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Le ThermoZéro: Should it be released?

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#31 · Posted: 28 Oct 2021 09:37
I thought I would share a few observations.

Thank you so much for that!
It's interesting to have a more detailed breakdown of something which has always been elusive, so this is really useful stuff!
On the Vesuvius preamble, I wonder if that was always intended to be an optional section? Is there any indication how long it might have been intended to be? If it was less than a page, it might have been going to be "disposable", an extra couple of rows to be used in the magazine, but omitted from the album to allow the addition of the story title on page one, as happened with Tibet, for example. If it looked likely to run to a couple of pages or more, then we can scratch that idea!

Interesting that the scenario was polished by Jacques Martin. I've generally seen the Pillules/ ThermoZéro question heavily caveated - not so much that people thought that they were separate entities, just that nobody knew for sure! Good to have that cleared up, and interesting that the source of the confusion could be pin-pointed. Does the article suggest who actually applied these names in the first place, if the working title was Scénario Tintin?

I love the idea of this being a "solo" Tintin adventure - much as I love the "paper family", I think that Hergé's constant endeavour to shoe-horn them all in all the time was a trifle stifling, and I would happily have had Tintin and Snowy team back in action as the focus.

Hergé was right to abandon this project.

May be, but I'd still like to have the book to find out!
Maybe part of the enjoyment would be to see how close the stories could be while remaining different; Hitchcock ploughed a very narrow furrow for a lot of his work, and delighted in doing so by seeing how changing the "MacGuffin" could dress up very similar plots.

Pure speculation makes me wonder if having it a re-hash of Calculus Affair wasn't actually a deliberate move by Greg to show Hergé that he was better setting his own stories? That was the outcome after all.

My apologies for the length of this post!

None needed - it's good of you to share. Thanks for the data!

I hope the content justifies it.

It certainly does - I'm much better informed for having read it!
#32 · Posted: 28 Oct 2021 12:51
On the Vesuvius preamble, I wonder if that was always intended to be an optional section? Is there any indication how long it might have been intended to be?

Oh, I would say a page or two. I'll give you a more detailed summary.
The opening images are of little craters in the suburbs of Naples 'in the shadow of Vesuvius'. A guide tells the tour group about the destruction of Pompeii, including the damage from sulphurous fumes. He demonstrates how a lit cigarette causes the little craters to produce clouds of smoke. Haddock, who is not paying attention, lights his pipe, with a result that you can picture for yourself!
Then he and Tintin have a conversation about their plans for the rest of the holiday. And then we actually see two further short scenes: one of Nestor alone at Marlinspike bringing in the newspapers, which have headlines about 'a new international espionage affair'; and a scene of the Thom(p)sons receiving instructions to investigate the same affair.
Only after that do we get the scene of Tintin and Haddock driving that serves as the beginning of the later pencilled pages.

And to elaborate on my comment that the Vesuvius scene prefigures the Thermozéro: we learn that it is designed to cause explosions in the vacuum of space and that, if used in ordinary conditions, it threatens to "inflame the molecules of oxygen in the air in a Dantean explosion".

Does the article suggest who actually applied these names in the first place, if the working title was Scénario Tintin?

No, Goddin's piece doesn't explain. But I've had another look at what Jean-Marie Embs and Philippe Mellot say in the Archives Tintin edition of Tibet, and there are some hints there.

They say that, in 1960, Hergé remembered an article that he had kept from Marie-France about some Americans who became 'radioactive' from exposure to 'a mysterious pill'. He then wrote this note: 'A bottle (or any other object) containing a deadly product (atomic pills? See Marie-France) has been taken (by mistake) by someone. Tintin will pursue the fellow and will reach him at the moment when the product in question is going to begin its ravages'.

Embs and Mellot go on to say that Hergé handed over 'the development of a scenario inspired by this idea' to Greg, who rapidly produced 'a fifteen-page synopsis, untitled, that Hergé baptised Tintin et le Thermozéro'. Now, the scenario that I have been talking about, according to Goddin's introduction, was sixteen pages in its original format. But a small discrepancy like that might easily be explained (for example, perhaps the sixteenth was just a cover page that Embs and Mellot didn't count). So we can probably infer that these are the same thing.

My best guess, then, is that Hergé himself came up with the pills idea but didn't develop it beyond the note I quoted; and when we see references to Les Pilules, they are extrapolations from this earliest, embryonic version of the idea. Then Greg took over and changed the macguffin to the Thermozéro, which led Hergé to name the project Tintin et le Thermozéro. What do you think?

I would happily have had Tintin and Snowy team back in action as the focus.

Interested in this take! A weakness of Alph-Art, I think, would have been the huge number of returning characters. I don't know if you also read Valerian, but the finale of that series does a similar thing, and it leaves too little space for the story. On the other hand, we already have a pared-back book in Tibet, focusing just on Tintin and Haddock. And I find it hard to imagine the later Tintin without at least Haddock. Don't you feel his absence in Black Gold?

May be, but I'd still like to have the book to find out!

Well, yes! Or at least, I'd like an Alph Art-style book. Even though some of the Thermozéro material has already been published, it's all in such scattered and difficult-to-find places.

a deliberate move by Greg to show Hergé that he was better setting his own stories?

My sense is that, from about the time of Red Sea Sharks, Hergé tried to avoid repeating himself. All the books after that are distinctive or experimental in some way. With Greg, in contrast, the similarity to Calculus Affair makes me think of how his other Tintin plot, Lake of Sharks, draws so heavily from Secret Ray (the boy and girl standing in for Jo and Zette, the underwater tank, the underwater lair that floods at the end). So maybe just different tendencies? But I haven't read any of Greg's other work.

That was another long post. But I'm pleased you're interested in this too.
#33 · Posted: 30 Oct 2021 15:06
I thought I would share a few observations.

Thank you for your summary of the plot. It has been fascinating to read. I don't recall ever being told of the Vesuvius episode (or maybe I've forgotten) but that would be in the spirit of Tintin travelling to real-world locations as a tourist and not just for adventure.

I hope that this script will become available sometime in book form. There have been suggestions of an Alph-Art-like book edition but, as far as I know, it has never gone any further.

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[This was a moderator note from a post which was deleted for being vexatious and adding nothing to the discussion]

Thank you, :)

My usual view of Thermozéro, as stated at the start of this thread, is that it would be a good basis for a film and RedVictory356's remark that it is similar to Calculus Affair would mean that it would appeal to those who enjoy such adaptations, while seeming to be more original since Tintin is in pursuit of spies who have stolen a dangerous device rather than simply out to rescue a friend - who hardly appears in the story anyway.
#34 · Posted: 10 Aug 2023 01:53
A while ago in this thread I made two long posts about Greg's original scenario for Thermozéro. I mentioned a second draft, which was published in L'Univers d'Hergé volume 6 (Rombaldi, 1988). I've now read this second draft so thought I would post some further comments.

1. There's some confusion about authorship. Benoît Peeters, in his introduction to this second draft, writes 'The text that I present here is a synthetic transcription of the story, compiling different versions'. But Philippe Goddin, in the 2003 magazine mentioned in my earlier posts, describes the same text as 'the fair copy of a manuscript by Jacques Martin, presumably developed in the course of multiple exchanges with Hergé'.

2. The format is different. Greg's original scenario is like an extended synopsis: mostly narration with only the occasional dialogue. The second draft is like a play or screenplay: mostly dialogue with the occasional narration to fill gaps. I expected this to be more satisfying to read. It's actually less satisfying; without as much narration, more reliance is placed on the images to tell the story, and of course we don't have the images (except for a few sketches from various points in the plot—not just the beginning!—that Peeters inserts to illustrate the script). Also, at times the script is not very polished; it's just plot exposition. I imagine that Hergé would have made it punchier and more characterful.

3. There are some changes from Greg's original scenario. The Vesuvius prologue, as we've already discussed, is gone. Calculus appears earlier and has a larger role. Wagg now has a role. Some of the new characters have different names. Some twists and turns are different; for instance, the macguffin ends up at a pharmacy by mistake. Still, the plot is basically the same. So I won't add to my earlier commentary on it.

4. But I'll expand on one point. The decision about whether to complete this seems like a fork in the road:

- The road not taken was to complete it. That might have led to more of the same: more adventure stories that repeated the formula of Calculus Affair or Red Sea Sharks, produced collaboratively. Maybe the role of the collaborators would have expanded and Hergé would ultimately have stepped aside. Maybe we would still be getting new albums today, like with Thorgal or Alix or Asterix. A hint at what this might have looked like is Lake of Sharks since it was scripted by Greg and adapted into a book by Bob de Moor.

- The road that actually was taken was to abandon Thermozéro in favour of projects that were idiosyncratic and experimental, even deconstructionist: Castafiore Emerald, 714, Picaros. I don't believe it would have been viable for others to continue the series in this non-formulaic way. It requires a strong authorial voice and has a natural endpoint (in my opinion, that natural endpoint is Picaros, but that might be a discussion for a different thread).

5. I still think Hergé made the right choice. In fact, as much as I'd like to see an Alph-Art-style book about Thermozéro, I understand why the estate (Moulinsart/TintinImaginatio) is reluctant to authorise that. Except for artwork such as the eight pencilled pages from the beginning of the story, which are comparatively easy to find, none of this material is by Hergé himself and none of it matches the quality of his own work.
#35 · Posted: 12 Aug 2023 17:04
Some excellent points there, RedVictory356 - thanks for taking the time to share them!

In addition to his feeling unable to indulge his natural tendency to create extemporaneous gags and situations as they arose, I wonder if Hergé also felt some of what you did in your second point - that the narrative in the scenarios didn't fire his imagination?

Also your distinction between the formulaic nature of the adventure story and the more experimental aspects of what came next is a very good insight as to why Le ThermoZéro failed to ignite as a Tintin story, but might have been thought to serve as a template for a Jo, Zette & Jocko re-boot.

I take on board what you say about the possible reasons for the lack of an official collection and release of the material, but personally still think it's possible that the J,Z&J outing might get some sort of archival outing, with the background to its development included.
#36 · Posted: 13 Aug 2023 03:43
I wonder if Hergé also felt some of what you did in your second point - that the narrative in the scenarios didn't fire his imagination

Yeah, maybe! And I suspect Hergé enjoyed discovering for himself where a plot was going, allowing the characters to lead him there. That was impossible here.

a template for a Jo, Zette & Jocko re-boot.

I'd also be keen to see the Jo, Zette & Jocko version. I don't think that series ever reached its potential. Secret Ray is simplistic by the standard of the Tintin stories of that period. Stratoship is better. The first half of Cobras (the part from 1939) is great, especially the character of the Maharajah; I really like it. But the second half (finally completed in 1953-4 with heavy reliance on the studio) fizzles out, as if Hergé didn't care about it at that point and just felt obliged to get it finished.

So I agree with you. As a Tintin story, Thermozero would have been a retread. But as a Jo, Zette & Jocko story it might have been novel and interesting.

I'm also intrigued by the plan to make Thermozero into a film. According to the website of the National Film Board of Canada, they were sent a synopsis in 1967 that, based on the description, must be one of the two drafts of Thermozero that I've summarised in this thread. But the idea was to change the setting from Europe to Quebec.

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