Sunday, March 25, 2012


(Georges Remi)

(22/05/1907 - 3/3/1983, Belgium)

Tintin - Red Rackham's Treasure
Tintin - Red Rackham's Treasure
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Hergé, a pseudonym of Georges Remi's initials (G.R.) in reverse (R.G.), is the creator of the highly popular comic character 'Tintin'. This famous Belgian artist is often considered to be the most influential European comic artist ever and his "clear line" style was widely copied by new generation of comic artists. Born in Etterbeek, Brussels, Georges Prosper Remi, like so many other Catholic boys, joined the boy scouts - an experience which greatly influenced his personality. In fact, the character Tintin was often compared with the stereotype of a boy scout.

Totor, by Hergé 1926
Totor, C.D. des Hannetons
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Hergé started his artistic career in a scouting magazine, Le Boy-Scout Belge, at first with illustrations, but later also with his first comic strip, 'Totor, C.D. des Hannetons', a predecessor of Tintin (1926). Hergé had been employed by the right-wing Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle since 1925, where at first he worked at the subscriptions department. By 1928, the paper's editor-in-chief, the priest, or "Abbé", Norbert Wallez asked Hergé to set up the youth supplement of the paper, Le Petit Vingtième.

original of the first Tintin story, by Hergé 1929
Tintin au Pays des Soviets
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

It was in this supplement, that on the 10th of January, 1929, the first episode of 'Tintin in the Land of the Soviets' ('Tintin au Pays des Soviets') was printed. Soon this pioneering European adventure series was a major hit, with a huge crowd welcoming a real life Tintin actor when he "returned to Brussels" after his adventures in the east. After this first adventure, Hergé sent his young reporter to Africa, the USA and Egypt. The early Tintin adventures were rather location driven and full of racist stereotypes, prompted by the time they were created in. The discussion about the publication 'Tintin in Africa' is still a hot topic, even today.

Tintin au Congo by Herge
Tintin au Congo
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

However, Hergé develivered his first masterpiece with 'The Blue Lotus' ('Le Lotus Bleu') in 1936, an episode in which Tintin traveled to the Far East. The depictions of the Chinese people were rather atypical for the time. Unlike the previous episodes, the story is characterized by its well-documented cultural and geographical accuracy, mainly thanks to Tchang Tchong-jen, a Chinese who studied in Brussels. From now on, the characters carried the stories and not so much the locations they visited.

Covers vor Le Petit Vingtième (30/5/1935 and 19/1/1939)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

In the following stories, 'The Broken Ear' (1937), 'The Black Island' (1938) and 'King Ottokar's Sceptre' (1939), Hergé's scriptwriting and graphics improved even more. By now, Tintin had also gained popularity outside of Belgium, since his adventures were also printed in Coeurs Vaillants in France and in O Papagaio in Portugal. Le XXe Siècle published the first Tintin book collections, but it was the Tournay based publisher Louis Casterman who would publish the Tintin books from 1934 onwards.

Quick et Flupke by Herge
Quick et Flupke
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Throughout the 1930s, Tintin was hardly Hergé's only activity. Together with colleagues like Jean Vermeire (Jiv), Eugène van Nijverseel (Evany) and Paul Jamin (Jam) he was largely responsible for the entire content of Le Petit Vingtième. While sending Tintin to far-off locations, he found inspiration in his own childhood in Brussels for his gag series about the two mischievous boys 'Quick et Flupke', that appeared in the supplement from 1930. He also experimented with other comics, like the animal story 'Popol et Virginie chez les lapinos' (1934) and two stories with 'Jo, Zette et Jocko' (1935-37), but these were shortlived. Hergé also provided many drawings for books, advertisements and magazines.

Jo, Zette et Jocko  by Herge
Jo, Zette et Jocko - Le Stratoneff H 22 (Petit Vingtième #26, 1938)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

When the Second World War broke out, Le Vingtième Siècle disappeared, leaving Tintin in the middle of the desert in the story 'Land of Black Gold' ('Tintin au pays de l'or noir'). Hergé then made a decission that would cause him a lot of criticism in later years - he found employment with Le Soir, a paper that was by then under German supervision. He filled the juvenile supplement Le Soir Jeunesse together with Jacques van Melkebeke and Paul Jamin, where he was able to continue the adventures of his star reporter.

Quick et Flupke by Herge
Quick et Flupke
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Despite of the tensions of the war, Hergé crafted some of his best stories during the 1940-45 period, often in collaboration with Van Melkebeke for the plots and the scripts. Hergé's style matured even more into the Clear Line as we know today in stories like 'The Crab with the Golden Claws' (1941), 'The Shooting Star' (1942), 'The Secret of the Unicorn' (1943) and 'Red Rackham's Treasure' (1944). He also introduced colorful new characters like Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus (Tournesol).

It was also a fruitful period on other artistic fields - Hergé and Jacques van Melkebeke wrote two Tintin plays. The adventures of Tintin, or 'De Avonturen van Kuifje', were introduced to the Dutch speaking audience in Het Laatste Nieuws, a paper that was also under German supervision.

The Crab with the golden claws by Herge
First meeting between Tintin and Captain Haddock
(Le Soir Jeunesse, 9 January 1941)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Though it was not completely clear whether Hergé was actually "wrong" during the war, he always claimed to have no pro-german sympathies, it is certain that he has made some anti-semitic cartoons and illustrations. Even his Tintin story 'The Shooting Star' features some stereotypical depictions of Jews. His collaboration and the sometimes anti-semitic elements in his work left him a "persona non grata" for a long time in Belgium after the war.

Jo, Zette et Jocko, by Hergé
Jo, Zette et Jocko
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

After the liberation, Hergé got a ban from publication in newspapers. He continued to work on a project that he had started back in 1942, reworking the old Tintin stories for publication in color albums. Hergé got assistance from former opera singer Edgar Pierre Jacobs, who redrew and colored the early Tintin albums, starting with 'Tintin in Africa'. Lettering and certain plot developments were also revised, while later stories were merely mounted from 3 to 4 strips per page. By now, the Tintin books were not only published in French, but also in Dutch. And more translations would follow.

Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé
Cover drawing for Tintin issue 3, 1947
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Hergé got the opportunity to continue Tintin's new adventures when publisher Raymond Leblanc proposed him to launch the character's own magazine. The first issue of Tintin magazine appeared in September 1946 under editorial command of Jacques van Melkebeke, who was replaced by André Fernez a couple of months later. Hergé had complete artistic control over the magazine's content. 'Prisoners of the Sun' ('Le Temple du Soleil') was the first Tintin story to be published in the magazine. Other artists besides Hergé that filled the early issues were Edgar Pierre JacobsPaul Cuvelier and Jacques Laudy.

Mannen op de maan by Herge
The world's second most famous moon landing (1953)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Hergé assembled more assistants around him when Jacobs left in 1947 and the official Studio Hergé was launched in 1950. Artists like Guy Dessicy and Franz Jagueneau joined the team, as did the colorists Josette Baujot, France Ferrari and Fanny Vlamynck. The latter would become Hergé's second wife after his divorce from Germaine Kieckens. In 1954, the team was reinforced by Jo-El AzaraBob de Moor and Jacques Martin, who brought along his own assistants Roger Leloup and Michel Desmarets.

L'Affaire Tournesol by Hergé
The famous plaster sequence from L'Affaire Tournesol (1955)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Tintin's star was rising, but Hergé's increasing depressions and marital problems caused for longer and longer gaps between new stories. Even the publication of running stories was often interupted. This didn't stop Hergé from making some of his most memorable stories, such as the moon cycle, 'Tintin in Tibet' (1958-59), Hergé's most personal and emotional work, and the hilarious 'Castafiore Emerald' (1961-62). The studios continued to rework and update older stories, while also producing artwork for merchandise.

Tintin au Tibet, by Hergé
Tintin au Tibet (1959, unpublished in album)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

The final completed Tintin story was 1976's 'Tintin and the Picaros', which is often considered Hergé's worst effort. One of the reasons a lot of fans were disappointed was that Tintin wore jeans in this story instead of his usual tan pants. Hergé's reunion with Tchang Tchong-jen was widely covered by the media in 1981, but by then the artist was already ill from what was presumably leukemia or porphyria. Hergé passed away in March 1983 at the age of 75. His death made headlines all over the world. His work-in-progress 'Tintin et l'Alph-art' was published posthumously, unfinished and in sketched-out form.

Castafiore Emerald by Herge
Professor Tournesol, "inventor" of colour tv (from: The Castafiore Emerald)
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Tintin has known several adaptations to cinema, the first attempt was the 1947 puppet film based on 'The Crab with the Golden Claws'. Two real live action films followed in 1961 and 1964 starring sports instructor Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin. An animated TV series was made by Belvision between 1958 and 1962. The studio, part of the publishing house Lombard, also made a feature film based on 'The Temple of the Sun' in 1969 and 'Tintin and the Lake of Sharks' in 1972, based on an original script by Greg. The latest version was the 2011 3D motion picture 'The Adventures of Tintin' by Steven Spielberg.

Coke en Stock by Herge
Tintin - Coke en Stock
©Hergé/Moulinsart 2012

Hergé's legacy is carefully guarded by his widow, who closed the Hergé Studios and launched the Hergé Foundation in 1987, which is known as Moulinsart S.A. since 1996. Together with her new husband, business man Nick Rodwell, she is notorious for making strict and sometimes controversial copyright claims regarding her late husband's works.

Those willing to delve deeper into the life and works of one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, are highly recommended to check out Benoît Peeters 'Le Monde d'Hergé', an excellent effort to put Hergé and his work in context. Recently, the trio of Stanislas, Fromental and Bocquet added an excellent Hergé comic biography to the must-have list for all Tintin fans.

Studio Herge in 1956
Studio Hergé in 1956:
Bob de Moor, Jo-El Azara, Jacques Martin, Michel Desmarets,
Baudouin van den Branden de Reeth, Josette Baujot, Hergé, France Ferrari,
Fanny Vlamynck and Alexis Remi (Hergé's father)

The Official Tintin website
(English, French, Japanese)

The Great Wave off Kanagawa [a]
ArtistKatsushika Hokusai
Yearc. 1829–32
Typecolor woodcut
Dimensions25.7 cm × 37.8 cm (10.1 in × 14.9 in)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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