Celebrating ‘Tintin’ On Creator Hergé’s 107th Birthday! [Art]
Though he's hardly a household name here in the United States, even among the majority of comics fans, Hergé is a serious contender for the title of "all-time most influential comic artist". He created the globe-trotting boy reporter Tintin in 1929, and until his death in 1983, spun an ever-expanding saga that found the the intrepid lad and his supporting cast exploring the deep sea, landing on the moon, tangling with a yeti, and doing battle with an endless assortment of thieves, scoundrels, and ne'er-do-wells.
Hergé was born Georges Remi, and grew up in Brussels, Belgium, drawing at every possibly opportunity, and developing a huge appetite for books and movies. He became a Boy Scout at age 12 (and would later cite Scouting as a huge formative influence), started contributing spot illustrations to Scout publications in 1922, and began his first continuing comic strip in the pages of the national Belgian Scouting newsletter in 1926, at age 19.
Three years later, Tintin made his first appearance in a children's newspaper supplement, and over the next 54 years would star in twenty-three completed graphic albums, appear in uncountable papers and magazines, and inspire radio shows, stage productions, and numerous screen adaptations (from a stop-motion animated film in 1947 to 2011's big-budget Steven Spielberg movie).
However, one should note that Hergé's work is not devoid of troubling elements. The initial two Tintin stories trafficked heavily in racial, ethnic, and imperialist stereotypes – Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets espouses right-wing views, and Tintin In The Congo features horrifically offensive caricatures of native Africans. Today, these volumes seem at best to be inexcusably ignorant, and at worst, positively insidious. And though one must consider the prevailing attitudes of the time when placing these stories in cultural context, that in no way redeems them -- it's entirely understandable that neither of these books were available in English translations until relatively recently.
It is, however, well-documented that Hergé renounced the social elements of those stories within a few years of their initial publication, and that successive Tintin volumes convey increasingly enlightened and inclusive views (beginning with the third book, Tintin In America, which notably criticizes the American government's displacement of Native Americans).
And whatever his personal demons and ill-considered early ideology, Hergé is inarguably one of the giants of his field. In terms of worldwide recognition, he stands alongside Osamu Tezuka and Jack Kirby as one of the few universally acclaimed masters.
Even now, 38 years after the publication of the last completed Tintin book, his work continues to win over new audiences -- and it's not hard to see why. His cast of characters is brilliantly eclectic, his plots strike a careful balance of comedy and adventure, his clean, uncluttered drawing style is instantly identifiable (and virtually irresistible), and his stories and art are shot through with a good-natured enthusiasm that simply connects with readers young and old.
So to celebrate what would be Herge's 107th birthday today, I reached out to a few friends and associates to ask for their thoughts on and impressions of Tintin. A selection of the responses follow...
One of the things I always loved about Hergé's work was the spirit of adventure that he brought to Tintin. I like to imagine that, in part, it was due to the incredible influence that Scouting had on his life. As a former Boy Scout, I drew a lot of inspiration from Hergé and the crazy adventures of Tintin. The Secret Of The Unicorn and The Crab With The Golden Claws remain my favorite adventures, and I only wish my time in Scouting was filled with that sort of high adventure. There's a sort of relentlessness and earnestness that fills the pages of Tintin – they're timeless stories, without cynicism or snark.
"The book was better than the movie" is a popular maxim said whenever someone's favorite book is turned into a film that fails to capture everything they thought was special about the original work. And it's certainly true with Herge and his masterwork, Tintin. I don't mention this to pile on a movie that didn't get a lot of critical acclaim (it was actually fine and fun for its intended audience. But that audience didn't include people weened on the strip itself). Rather, I say it to remind the world, especially those in this mostly Tintin-free part of the world, that Herge's source material is better than the movie. And it's also better than a good chunk of the other comics released in the 20th century. Memorable characters, high adventure, dastardly villains, beautiful locales and captivating storylines were Herge's stock in trade, and he was a true master craftsman. He made comics that truly were for all ages--not a children's book series, but one that has great appeal for everyone.
When I was in Angouleme, France, a couple years ago, there was a giant Herge head sculpture in the city. And my one thought about it after having read so much Tintin and being awed by it, is that the statue wasn't large enough. He was a true giant and his work looms even larger.
One of my earliest childhood memories is desperately wishing I could read Explorers On The Moon all by myself – but happily sitting in my mother's arms as she explained the words to me, teaching me as we went along. I literally learned to read by reading comics – and from Tintin in particular. I loved and shared Tintin with my parents. And although they have sadly since passed away, every time I re-read those books – which I do annually – I can feel my parents' presence at my side. Thank you for the fantastic explorations, Hergé – and for bringing my parents back to me, every single year. Happy Birthday!
(All quotes and images in this post are exclusive to Comics Alliance, and © their respective creators.)