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La Grande Aventure du Journal Tintin: A review of the definitive retrospective

#1 · Posted: 26 Sep 2016 23:58
Seventy years ago today saw the launch of the Tintin magazine, a weekly paper (for the young aged 7-77!) which carried our favourite boy reporter into the post war years in full colour.
A mixture of comics and news features, it entered what might have been thought a crowded market with limited potential for another title, but soon rose to be the premiere comic of its kind, expanding in size and reach (with international versions appearing later), until it was a dominant force.
To mark this anniversary, the publisher Le Lombard - which also celebrates its 70th birthday today - has, with the help of Éditions Moulinsart, produced an amazing and lavish retrospective of the magazine in its heyday, covering the period 1946-1988.
La grande aventure du Journal Tintin is a labour of love, and a wonderful showcase for the many people involved through the years.
On entering Brussels by Eurostar train you might be lucky to spot a large head and shoulders effigy of Tintin and Snowy, standing proudly on the roof of an art-deco office block a short walk from the Gare du Midi terminal. You might not know that this building was for many years home to Le Lombard.
Belgians love comics, and in post-Second World War Brussels a small publishing concern called "Yes", situated at 55 rue du Lombard (offices much less grand than their future home), and producing romance and film magazines, had ambitions to expand into that market, leading to the creation of the publisher now known as Le Lombard.
Its three founders were André Sinave, Albert Debaty and Raymond Leblanc, and it was Sinave who had the notion that there was an opening for a comic magazine, to lighten the post occupation mood (Leblanc, who like Debaty had to be persuaded that there was room for another children's paper, would later say, somewhat more cynically, that, when they began, if you could print anything, it would sell).
It was also Sinave who proposed that the ideal star attraction would be Tintin, and that Hergé should be approached: Leblanc did not need to be persuaded about that, as he had followed the adventures of Tintin since they started in 1929.
Hergé was pleased and flattered that his work was being sought after; the artist was dealing with post-war criticism for having worked (as did many others) for a newspaper which had fallen under the control of the German occupying forces. His new suitors, especially Leblanc, had been involved in the Belgian underground resistance, and their championing him was important to his being able to regain his right to work, and become a member of society again.
From these circumstances, the Tintin magazine was born. And this new book is its story.
This biography of the magazine playfully adopts and adapts the slogan mentioned above, devoting 777 pages to its history, development and content. Now we can see not just its birth, but the majority of its life - and what a life it was!
For the most part the book follows a chronological timeline (with an important deviation,explained below), and includes examples of the work of the many significant writers and artists who graced its pages over the decades, a feature which was seen as of primary importance.
However, problematically, many - if not indeed most - of the adventure comics were multi-part serial stories, and it would have been an unsatisfactory experience for the reader if one had to be informed of what came before, or read to the end of an episode without a resolution.
Inclusion of complete book-length stories would not make good use of limited space, and would of necessity reduce the number of examples which could be included.
What to do?
Well, the solution the author arrived at was simple, elegant and very useful.
The archives were searched, and from these were collated special one-off stories, spoofs and parodies, hommages and other short adventures by the cream of the Francophone comics world, many of which - having never been collected before or even reprinted - will be unfamiliar to even ardent fans of those characters they depict
So thanks to these "lost sheep" being included so copiously, in addition to functioning as a history of the magazine, the book is an invaluable anthology of "rarities and b-sides".
The deviation from the chronology which the editor has allowed, and was mentioned earlier, is that the comic strip is inserted at the point in the time-line where the key-players involved entered the magazine's history, not when the story included was itself first published.
It may sound a little confusing at first, but really it is an ingenious way of satisfying the need to tell the magazine's story while including as many comics as possible.
Obviously a good portion of the book is focused on Tintin, being that, along with Captain Haddock, he was ostensibly a member of staff, and a contributor, in the form of the adventures he went on.
In addition to being the original home for those stories in the series which he produced from 1946 onward, Hergé provided covers, editorial illustrations and supplementary items such as calendars and promotional pieces, and this book gathers together the best of these often over-looked works. This is a valuable addition to the library of Hergé's work available to fans and students of his art like us.
Sadly there isn't an uncollected adventure of Tintin's to be included, but we do get things like the sequences of special covers Hergé created relating to whatever Tintin story was running at the time, and many celebratory covers for events in the life of the magazine, holidays and seasonal happenings.
Also gathered are examples of pages and images published in the magazine, but later edited from or not included in, the final book. Some of these are quite well known, but I don't remember seeing the recap of the moon adventure which collapses eighty weeks of story into pictures with captions.
Just in case you were to think that Hergé was being short-changed, "complete" stories are provided for his popular pair of Brussels rascals, Quick & Flupke, including one in which (intriguingly) Flupke's dad appears, looking uncannily like Hergé's short-lived character M. Mopps...
To round out Hergé's stable of characters, there are pages of Jo, Zette & Jocko, including further covers drawn by Hergé, which are again very welcome.
However, even after all this, there is much more!
The magazine was also home to a roster of many of the other greats of the Belgian comics world, and La grande aventure du Journal Tintin comes into its own with the section devoted to the other writers and artists who graced its pages with a gallery of their characters: Michel Vaillant, Blake & Mortimer, Dan Cooper, Le Chevalier Blanc, Chevalier Ardent, Corentin, Strapontin, le Signor Spaghetti, Ric Hochet, Modeste et Pompon, Bob Binn, l'Indésirable Désiré, Prudence Petitpas.
Now, it has to be said, that many of these will be unfamiliar to readers in the English-speaking world, but don't let that put you off - this is a huge book, with the stars of the BD universe, so these one-shot examples may lead you to seek out longer stories - perhaps even in French!
The collection never becomes dull or repetitive thanks to the surprises it springs: for example, of course E.P. Jacobs is well represented, and there are examples of his Blake& Mortimer characters - but also included for side-by-side by side comparison are spoof pages by Dany, which redraw sections of The Secret of the Swordfish for comedy effect!
Jacob's one-off piece is a retelling of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun - which makes a lovely companion to his own Egyptian adventure for Blake & Mortimer.
This is a beautifully designed book, with many lovely details - from the red spine which calls to mind the spines of the earliest Tintin albums, to the gallery of wonderful caricatures by artist Tibet, portraying Hergé and colleagues as they were in 1966 when the pictures were first published, which adorn the end-papers.
The sections flow together well, and the year-by-year retrospectives are copiously provided with photos, biographies of contributors, background to characters, information on the content and development of the magazine, and an indication of what was happening in the wider world in that year, from material which the comic had carried.
As someone who didn't have the opportunity or luck to grow up with Tintin magazine, this is an invaluable insight into an area with which I was unfamiliar (probably even more so than I knew!), so it is a welcome addition to the canon of works on Hergé and his contemporaries.
Inevitably there is some overlap with the earlier Le Journal Tintin: Les coulisses d'une aventure, Dominique Mariq's sixtieth anniversary look at the magazine, but each complements the other, and the intentions are different, so if you have the earlier volume, there is no barrier to getting this new book too, as it isn't intended to be a replacement.
I heartily recommend this new work to Tintinologists of all ages, and would not hesitate to suggest that it will be of value to comics and comic-art lovers and historians of all stripes too! It is a wonderful book and a worthy tribute to its subject. Add it to your "must have" list!
You can see some sample images from the book over on the Tintinologist Facebook page - please, go and take a look!
[Thank you to Diane Rayer at Le Lombard for allowing me to see an advance copy of the book to prepare this review, which was much appreciated.]

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