In another clear example of how much more respected comics and cartoons are in Europe and Japan than they are here in the U.S., the Centre Pompidou (George Pompidou Center for Contemporary Art) in Paris has mounted a major retrospective of the comics work of Hergé, the creator of Tintin.
Tintin, whose stories to my mind are one of the first examples of long-form comics (i.e. “graphic novels”), is a character much beloved in France and his native Belgium, and highly respected elsewhere. The exhibit at the Pompidou is in celebration of the fact that Hergé (Georges Remi) would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2007. It also marks the Centre Pompidou’s own 30th anniversary.
There have been flickerings of recognition of comics as a major art form in America, the Whitney, MOMA and other museums have had sporadic exhibits (see my post on the Masters of American Comics exhibit currently in New York), but we still have a lot to get over in a country that continues to regard cartoons, and particularly comics, as juvenile and unworthy of serious attention. Part of the problem, of course, is that Americans associate comics with super-heroes, and aren’t often exposed to the undercurrent of broader subject matter that is flourishing in independent comics and in pockets on the web, and has always existed in Europe and Japan.
In Europe, where currency was for years imprinted with the faces of artists, writers and other cultural icons rather than politicians, art is viewed a bit differently and comics have a natural place in the mix and represent a wide range of style and subject matter.
The Centre Pompidou has draped an enormous banner with the image of the checked moon rocket from Tintin in Space on the front of the building, hinting at the extent of the exhibit inside. Laurent Le Bon, organizer of the exhibit said “It was important for the Centre to show the work of Herge next to that of Matisse or Picasso, important that the museum show Herge as another artist…”.
The exhibit displays over 300 original drawing and plates from Hergé’s career, which spanned much of the 20th Century. He created 24 Tintin albums, including one left unfinished on his death in 1983.
For those fortunate enough to be in Paris, the exhibit runs until February 19, 2007. For the rest of us, see if you can find some Tintin albums in your local bookstore or library. For more on Hergé see my previous post from last July.