Tintin: Herge and His Creation by Harry Thompson

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Tintin: Herge and His Creation by Harry Thompson

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Category: Biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Clare Reddaway
Reviewed by Clare Reddaway
Summary: A loving and knowledgeable account of the development of the Tintin books which is rather breezy about the controversial life of their author Hergé. One for Tintin fans.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 326 Date: October 2011
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 978-1848546721

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I love Tintin. I love his quiff and his innocence, his plus-fours and his foreign adventures, I love Snowy the dog and most of all I love Captain Haddock and the flamboyance of his blistering barnacles language. So I was thrilled to see a biography of the character and Hergé, his creator, and I picked it up with enthusiasm.

This biography is a re-print, first published in 1991 and presumably re-issued to coincide with the film that has just been released. It was the first biography of Hergé to appear in English. Harry Thompson was a producer and inventor of many comedy series such as Have I Got News for You and Da Ali G Show, and writer of a number of bestsellers. He died in 2005.

Thompson was obviously a huge fan of Tintin. The book is divided into chronological chapters, each one about a Tintin book. Thompson is extremely knowledgeable about the books themselves, and the changes that each went through between concept and final printing. The stories and picture development are lovingly analysed, with notes on the characters as they appear, disappear and mature as the series grows. This can be rather over-whelming unless you have the books at your side as you read, as Thompson frequently refers to changes that take place between specified pages, or even between two frames.

However, Thompson is interesting on the development of Hergé’s artistic style. For instance, as he becomes meticulous in the precision of his drawing of, say, jungles, or buildings in Geneva, or, in particular, China. Thompson is also interesting on the changes in style of the Tintin books from the pre-war crude propaganda of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets to the sophisticated Destination Moon. In the latter Hergé anticipated the moonscape that the Americans discovered a decade later, having become fanatical in his attention to astronomical detail. Thompson also makes a fascinating connection between Hergé’s lifelong white nightmares which resurface just before he starts to write Tintin in Tibet, set in the snowy Himalayas.

The biography of Hergé, or Georges Remi, is perhaps of secondary importance to Thompson. Hergé did have an interesting and highly controversial life. After what he himself called an 'unbelievably dull' childhood in pre-war Belgium he first drew the character of Tintin in Le Petit Vingtième, an ultra-Catholic right wing newspaper. He remained in Belgium during the Nazi occupation and continued to work, leading to accusations of collaboration after the war ended. His drawings were sometimes political. Tintin in the Congo was a sympathetic account of what is now seen as the extremely brutal Belgium colonial rule in the Congo, and his wartime The Shooting Star has been deemed anti-Semitic.

Thompson deals with such issues breezily, dismissing them as examples of Hergé’s innocence or naivety, stating that he was just a comic artist and that all he wanted to do was work. It is not possible for the reader to make up their own mind as Hergé’s character is not well described, nor is the situation in the country outlined at all. It is assumed that the reader will have a clear picture of social mores in suburban Belgium in 1910. The people that interact with Hergé are also no more than barely sketched. His wife Germaine suddenly takes up magical incantations to restore Hergé’s affections for her, whereas Hergé prefers to share his love of eastern mysticism with his new friend Fanny – all of which come as total revelations to the reader. Equally, Hergé’s business partner Raymond Leblanc turns from being his post-war saviour to the ruthless exploiter of his talent without any clear explanation. Thompson writes of Hergé’s frequent bouts of depression, leaves of absence from his work and psychosomatic illnesses, but does not get to the root of the causes of them. This can be frustrating for the reader.

There have been revelations about Hergé’s life that I suspect came to light after this book was written. The family secret that the King of Belgium might have been Hergé’s grandfather and his sterility after a treatment for boils are two such facts that are not included here. The mysterious ancestry can cast an interesting light on some of the stories in the books.

There are some rave reviews printed on the cover of this book, and far be it from me to contradict A.N. Wilson who says that this is a model of how to write a book about a writer. I agree that this is an interesting book for the die-hard Tintin fan, who wants facts and information about each of the books. However, for the more general reader, who might want answers to some of the controversies surrounding Hergé’s life, it is not as satisfying as it might be.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon by David Grannand you'll find The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Knife and Packer interesting.

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Buy Tintin: Herge and His Creation by Harry Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tintin: Herge and His Creation by Harry Thompson at Amazon.com.


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