The solution to the mystery of Hergé is hidden in plain sight. His style, his famous “clear line,” is the key to explaining the trance he can induce in well-disposed readers. The clear line allowed Hergé to create the world of his books, a world that is wonderfully inviting because everything seems laid out before us with diagrammatic clarity. Tintin inhabits a world of objects: bowler hats, pirate ships, argyle socks, sceptres and countless other oddments. The surfaces Hergé created are so pleasing to the eye that we linger on them and imbue them with meanings deeper than those found in the adolescent plots of the stories themselves.
Hergé’s legacy is more visual than narrative. It’s no accident that the best biography of Hergé is a graphic novel that borrows from his art. The Adventures of Hergé, by Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Stanislas Barthelemy, pays Hergé the honest tribute of stylistic thievery. It’s drawn in the Hergé manner (circa 1934) and covers the main points of his career while locating constant overlaps between the life and the art. While the casual reader can use it to get the main outlines of Hergé’s life, the hard-core Tintin fanatic will be more interested in the innumerable allusions to the series woven into the story and images.
Aside from Barthelemy, many of the world’s best cartoonists continue to draw inspiration from Hergé. The continuing power of the “clear line” tradition can be seen in artists as disparate as Chris Ware, Seth, Charles Burns and Joost Swarte. Hergé’s art remains a not-so-secret treasure that rewards all those who go in search of it.
Jeet Heer has co-edited many books of comics reprints. With Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros, he co-edited the just published Walt and Skeezix 1929-1930.
The Art of the Adventures of Tintin
By Chris Guise
Harper Design, 200 pages, $44.99
Tied to the release of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s motion-capture movie The Adventures of Tintin, this gorgeous work from New Zealand’s Weta Workshop (Guise is its lead conceptual designer) includes images at all stages of development, scenes that didn’t make the final cut and quotations from the participants. Andy Serkis, who provided the live-action reference points for the animated, bulbous-nosed Captain Haddock, says, “You know it’s not real because of the caricatured nature of the characters, but you feel that they’re real and it really plays with your head.”