Posts Tagged ‘Hergé’



Monday, November 30, 2009

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Hergé fans may be interested to know that the latest issue of Bookforum includes a review I wrote of Pierre Assouline’s recently translated biography of the artist.

You can read it here.

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Black History


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

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Here’s another urgent cultural-history question for you: Does anyone out there know who was the first cartoonist to depict a scene taking place in darkness via a completely black panel?

I ask because without quite outright stating it, Michael Farr, in Tintin: The Complete Companion, strongly implies that Hergé originated the technique in his first Tintin adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. (Interestingly, Farr theorizes that Hergé may have intended the panel as an homage to Malevich‘s famous Black Square, seen below.)

Does anyone know if Farr’s right? Is it possible that no one had employed the technique earlier than Hergé did in 1929/1930? The Looney Tunes film series didn’t get started until 1930, so Daffy Duck didn’t get there first…

I don’t know the answer, but whoever did it first was a genius.

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #10


Friday, January 30, 2009

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In the imaginary interviews I sometimes have with The Paris Review I have happily envisioned myself making long heterogeneous lists of predecessors in answer to that inevitable question: I’d say, “My lasting literary influences? Um—The Tailor of Gloucester, Harold Nicolson, Richard Pryor, Seuss‘s If I Ran the Circus, Edmund Burke, Nabokov, Boswell, Tintin, Iris Murdoch, Hopkins, Michael Polanyi, Henry and William James, John Candy, you know, the usual crowd.”

—Nicholson Baker, U and I

That Nicholson Baker likes comics is no shock, I know, and I promised I wouldn’t post any more of these things unless they were interesting, but I like this quote enough that I don’t mind being a hypocrite.

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Quick Triple Update


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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1. Speaking of the American Comics Group, the latest issue of Alter Ego serendipitously reprints more or less the entire contents of Michael Vance’s book-length history of the publisher, Forbidden Adventures. This is the most significant magazine event of its kind since the famous New Yorker Hiroshima issue! Well, maybe not, and I have only glanced at the contents so far, but this should definitely be a good resource for any Richard Hughes or Herbie fans out there.

2. Most everyone reading this blog probably already knows about the Penguin Classics that have recently been released with new covers by cartoonists like Chris Ware, Roz Chast, Seth, and the like. (I think Charles Burns’s version of The Jungle and Anders Nilsen‘s take on Hans Christian Andersen are the best so far.) Another similar, but lower-key, republishing effort is coming out from Small Beer Press, a generally reliable imprint run by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. Their Peapod Classics line is reprinting forgotten or obscure old fantasy titles with new covers by Kevin Huizenga. (I learned about the series from a post by John Scalzi.) They just released Howard Waldrop‘s debut collection Howard Who? This isn’t strictly comics, of course, but I thought it might be of interest to any Huizenga completists out there. And Waldrop’s a pretty funny writer, judging by the two or three stories of his I have previously read. (Fun fact: His novella A Dozen Tough Jobs, which retells the story of Hercules in the deep South, is related to the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? in much the same way that Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key is related to Miller’s Crossing.)

3. I got a copy of that Tom McCarthy Tintin book I wrote about a while ago. I’ve only made it through the first chapter so far, but it really doesn’t appear to be a satirical take on overintellectual criticism at all—just an honest-to-goodness example of it. I’m not giving up on it quite yet, but it may be a while before it makes its way to the top of my reading pile. I feel like a sucker for taking the Economist review at face value. British humor is so dry, you know.

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Tintin Returns


Monday, July 3, 2006

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An excerpt from Tom McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature was published in the Guardian this weekend, and now I’m even less certain that it’s supposed to be satirical. At least in what’s printed here, it all seems to be on the up and up, though maybe a touch hyperbolic. Maybe the Economist reviewer was being sarcastic?

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Tintin in Academia


Thursday, June 29, 2006

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Due to some perversion of my taste (and too much exposure to English literature grad students in college), I’m kind of partial to satires of tortured academic theory, like Frederick Crews’s The Pooh Perplex and its sequel Postmodern Pooh. (It’s an acquired taste, and I certainly don’t recommend it.)

Yesterday, on the Literary Saloon, I came across mention of a book that seems to be of the same kind, only tackling comics criticism instead of literary theory, at least if this review in The Economist is accurate. (It’s hard to tell for sure, since the publisher’s page doesn’t appear to indicate any satirical intent, and I’m not familiar with the author’s previous work.)

From the Economist review:

[T]he Castafiore Emerald, the author argues with sweeping confidence, is not just the oft-misplaced bauble belonging to a forceful but absent-minded opera singer: it is her clitoris. Switch on the “sexual sub-filter”, he explains, and the jewel’s real nature is clear. … Poor Captain Haddock’s plaster-covered leg, meanwhile, is “a sign of both castration and an erection”.

The book is sprinkled with enough pretentious jargon, factual error and illogicality to infuriate and baffle the unwary. But the result is a satire of which Hergé, himself the creator of a cast of immortal parodies, would indeed have been proud.

In any case, this book seems right up my alley, and whether genuine or parody, it’s probably a harbinger of things to come for comics. As graphic novels continue to garner attention in high-brow journals and universities institute more comics programs and departments, it’s only a matter of time before the medium gets the full Roland Barthes treatment on a regular basis.

This will inevitably lead to a lot of grumbling and hostility from longtime comics fans, who are unlikely to cut some English professor (whose familiarity with the medium begins and ends with the Fantagraphics catalog circa 2006 Spiegelman and Satrapi) any more slack than they give Scott McCloud. (This is not meant to imply that McCloud and the professors don’t deserve to be criticized.)

I, for one, though, welcome the wrong-headed, jargon-ridden, and pretentious comics scholarship of the near future with welcome arms. No matter how popular a particular work or artist may be, cultural oblivion is unavoidable without a legion of eggheads scrambling for tenure and over-examining an artwork’s every nuance in search of “subversive” intent and hidden signifiers.

Mistakes will inevitably be made, and dumb judgments will abound, but it also may keep Harvey Kurtzman in print for posterity. Comics fans won’t be able to do it alone, no matter how many variant covers they buy.

UPDATE: It’s probably worth mentioning that as far as I can tell, Tom McCarthy’s book has not been published in the United States, and I have no idea if it ever will be. FYI, for all five of you who may be interested.

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Quick Barks Follow-Up


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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Bryan Munn was recently kind enough to link to this site, and he had some kind things to say, for which I’d like to thank him.

He also took issue with my invocation of Robert Louis Stevenson in the post about Carl Barks:

Barks did manage some interesting social satire and his storytelling and dialogue are very sharp, but Robert Louis Stevenson? Maybe it’s just because one of my old perfessors was an editor of the Complete RLS, but I don’t see the complexity of plot or theme in the decidedly adult work of Stevenson mirrored in Barks. Now when we compare Stevenson’s drawing to Barks…

I have two quick things to say in response.

One, I did write, “in some ways”…

And two, I did not intend to compare the complexity of Barks’ work directly to Stevenson’s, which is why I wrote, “In some ways, Barks’ place [italics added] in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson’s in English literature.” Meaning that the grace and apparent ease they display in their story-telling leads many to misunderstand or underestimate their work.

I certainly didn’t want to imply that Barks’ duck stories are as complex as Stevenson’s writings. Though I’m not altogether sure that they aren’t. I’d have to think about it a lot more than I have heretofore.

In any case, generally, I’m not sure if it is really wise (or fair) to directly compare the work of two artists working in such different media. Making comics is different than writing prose, and the techniques involved (and the responses generated) are probably too divergent to make a one-to-one comparison. What they are trying to accomplish is simply too different. Likewise (to use a different art as an example), it would probably not be very fruitful to take, say, Goya’s war prints, set them side-by-side with Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War stories, and proclaim, “Goya’s more complicated”, or vice versa.

Well, it’s all too complicated for a quick post like this one. Food for thought, as they say, and thanks again to Munn.

UPDATE: No one say anything about the (unwise, unfair) Hergé/Tati thing below. I don’t want to hear it. Just pretend it never happened.

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Current Reading List (With Notes)


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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In alphabetical order:

Apocalypse Nerd #3, by Peter Bagge
I know a lot of people have been disappointed with this series, but I’m really liking it. Definitely an improvement over his last effort, Sweatshop (though I liked that, too). The first issue was a little lackluster, but that was mostly scene-setting, and so can perhaps be forgiven. With this issue, Bagge seems to have really hit his stride, and it’s interesting to see a cartoonist who’s mostly dealt with kind of “slice-of-life” social satire (for lack of a better term) change gears and deal with a more fantastic premise. If you don’t like Bagge in general, you probably won’t like this, but if you do, and gave up early, this is worth giving another chance.

The Comics Before 1945, by Brian Walker
I started reading this mostly out of a sense of obligation (what with having to find things to talk about for this blog and all), but have ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I anticipated. I’ve only gotten through the “Turn of the Century” section so far, but this is a really nice anthology and history. Even Outcault clicked with me this time, which has never happened before. After I finish this, it’s back to the Blackbeard books.

The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer
I just re-read this actually—it only takes an hour or two. If you don’t know, it’s a very insightful and pointed, if too short, essay on Golden Age superhero comics. Feiffer’s take on Superman was somewhat infamously stolen by Quentin Tarantino for a David Carradine monologue in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Which is kind of interesting, considering what Feiffer writes about the high prevalence of swiping amongst comic book artists back in the day. (I’d hate to think the practice still goes on.) Probably fodder for a blog entry of its own, even, comparing attitudes about swiping between filmmakers and cartoonists. If I felt a little sharper, I’d write it.

Tintin in America, by Hergé
This, too, I picked up as homework. I’ve read very little Hergé (just a few albums about a decade ago) and decided to try again, starting at the beginning (or at least as close to the beginning as I could get without visiting eBay for out-of-print books). The conventional rap is that Hergé didn’t really get good until a few volumes later, but I found this pretty terrific. Gangsters, cowboys, Indians: all the great American tropes of the 1930s, seen through a slick, Continental style. Somewhat reminiscent of Jacque Tati‘s films, only actually funny, instead of just theoretically so.

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