The World of Tintin Conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, Saturday 15th May, 2004.
- The World of Tintin Conference 2004 admission ticket
- Image courtesy of Chris Owens
Well, I just got back from the conference, and what an enjoyable day I've had!! The cheery faces of the assembled Tintinophiles, Tintinologists and Tintin celebrities at the end of the proceedings suggested that the feeling was shared by everyone else there too!
Ever since I missed the 60th anniversary Chelsea exhibition, I know what a frustration it is to not to be able to attend an event, so I'll try and convey the proceedings for all of you who couldn't make it... Please anyone else who was there, feel free to correct me, or chip in with comments—I don't mind!
The Maritime Museum must be complimented on their efforts: the building has some nice banners on the main facade, and Tintin-themed decorations in the lobby. The staff were also very polite and helpful; I've attended some other fan-centric events in the past (not on Tintin!) where attendants have looked at delegates as somewhere below gum on the sole of their shoe in the chain of importance.
Delegates were directed to a lecture theatre on the ground floor, just along from where the shark sub is on display (looking if anything, better than when I saw it in Paris), where everyone milled about outside wondering who everyone else was. However, given that we were a friendly looking bunch, many conversations were struck up, and soon discussion was ranging on such burning topics as your favourite book or character, and how exactly "Alph-Art" should be finished, if only Moulinsart would ask for help…!. Eventually a museum staff member gingerly stuck their head out, and suggested that perhaps we'd like to come in.
The morning sessions were introduced by a young lady from the education department (her name sadly escapes me), who welcomed the delegates, did the necessary fire drill and safety-type announcements, then introduced the "Chair" of the event, Robert Blyth of the Museum staff.
He then called Michael Farr, author of the Companion book to speak, broadly on Tintin at Sea. This largely covered his research-work in the Fondation archive, and he illustrated his points with many comparisons between the reference material and drawings. Many of these, if not all, are in his book, but his talk was very entertaining (he drew a major laugh when he justified his inclusion of scenes from Crab which were totally land-locked, by pointing out that "camels are the ‘ships of the desert'") and informative.
It was very interesting to hear him say that every single one of the thousands of clippings and pictures etc., were gathered, mounted on cards and indexed personally by Hergé, never by an assistant, even when he was running the studio! As Michael did his research, much of the sticky-tape employed by Hergé had become dessicated, and drifted free of the paper; he reported that each evening by the time Bernard Tordeur came to collect him, he was sitting amongst a pile of dusty, discarded tape.
Then he was followed by Paul Gravett (described as a "free-lance writer, lecturer and broadcaster on international comic art"), who gave a talk on "Hergé and the Clear Line", which looked at the influences of illustrators artists on Hergé prior to Tintin, during the run of Tintin, and on the legacy to modern illustrators. Who knew that Benjamin Rabier, the author and illustrator of Tintin Lutin the quiffed shorts wearing child in a book which may have influenced Hergé, also drew the laughing cow logo of the ‘Vache qui Rit' cheese?
Mr Gravett's knowledge of BD was huge, and his analysis of technique was illuminating. He was especially so when talking of the problems Hergé had developing his style while still inking using a brush; changing to a pen made it much easier to keep the line weight even. Paul was able to offer both slides and examples from his personal collection of books, which he generously passed out to the audience. As many of these were rare or limited editions, it was quite a treat to be given an all too fleeting chance to handle them.
Then came a lunch break, and an opportunity to tour the exhibition, which is a sort of condensed version of the one that appeared in Paris, but none the less interesting. It now boasts a nice portrait of the Captain's real-life ancestor, Admiral Nicholas Haddock, which is in the Museum's own collection, having hung in the Naval College hospital, as well as an original of Andy Warhol's portrait of Hergé (sadly omitted from the recent Tate Gallery Andy Warhol retrospective, so it was great to see it here).
This last exhibit underlined very nicely a point made at several junctures during the day, that Hergé was a real lover of contemporary and modern art, as well as a frustrated fine artist. It was even suggested that he used the "Hergé" pseudonym precisely so he could paint fine art under his own name one day... (one of his own abstracts appears in the Tintin and I documentary, and I thought it rather good, personally). He avidly collected many now-famous artists before they were famous, including Warhol, so it would be nice if some of these personal treasures could be displayed some day.
The afternoon began with probably my favourite session—Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper talking about turning the Tintin books into English. Believe it or not, they did the first two books for free; the next four for £10 each, and they finally got up to £40 each for the translations!! They also both agreed that they were never in it for the money, and that they have enjoyed the work so much that they both feel very lucky.
The good news is that they are working on the new English editions of the early facsimiles, as well as the revised Alph-Art (it seems that the Alph-Art book is due at the end of the month in the UK, but that Tintin in America may not be out for a wee while yet). There is also the news that the colour version of Tintin in the Congo will also be coming to English.
They have established to their satisfaction that people can see that the early ones are products of their times, in their historical context: apparently not a single complaint came in after the B&W Soviets and Congo books came out, thanks to the inclusion of disclaimers.
Anyway, the publishers want Congo to be out in time for the centenary of Hergé's birth in 2007, so that all the books in the canon will be available in standard editions. So expect another bumper Tintin year fairly soon!!
They mentioned the interesting fact that they had been constrained in their translations by the spaces in the word balloons, and had meticulously counted up the letters in the French text as a guide. The dialogue was written out in the first draft by Leslie, like a play script, at a rate of about four hours for a two-page spread, with a letter count at the end of each line. Michael did a second draft, and then the pair would discuss it between them, with the publishers, and the studio and Hergé as necessary.
Michael Turner apparently supplied the tedious dronings of Jolyon Wagg, so Leslie would just write "You!" at that point, and he'd fill in the gaps. He could reel off dialogue in the style, as well as coming up with the Arumbaya mock-Cockney dialect, as a response to Hergé's Brussels' Flemish original.
The hand lettering was then done for them by a gentleman called Neil Hyslop, a cartographic artist. Sadly, and somewhat awkwardly, the new B&W editions will be computer lettered, and they will more rigidly constrained in the translation simply because it is proving less flexible than Mr Hyslop, who could adapt his hand to suit...
This talk was nicely illustrated with slides, including a few pictures of the publicity material that Hergé and his collaborators prepared for the British launch—specifically a full-colour leaflet, featuring a unique cover illustration of Tintin walking into a book-shop and saying, "Hello, Mr Bookseller!", and an interior showing frames of the cross border chase from Sceptre, with further character illustrations round the edge, pointing out features of the book. A truly rare item, as I can't imagine many have survived!
They had a lot to say on the order of publication, and why the books came out of sequence in English. Having taken great pains to introduce characters where necessary, even at the cost of future continuity, they paid a great deal of attention to keeping detail correct; as Michael put it, "adults are forgiving of mistakes, and will make allowances; children – never!" They dismissed the idea of revising the books back into continuity, feeling that they stood by what they had achieved. And why not? It was good enough for Hergé!
Then came M. Bernard Tordeur of the Fondation, who bravely spoke in English, a fact about which he was very modest. Rather than giving a pre-prepared talk, after a very brief greeting to us all, he took questions from the floor. Subjects covered included the state of the archive—very extensive, including 50,000 letters, 2,000 of which he estimated to be extremely important; unfortunately only 85% of the original artwork is preserved.
Thankfully, some is in private hands, and the location is known, so it can be borrowed or copied, but some is completely lost, including 8 pages of Soviets.
The whereabouts of the archive was touched on: some is in their building, the artwork is kept in a bank-vault, and parts are in a warehouse, somewhere out of Brussels. M. Tordeur has the arduous task (his tongue was partly in his cheek!) of having to regularly visit the bank and the warehouse. He couldn't say what his favourite item was, but it sounds like a hard choice for anyone!
The future of the Fondation is to be heavily involved in the work on the Hergé museum to be built in Louvain, and potentially being involved in educational activities; digitisation of the archive for future use by scholars etc.
Currently the size of the Fondation staff is only three people, which surprised the audience, but with the inclusion of the Moulinsart staff, the warehouse people etc., to whom they have access, the staff runs to around fifty, and they have the ability to take on extra people for specific times when required.
Finally, the possibility of a new movie. He rolled his eyes at this question, and said that he knew it would come up. The answer, when it came, was, yes, it is going to happen, and yes, Spielberg is involved, but he was otherwise tight-lipped, being unable to reveal any more details.
All the speakers then gathered for a platform discussion and more questions. It showed how keen everyone involved was on the subject, because even the panel were asking each other questions! Topics covered here included the changes to titles; Michael Turner said it had been important to make the titles as enticing as possible to children, hence things like changing Temple to Prisoners and Coke en Stock to Red Sea Sharks; he added that it would have been even more important today, as in the US for example a new book has only four weeks to become a hit before it is remaindered.
They talked of Paul Remi (Hergé's brother) and his resemblance to both Tintin and Sponz, as well as his own talent for drawing; in addition to the little sketches of horse movements, printed in his book from the archive, which are quite accomplished, Michael Farr personally owns a hand drawn Christmas card by Paul Remi, which shows a talent not unlike his brother's. Michael Farr also produced a photo from his bag to display the likeness to Tintin, and it wasn't hard to imagine that he was also wearing the uniform he is shown in, when he cameos behind Hergé, his first wife and E. P. Jacobs in the throne room in "King Ottokar".
On a more serious note, a lady in the audience prompted a discussion on the possibility of Hergé having been a Nazi sympathiser; the consensus was that he wasn't, with examples from his books, his being championed by Raymond Leblanc (a Resistance hero) after the war, and the fact that he was cleared in the investigations by the British in post-war Belgium).
Someone asked about the similarities between the US film Destination Moon and the book, which it was thought probably arose from them both using the same Collier's magazine articles as reference, with their images of the Moon by the legendary space artist Chesley Bonestell. Bonestell actually is credited as "Technical advisor of astronomical art" on the movie.
M. Tordeur mentioned that there may be more Alph-Art material to come, which might lead to a *third* version of the book. What this might be he didn't say, but I'd guess it is possible that as the archive sorts through the massive correspondence collection, they may com across notes and sketches as they have for other books. I'm pretty sure that he did *not* mean that they have found the ending...! Michael Turner chipped in to say he felt the new Alph-Art cover was very striking, and among the best of the lot in his opinion.
On a related subject, the question of fan-finished versions came up, and the answer was perhaps a bit of a surprise (it was to me!).
M. Tordeur was quite open about the fact that he understood, as a fan himself, the urge to have more Tintin, and that he too would love to know the outcome to the story. He could see the temptation to undertake the task. On that level, he was just like any other fan.
However, he could not overlook the fact that while it was perhaps reasonable to do it for personal pleasure, it was still illegal, especially when the work was distributed world-wide, and therefore it was his duty, and that of the Fondation, to act when pirate editions were published. I hope I have represented him fairly in this, as it is quite a tricky point.
Secondly, he talked about Le ThermoZéro; some of you may know that Hergé began work on a script by Greg (writer of The Lake of Sharks) for a book by this title, but abandoned it after pencilling a few pages, as he felt constrained by working from someone else's idea (plus, I would think, the thorny question of a co-credit would have no doubt arisen, which was a problem when E. P. Jacobs asked for one; Hergé wanted (rightly) to be sole creator).
What seems less well known is that Bob de Moor worked on an unpublished Jo, Zette and Jocko book, *also* called Le ThermoZéro.
M. Tordeur confirmed that it was in fact an adaptation of the same basic scenario, which Hergé had asked Bob to work on. Even more amazingly, he suggested that there is enough material in the archive to produce a book from it, should a publisher wish to do so some day!!
I may be wrong, but before folks get their hopes up, nothing he said was such that there was definitely a completed, finished, book waiting in the wings; it sounded from the way he thought about it and said it, that any book would be a bit like Alph-Art—roughs, inked pages and sketches etc. —but with the advantage of being the complete story!
It would of course be fantastic if it was otherwise, but nevertheless the news was welcome, unexpected and very exciting—perhaps even a bigger scoop than the Spielberg confirmation!
On the topic of unpublished stories, there was a brief discussion of Hergé wanting to do a story set amongst the Native Americans, as a sort of different take to the flippant cowboys-and-Indians of America (and perhaps Popol Out West…?). His fascination with the subject lasted all his life; no indication was given as to the direction his story would have taken, but it would undoubtedly have been a labour of love.
Michael Farr went on to say that, of the wealth of unused research material in the archive, by far the largest section was material on Australia. His personal guess was that Tintin was destined one day to get Downunder, had Hergé had more time!!
The day closed with a showing of the documentary Tintin and I, which was interesting, if a little downbeat; perhaps not as enjoyable as the earlier old documentary, Moi, Tintin, but covering more ground.
All in all, a really good day!
Thanks to Chris Owens for taking the time to read through the draft, and jog my memory on a couple of omissions.
Text © Simon Doyle. Used by permission.