The works of Hergé: Tintin and his friends
From his first publication in Le Boy-scout belge to the consecration with Tintin magazine, Hergé was 60 years long the leader of the Belgian comic strip. His style, characterized by an attention to detail, gained many admirers and almost as many followers. In perpetual development, his personality, hidden behind the comforting face of Tintin, was very complex. Hergé’s real name was Georges Rémi and he was born in Brussels on May 22, 1907. He joined a Belgian scout troop in 1921 and his first drawings appeared in Le Boy-scout belge. From 1924, Georges Rémi signed his drawings as his initials “R.G.” are pronounced in French, Hergé 1. In 1928, he was named editor-in-chief of Le Petit Vingtième, the weekly children’s supplement to the newspaper Le XXè Siècle.
On January 10, 1929, Tintin and his dog Snowy were born and they first traveled to the Land of the Soviets. During the first years, Hergé drew Tintin stories only for amusement. But before The Blue Lotus, in 1934, he met a young Chinese student, Chang Chong-Chen, and he began to take his work seriously, an immense change explained below. On May 10, 1940, Belgium was invaded by German troops, causing the death of Le XXè Siècle and the suspension of Tintin in the Land of Black Gold, the episode in progress. Hergé began another adventure, The Crab with the Golden Claws, published in Le Soir, one of the only newspapers the German occupation authorized. In 1942, Casterman Publishing House, aiming to publish standardized 64-page books in full color, asked Hergé to start adapting previous episodes to fit these new guidelines. So, after the war, Hergé founded the Hergé Studios and recruited collaborators to help him. Later, in 1958, he completed Tintin in Tibet, an important episode that had great personal significance. Hergé died on March 3, 1983. The last Tintin story, Tintin and Alph-Art was published unfinished, following Hergé’s wishes 2.
Like Hergé, Tintin is by profession a reporter, but he writes an article only in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. He is clever, courageous and invincible, but he has no remarkable features like other characters. If he is observed attentively, he seems unreal. His name does not mean anything in French, only his quiff is out of the ordinary in a very ordinary face. The reader do not know anything about his age, his sexuality and his character. But this is not a weakness. Thanks to his vagueness, Tintin goes through history without any problem, being a guerilla in Tintin and the Picaros after having a colonialist attitude in Tintin in the Congo. He is the ideal hero. Everybody, young or old, boy or girl, French or Chinese, can imagine living through Tintin’s adventures.
Around this character, Hergé added many figures. Snowy, a white fox-terrier, is Tintin’s faithful companion, but he has a central part only in early stories, until the introduction of Captain Haddock in The Crab with the Golden Claws. Haddock is sometimes considered the most interesting character in Tintin stories. He is impulsive and generous and his penchant for whisky is famous, as are his insults (more than 200). Compared to these three characters, the two policemen Thomson and Thompson - who are almost identical but are not brothers - personify stupidity. They are as essential as the insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg, certainly the most realistic and the most contemporary character imagined by Hergé. He was introduced in The Calculus Affair, in which Professor Cuthbert Calculus, who is hard of hearing but a brilliant inventor, is kidnapped. The professor is very sentimental, especially when Bianca Castafiore, the Milanese Nightingale, comes. She is the cause of some confusion in an unusual Tintin story, The Castafiore Emerald. But Tintin, Captain Haddock, Thomson and Thompson and Bianca Castafiore are only the main characters among hundreds of immortal creations of “the Balzac of the comic strip.” 3
Thanks notably to these extraordinary characters, Tintin stories always succeed in achieving their aim, which was to inform and to entertain the reader. At the beginning, Hergé denounces atrocities perpetrated by Communists in the Land of the Soviets, then he produces propaganda on the Congo to attract settlers to the enormous Belgian colony. Later, he could through the medium of Tintin travel to America, where the reporter must fight against Al Capone in person. Tintin continues his exploration of the world and travels to Egypt in Cigars of the Pharoah, the first adventure with some mystery and fantastic elements.
But in spite of their qualities, the first four Tintin stories were not completely satisfactory. Drawing was only a game for Hergé. Everything changed with The Blue Lotus and the meeting with Chang. Hergé discovered the Chinese civilization and learned about traditional Chinese painting, a basis of his ligne claire drawing style. This style is characterized by a drawing with continuous lines. Hergé’s work was considerably modified by this meeting and, in The Blue Lotus, he showed that he was committed to the Chinese cause. But with Tintin’s next stories, Hergé returned to adventure in Tintin and the Broken Ear and to detective stories in The Black Island. Then King Ottokar’s Sceptre described in detail the events before the Second World War through the failed Anschluss of the Syldavian kingdom. During the war, the serialization of The Crab with the Golden Claws, in which Captain Haddock gets into action, was disrupted by the shortage of paper and Hergé had to adapt his work. The chaos in the beginning of The Shooting Star is a metaphor for the war, but threatened by the censor, Hergé got rid of current events more and more and he related a treasure hunt in The Secret of the Unicorn and its sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure.
After the war, The Seven Crystal Balls and its sequel Prisoners of the Sun, which was published in the new Tintin magazine, were a fantastic adventure. Afterwards, Hergé returned to the story interrupted by the war, Land of Black Gold, an adventure in the Middle East. After the famous moon exploration in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, Hergé drew The Calculus Affair, then The Red Sea Sharks, in which he denounced slavery. These were followed by the mystic Tintin in Tibet, The Castafiore Emerald, an unusual Tintin story with no adventure, and Flight 714, his first science-fiction story. After a return to politically committed stories with Tintin and the Picaros, Hergé became interested in modern art, but Tintin and Alph-Art was only an outline when he died in 1983.