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The Adventures of Herge
on 14 October 2013
The Adventures of Hergé is a delightful biographical comic about Georges Prosper Remi, better known as Hergé, the creator of Tintin.
According to Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental, Hergé first discovered his love of drawing in 1914 when his mother gave him some crayons in order to keep him quiet and out of trouble. This incident serendipitously coincided with Hergé witnessing an informal performance from a powerfully voiced family friend who would end up immortalised as Bianca Castafiore, the Milanese Nightingale herself.
Given its format, The Adventures of Hergé goes on then to provide a necessarily whistle-stop tour of the important events in Georges Remi's life. After [presumably] spending his childhood more dedicated to art than to schooling, Remi eventually gets his big break in 1925 when a friend of his in the Belgian Scouts movement helps him to get a job at Le XXe Siécle, a conservative magazine. It was here that Remi adopted the penname Hergé and here, in 1929, that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was first serialised. Tintin quickly captured the imagination of readers, first in Belgium and then eventually worldwide, and so the escapades of the boy reporter came to dominate Hergé's life.
However, despite any resentment that he might have felt towards his famous creation, it seems that Hergé himself led quite the life. While Tintin was engaging in dangerous exploits and thrilling the reading public, his creator was getting up to a fair number of shenanigans himself. Readers familiar with the adventures of Tintin might well be less familiar with the unusual life [both Tintin related and otherwise] of Hergé. Whether it's his near miss with Nazi interrogators or his campaign to liberate an old friend from Communist China, his tangled romantic life or his desire to be taken seriously as a painter, there is a lot to be learned about Hergé that is separate from Tintin.
Saying all that, it's still undeniably fun to spot the frequent visual and narrative references to the Tintin albums in the scenes from Hergé's life and to try and determine where art ended up imitating life. It would probably take several readings to spot all of the references and to properly identify the relevant album. There are also lots of famous faces to spot, from Astrid of Sweden to Edgar P. Jacobs [of Blake & Mortimer fame], René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo [creators of Asterix] to Andy Warhol. There's so much to learn and observe in this book in fact that it's a shame The Adventures of Hergé couldn't have been longer and so featured more of Hergé's life.
The Adventures of Hergé is illustrated by Stanislas Barthélémy. This particular edition is fully coloured [the original French-language publication having been black-and-white] and is a lovely book to behold. Barthélémy is clearly portraying Hergé's life in Hergé's own clear line style but there are still plenty of original touches. Barthélémy has also played his part when it comes to hiding references to the Tintin albums and in-jokes in The Adventures of Hergé.
In The Adventures of Hergé Bocquet, Fromental and Barthélémy use the comic form to brilliant effect. While it is a wonderfully illustrated and predominantly factually accurate biography of Hergé, there are plenty of playful touches and cracking in-jokes that will certainly please fans.