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Tintin and the Digital Age: Panel Discussion, Somerset House 12th January 2016

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#1 · Posted: 29 Dec 2015 19:38
On the evening of Tuesday 12th January 2016, Somerset House are hosting a panel discussion, to be chaired by Michael Farr, and featuring Yves Fevrier from Studios Hergé, comics expert Paul Gravett, and me!

The Somerset House web-site describes the event as debating "why Tintin's legacy has such power to endure and influence the current generation of graphic artists and is still so beloved by families who have grown up in an age where the computer is king."

Tickets are £15, and you can book them through the website on the above link.
illustration inc
#2 · Posted: 13 Jan 2016 08:41
Hi Jock123!

I was one of the lucky few who got to attend the panel talk last night. I didn't have a chance to say thank you personally so here it is virtually instead!

I just wish we had had a further couple of hours to keep the talk going...

Do you know of any Tintin meet ups? I'm London based and would love to meet fellow London tintinologists. :)

#3 · Posted: 13 Jan 2016 12:25
Ah - glad you were able to make it! Thank you for attending, and it's kind of you to let me know - I appreciate it.

Yes, it could easily have gone on for a while, I think, and it would have been good to get to take the audience discussion further, but unfortunately that was all the time the venue could allow.

I don't know of any groups meeting, but it's certainly something to think about.

Paul also expressed an interest in doing some sort of longer event in the future, so let's see where that takes us!

Once again, good of you to come. Perhaps you could jot down a few notes for other members to let them know what happened? I'd do it myself, but modesty sort of forbids... ;-)
#4 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 01:46
I attended this discussion which had a packed house and a very informative and interesting one it was. Slides were used on a big screen in order to illustrate some of the points raised in the panellists' comments.

Michael Farr opened with a brief outline of how Tintin's appeal has lasted through the decades and generations. After Herge's death in 1983, many, including his collaborator Bob De Moor, expected Tintin to die out in the next few years since there were to be no new albums and how, against those expectations, Tintin is still a best-selling, multi-million industry with countless books detailing his history and discussing the issues raised in his stories.

Michael then went on to explain why he had been asked to provide a new translation for the digital books, rather than the original version by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner. He explained that because of the constraints of the speech bubbles and other restrictions (such as references to God which were not always acceptable at the time), the original translators had to make their text shorter and it did not always match the original French. With digitization it is possible to come up with a font size that will fit a lot more text into the speech bubbles and be closer to the original.

Michael also explained that with digitization it is possible to see a lot more in a scene than on the printed page. As an example he showed us panel 1 of page 57 of Tintin in America which features a meeting of a roomful of gangsters. By using close-ups on an iPad it is possible to see how much trouble Hergé went to to give detailed looks on the faces of these thugs. (I'd originally thought that the panel was supposed to be a reflection of us the audience :)

Yves Février then went on to explain how Tintin's books are becoming available online in various languages, including Chinese and Japanese, through iPlayer, Google Play and other sources and how audio dramatisations were being made for the visually impaired. Such dramatisations have already been made in French and I think he mentioned that there are talks ongoing with the BBC for an English version.

He also showed how 3-D printing is taking over from clay modelling in order to make models of Tintin, his friends, cars etc. They would like to make this available online but there are many technical, legal and financial issues that have to be dealt with.

Yves even gave an account of the influence of film on Tintin, such as panel 4, page 10 of America when Tintin makes his way from one window of his hotel room to another, seen from above at a very dramatic angle! There was also an account of the various film adaptations, from a stop-motion version of Crab made in the 1940s to Spielberg's movie.

Paul Gravett had copies of some of Herge's sketches and commented on how he would make rough outlines and draw pictures while considering a plot. He once drew a picture of Tintin wearing a kilt but then crossed it out because it had already been done.

Our own Jock123 gave an outline of Tintinologist.org and how it has brought together so many people from around the world to share a common interest and discuss aspects of the characters, plot points, life of Hergé etc.

As an example, he raised a thread which a mother had posted when her little boy asked where Müller got the stick he uses to knock out Tintin and Snowy in Black Gold.

He stated that another member of the forum was in the audience and asked if there were any others. When I raised my hand he said that the "money was in the post"! That was in front of a roomful of witnesses, remember! :)

After the discussion had ended, the audience was asked if they had any questions and I took the opportunity: When Tintin's stories were published in newspapers and magazines they included many scenes which were not included in the subsequent book publications. I asked Yves Février if there were any plans to publish these original versions in digital form.

He explained that they had considered publishing the original black-and-white versions of the 1930s but in the end decided to make panel-by-panel comparisons between the B&W and colour versions instead. He indicated that the deleted scenes might be made available as a similar extra in the future but not the entire story as published. My question was enough for Jock123 to guess who I was - Heavens knows I've raised the subject enough times on this forum :)

The evening was an opportunity for me to personally thank Michael Farr for his Tintin: The Complete Companion which had opened my eyes to how there was so much more to the books than I had originally thought.

I told him how I had always enjoyed Tintin but had never realised how much research Hergé had put into it and how it had reflected contemporary issues, such as Ottokar's Sceptre which was based on Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938. Michael was good enough to compliment me on my question to Yves Février.

Jock123 and I got to meet and, as he put it, "put a face to the name". He even introduced me to Harrock n roll, another moderator, with whom I had a pleasant chat about stage and screen adaptations, including a stage play of The Black Island which I was unaware of.

All in all, a very pleasant and informative evening. I'm glad I went.
#5 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 10:06
With digitization it is possible to come up with a font size that will fit a lot more text into the speech bubbles and be closer to the original.

I thought that was an interesting point, but rather missed an important understanding of the "grammar" of comics.

It wasn't through any limitation of the hand-drawn/ traditional lettering method in comics that the letter size was kept uniform; it would have been entirely possible to vary letter size to accommodate vast swathes of text.

But it *is* a long-observed fact that the eye finds it easier to read text of uniform size - this applies to any form of text - hand-written, printed, newspaper, book, comic, whatever. You can move between blocks of uniform text (so footnotes can be smaller than body text, and a main feature in a magazine might have a side-bar in a smaller font, but putting a line of small text in among other lines of a larger size makes the text harder to follow.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, the convention in comics is that if you change the size of the text, you change the intensity of the delivery of what is being said. So a large "Oh!" filling the balloon is a loud exclamation of surprise, and a small "Oh!" is a timid whisper in comparison.

The changing text size all over the page was literally the first thing I noticed when I looked at the app, and I'm not sure I will be alone in thinking that it is detracting from the look of the page.

The effect of black text on white balloons is something which contributes to the overall aesthetic of the page, and that is why the one-to-one relation between characters in the original and the translation is so important.

I appreciate Michael's points, and understand why it is being done like this, but it is more than a departure in just the translation that is being made.

When I raised my hand he said that the "money was in the post"! That was in front of a roomful of witnesses, remember! :)

Quite right too - however, the amount involved is less than the value of the stationery and stamp required, so in retrospect, perhaps you owe me money... ;-)

Joking aside, it was very nice to meet you in person after such a long time in the virtual world, and I'm glad that you found it worthwhile.
illustration inc
#6 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 17:33
Well, mct16 you beat me to the punch! A nice round-up of the events that took place at Somerset House.

The event could have run a lot longer with the amount of material the panel had kindly prepared. Yves quickly shot through a second presentation which, in the context of the app allowing the different formatting of the text, raised an interesting point about the frames that Herge favoured the most. The one shown was the frame in 'crab' that depicts what seems to be 4 or 5 (describing from memory...) desert assailants getting up and running away from the tirade of abusive coming from a very angry Haddock. Herge liked the frame because of its economy. Those retreating gunmen could very well be the same gunman in different stages of the retreat. The text in this frame is not in speech bubbles. Perhaps it was too violent to be contained within the walls of a bubble!

What struck me at the time was that the other favoured frame (where Tintin and co set foot on the island in 'rackham') shows a similar economy of movement but also no speech bubbles.

This prompts me to tell you all about something Paul mentioned that I could imagine working very well with the Tintin adventures. Paul's recent project involved the study of Korean comics viewable on the iphone. From what I understood, in these online comics, you scroll vertically and the frames appear in layers. So, the background would be the deepest layer and so on until the layer closest to the eye. Rather like a pop up book, I think, or an opera stage. The other exciting element to this would be using the phone's existing features so that, for example, when a gun was shot the phone might vibrate. Clever and immersive! Paul asked Yves whether the Tintin books could be imagined in this format and of course the works would take a very long time to produce this way. Each frame would need breaking down into several layers dependent on the complexity of the scene. However, I think in this modern world of crowdfunding, Tintin apps and bitcoin could the work not be crowdsourced? It would break the job down into bite sized pieces where professionals were charged with layering 100 frames each.

Yves spoke a lot about the 3d modelling processes that were at the forefront of the Tintin merchandise. I was unaware at how progressive their thoughts were on this and I wouldn't be surprised if there was virtual reality Tintin adventures in the next 15 years or so. Could we become Tintin....?

I managed to catch Michael Farr outside at the end of the talk. As ever, he is extremely graceful with his time and he answered a couple of my questions that there was not time for in the talk itself.

I asked Michael, referring to the gangster frame from America that mct16 mentioned, if Hergé kept records of faces or people from which he drew when he needed to create.

What has always struck me is that the inconsequential characters in Tintin seem also to have a richness that you know could be developed. They aren't blank cookie cutter 'extras' that pepper the main characters journeys. Indeed, in the Spielberg and Jackson film, the main baddie has been extrapolated from a character that does not feature as much as we may remember!

Michael informed me that Hergé had an excellent visual memory. While lunching with Hergé, Michael noticed that he would be taking in his surroundings and the people nearby (and not in an obvious way) so he could then later draw them from memory. I thought this fascinating as a keen amateur cartoonist myself.

Just a couple of final points I consider worth imparting:

For me, the best thing about the digital books is the portability. Not too long ago I found myself in an airport waiting for a delayed flight. I opened the iPad and started reading Cigars Ha! this is perfect I thought. I can soon carry all the albums in one hand!
The best way to view these books is not as a replacement but as an excellent addition.
After all, you'll never really be able to synthesise the smell of a Tintin book!

There is a new exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. The contract was signed the day preceding the talk and the panel were kind enough to let us know first.

I for one will be looking forward to seeing the new exhibition and sort of hoping for a delayed train so I can get the iPad out again....
#7 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 17:48
Some interesting points there, illustration inc.! I agree entirely that a major advantage of digital comics is their "compactness" and portability.

I'm not too certain that the addition of "3-D" to the Tintin adventures would bring that much to the party, although I like the idea of perhaps creating further vignettes, such as was done for the View Master reels of old, where key scenes might get a stereoscopic treatment. The problems of doing it post-facto, without any input of Hergé, to whole books, to me, is near insurmountable, not due to lack of man-power, but to the effect on his artistry - it would in many senses cease to be what he intended.

There is a thread devoted to identifying some of Hergé's models - funnily enough I was speaking to Valerie from The Tintin Shop, and to Paul, before the event started about the multiple use of Hergé's friend Édouard Cnapelinckx, who not only appears with Hergé in King Ottokar's Sceptre, but twice in one frame of The Seven Crystal Balls!
#8 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 18:42
Such dramatisations have already been made in French and I think he mentioned that there are talks ongoing with the BBC for an English version.

This is great perhaps it will be in audio book format.This is something I'm surprised Hasn't been produced in English before.

illustration inc:
For me, the best thing about the digital books is the portability.

It's fantastic that all the albums will be available to view on an iPad.
As we transition more-and-more into the age of portable media this is definitely the way to go.Not to change topics I'm someone who a few years ago thought this type of thing was ludicrous and how dare this happen. Now I'm more open to the fact that this is the future and its great that now Tintin will be readily more available.
illustration inc
#9 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 19:04
There is a thread devoted to identifying some of Hergé's models

That is an interesting thread - I knew Hergé was depicted along with Jacobs but the others were news. Makes sense really if the people are around you all day long, their features are bound to influence and make their way onto the page! I wonder why all the cameos in Sceptre in particular...?

I played a game with my girlfriend when watching the Tintin (I think Ellipse-Nelvana??) Canadian TV programmes of spotting Hergé. I think they put him in pretty much each story!

I'm not too certain that the addition of "3-D" to the Tintin adventures would bring that much to the party

Interesting point, jock123. Don't you think Hergé may have loved the experimentation with this highly sophisticated technology? As we heard, he was opposed to colour at first but when it was shown to be a superior printing technique he jumped on board. I rather like the idea. I'd like to 'read' one of these Korean comics Paul mentioned to see how it plays out.
#10 · Posted: 14 Jan 2016 22:26
illustration inc:
I wonder why all the cameos in Sceptre in particular...?

Why not - it's a glamorous scene, and I think it's fair to say that he must have got a kick putting the men into fancy uniforms and the ladies into posh frocks. I'm sure it would go down better than saying that he wanted someone to be a swarthy waiter, or some inept political activists!

illustration inc:
I played a game with my girlfriend ... of spotting Hergé.

Our full guide to the Hergé cameos in the series is here.
illustration inc:
Don't you think Hergé may have loved the experimentation with this highly sophisticated technology?

Perhaps - but that's the point, really: he'd have been the one experimenting.
As it happens, there were attempts in his lifetime (around the time Brussels held it's big World's Fair in 1958) to produce stereoscopic slides from Tintin books - and he didn't like the results at all (the company which undertook the production of the stereo pairs needed to add shading and shadows to the pictures to enhance the effect, and Hergé was upset that the flatness of colour he sought so hard to produce was lost as a result).

illustration inc:
he was opposed to colour at first but when it was shown to be a superior printing technique he jumped on board.

Yes, but he was very particular about what the colour should be like, and how it was applied, and worked it out in great detail. He only jumped when he was absolutely clear he could get the effect he wanted. To make major changes to render 3D effects might be what he'd want, but I'm sure he'd want the final word.

However, I'm happy that they are at least considering their options in regard to keeping Tintin before the public's eyes, and whatever they do do won't actually detract from or remove the originals, so there isn't at the bottom line, anything to worry about.

This is great perhaps it will be in audio book format.

The plan as discussed at the event is to license the BBC radio series with Richard Pearson, if the details can be sorted out.

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