Saturday, June 30, 2012

Herge’s Baby
A Note

Henri Remi "Herge"

The Adventures of Tintin which opened just before Christmas 2011 was one of the few movies of 2011 that I had much desire to see.

Like hundreds of millions of people the world over I grew up on Tintin has a child enjoying the adventures and misadventures of the boy Reporter.

Henri Remi, who signed himself Herge, the Belgian artist who created the character and series of graphic novels, was without a doubt a cartooning genius. The seeming simplicity and overt slap stick of much of the cartoon he drew do not disguise the sheer cleverness and artistry of his creations.1

Herge created Tintin in the 1920’s for the Belgian newspaper? And even then it attracted much attention, making Herge a celebrity in his native Belgium. Before the war Herge wrote and drew many adventures for his boy reporter which gradually became popular throughout Western Europe. During the war Herge continued to draw and publish Tintin, despite Belgium being occupied by the Germans, becoming one of the few artists in Western Europe to stay prosperous during the war.2

Tintin and his dog Snowy

After the war Tintin became a world-wide phenomenon and was translated into dozens of languages. So that by the time Herge died in 1983 he was probably the best known cartoonist on the planet.

Herge style and technique of drawing any story telling as the following basic points. In the drawing for example Herge hardly ever used shading; colours are primary and one shade generally. Human figures are semi realistic with strong elements of caricature in them. Heads tend to be larger than in real life in proportion to the rest of the human body for example. Also Herge relied on for the humor of his comic on sight gags and visual humor.

Regarding the stories Herge wrote. Firstly there was always a strong element of satire in Herge’s stories and the absurd. The stories always took place in the present day, which would be the time in which the Herge wrote his stories. Thus if Herge wrote / drew a story in the 1930’s the story would take place in the 1930’s. If Herge wrote / drew it in the 1970’s it would take place in the 1970’s.

Another principle is that Herge’s character’s never age. Tintin remains always 16-17 years of age for example; and no one draws attention to changes in technology or dress between Tintin written in the 1920’s and Tintin in the 1970’s.
Another of the elements of Herge’s creation is the attention to detail. One of the jokes of the comic was that when Herge had people thinking in a foreign language he would frequently have their thought or talking balloons in that language. For example the use of an Indian alphabet to convey meaning in the graphic Novel Tintin in Tibet as thought balloons in an Indian based alphabet. Now Herge could not read or write in such a language however in his quest for “realism” he made damn sure that although practically no one in Europe could read it, such thought / speech balloons are not nonsense they say perfectly sensible things in that language. It is said Herge had language experts from Belgian Universities check out such things.

Perhaps the most iconic example of Herge’s care for detail and accuracy is his The Blue Lotus. Since The Blue Lotus takes place in China in the 1930’s there are a lot of Chinese advertisements and posters in the background all of which make perfect sense in Mandarin. Further Herge did considerable research to ensure that the settings and other details were right.

Another characteristic of Herge’s style is his love of slap stick. The main victim in his comics is the lovable, cantankerous Captain Haddock, although even the boy hero Tintin gets humiliated by absurd pratfalls at times.

The other noticeable thing about Herge’s style is its deceptive simplicity. Everything seems so simple almost childish on the surface and yet deep realms of complexity and care lie below the surface giving rise to reflection and humor.

When Herge died in 1983 he left the rough draft of part of a graphic novel called Tintin and Alpha-Art. His family requested that no one continue to produce Tintin graphic novels and at least officially no-one has. There are a few unofficial versions of Tintin and Alpha-Art, some parodies and one officially sanctioned serious real novel. But it appears we will have to wait until copyright expires to get more Tintin.3

Captain Haddock

1. Herge, Wikipedia Here. For a complete listing of Herge’s graphic Tintin novels see The Adventures of Tintin, Wikipedia Here.

2. Herge.

3. IBID. The Novel is Tintin in the New World: A Romance, by Frederic Tuten, 1993, Black Classic Press, New York.

Pierre Cloutier

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