You will occasionally hear me rant about the misuse of the term “graphic novel” in reference to trade paperback collections of comic books in America. (Watchmen is a graphic novel, Akira is a graphic novel. The last six issues of The Uncanny X-Men collected into a squarebound paperback isn’t any kind of a novel. It may be a graphic album, a collection or, if you’re lucky, a graphic story, but a novel it’s not.)
Belgian comics creator Hergé (a pen-name based on the French pronunciation of “RG”, Georges Remi’s initials in reverse) was a pioneer and master of the long form comics story, i.e. graphic novel. Though he created a number of characters and features, his major work is a series of stories of The Adventures of Tintin, which began in 1929.
Tintin is as familiar in Europe as Superman or Mickey Mouse is in America and is one of the most popular European comics of the last century. Basically a super-adventurous boy scout whose travels spanned the globe rather than the local woods, Tintin along with his dog, Snowy (Milou, originally) and his companion Captain Haddock, fascinated readers through a series of adventures to places like Russia, China, America (an exotic place to someone in France), India and fictional countries in the Balkans, South America and South East Asia.
His stories, while primarily adventures peppered with humor, carried echoes of the political and social world at the time, some of which were naive and kind of silly in their treatment of non-European races and cultures, and some of which, as time went on and Hergé matured, were astute and sensitive to the appreciation of other cultures, particularly China.
Hergé’s ligne claire, or “clear line”, style has been tremendously influential on European and Japanese comics artists and American newspaper comics artists from the early and mid 20th Century. His characters are simply and effectively drawn, while his backgrounds occasionally are quite detailed and often reflect careful research into real places and landmarks.
His stories have been translated into dozens of languages and if you scope around the net, you’ll find a great deal of Hergé and Tintin material, toys, posters, fan sites and webrings as well as mention of the Tintin movies and stage plays.
Hergé created 24 Tintin stories, the last one of which was left incomplete on his death in 1983. My favorite of them is Tintin in Tibet, in which Tintin’s unrelenting search for his Chinese friend Chang is an echo of Hergé’s own lost contact with his good friend of the same name during the Second World War.
The PBS program POV is due to air a story on Tintin called Tintin and I tonight (Tuedsay, July 11) at 10pm. (It’s certain to be repeated.)
There are wonderfully inexpensive albums of the Tintin stories available on Amazon or in most bookstores and comic stores worth their salt.