On May 24th this year, a drawing by Hergé was sold for 2.5 million euros, a new world record for a comic strip. The piece, dating from 1937 and signed by the creator is a double page ink drawing created by Hergé for the inside cover of the Tintin adventures published between 1937 and 1958. It went to an American collector after 15 minutes of furious bidding at the Artcurial auction in Paris.
Although he would go on to be one of the world’s most iconic cartoonists, Hergé (Georges Remi) was not a particularly standout student as a young boy. Instead, he preferred to indulge in his love for adventure and games with his friends on the streets of Brussels.
In secondary school, he joined the Boy Scouts. His drawing skills quickly caught the attention of the Scout leaders, and soon he was illustrating a Scout magazine and creating his first characters. Long before Tintin appeared in 1929, Georges Remi’s active imagination was conjuring up stories of international intrigue.
During the years of the First World War, Georges used the margins of his schoolbooks to scribble stories about a little character who played dirty tricks on German soldiers. He began drawing a comic strip featuring Totor, an adventurous Boy Scout who would become the basis for Tintin.
After leaving school and beginning work at the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, Hergé oversaw a weekly supplement for children entitled Le Petit Vingtième. This got him thinking about a new character: “The little brother of Totor, a Totor-turned-journalist, yet with the spirit of a Boy Scout.”
Hergé’s job provided him access to all the latest news, including the real-life exploits of French reporter and investigator Albert Londres. Londres’s career, as well as stories from Belgian and foreign papers, became fodder for Tintin’s adventures.
Tintin himself was modelled after Totor, with a round head, a button for a nose and two dots for eyes — but with the iconic quiff that makes him instantly recognizable. Tintin was the reporter that Hergé himself would have liked to be.
“Tintin is myself. He reflects the best and brightest in me; he is my successful double. I am not a hero. But like all 15-year-old boys, I dreamt of being one…and I have never stopped dreaming. Tintin has accomplished many things on my behalf.” -Hergé –
The first Tintin adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was an instant hit with children and adults alike. As the adventures progressed, Hergé added all kinds of characters, some of whom he based on famous people (such as Bianca Castafiore, whose character was inspired by the opera singer Maria Callas). He also based some characters on friends and family (such as Thomson & Thompson, who were inspired by his father and his father’s twin brother).
Although he started out as an investigative reporter, Tintin developed into a detective. He had a sharp eye for detail and considerable powers of deduction. A bit like James Bond, there was no car, motorcycle, locomotive, submarine, airplane, helicopter, horse or camel that Tintin could not drive, ride, steer or fly. No matter what situation Tintin found himself in, he was never at a loss for what to do.
Tintin was also an explorer, a fact that led to his most memorable achievement — taking the first steps on the moon, some 16 years before the American astronaut Neil Armstrong.
For any child growing up amid the political and cultural changes of the twentieth century, Tintin was a role model who both inspired and delighted. Hergé drew upon the political events of the time and dedicated his life to creating adventures that transported readers to places around the world — from Japanese-occupied China in The Blue Lotus to the Arctic Ocean in The Shooting Star.
Throughout his career, Hergé strove to bring as much of the real world as he could into the world of Tintin. Although Tintin travelled around the world, Hergé stayed in Belgium for most of his life. In his later years, the artist and author managed to make trips to several countries and see first-hand the places that had inspired Tintin’s adventures.
Hergé’s career as a cartoonist was successful from the start, but it had one major hurdle. It came after the Second World War, after the end of German occupation when he was accused of being a collaborator because of the Nazi control of the paper (Le Soir),that he had been writing for. He claimed that he was simply doing a job under the occupation, like a plumber or carpenter, without any political sympathies.
But he admitted later that: “I recognize that I myself believed that the future of the West could depend on the New Order…In light of everything which has happened, it is of course a huge error…” Tintin, however was never depicted as being pro-German but the comic had hints of anti-Semitic themes that angered quite a few people.
Le Soir was shut down by the allied authorities and Tintin’s adventures were interrupted toward the end of The Seven Crystal Balls. During the chaotic post-occupation period, Hergé was arrested four times and he was publicly accused of Nasi and Rexist sympathies. Like other former employees of the Nazi-controlled press, Hergé found himself barred from newspaper work in post-war Belgium. He spent the next two years adapting many of the early Tintin adventures into colour.
Tintin’s exile ended on 26 September 1946. The publisher and wartime resistance fighter Raymond Leblanc provided the financial support and anti-Nazi credentials to launch Tintin the magazine with Hergé. It was a weekly publication that featured two pages of Tintin’s adventures, beginning with the remainder of The Seven Crystal Balls as well as other comic strips and assorted articles. It became highly successful, and weekly circulation surpassed 100,000 at one time.
Since then Tintin’s adventures continued uninterrupted until Hergé’s death in 1983. Tintin has been translated into over a hundred languages. In German he is called Tim, in Turkish he is called Tenten and in Latin he is known as Titinus. To celebrate Hergé’s seventy-fifth birthday, the Société Belge d’Astronomie gave his name to a newly discovered asteroid. The asteroid Hergé is located between Mars and Jupiter.