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Tintin in America: Herge's source material for Chicago?

#1 · Posted: 1 Sep 2015 19:35
Hello Tintin in America readers!

My husband and I have recently relocated to Chicago, and I decided to (after a very long time) pick up Tintin in America to compare what we see now with what Hergé depicted of Chicago the 1930s (haha... what a hilarious album.)
While I'm sure we won't find a door with "G.S.C." (Gangster's Syndicate of Chicago) on it, I'm curious to know which buildings/places in the album are real, and what Hergé's source material was for drawing them (what photographs did he use?) I'd like to visit those places and compare what we see now with what we see in the album. :-)

(A response explaining which frame and what photograph was used would be very nice, or where to find such information would be much appreciated!)
#2 · Posted: 2 Sep 2015 10:24
I'm not too certain that there will be much to be found, to be honest.

In Tintin: The Complete Companion, Michael Farr cites some of the reference material used by Hergé.

The lives of the Native Americans he took from Mœurs et histoire des Indiens Peaux-Rouges ("The Custom and History of the Indian Redskins" (a title which reflects the standards of the day, I'm afraid)).

For "modern" America there are two sources names. The first is Scenes de la vie future by Georges Duhamel, the second a special issue of Le Crapouillot (handily translated by Mr. Farr as "The Mortar Shell").

However, there is very little to say what Hergé used from them, and in the case where there are examples, it's hard to say that you could identify anything from them.
The skyline of New York as seen from the boat is reproduced with some fidelity, but not total accuracy, but isn't in Chicago anyway.
Likewise the industrial backgrounds on pages 53 and 54 are apparently based on a photo of a Ford industrial complex, which wouldn't be Chicago either.
The photo reference given in the Companion for the building Tintin clings to the front of, is in Chicago according to the caption, but it is also identified as The Chanin Building, which is a New York landmark (opened in 1929, the Chanin Building in NYC has a facing of black Belgian marble at ground level, so it would be entirely possible that the Brussels newspapers had covered this as a story, which Hergé might have seen). It also has to be said that, whatever the building is, the photo shows a much more elaborate level of detail in its façade than the one drawn by Hergé, so the photo could at best be described as "inspiration".

So I'm afraid it's more than likely that Hergé borrowed freely from far and wide to create a "Chicago" of the mind, rather than a real depiction of the city.

Of course, given that you are now on the spot, perhaps you could our about with your copy of the book, and see if you can make anything of what you can see today? ;-)

Feel free to report back if you discover anything! :-)
#3 · Posted: 2 Sep 2015 14:48
So I'm afraid it's more than likely that Hergé borrowed freely from far and wide to create a "Chicago" of the mind, rather than a real depiction of the city.

I see... then that would truly make it difficult to find the "Chicago" in Tintin in America, I suppose! Thanks for the insight though.

But if I find anything I'll be sure to report back. ;-)
(At least Hergé got the names right, like "Lake Michigan!")

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