Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review: THE ADVENTURES OF HERGE by Bocquet, Fromental, and Stanislas (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012)

This project -- a sort of pictorial biography of the creator of TINTIN, drawn in a style at least faintly resembling Herge's famed "clear line" and formatted in the manner of a classic TINTIN album, right down to the page count -- is frankly a bit mystifying.  People familiar with Herge's life and work will not learn very much that is new.  At the same time, despite the presence of a helpful "cast of characters" (complete with headshots) at the back of the book, TINTIN neophytes will probably be quite confused the first time that they read it.  So who is most likely to mine enjoyment out of this?  Two groups come to mind: (1) the longtime "true TINTIN believers" who simply must own any and all Herge-related products and will thoroughly recognize and appreciate the various visual references to Herge's stories that crop up from time to time; (2) people who were intrigued by the recent feature film but aren't necessarily committed enough in their interest in TINTIN to essay a full-scale Herge bio, or even to read the albums.  For the latter group, THE ADVENTURES OF HERGE is a convenient, and highly enjoyable, "two-for-one" experience: a good place to learn a little something about Herge's life and get an idea as to what a TINTIN album is "supposed" to look like.

Artist Stanislas Barthelemy wisely doesn't essay a full-blown swipe of Herge's style.  His somewhat sketchy interpretation of same looks more like a cross between Herge's earliest work and the highly stylized approach of a John Held Jr.  This puts some useful artistic "distance" between the "hard-PG" narrative, with its scenes of nude portraiture, occasional use of harsh language, and depictions of marital infidelity, and a typical TINTIN narrative, which Herge famously said was created for everyone from ages 7 to 77.  The distinction is especially effective when Stanislas consciously parodies famous scenes from TINTIN albums.  Nowhere is it more so than in the scene in which Herge is freed from the jail where he had been held as a supposed collaborationist.  Even as Herge leaves to literally start his life over again, his cellmate, who'd also been imprisoned by the Resistance, is placed before a firing squad.  Several panels in this sequence bring to mind the scene in THE BROKEN EAR in which Tintin is about to be shot in the same manner.  Tintin famously got out of that one by getting drunk (!), with the tone of the scene strongly resembling that of the climax of DuckTales' "Allowance Day."  Suffice it to say that the denouement here is rather more sober.  The final two pages, depicting Herge's death, also make memorable use of props from Herge's stories and the opening scenes of THE SHOOTING STAR.

When I first heard of this project, I was worried that we might be getting a sort of deconstructionist deboning or ideological hijacking of Herge, in the manner of Frederic Tuten's novel TINTIN IN THE NEW WORLD, or the anarchist rip-off TINTIN IN BREAKING FREE.  Thankfully, Jose-Louis Bocquet, who's written biographies of other European comics figures, avoids the pitfalls and pretty much tells the straight story, albeit with some exaggerations to accommodate the requirements of storytelling and the uses of Herge characters and scenes.  If you're a comics fan unfamiliar with the world of Herge, this isn't the worst place in the world to start finding out about the man, his times, and his works.

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