Charles Solomon has a review of Pierre Assouline’s new biography of Hergé in the Los Angeles Times today, here’s an excerpt.
With his plus-four knickers, button nose and “squiff” hairdo, Tintin ranks as one of the most recognizable and best-loved characters in comics. However, his creator, Georges “Hergé” Remi (1907-83), remains “an elusive figure,” as Pierre Assouline notes in this unsatisfying biography: “Most people expect his life to be as straightforward as the lines in his drawings. But it was full of complexity and contradiction, conflicts and paradoxes, of jagged peaks and crevasses.”
The basic outline of Remi’s career has been reported many times: Born into a stuffy, middle-class family in Brussels, he got his big break when Catholic priest and editor Norbert Wallez put him in charge of a children’s supplement for the newspaper Le Vigntième Siècle (“The 20th Century“) in 1928. He had adopted the nom de plume Hergé (the French pronunciation of his initials, reversed) four years earlier.
In 1929, Hergé introduced a comic strip about a boy reporter and his fox terrier, Tintin and Snowy, in the supplement Le Petit Vigntième (“The Little 20th“) — and scored an immediate success. The cartoonist presented Tintin’s adventures in weekly installments, which he later reworked into books. Hergé’s work has influenced a generation of cartoonists, as well as pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
The resourceful Tintin displays all the virtues traditionally ascribed to a Boy Scout, but as Assouline observes, Hergé was a mass of contradictions. A conservative Catholic and patriotic Belgian, he worked for the collaborationist newspaper Le Soir during the Nazi occupation when Le Vigntième was shut down. A generous friend, he nevertheless refused to share royalties or credit with his assistants. Hergé, who professed to value loyalty, left his first wife, Germaine, for the younger artist Fanny Vlamynck in 1956 — although he didn’t divorce Germaine and marry Fanny until 1977.
Assouline devotes more space to Hergé’s work during the Occupation than do most popular studies. Many of the Le Soir writers were later tried and given prison sentences. Hergé wasn’t prosecuted, although he was blacklisted. Assouline suggests that Hergé never grasped the moral failure of working for the collaborationist press.
– Charles Solomon
Credit for Tintin and Snowy image: Moulinsart