Hergé PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 22 November 2008 13:04

Georges Prosper Remi

Born: 22 May 1907, Etterbeek, Belgium

Died: 3 March 1983, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert Belgium

Age: 75

Cause of death: Related to HIV contracted by blood transfusion.

Notable because: Invented Tintin.

 

Hergé was a Belgian comics writer and artist. "Hergé"  is the French pronunciation of "RG", his initials reversed. His best known and most substantial work is The Adventures of Tintin, which he wrote and illustrated from 1929 until his death in 1983, which left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure Tintin and Alph-art unfinished. His work remains a strong influence on comics, particularly in Europe. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2003.

The notable qualities of the Tintin stories include their vivid humanism, a realistic feel produced by meticulous and wide ranging research, and Hergé's ligne claire drawing style. Adult readers enjoy the many satirical references to the history and politics of the 20th century. The Blue Lotus, for example, was inspired by the Mukden incident that led to the Chinese-Japanese War of 1934. King Ottokar's Sceptre can be read against the background of Hitler's Anschluss; whilst later albums such as The Calculus Affair depict the Cold War. Hergé has become one of the most famous Belgians worldwide and Tintin is still an international success.

Georges Prosper Remi was born in 1907 in Etterbeek, in Brussels Belgium to middle class parents, Alexis Remi and his wife Elisabeth Dufour. His four years of primary schooling coincided with World War I (1914-1918), during which Brussels was occupied by the German Empire. Georges, who displayed an early affinity for drawing, filled the margins of his earliest schoolbooks with doodles of the German invaders. Except for a few drawing lessons which he would later take at l'école Saint-Luc, he never had any formal training in the visual arts.

In 1920, he began studying in the collège Saint-Boniface, a secondary school where the teachers were Catholic priests. Georges joined the Boy Scouts troop of the school, where he was given the totemic name "Renard curieux" (Curious fox). Recently an old strip by him was found on a wall of this school. His first drawings were published in 1922 in Jamais assez, the school's Scout paper, and in Le Boy-Scout Belge, the Scout monthly magazine. From 1924, he signed his illustrations using the pseudonym "Hergé".

His subsequent comics work would be heavily influenced by the ethics of the Scouting movement, as well as the early travel experiences he made with the Scout association.

On finishing school in 1925, Georges worked at the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle under the editor Norbert Wallez, a Catholic abbot who kept a photograph of Mussolini in his office. The following year, he published his first cartoon series, Totor, in the Scouting magazine Le Boy-Scout Belge. In 1928, he was put in charge of producing material for the Le XXe Siècle's new weekly supplement for children, Le Petit Vingtième. He began illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette, and Cochonnet, a strip written by a member of the newspaper's sports staff, but soon became dissatisfied with this series. Wallez asked Remi to create a young hero - a Catholic reporter who would fight for good all over the world. He decided to create a comic strip of his own, which would adopt the recent American innovation of using speech balloons to depict words coming out of the characters' mouths, inspired by the use of them by the established French comics author Alain St. Ogan.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929)

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, by "Hergé", appeared in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième on 10 January 1929, and ran until 8 May 1930. The strip chronicled the adventures of a young reporter named Tintin and his pet fox terrier Snowy (Milou) as they journeyed through the Soviet Union. The character of Tintin was partly inspired by Georges' brother Paul Remi, an officer in the Belgian army.

In January 1930, Hergé introduced Quick & Flupke (Quick et Flupke), a new comic strip about two street urchins from Brussels, in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième. For many years, Hergé would continue to produce this less well-known series in parallel with his Tintin stories. In June, he began the second Tintin adventure, Tintin in the Congo (then the colony of Belgian Congo), followed by Tintin in America and Cigars of the Pharaoh.

On 20 July 1932, he married Germaine Kieckens, the secretary of the director of the Le XXe Siècle. whom he had first met in 1927. They had no children, and would eventually divorce in 1977.

The early Tintin adventures each took about a year to complete, upon which they were released in book form by Le Petit Vingtième and from 1934 on by the Casterman publishing house. Hergé would continue revising these stories in subsequent editions, including a later conversion to colour.

The Blue Lotus (1936)

Hergé reached a watershed with The Blue Lotus, the fifth Tintin adventure. At the close of the previous story, Cigars of the Pharaoh, he had mentioned that Tintin's next adventure would bring him to China. Father Gosset, the chaplain to the Chinese students at the Catholic University of Leuven, wrote to Hergé urging him to be sensitive about what he wrote about China. Hergé agreed, and in the spring of 1934 Gosset introduced him to Chang Chong-jen (Chang Chongren), a young sculpture student at the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Chang introduced Hergé to Chinese culture, and the techniques of Chinese art. As a result of this experience, Hergé would strive in The Blue Lotus, and in subsequent Tintin adventures, to be meticulously accurate in depicting the places which Tintin visited. As a token of appreciation, he added a fictional "Chang Chong-Chen" to The Blue Lotus, a young Chinese boy who meets and befriends Tintin.

At the end of his studies in Brussels, Chang returned home to China, and Hergé lost contact with him during the invasion of China by Japan and the subsequent civil war. More than four decades would pass before the two friends would meet again.

The Second World War broke out on 1 September 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Hergé was mobilized as a reserve lieutenant, and had to interrupt Tintin's adventures in the middle of Land of Black Gold. By the summer of 1940, Belgium had fallen to Germany with the most of Continental Europe.

Le Petit Vingtième, in which Tintin's adventures had until then been published, was shut down by the Nazi occupation. However, Hergé accepted an offer to produce a new Tintin strip in Le Soir, Brussels' leading French daily, which had been appropriated as the mouthpiece of the occupation forces. He had to leave The Land of the Black Gold unfinished, launching instead into The Crab with the Golden Claws, the first of six Tintin stories which he would produce during the war.

As the war progressed, two factors arose that led to a revolution in Hergé's style. Firstly, paper shortages forced Tintin to be published in a daily three or four-frame strip, rather than two full pages every week which had been the practice on Le Petit Vingtième. In order to create tension at the end of each strip rather than the end of each page, Hergé had to introduce more frequent gags and faster-paced action. Secondly, Hergé had to move the focus of Tintin's adventures away from current affairs, in order to avoid controversy. He turned to stories with an escapist flavour: an expedition to a meteorite (The Shooting Star), a treasure hunt (The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure), and a quest to undo an ancient Inca curse (The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun).

In these stories, Hergé placed more emphasis on characters than plot, and indeed Tintin's most memorable companions, Captain Haddock and Cuthbert Calculus (In French Professeur Tryphon Tournesol), were introduced at this time. Haddock debuted in The Crab with the Golden Claws and Calculus in Red Rackham's Treasure. The impact of these changes were not lost on the readers; in reprint, these stories have proven to be amongst the most popular.[citation needed]

In 1943, Hergé met Edgar P. Jacobs, another comics artist, whom he hired to help revise the early Tintin albums. Jacobs' most significant contribution would be his redrawing of the costumes and backgrounds in the revised edition of King Ottokar's Sceptre. He also began collaborating with Hergé on a new Tintin adventure, The Seven Crystal Balls (see above).


The occupation of Brussels ended on 3 September 1944. Tintin's adventures were interrupted toward the end of The Seven Crystal Balls when the Allied authorities shut down Le Soir. During the chaotic post-occupation period, Hergé was arrested four times by different groups. He was publicly accused of being a Nazi/Rexist sympathizer, a claim which was largely unfounded, as the Tintin adventures published during the war were scrupulously free of politics (the only dubious point occurring in The Shooting Star, which showed a rival scientific expedition flying the Flag of the United States and sponsored by a man called Blumenstein). In fact, one or two stories published before the war had been critical of fascism; most prominently, King Ottokar's Sceptre showed Tintin working to defeat a coup attempt that could be seen as an allegory of the Anschluss, Nazi Germany's takeover of Austria. Nevertheless, like other former employees of the Nazi-controlled press, Hergé found himself barred from newspaper work. He spent the next two years working with Jacobs, as well as a new assistant, Alice Devos, 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 the comics magazine titled Tintin with Hergé. The weekly publication 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, with circulation surpassing 100,000 every week.

Tintin had always been credited as simply "by Hergé", without mention of Edgar Pierre Jacobs and Hergé's other assistants. As Jacobs' contribution to the production of the strip increased, he asked for a joint credit in 1944, which Hergé refused. They continued to collaborate intensely until 1946, when Jacobs went on to produce his own comics for Tintin magazine, including the widely-acclaimed Blake and Mortimer.

The increased demands which Tintin magazine placed on Hergé began to take their toll. In 1947, the Temple of the Sun was interrupted for two months when an exhausted Hergé takes a long vacation. Hergé, disillusioned by his treatment and that of many of his colleagues and friends after the war, plans to migrate with his wife Germaine to Argentina, but later abandons the plan again when he becomes unfaithful to his wife. In 1949, while working on the new version of Land of Black Gold (the first version had been left unfinished by the outbreak of World War II), Hergé suffered a nervous breakdown and was forced to take an abrupt four month-long break. He suffered another breakdown in early 1950, while working on Destination Moon.

In order to lighten Hergé's workload, the Hergé Studios was set up on 6 April 1950. The studio employed a variety of assistants to aid Hergé in the production of The Adventures of Tintin. Foremost among these was the artist Bob de Moor, who would collaborate with Hergé on the remaining Tintin adventures, filling in details and backgrounds such as the spectacular lunar landscapes in Explorers on the Moon. With the aid of the studio, Hergé managed to produce The Calculus Affair from 1954 until 1956, followed by The Red Sea Sharks in 1956-1957.

By the end of this period, his personal life was again in crisis. His marriage with Germaine was breaking apart after twenty-five years; he had fallen in love with Fanny Vlaminck, a young artist who had recently joined the Hergé Studios. Furthermore, he was plagued by recurring nightmares filled with whiteness. He consulted a Swiss psychoanalyst, who advised him to give up working on Tintin. Instead, he finished Tintin in Tibet, started the year before.

Published in Tintin magazine from September 1958 to November 1959 Tintin in Tibet sent Tintin to the Himalaya in search of Chang Chong-Chen, the Chinese boy he had befriended in The Blue Lotus. The adventure allowed Hergé to confront his nightmares by filling the book with austere alpine landscapes, giving the adventure a powerfully spacious setting. The normally rich cast of characters was pared to a minimum - Tintin, Captain Haddock, and the sherpa Tharkey - as the story focused on Tintin's dogged search for Chang. Hergé came to regard this highly personal and emotionally riveting Tintin adventure as his favorite. The completion of the story seemed also to signal an end to his problems: he was no longer troubled by nightmares, divorced Germaine in 1977 (they had separated in 1960), and finally married Fanny Vlaminck 20 May of the same year.

The last three complete Tintin adventures were produced at a much reduced pace: The Castafiore Emerald in 1961, Flight 714 in 1966, and Tintin and the Picaros only in 1975. However, by this time Tintin had begun to move into other media. From the start of Tintin magazine, Raymond Leblanc had used Tintin for merchandising and advertisements. In 1961, the second Tintin film was made: Tintin and the Golden Fleece, starring Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin (an earlier stop motion-animated film was made in 1947 called The Crab with the Golden Claws, but it was screened publicly only once). Several traditionally-animated Tintin films have also been made, beginning with The Calculus Case in 1961.

The financial success of Tintin allowed Hergé to devote more of his time to travel. He travelled widely across Europe, and in 1971 visited America for the first time, meeting some of the Native Americans whose culture had long been a source of fascination for him. In 1973, he visited Taiwan, accepting an invitation offered three decades before by the Kuomintang government, in appreciation of The Blue Lotus.

In a remarkable instance of life mirroring art, Hergé managed to resume contact with his old friend Chang Chong-jen, years after Tintin rescued the fictional Chong-chen Chang in the closing pages of Tintin in Tibet. Chang had been reduced to a street sweeper by the Cultural Revolution, before becoming the head of the Fine Arts Academy in Shanghai during the 1970s. He returned to Europe for a reunion with Hergé in 1981, and he would settle in Paris in 1985, where he died in 1998.

Hergé died on 3 March 1983, aged 75. Hergé had been severely sick for several years, but the nature of his disease was unclear, possibly leulemia or a form of porphyria. His death was ultimately hastened by the HIV he had acquired during his weekly blood transfusions.

He left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished. Following his expressed desire not to have Tintin handled by another artist, it was published posthumously as a set of sketches and notes in 1986. In 1987, Fanny closed the Hergé Studios, replacing it with the Hergé Foundation. In 1988, Tintin magazine was discontinued.

A cartoon version of Hergé makes a number of cameo appearances in Ellipse-Nelvana's The Adventures of Tintin TV cartoon series.

Hergé gave all rights to the creation of dolls and merchandise after his death to Michel Aroutcheff. Michel was Hergé's neighbour and a good friend. Aroutcheff then sold on these rights only keeping the right to make Tintin's red rocket when he goes to the moon.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:33
 

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