Thursday, 9 July 2015

Herge's Adventures of Tintin... by Sue Purkiss

Do you remember a deep voice emerging from a small box television, intoning in the most thrilling way - 'HERGE'S - ADVENTURES - OF - TINTIN!!!' I do, but to be honest, that's all I remember of the popular cartoon series: if I used to watch it, I've quite forgotten it now.

Tintin and Snowy

But a few months ago, and heaven knows how many years later, my eight year-old grandson discovered the Tintin books. This was momentous, because until the arrival of Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and the rest, Oskar hadn't really switched on to reading by himself. Now, he's steadily building up a collection of the books, and he pores over them, totally absorbed. Thankfully, he still likes having them read to him as well - so I've had the chance to discover and enjoy the stories too.

As it happens, Oskar lives in Brussels, which is of course the home of comic strips and was the birthplace of Tintin - whose creator has a whole museum devoted to him: the Herge Museum. It's in a suburb of Brussels called Louvain-la-Neuve. This is a slightly eerie place, a bit like the outer reaches of Milton Keynes: it's a new town, centring round a university, so when the students aren't there, the spacious squares are empty and tumbleweed blows along the wide streets.

The museum is a modern building, detached from the town by a walkway. It's raised on a platform with a car park underneath, so it looks rather as if it's floating, just loosely moored to land, rather like a big white ship that might suddenly take off on an adventure, just as Tintin does. The museum takes you through the story of the life of Georges Remi, aka Herge (and I'm really sorry about the missing acute accent; I can't see how to do them in Blogger), and of course along the way, you learn all about Tintin too.

The Herge Museum

For anyone who doesn't know, Tintin is a young journalist, who is always tumbling into adventures which lead to him being captured and threatened with death by one of a series of villains, before he manages to escape and turn the tables with the help of his dog Snowy or his friend, Captain Haddock, who has a great line in imaginative curses of the 'Blistering barnacles!' kind. Also often involved are two policemen, Thompson and Thomson, who to the uninitiated look completely alike. They're not the brightest, these two. Sometimes they're helpful, but more often they're hopeless. They wear suits and bowler hats, and they're more than a little hidebound by the rule book. Oskar thinks they're hilarious.

One of the features of the books is that they take place all over the world. As Herge said in an interview, quoted from in the museum: 'Tintin was born in 1929, and 1029 was the year of great reporters crisscrossing the world with their little suitcases, taking the Trans-Siberian railway or sailing by ship and travelling to the world's hotspots... My ideal was the reporter; he was my hero...' In another interview, he said that he himself didn't have much time for travelling: 'I travel mostly by proxy... proxy via Tintin, to be precise! In real life, I'm not really cut out for much travelling, as I have to be at my desk in order to draw...'

And it certainly comes across from the museum (which is beautifully spacious and extremely well laid out - it's a pity you're not allowed to take pictures there, or I'd be able to show you) that Herge worked very hard indeed. Each book has heaven knows how many drawings, and the story obviously has to be carefully planned so that it will bound lightly and breathlessly along from one near-disaster to the next. Herge likened the process to directing a film; creating a series of scenes and having to think how each one should be 'shot'.

It's noticeable that in almost every photograph of Herge, he's smiling. He employed a lot of people in his studio, and they all seem to have regarded him as a mentor, rather than as a boss. There are lots of photos of them at work, and everyone just looks - well, happy and relaxed. He comes across as a thoroughly nice man - someone you would have loved to have as a friend.

Georges Remi, aka Herge

The Herge Museum is not on the usual round of places to visit in Brussels, but it's fascinating nonetheless. If you're interested in comic strips or in illustration generally, then do go and see it if you get the chance!


Joan Lennon said...

Thank you so much for this - another amazing museum to see some day - but also that Herge sounds so lovely - just like the books. I remember my boys, who struggled with reading, embracing the Tintin books - we have every one of them, utterly thumbed!

Penny Dolan said...

Never heard of this museum before but it sounds fascinating. Thanks for this post, and for reminding me to check that a certain eight year old I know has come across the Adventures too.