Cartoon Portrait

'Hergé projected everything he wanted to be onto his characters. How different the artist is from his creation is what I found to be the most interesting [about the film]," says Phillip Gay, department chair of sociology at San Diego State University. On Sunday, June 4, Gay will host a screening and discussion of the Danish documentary film Tintin and I at the San Diego Public Library. Tintin, a comic-strip character, was created by Georges Remi, whose pen name was Hergé. The comic strip, The Adventures of Tintin, began its weekly run in the Belgian publication Le Vingtième Siècle in 1929. The artist is known for ligne claire, a style of drawing that translates to "clear line." According to wikipedia.org, the style "uses clear strong lines which have the same thickness and importance" and "often features strong colours and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background." Hergé frequently drew from photographs taken of foreign locations.

Tintin and I is composed of interviews between Hergé and journalist Numa Sadoul that were taped over a period of four days in 1971 and assembled by filmmaker Anders Østergaard. The film was originally released in 2003, 20 years after Hergé's death. In Britain's DVD Times, Anthony Nield writes, "Østergaard and his own interviewees seemingly follow the example of the author insofar as the frankness and psychoanalytical approach with which he approached his own life over those four days in 1971 is mirrored elsewhere. What this means is that Tintin et Moi comes across not only as a deeply personal portrait, but also a deeply serious one."

"If I were to title the film, I'd title it Tintin et Moi, Glimpses of an Artist Who Survived," says Gay. "Hergé survived by going with the flow. He went with the flow during the '30s, when Tintin albums reflected current ideas regarding colonialism and racial superiority. During World War II, he vacillated between support and admiration for the Nazis and contempt and anti-Nazism. I'd almost venture to say that whatever political convictions he had were not deeply held, because he was willing to change and adapt."

Hergé, who never left Belgium, made Tintin a young reporter who traveled the world with his dog Snowy and friend Captain Haddock. "The character projected virtues that not only Hergé wished to embody but that also represented the nation," says Gay. "Tintin was a fresh-faced, fair-haired young Belgian boy; there is nothing ambiguous or offensive about the character. He goes and conquers and prevails." Hergé was coaxed by his mentor, the abbot Norbert Wallez, to create a character who embodied the virtues of the Catholic Church. Hergé was a devout Catholic and a Boy Scout, and he included in Tintin's profile the traits of an ideal Boy Scout, such as being trustworthy, loyal, cheerful, thrifty, and brave.

The Adventures of Tintin was most popular in Belgium and France. "Tintin amused and entertained," says Gay. "He was an unchanging youth with a spirit for adventure who adapted to foreign environments and culture. The issues [Hergé] dealt with were strictly European, like the Catholic Church and Germany and colonization. [America] didn't need Tintin. We had our own heroes. Look at our cartoons during the war period, like G.I. Joe -- they're all pro-American, anti-Nazi, and anti-Japanese. [Tintin] was not very American. [Americans] always knew [they] were the good guys."

Another reason Tintin's adventures might not have caught on in the States was the artist's affiliation with the Nazis. When the Germans occupied Belgium during the war, Hergé published his work in Le Soir, a Nazi-controlled newspaper. During this period, he was arrested four times by resistance groups for his association with the party.

The Adventures of Tintin reflected the state of the world at the time. "In one, Tintin is in the Congo, and he's basically quite racist and quite supportive of colonialism, like 'These people are not able to govern themselves; we have to go and govern them.' When [Hergé] was called on it years later, his response was, 'Well, that was then, and that was the general current thought, and I just went along with it,'" says Gay, adding that Hergé reflected public opinion but never created it.

"That's how he was able to survive -- he adapted," says Gay. "He worked eight hours a day in the same place, in the same office.... I found it fascinating that a perfectly ordinary person could create a character so extraordinary that it has such a broad appeal. He created something that was a lot greater than he was. He knew what the people wanted."

-- Barbarella

Tintin and I Film screening and discussion Sunday, June 4 2 p.m. San Diego Public Library 820 E Street Downtown Cost: Free Info: 619-236-5800 or www.sandiego.gov/public-library

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