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Hergé and Tintin: A Primer

Herge and Tintin

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to a classic artist and character…

Hergé was born Georges Remi; the name Hergé comes from the French pronunciation of the initials RG. In the 1920s, he produced a comic strip starring a young adult named Tintin who was ostensibly a reporter and travelled widely. Tintin was an overnight success and Hergé produced several more stories (including the controversial Tintin in the Congo) over the next several years.

The best of these books is The Blue Lotus, chronicling Tintin’s trip to China. This book was also the best-researched book to date and is markedly better than previous works. This story is also notable for the fact that it includes a depiction of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

[ad#longpost]During World War II, Hergé (who lived in occupied Brussels) produced a series of avowedly non-political works that were straightforward action stories for Le Soir, a newspaper that had been appropriated as a mouthpiece for occupation forces. This caused problems for Hergé after the war, as the policy had been that journalists who worked for collaborationist newspapers were to be blackballed from further employment.

Eventually, Hergé was given support to start up Tintin magazine, where he continued publication of his stories, but he used the interval to clean up and colorize his older stories (which often involved completely redrawing them) for release as collected albums. Many of the offensive details from the earlier stories were removed during this process.

From the first Tintin adventure
From the first Tintin adventure

The weekly Tintin magazine also featured works from other Belgian cartoonists, most notably Edgar Jacobs, whose Blake and Mortimer stories were among the most popular of the backup strips. Many of the strips in Tintin magazine (including Blake and Mortimer) were drawn in the ligne clair (clear line) style, that Hergé popularized in Tintin. This style featured flat colors with little or no texture and a standard line weight for everything on the page.

The best of Hergé’s late-period work is undoubtedly Tintin in Tibet. At the time, Hergé was plagued with recurring nightmares filled with nothing but white. He used the book to exorcise these nightmares and the story is filled with page after page of white, snow-filled panels.

From Tintin in Tibet
Panels from Tintin in Tibet

Herg̩ died in 1983, leaving behind a vast legacy and the most popular character in European comics. The format of the Tintin comics magazine Рcontaining only a few pages of several ongoing series Рbecame the default release format for European comics in subsequent decades. His clear line style can still be seen from time to time today, but there was a period when it was the default choice for European cartoonists.

I am not ideologically disposed towards Top Ten lists, but Hergé is probably the most influential European comics creator, and an argument can be made that he is the father of the contemporary Francophone comics industry. In fact, it is impossible to discuss European comics in any meaningful way without mentioning Hergé or Tintin. And now you know why.

Hergé and sculpture image source.