart! 🙂

    Comment by mojde — November 12, 2009 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

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