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Harry Thompson: "Tintin: Hergé and His Creation"

#1 · Posted: 1 Nov 2009 05:08 · Edited by: Moderator
Hey All,

I have to be honest here and declare that this book and its conclusion is truly one of the best I've ever read for a study of the work of Herge.

His whole novel is amazing with its detailed yet simplistic writing style and his finish to this biography is unique and something which is yet to be surpassed.

I have to say that Michael Farr's works are simply too heavy at some stages – they remind me of my university textbooks, very academic.
Don't get me wrong I'm not anti Farr, he has done wonders for providing English/French lovers of Tintin with some great books and informative reading, love his recent mini character books plus the outstanding 'Companion' which is a must for any Tintin collector – yet you have to be in a focused state of mind whist reading as the text is very heavy in some stages.

The point I'm trying to make is that despite nil access to the Herge archives and no assistance from the Herge Foundation, Thompson still wrote a better and much more readable book. It is the ultimate biography and is a shame it is so hard to get a hold of, many Tintin lovers probably have not read it or don't have a copy due to its limited print run – another reprint perhaps?

He wrote this text without the authorisation nor help of the Herge society, is does make you wonder how much better it could have been has they provided Thompson with support and access to their extensive archives.

There are interviews and comments from Bob de Moor and Michael Turner, sadly these people can not be contacted for further comment for future books, and I especially loved their key thoughts and recollections thru the book.

He was a great writer and really wrote the definitive book on Herge and Tintin which leaves all others in its wake.
Some great quotes in the conclusion highlight this for me:
'The Tintin books map out the twentieth century....At times they managed to ripple the waters of international politics.'
'Tintin has barely dated at all, which is often the test of great literature.'

Who else is in agreement that this book, despite his barriers to information from Herge Foundation is easily the best reference book around?

One last question, at the end of the conclusion Thompson includes an extract from a letter Herge wrote to Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper (what an amazing letter by the way which really sums up Tintin and his redeeming qualities!!) does anyone know where I can access the letter in its entirety? I would love to read it from start to finish so if anyone can help, much appreciated :)


#2 · Posted: 1 Nov 2009 23:31
Hi Rodney

Nice post. I am in full agreement with your thoughts about Thompson's book compared to Farr's work. Although, in some ways I think Thompson benefits from not having the endorsement of the Herge Foundation. He gives his opinion of events quite straight. No need to toe the official line or curry favour with the folks at Herge, I guess. What a pity that this book is out of print. I would love to get my hands on a copy. I am reading a library copy at the moment and I'm dreading returning it.

Best wishes
#3 · Posted: 3 Nov 2009 00:01
Yes, a brilliant book. I used to borrow it often from my local library until it was lost/stolen. I've been looking for it everywhere! Thanks for sharing the link.
#4 · Posted: 13 Nov 2009 01:22
I will have to read it.
#5 · Posted: 29 Oct 2017 00:28
I've very recently had the pleasure of reading Thompson's book and I found myself quite fond of it only a few chapters in, it's certainly an easy and enjoyable read Hergé and his life running parallel to that of Tintin's success.

I cannot judge the literature's legitimacy on whether accounts are true (be they embellished) or false (be they inaccurate or handily omitted) though. I've only read this and Farr's Complete Companion in terms of Tintin literature. Thompson didn't get access to the archives or work with the Foundation but, as said above, it works on the advantage that Thompson didn't need to please anyone or stick to a set agenda. His opinions are very matter-of-fact but always respectful, never crude and never grossly speculative on who Hergé 'really was'. Hergé himself is quite the enigmatic figure though not in a negative way. He was just a modest human being with talents and flaws who experienced many traumas between the 1920s and 1980s. He never comes across as arrogant, self-centered or willfully ignorant.

One subject I appreciated being discussed, which I need to rattle on about for a while, is the female characters issue. Thompson only talks about it for a page and and a half (p.107 to p.109) but I found the content worth considering when thinking about the series. It's easy to believe Hergé was a sexist/misogynist for lacking female characters in The Adventures of Tintin and the Numa Sadoul quote from his 1989 book fuels that fire. But what Thompson suggests is that Hergé had no ulterior motive for not including more recurring female characters. It was due to morality and masculine notions of social gentility instilled from a religious upbringing, not out-and-out chauvinism, and he later compares Hergé to Frank Richards in the way of treating women with respect and courtesy. Belgian society was completely different in the 1930s to the 2010s and it's important to consider that context. Not to excuse it by any means but to accept that was life then.

Admittedly when you're a female fan, it's easy to feel saddled with the melodramatic narcissist diva Bianca Castafiore as your main representation (ignoring Mrs Finch and Irma). You just assume that's how Hergé felt about your gender. Over time I've grown not to care so much and to accept it is what it is but upon reading the above, I don't feel Hergé intended to be malicious over that decision and was trying to be considerate. He didn't find ridiculing women as funny as ridiculing men. Bianca, for all her foibles, is just an opera singer caricature carried from his real life dislikes (along with Wagg-like insurance salesmen) whom happens to be female. And she's unique in heavily averting slapstick shtick ridicule, instead being is the ridiculer. Watching her make the lads squirm when she sings, be strong willed in the face of dictatorship and pull off the most gaudy fashion pieces is now a delight. I respect her far more now than I did when I started getting into the series 10 years ago and lovingly embrace her.

Moving on, another thing I like about the book is the dedicated chapter to Hergé's frustrations with Raymond Leblanc and his limited creative input towards the Belvision adaptations and the live action films. In fact, the whole Belvision episode comes across as an unfortunate exploitative farce for all involved. And I'd love to learn more about the film/television adaptations generally. But the way Thompson wrote about the 1972 Lake of Sharks film made me giggle, with every plot element followed by "no explanation why" in brackets (p.247).

And it's nice to get a different perspective on a well known individual that doesn't involve an extreme "prodigal saint" to "evil incarnate plus acute over-analysis" scale with no "complex human being with good and bad aspects" in between. That unfortunately plagues Walt Disney's biographies, for example, and how he's constantly interpreted in pop culture with often little consideration to societal context. And, come to think about it, the sexism/racism/political accusations are surprisingly similar to what Hergé encountered. The insinuations are thankfully less brutal towards Hergé than they are to Walt but you can still see how Hergé had a very hard time shaking off the various stigma and was haunted. It would be interesting to compare Walt and Hergé further but that's for a totally different discussion.

The first complaint I have about the book is, whilst it touches on Quick and Flupke as well as Jo, Zette and Jocko, it doesn't go into more detail about their origins and varying levels of success. The book's focus is, obviously, on Hergé's complex relationship with The Adventures of Tintin so I can't really grumble. I would still like to see more attention given to those series and other lesser known works so perhaps I need to look elsewhere. Although funnily enough, the central library in my town features more of their stories than they do of Tintin! So I've no excuse to not properly read them again.

The second complaint is that Harry Thompson names Captain Haddock's nationality, which we know is a fervent topic here but gives no substantial evidence. Thompson refers to the Captain as "an English sailor" (p.127) and says "there was already a Briton with the [Aurora] party in the shape of Haddock" (p.139) in The Shooting Star chapter. He does also say the same of Captain Chester and Allan but we're all more concerned with old salt Archibald's nationality than anyone else's.

Those quibbles aside, I'd recommend Thompson's book to fellow Tintin fans (with a pinch of salt).

Though, having just read the above messages after finishing my library copy within 4 hours of borrowing it, I'm now anxious about this one disappearing in the near future! Maybe I'll lovingly hold this one hostage for a bit.
#6 · Posted: 31 Oct 2017 01:43 · Edited by: mct16
A very good review, idirosyncratic! I might be tempted to ad this book to my Christmas list. :)

About the lack of female characters: from other sources, I get the impression that a major factor was that it was felt at the time that the role of women should be minimized in comics aimed mainly at boys. As a general rule, male characters did not have girlfriends due the possibly sexual nature of such relationships. The French censors could be particularly strict about this and Belgian comics depended on sales in France. Therefore, female characters had very little to do, not just in Herge's "Tintin", but many other comics such as Jacobs' "Blake et Mortimer", Franquin's "Spirou et Fantasio", Will's "Tif et Tondu" or Peyo's "Johan et Pirlouit".

This attitude started to relax in the late 1950s and early 1960s when female characters started to play important roles in these "boys-only" comics. A good example is Seccotine who appears in "Spirou et Fantasio" as a very capable and independent woman and reporter, though Fantasio, a rival journalist, tended to see her as more of a pesky nuisance than a help and thus tended to loath her. Female characters such as Jidehem's "Sophie" became titular heroines in their own right in the 1960s and many more such as Walthéry's "Natacha", the adventures of a shapely air hostess, appeared in the 1970s.

If you go to this post about a TV interview with Herge and search for "there is a lack of women in the stories", you'll find more about his views on the subject.
#7 · Posted: 31 Oct 2017 11:57
Thank you for the additional context, mct16, and the interview you translated helps a great deal!

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