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Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin Paperback – Nov 1 2011
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"Highlights yet again that all-too-common divide between the flawed private man and the admirable creative genius.... Those fascinated by the strange lives of creative geniuses may want to read Assouline's fine, if somewhat disillusioning, biography." --Michael Dirda, Washington Post
"Will inform and edify America's Tintin devotees." --San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Pierre Assouline is a prominent French journalist and writer. His has written several novels as well as acclaimed biographies of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and detective novelist Georges Simenon. He is also a film producer and was the 2007 winner of the prestigious Prix de la Langue
Francaise. Charles Ruas is the author of Conversations with American Writers and a frequent contributor to ArtNews and Art in America.
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The book is set in three major divisions, the early years up until 1944 where he was working and developing his craft. The second division in the book is the World War II period where he was accused of collaboration for working on a tightly controlled paper during the war years. And then the final years of his life post 1950 where he continued with personal growth and the explosion of Tintin related materials that cemented his Herge persona and reconciliation with family, friends, and his work under German occupation during the war years. This is where the book gets interesting; the stark contrasts between the personality of Herge and Georges Remi stand out throughout this book daring the reader to draw conclusions between the public and the private. As a public person Herge/Remi had every reason to control that image, as a private person we know almost nothing, but Remi does come off as somewhat of a control freak as discussed in his later 1970's interviews.
Overall, this is a fantastic view of the man Georges Remi and the complex personality that he had. This is not a book about Tintin; rather this is a book about the creator of one of the coolest comic series written. People who are fascinated by people and the complexity of people will love this book. People who are looking for another Tintin comic might be interested in this one. I am very happy I got this book, and it is well worth reading. Rated 5 of 5 stars - I hope there is another book that explores more of Herge in depth.
Last few years has seen a surge in books on Herge and Tintin, Michale Farr's works in particular, and the newly translated Art of Herge series have given new insights into the working of Herge. How he went about creating the stories, what he used for his ever so detailed art work as reference, etc.
This book by Pierre Assouline is a refreshingly new look at the life and times of Herge. The focus is now on the happenings in the background as Herge went about spinning tale after tale of adventure and fun. It gives a very balanced and unbiased view on Herge, his political social situation, his views and attitudes, and how the political situation in Europe during the early twentieth century was shaping the creativity of Herge and others like him.
It talks about interesting things that artists, readers and anyone interested in Tintin, French/Belgian, European art/journalism in that part of history, will find very informative. This also gives a good coverage on some controversial aspects such as racial stereotyping and such. And how Herge was simply being himself, in tune with the times, plain and straight and not worrying about "political correctness" or being a hero. Those were indeed strange times, to learn that Herge was imprisoned for alleged 'collaboration' with the German occupation and some even thought he should be hanged!!
The book is full of little stories that give answers to so many questions that we might have, artistically and otherwise, for instance, here is a story about how Herge hired a very talented Jacob who influenced Herge in bringing in meticulous details to the mechanical drawings of cars and airplanes. Numerous such stories fill the book. How people, events and situations influenced the artist in his creation are a very interesting read.
The book takes the reader through the life of Herge during his creative professional years, evolution of the stories, evolution of the formats, how it all started as political journalism, as newspaper strip with the journalist investigating communist Russia, colonial Africa etc., and how the Tintin series itself matures and became more sophisticated as time progressed, with adventurous stories such as the Red Rackham's treasure and the The Destination Moon sequels. We also learn about how the series was revised, reformatted, colored and transformed into a uniform series, and how much of time and labour went into it.
The book is very well paced, like that of an exciting novel, that you want to finish it all in one go. but being a great fan of Herge and his works, one wants to sip it in ever so slowly, enjoying every bit of it as we enjoy Herge's works.
I think the one shortcoming of this book is the lack of photos or samples of Tintin art. A bit of a major oversight given this is about an artist! I know this is a biography about the man, but a little more insight into what made his work so unique and effective would have enhanced the readers' appreciation and understanding of the artist.
Assouline is at his best when describing Herge's wartime and immediate postwar activities, which are, to say the least, controversial. While making it clear that Herge was not an active collaborator during the German occupation of Belgium -- he avoided politics in his wartime stories and "merely" published in an "officially sanctioned" newspaper that was subject to Nazi censorship -- the author extends the "gray area" of passive collaboration to somewhat wider dimensions than I have seen in other publications. Herge was very solicitous of old friends and associates who had much more involvement with the occupation regime, and he became well known after the war as a willing source of aid to those on employment blacklists. This reflected Herge's personal loyalty and stubbornness more than it did his political views, but it also left him open to similar, albeit non-government-sponsored, excommunications. (LE SOIR, the "compromised" paper for which Herge worked during the war, did not even mention his name for more than 20 years after the liberation of Belgium.) Herge's feelings of resentment and persecution are understandable, but so are the feelings of some of his critics that he managed to get off lightly and was essentially "saved" by the popularity of TINTIN.
Herge's "dark years" of the late 40s, during which he suffered greatly from depression and worked only in fits and starts as a result, also acquire a far more sombre hue in Assouline's narrative. That Herge was overworked (due to his duties as artistic director of the new TINTIN magazine and the need to reconfigure older stories for the reprint market) is well known; I did not know, however, that he felt so far gone as to seriously contemplate emigrating to Argentina (a rather questionable choice, given the famed ex-Nazi exodus to that country). Herge also tried to interest the Disney studios in his creation, only to receive a rebuff. Not until the Herge Studios became formally organized as a support group in the early 50s did original TINTIN stories resume a reasonably steady pace of production. Even then, Herge's output noticeably slowed down after 1950, as his standards for starting and executing new narratives became more and more unforgiving.
Despite the factual goofs, I would recommend this bio for those with a budding interest in Herge and the TINTIN phenomenon. A definitive critical biography, however, lies somewhere in the future.
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