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Hergé: The Man Behind Tintin

14 Nov 2017

By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt


Few cartoonists have sold more than 230 million copies of their work in over 100 different languages, but Tintin creator Georges Prosper Remi – more commonly known as Hergé – can hardly be described as your average comic book artist. 


Hergé’s distinctive style maps out each scene lovingly with finesse, dotted with his signature light humour and the almost obligatory spoonerisms, usually uttered by Captain Haddock – fans are familiar with the much-loved exclamations of “Blistering Barnacles!” and “Blistering blundering birdbrain!”. So apart from his drawing skills, what else do we know about the man behind the multi-million dollar boy-reporter series? 


Born in Belgium in 1907, he would go on to create The Adventures of Tintin, introducing the world to one of the 20th century’s most iconic illustrated heroes. The series would become Hergé’s most significant work from the 40-plus years of his career, journeying far beyond his death in 1983.


Growing up in a family of modest means, Hergé developed a keen love of cinema (especially of Charlie Chaplin) from a young age. He was also an avid Boy Scout, joining when he was 12 years old. Many biographers attribute this to having had a significant impact on his moral stance as well as his work. Often described as the ‘ultimate’ Boy Scout, Pierre Assouline and Charles Ruas write, in Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin, “the philosophy of Scouting was the alpha and omega of [Hergé’s] moral sense.” 


After Tintin in the Land of the Soviets first appeared in the newspaper Le Petit Vingtième in 1929, the series continued to attract fans over the following decades, although there were a few brushes with controversy. During World War II Tintin was published in Le Soir, a French newspaper that was controlled by the Nazi party, causing some disquiet among Belgian readers who branded Hergé as disloyal. However, Hergé managed to avoid too much scandal and continued, post-war, to publish the increasingly popular series. 

Hergé was extremely erudite, with an insatiable curiosity, constantly on the watch

Those who knew Hergé described him as reserved, private and (somewhat) self-absorbed, although he was incredibly loyal to his fan base, usually personally responding to any letters he received. “Hergé was extremely erudite, with an insatiable curiosity, constantly on the watch," writes his biographer Pierre Sterckx. It was perhaps this curiosity that led Hergé to take Tintin on journeys to all corners of the earth and beyond, although he himself was not an avid traveller. 


In the late 1950s, following the breakdown of his first marriage, Hergé sought psychiatric treatment for mental health issues. He also became highly critical of his later work, as Michael Farr, Tintinologist notes in his book Tintin: Complete Companion: “Hergé, a perfectionist by nature, took his time over every project. He was his sternest critic, going over every idea meticulously and sometimes laboriously.” 


The legacy Hergé left behind has changed the way the world views comics. Tintin, with his universal appeal and boyish zest for adventure, has become a timelessly classic figure that resonates with young adventurers and old-time wanderers alike. The care and fine craft with which Hergé illustrated his protégé are testament to his skill and devotion to his comic skills and the Tintin series as a whole. So it’s fair to say that what’s left behind is a whole lot more than “Blue Blistering Bell-Bottomed Balderdash!” – The Adventures of Tintin, and Hergé’s lifetime of work, will be here for a long while yet. 


Michael Farr, Tintinologist will give a lecture, ‘The Art of Tintin’ in blueprint on Saturday 18 November as part of The World of Tintin: Conferences.
Read more: https://www.eventbrite.hk/e/the-world-of-tintin-conferences-tickets-39213621999?aff=es2 

The HOCA Foundation, in collaboration with The Hergé Museum, presents THE WORLD OF TINTIN  

Wednesday – Sunday, 17 November – 10 December at the new ArtisTree. Due to popular demand, the exhibition will be open daily from 11 – 26 December.

See the Tintin programme page for more details. 


Follow @artistreehk on Instagram for all the #tintin_Artistree action


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