Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Tintin and I 

The occasional really interesting programme shows up on TV. Tucked away at 10pm last night on the SBS Community channel was the excellent documentary, Tintin and I, about the life and work of Belgian artist, Georges Remi, better known as Herge. This fascinating film by Danish film-maker Anders Oestergaard, primarily made use of unaired audiotaped interviews from 1971, conducted by writer Numa Sadoul. These were often used in coordination with an oddly animated, but very effective Herge visual image (a figure done in a computer-altered line style from past footage of Herge, co-ordinated to match the audio track). Creating "artifical" visuals for the film in this manner could have been a disaster, but it worked remarkably well.

Having read Tintin: the Complete Companion, I was surprised at how much here was new, and the amazing insights into the angst of the artist himself, particularly with regard to his personal and political life, and also his working methods. I took great comfort hearing about his almost neurotic obsession with researching detail and getting things right, something I often get bogged down with, but not something to get wrong either! It serves to explain the magnificent and consistently impressive detail in the Tintin books. I also hadn't realized that Herge enlisted a full team of assistants to help on his later work (without relinquishing any creative control) but it makes sense.

While there seems little doubt that Herge had no Nazi sympathies, his decision to draw Tintin for the Nazi-controlled paper Le Soir, during the period of German-occupation, has been rightly seen as a questionable one. This film does a good job of defending his reputation by showing Herge's own views of Nazism in his work before the period of occupation (for a detailed defence see In Defence of Herge). For me, I have to reconcile this against other fine artists, such as Briton, Ron Embleton, who chose to enlist and fight during the war years. Herge has a certain humanistic idealism that often comes across as naive, but this is also part of the appeal of his central character.

Best of all, the film explained why Tintin in Tibet has long remained my personal favourite. The "white dreams" that terrified Herge at the time of the breakup of his first marriage, along with the painful transition of that part of his life - the sense of moral failure, even with this being his own choice - were all too easy for me to identify with. These are the forces at work in this particular Tintin book, lending it great emotional depth and resonance, along with Herge's need to rediscover his lost friendship with Zhang Chongren, the Chinese artist who advised and assisted him many years before on The Blue Lotus.

One more thing - shouldn't Tintin et Moi be translated as Tintin and I (which also happens to be grammatically correct)?

For more detail on this film, please see the Wikipedia. A fascinating film, and a must-see for anyone interested in Tintin, Herge, or the creative processes of comics artists in general.


Oh, I love Tintin! and Snowy , too. I've been reading the books since I was a kid. When I was about 12, I went with my mom to Montreal to see an exhibit at a Museum there (can't remember which one) that was all about Tintin and Herge's work. I wish I would've kept the poster I got, since it would probably be worth a lot now & nice to have.
Wish I'd seen the show you describe. Maybe it will show up on Public TV.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Ian. My brother and I were Tintin fans as kids. My own kids are more into Asterix.
Something that annoyed me in one article I read recently was the assumption that only male readers enjoyed Tintin, which is not my experience of the books at all!

The film was a wonderful, informative tribute and a real insight into Herge, so well worth catching. His war position is questionable unfortunately, but a lot of the best writers and artists, particularly for children, are oddly amoral in their own lives... without wanting to get into an argument with anyone about this :).

Andrea, there seem to be different times for Tintin and Asterix. I was heavily into Asterix in my teens. Of course, Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke and The Smurfs are just the tip of the iceberg for European book-type comics, most of which never seem to get translated unfortunately.
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