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Hergé: Interview on French (Belgian?) Television?

#1 · Posted: 25 Jan 2008 18:29
Found a clip on-line. When is this from? And what is he saying?
My guess it's from the 50’s and he's talking about Tintin…

Moderator Note: The clip is available to view on the copyright owner’s site here.
#2 · Posted: 26 Jan 2008 18:08
It's amazing what you can find on the Net, isn't it?

I might be wrong but I don't think that it is an actual Belgian TV programme since the interviewer mentions going to Belgium, Herge's country of residence - something that would be unnecessary to say on Belgian TV. There is also an interview with a man who appears to be a leading French-Canadian politician.

Herge is mentioned as working on a story about jewels and gypsies - "The Castafiore Emerald" - which would make it the early 1960s. And can you think of him being questioned on anything other than Tintin?

Here is my modest attempt to summarise the interview (sentences in square brackets [] are my own observations):

He is described as doing the outline of the story and drawing the characters. After that several specialised collaborators [they probably mean Bob de Moor or Roger Leloup] will work on the furniture or machinery because "everything must be correct in the illustrations submitted to the world's severest critics" (remarks from the interviewer).

His working name comes from a reversing of his initials: Georges Remi = G.R. = R.G. = Herge.

They talk about his childhood influences. He tells of how he would tell himself stories and draw strips in his school notebooks in order not to forget them. This sometimes got him into trouble since he failed to pay attention to whatever the teacher was saying.

He did not see drawing as a career since it was not then the major industry that it is today. He saw his future as rather vague.

He was a scout at 12 and enjoyed it very much. He still goes camping with his wife in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

The interviewer describes Tintin as someone with virtues when compared to real-life children. "Too much, perhaps", Herge agrees, describing him as "not human, he is an outline of humanity". An English critic is quoted as describing Tintin as a "goody-goody". Tintin is the sort of hero that many children might aspire to be. He is not an athlete or a Superman and wins out thanks to his intelligence rather than his strength.

Herge tells of how he drew "Totor, Patrol Leader" for the magazine "Boy-Scout Belge" ("Belgian Boy Scout") while a scout himself. Totor is described as an "ancestor" of Tintin since they had many similarities.

Herge describes Tintin as about 15 or 16. He hesitates in stating that Tintin is "Belgian", seeing him more as a combination of various North-Western European cultures, not typically Belgian, even though Herge is himself.

Tintin's round and simple face is a bit "too holy" states Herge, who admits that he drew a simple oval face both out of laziness and because it would be easily identified one week to the next when first published. He does not pay much importance to Tintin's clothes, the sweater and plus-fours being a design that comes almost "automatically".

He describes the difficulties in translating "Tintin" in other languages, especially Captain Haddock's outbursts to which English translators are hard pressed to find equivalents to in their own language. Herge states that the British translation is slightly better than the American one.

[I don't know if it is a reflection of the times, but there is a lot of criticism of Americans and their own comics in this programme.]

Herge has never considered re-adapting Tintin to "American mentality" - it's pointed out again that Tintin is a hero who resorts to brains rather than brawn in his adventures. He does state that the Americans strongly objected to Haddock's penchant for whisky - "Everyone knows that Americans never drink whisky(!)" he remarks. Thus some drawings had to be modified or taken out in order not to show Haddock taking too much pleasure in drinking.

Blacks also had to be taken out of the stories when published in the US. "Everyone knows that there are no blacks in America," says Herge [but I think that he is being sarcastic].

["Tintin in America" and "The Crab with the Golden Claws" are examples of this. Black characters appeared in both books when they were originally published in Europe but were changed to white at the behest of American publishers: "Crab" for instance originally had a black sailor whom Tinitn tied to a chair and was punched to the floor by Alan; he was later replaced by a white man.]

At the time of the interview, neither "Tintin in the Congo" nor "The Red Sea Sharks" had been published in the US. Herge says that the books will "never appear in America". [I believe that that policy has now thankfully changed.]

Herge admits to receiving a lot of mail from children and describes them as "very difficult" readers to please, since a lot of his fan mail points out the mistakes he has made in the drawings and how he has to make greater efforts in his research. One reader sent him a letter claiming that when the eclipse occurs in "Prisoners of the Sun", in the southern hemisphere, the moon should be seen getting in the way of the sun in the direction opposite to which Herge shows.

The interviewer points out the amount of research that goes into Tintin, but it is not easy. Herge describes how on one occasion he was unable to obtain pictures of the New Delhi police in India. Following a report, a boy from India sent him details of the New Delhi police including colour pictures of the force.

Herge cannot explain the appeal of Tintin to adults. He does not believe that the illustrations are sufficient to explain it. He just doesn't know.

Suddenly we are taken to a separate interview in which a man [I think he is Gerard Pelletier, a French-Canadian politician] describes how he still enjoys reading Tintin, even though his children are old enough to read it themselves. He points out that a lot of the humour is designed to appeal to adults even if it is lost on children. He particularly points out "King Ottokar's Sceptre" and how it highlights Western diplomacy in the Balkans. He describes it as an excellent satire. When comparing Tintin to American comics he describes it as a case of "night and day": Tintin contains a lot more, teaching children a lot of things, especially in terms of geography. He claims to have been to Peru and that an adventure based there admirably describes the lives of Peruvians. Tintin, he states, handles his situations with more intelligence and less gratuitous violence than American publications and is often quoted by children. He describes Tintin as appealing to children of all cultures and languages: he claims that when he and his family moved into a neighbourhood that only spoke English, some hostility developed between the local kids and his own who only spoke French. But when his children produced a Tintin book, the English speakers went through it, even though they could not read the French, and found it far superior to their own comics.

Back to Herge. He does not consult children, parents or teachers about what they think of his stories [I don't think that he had any children of his own]. When it comes to points of conflict he consults his collaborators. He has little contact with children: he does not consider it important, putting more emphasis, it seems, on his own intuition. He believes that he can feel what appeals to children.

Violence might affect children but it is balanced by humour: a man being punched, for example, is shown seeing stars or falling in a comical way.

He does not decide in advance where an adventure should take place: he develops an idea and then chooses a suitable location.

"Tintin in Tibet" was deliberately made different to the others in that it describes a rescue mission and is devoid of violence, firearms, spies, villains or gangsters. The only things holding the rescuers back are the elements, like wind and snow, while the "so-called abominable snowman" is a lovable creature, even if he confronts Tintin in a very dramatic way.

It's pointed out that all the adventures take place in foreign countries but none in just Belgium itself. It was never a deliberate thing. He then says that the story which he is working on at the moment ("The Castafiore Emerald") does take place in Belgium (his own country) but could be anywhere in the world.

It's pointed out that there is a lack of women in the stories, even though it appeals to girls and mothers as well as boys and fathers. He admits that this is because sentimentality has little place in Tintin's stories. They are mainly about men getting into all sorts of "misadventures rather than adventures" and "mocking women would not be nice": a man slipping on a banana skin, providing he does not brake a leg, is much funnier than if it happened to a woman. He does not want to ridicule women. As the lady interviewer puts it, "It has nothing to do with the misogynist world of the boy scout".

Someone has compared Herge's work to Balzac, but he laughs this off, saying that the only thing that they have in common are their many characters.

Asked if he sees himself mainly as a novelist or an illustrator, he seems to think that in his case both are linked - a bit of a graphic novelist. When planning the story he sees the illustrations more than the text. Text is only there to describe things that cannot be described otherwise.

He enjoys his work, though not always, finding it sometimes tiring: "Creation is amusing even if you suffer a bit". [An unmentioned example would be when he had a breakdown while working on the Moon adventures.] He works on his illustrations to show as much as possible.

He enjoys the countryside. He's rather vague in describing his interests. He does not like travelling much: Tintin does it for him.

When asked if there is a lot of Tintin in him, he states that it is impossible not to put a bit or a lot of oneself in one's work. He admits that maybe there is something of him in Tintin but he would not know what or how much.
#3 · Posted: 26 Jan 2008 19:11
Thank you! I can cope barely with written French, but spoken... Nah. So many thanks to you mct16 for the summary.
Of course I understood he spoke about Tintin, and it is very interesting hearing his actual voice and seeing him "live". I'm also very fond of his humour, and him being a bit sarcastic from time to time (especially about the Americans...) and his almost notorious unwillingness to talk about himself... But perhaps it's just tintinologists like me who are interested in the man behind the works.

Once again: thanks!
#4 · Posted: 31 Jul 2009 13:41
Just found this interview again here.

(http://archives.radio-canada.ca/arts_culture/arts_visuels/clips/13234 /)

For some reason I can't get the URLs of this particular site to embed here.

The other man is Gérard Pelletier and the lady interviewer is Judith Jasmin. It's a French-Canadian production.
#5 · Posted: 28 Jan 2019 00:40
This interview is now available on the official Tintin site.

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