Several years ago our family took over a 16th century retreat in southern Spain. Our host, Javier Lopez, turned out to be a Tintin collector. Spanish translations of Tintin comics were stashed all over the place. Being familiar with some of the classic Tintin stories, I took this as an opportunity to improve my Spanish. Proceeding chronologically through the books from 1929 to 1970, I came to realize that Tintin’s creator was more and more demanding of social responsibility in his art.
Not only was I learning about other lands and cultures, I was moving from adventure, conflict and violence to refined resourcefulness, personal courage and a call for universal fraternity. Herge, the creator of Tintin, grew with his boy-reporter, adding character traits as needed. Over the years Tintin experienced Soviet socialism, got mixed up in a Middle Eastern oil war, and took part in the American Revolution. He lampooned Hitler, busted up an opium ring in China, and rode in a Moon-rocket. Throughout, we see an imperfect world through the eyes of a decent kid who is able to transform events with humanistic wisdom. For millions of young people, Tintin was (and still is) not just an introduction to foreign lands, but a demonstration of clear thinking through empirical knowledge.
If you happen to be in Paris any time soon, there’s a Herge retrospective in the Pompidou Center . It’s the hundredth year of Herge’s birth. Large paintings of Tintin, his dog Snowy, and other Herge characters now hang alongside the Lichtensteins and Warhols influenced by him. Born in Etterbeek, Belgium in 1907, as a teenager Herge began what he described as a “clear line” style. He was to become a role model for comic illustrators. Credited with being the first practitioner of the “Graphic Novel,” Herge soon figured out that art can proliferate. His published art proliferated brilliantly in 60 languages.
Of the hundreds of books on Tintin phenomena, as well as a slew of biographies, Herge, Son of Tintin by Benoit Peeters is most penetrating. While started innocently enough, Herge’s art became an all-consuming obsession. Not surprisingly, the artist is subsumed by the art he creates.
PS: “I have just discovered that Tintin is no longer me, and if he is to go on living, the artificial respiration I shall have to practice will continue to exhaust me more and more.” (Herge (Georges Remi) 1907—1983)
Esoterica: Tintin is a world-wide phenomenon that has spawned Tintinology, Tintinophilia, Tintinolatry and Tintinadulation. Pundits continue to look for levels of meaning, while the artist’s personal problems, depressions and epiphanies are intensely studied. Herge’s varied politics are a happy hunting ground for sleuthing. In 2005 the Dali Lama posthumously honored Herge with the “Light of Truth Award” for the comic “Tintin in Tibet.” The exiled spiritual leader said Herge had brought an understanding of his country to a wider world. Herge made annual resolutions but would not be hurried with his projects. Please feel free to send your own New Year’s Resolutions to us . We’ll keep them in confidence for the next 365 days and return them to you on January 1, 2008. May your New Year be full of transformation.
Tintin by Hergé (1907-1983)
Vision into the human psyche
by Madison Mason, New York City, NY, USA
I’ve been a fan and admirer of Herge and Tintin and, oddly enough, collected all the old hardbacks in French, which is how I helped myself learn to speak “people” French as opposed to the textbook stuff. I thought I was alone in my appreciation and was the only one who got everything that you pointed out in this letter. Clearly I was wrong. One interesting point that bears mentioning also, I think, is the incisive vision Herge had into the human psyche and emotions as well and the fact that he drew (and I don’t just mean graphically) indelible and timeless characters with the accuracy of Shakespeare. And I think it is the measure of the man that, recognizing he had reached the end of the race, he stopped running and finished when he did. A lot of people could learn from that one.
(RG note) Thanks, Madison. For those who might not be aware, Herge willed that his work not be carried on by another author, and, with the exception of a few minor skirmishes, Tintin was to be wound up at the same time he was.
by John Hulsey, KS, USA
When I first came across the Tintin stories 25 years ago it was a revelation to me. Remi’s attention to detail and precise drawing instantly appealed to me. But perhaps more inspiring are the delicate colorings and blendings of color wash in the drawings — a rare thing in comics, requiring extra effort by Remi and his staff, and extra printing expense to get those colors right. Of course the stories are fun, but the art is what knocked me over. I still collect the Tintin books, and read them just for pure pleasure and enjoyment. I am trying to find all the books in the original French, as I noticed that the translation to English sometimes leaves out important idiomatic expressions of the day. What a joy!
Tintin in bed
by Gabriella Morrison, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
My introduction to Tintin books was during the mid-sixties when I worked as an au-pere in Neuilly for an Egyptian/French family. The lovely Sunday morning tradition they practiced was for the whole family to lie abed, visiting from bed to bed with volumes of Tintin, reading with each other. Tremendous fun! We introduced this practice to our family while raising our son in the ’70s and ’80s. We had every volume of the English translations and would pore over the illustrations with great pleasure and discuss the adventures of Tintin, Snowy and the Professor, the diverse places these took place in, and the moral of the stories. We pulled out the globe and the atlases to pinpoint areas where the stories took place. It was a lovely way to all pile into bed with piles of books, drink hot chocolate and spend valuable time with each other. The Tintin books establish a love of narrative, both verbal and illustrative, and encourage children to make their own versions of illustrated stories to share their increasing understanding of the complexity of the world. I hope they keep being reprinted forever! Herge is a cultural icon!
A gender lack
by Roberta Faulhaber, Paris, France
I’ve been a Tintin fan from my childhood in France and onwards. But even as a child, I was disappointed by the total lack of female characters worthy of the name. Difficult to identify with the Castifiora, remarkable as she is. I guess no one’s perfect. Bit of an Achilles heel though.
(RG note) Thanks, Roberta. Much has been written about the lack of women in Herge’s works. The fingers point to his reported childhood abuse, reputed lack of insight or curiosity about the female species, and his disproportionate fascination with younger women.
A visit to Tintin headquarters
by Frank Ansley, St. Helena, CA, USA
In 1970 my new wife and I took our first trip to Europe. We brought along a reel of abstract animation (done on computers by a studio in San Francisco) to show to any design firms we happened to visit. In Brussels we went to see some film artists in an office building that had a huge cutout of Tintin and his dog on the roof. Tintin’s publisher was in that building and the film artists were working on animation for Tintin, a cowboy character named Lucky Luke, and some others. I don’t recall that we met Herge but we did meet Raoul Servais, one of the top European artists doing animated films. We were not only given studio tours but were invited to dinner that night with Mssr. Servais.
by Simon Collins, Sydney, Australia
Suddenly it’s clear why Bill Leak, portrait artist and cartoonist for The Australian newspaper uses Tintin to depict our new alternative Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
(RG note) Thanks, Simon. As several readers pointed out, Herge’s character Tintin has been widely copied and modified. The political cartoon is relatively innocent, but there are actual pirated translations and re-drawings of the Tintin stories. Those who do not want to get into legal hassles do what’s called ‘smart copying.’ They keep the original storyline intact, but re-draw the whole artwork. Parvathi Chithira Kathaigal is a children’s magazine in South India published often in Tamil that has been responsible for many of these “pickups.” Herge’s style has influenced not only the comic industry but the art industry as well. Andy Warhol, described as “stalled in adolescence,” took not only the Tintin character but the drawing style to heart.
Black and white in colour
by Cathy Johnson, MO, USA
I was one of many young things hired just out of school by Hallmark Cards. I was in a department that I believe no longer exists, since color separation is surely done by computer now — a department called “Key Black.” I learned to look for gradations of gray/black under the colors, and the artwork was indeed rich and deep and full when we finished. I wonder if those who make — pardon the pun! — black and white statements about black and white are more likely to be watercolorists? There is a very strong bent toward “pure aquarelle” in our field. I don’t arbitrarily ban ANY pigment from my palette… I don’t use black frequently, not as frequently as you suggested, but I’m interested in going back to my origins to explore it once again.
Art and eye disorders
by Mary Guillaume, St. Jacobs, ON, Canada
After reading your muse on Monet’s water lilies at l’Orangerie and revisiting those misty images, I found myself thinking again about vision problems known to have afflicted famous artists. By the time Monet painted those lovely images, he was suffering from cataracts and from the fear of complete loss of sight which was the fate of those so afflicted at that period. As well, I suspected for many years that van Gogh had glaucoma and probably myopia because, having both those afflictions myself, I could relate well to those halos around lights and stars (which appear whenever I’m not wearing my glasses).
Art, Aging and the Disordered Eye (affiliated with the University of Calgary), catalogues artists who have suffered from visual disorders. As well as myopia and astigmatism from the age of 6, and now having had cataracts removed from both eyes and dealing with the on-going problems of glaucoma, I’m particularly interested to learn about the vision problems of Mary Cassatt (cataracts), Monet (cataracts), Van Gogh (possibly glaucoma – among other health and vision problems), Cezanne (myopia), Renoir (myopia), Degas (retinopathy); Rembrandt (old-eye), and El Greco (possibly astigmatism) as well as other suspected astigmatics – Holbein, Botticelli, Titian, Modigliani and Sargent. I’m fascinated by the idea that so much wonderful art has been produced by artists with common visual disorders.
(RG note) Thanks, Mary. A previous letter on this topic is here.
Sources of ‘transparent black’
by Anne McClelland, Mountain View, AB, Canada
Do you know if the ‘transparent black’ made by Art Spectrum of Australia is a black similar to Gamblin’s (i.e. made from two complementary colours) Chromatic Black? I can’t seem to find pigment information anywhere about the Art Spectrum Colours on their website. I just wondered if you had any experience with it. It was recommended to me by a fellow painter in NZ but I haven’t yet obtained a tube to try.
(RG note) Thanks, Ann. The Art Spectrum people are known for their thorough grinding — a quality that has endeared them to the Royal Academy in the UK. It’s the small size of the particles that makes for transparency, and it’s possible that lamp or other blacks might be more finely ground. Art Spectrum does not wish to disclose the composition of their transparent black. But, like Gamblin’s product, it’s undoubtedly a combination of two modern dye-like pigments such as Quinacridone Red and Phthalo Emerald. Holbein is another maker that does not divulge the composition of its “transparent black.” LeFranc & Bourgeois, however, claim their transparent black is made from carbon.
There is 1 comment for Sources of ‘transparent black’ by Anne McClelland
Conserving creative energy
by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA
I conserve my energy for moments of real exposure and vulnerability, through which I know I can reach greatness, yes, greatness. It exists and it is accessible. I hope I never have to look a color in the eye and dictate presence, I feel better hiding behind a color because it is always in the first row anyway. Conserving energy is the most important fact in having the no choice urina. To know that in the advanced level of self awareness tiny things can cause a lot of damage, tiny issues and subject matters can bring a lot of disorientation. And all I want is to create. I do not want to give myself a hard time. I do not want others to give me a hard time. And I do not want to give others a hard time. Identifying energy draining factors is a real art and therefore should be taught. I try to improve my chances of survival as an artist by honestly trying to cross barriers and to constantly use the available alternatives.
by Zoe Williams, Wagoner, OK, USA
I just fell in love with the engaging paintings in this PowerPoint presentation. I can not figure out who the artist is or where the PPS originates from. Can you help me? I am not certain every painting is the same artist but most are. Thank you for your time and your twice weekly letters. They are appreciated by a large number of Art Therapists, myself included.
(RG note) Thanks, Zoe. I couldn’t get the name, but I’m sure there will be readers who will. We’ll send a free copy of the Painter’s Keys book to the first who can inform us about this puzzle.
watercolor painting by Nicholas Simmons, Washington, DC, USA
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes JoRene Newton who wrote, “The violence in today’s modern comics is not healthy for the young. We need a more humanitarian approach to comics. Tintin did just that.”
And also Marion Barnett of the UK who wrote, “I taught myself idiomatic German by reading Asterix translations. My French was good, so it was easy enough to work out the more obscure meanings. Uderzo’s illustrations are soooo French… and sooo wonderful.”
And also Luke Charchuk of Surrey, BC, Canada who wrote, “Regarding black, even black people are not black. They are simply way more colourful than white people.”
And also Joyce Wycoff of Bakersfield, CA, USA who wrote, “While other newsletters come and go, yours are treasured, not only for the art knowledge, stimulation, and encouragement, but also for the sheer joy of life they bring.”
And also Prem Singh of New Delhi, India who wrote, “There is a growing popularity and sale of art works these days. How do you see celebrities (actors, actresses, politicians, social activists and so forth) indulging themselves in painting or other art forms — making art a laughing stock. Should the real artists try to stem this rot?” (RG note) Thanks, Prem. No.
And also Jane Champagne of Southampton, ON, Canada who wrote, “Your columns make a difference in thousands of people’s lives; the last few for me were particularly touching. Following in the footsteps of Monet (I painted his bridge); Renoir (I drove up his mountain — hair-raising!) — add Cezanne, whose studio I visited twice and painted his mountain, had more to do with forming me as an artist than closed–in sessions of life drawing, or any other formal art school lesson. The air you breathe just as much as the sights you see fills you with beauty and the determination to emulate the ways of these painters.”
And also Joby Ravindran of Kerala, India who wrote, “You giving me the right inspiration, great notes. As a student I really enjoy for giving the informations as a Art Teacher. Did you ever come to Kerala, India? If not just arrange a trip to our God’s own country. I’m right now in Kochi and my proper place is Palakkad. Now going with outdoor paintings, sketching and doing Kerala Murals also. I wants to be an artist and you giving me the fuel. Thanks.”
And also Buzz Balzer of Cashton, WI, USA who wrote, “I’ve been receiving your twice-weekly letters for some time now and generally enjoy them, however the recent letter A social phenomenon irked me to the point of a response. I’m talking about your cheap comment about this world needing fewer gun clubs was way out of bounds. I’m a hunter and a painter and have been for as long as I can remember. How dare you insinuate that there is somehow something wrong with gun owners or gun clubs? Your ignorance is truly stunning. I urge you to stick to art content in your letters and stay away from cheap shot politics.”