Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hergé by Pierre Assouline

http://content-8.powells.com/cgi-bin/imageDB.cgi?isbn=9780195397598
Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin is a refreshing in the modern age of biography. These days, biographers seem compelled to write doorstoppers, regardless of whether the additional detail helps a reader understand the subject. Assouline sticks to what is important, and creates a complex portrait of one of the great comics artists of all time.

For fans of Hergé, what will be the most distressing is his long dalliance with ultra-rightist and fascist movements in Belgium. Most fans know about his association during the Nazi occupation with Le Soir, a paper that became a pro-Nazi propaganda organ during the war. But Assouline shows how close Hergé was with people and institutuions associated with the Belgian ultra-right from the beginning of his career. In the end, it is hard to say whether he was politically a fascist or whether he was naive in his choice of friends (after all, many of the fascist and rightist friends and mentors were helping his career progress). The only way he escaped some fairly harsh punishment was when he joined forces after the war with a former Resistance fighter, Raymond Leblanc, to publish Tintin magazine. (His book publisher, Castermann, had also come through the occupation without a Nazi taint.) But even after the war, Hergé was always bitter at the way his collaborator friends were treated. It was as if he didn't understand the evil with which they were complicit!

In the end, lots of fascists and semi-fascists created great art (just as many communists did). It is difficult to read an ideology into Tintin, a character who always comes across as fundamentally decent and helpful. The early racist and anti-communist books were not reprinted for quite a long time (and even when they were, they remained in un-redrawn black and white editions, which help identify them as youthful follies and non canonical works). Tintin is a great work; Hergé and his studio (including Bob De Moor and Jacques Martin) created true classics.

One complaint about the translation. While it is very readable, translator Charles Ruas is evidently ignorant of comics. This is demonstrated by his use of incorrect jargon--for example, he refers to "panels" as "frames." This is a mistake you often see when non-comics specialists write about comics. "Frames" is a really good word--it is a better metaphor than "panels." But within the world of comics, for whatever reason, "panels" is the word that has evolved for each separate image in a comic. Ruas should have read Understanding Comics before translating this book.

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