The Adventures Of Hergé – a life in moments….. but not in depth
Written by Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jen-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Stanislas Barthélémy
Drawn And Quarterly
Bouquet, Fromental and Barthélémy deliver a biographical graphic novel of Georges Prosper Remi, the man known the world over as Hergé. His work, his art, his creations are forever associated with his name, his books sell in their millions around the world.
Tintin and Hergé were ever present in my childhood, and possibly, probably yours. Each weekly trip to the library started with a look at the picture book section – the place I knew they put the Tintin, Asterix, and occasional Lucky Luke books.
So this looked like an excellent book – immediately full of potential, it looked so good – inside and out, with Stanislas cleverly producing art that is wonderfully familiar in style, yet not a direct copy of Hergé.
(1914: Young Hergé at work that will consume a lifetime. From The Adventures Of Hergé by Bocquet, Fromental and Barthélémy. Published by Drawn & Quarterly)
But although I’m a huge fan of the series, I’m obviously not as big a fan as many are, especially not the authors of The Adventures Of Hergé.
I would imagine that anyone completely immersed in both Hergé and Tintin would find so much in here – in fact I only have to look as far as our own Wim Lockefeer, who wrote about The Adventures Of Herge in 2011, and found it far more satisfying than I.
To be honest, I found it’s episodic nature; starting with a 7-year old Hergé; precocious and rather bratty, and finishing 62 pages later with Hergé’s death in 1983 just too inconsequential, giving me glimpses when I wanted details. I wanted The Adventures Of Hergé to be so much more than a brief primer of a life, no matter how beautifully well drawn and presented it is.
(1928: Father Norbet Wallez, publisher of the XXe Siècle, and the man who not only pushed Herge into his life’s work, but introduced him to first wife Germain, the secretary at XXe Siècle. From The Adventures Of Hergé by Bocquet, Fromental and Barthélémy. Published by Drawn & Quarterly)
All I left the book with was a desire to find out more, and a frustration that I hadn’t been provided with a more satisfying, in depth look at a life.
And from just what I already knew, and the glimpses offered here, it was a fascinating life of incident: A troublesome early childhood, struggles to find a career as a journalist, reluctance to embrace his cartooning, his meeting and decades later reunion with Chang Chong-Jen, Hergé’s relationship with first wife Germaine, his affair and later marriage to Tintin colourist Fanny Vlamynck, the numerous artistic collaborators – including many of Europe’s greats – Jacobs, Martin, De Moore etc, the talk of collaboration during WWII, the problems working in post war Belgium, the importance of Robert Casterman in restarting Hergé’s post-war career, and his later life struggling with pressures of his failing marriage, the expectations for his work, continued desire from all sides to see him produce more, an ongoing battle with depression and always fearful of the terrible whiteness.
That, and much more, is glimpsed, hinted at, teased…. but never enough, never enough.
(Facing the whiteness…. From The Adventures Of Hergé by Bocquet, Fromental and Barthélémy. Published by Drawn & Quarterly)
There’s just not enough on any of that here. And there’s precious little background detail to the books themselves, again just glimpses, a taster of what I wanted to read – this fascinating little glimpse into the research for Red Sea Sharks in 1956 (below) for example with Hergé and his team setting sail across the North Sea from Sweden.
Yet based on just a couple of pages I imagine there are countless stories that could have been used from Hergé’s research travels. If only….
(Research at sea in ’56 – with Hergé and one of his many unsung collaborators – Bob De Moor. From The Adventures Of Hergé by Bocquet, Fromental and Barthélémy. Published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Nor do we go into much depth regarding the influences and references that Hergé took from his own life – again, a fascinating aspect of the man and his works that is briefly, tantalisingly touched upon.
In the end I found it fascinating, yet utterly frustrating – a biography that simply skates over Hergé’s life, dropping in every so often to key events, never dallying, never really taking enough time over anything to satisfy.
Yes, it looks lovely, yes, the packaging, all dressed up to mimic the famous works of the man himself, is absolutely perfect, and there’s obviously something very fitting about having it come in at the same sort of page count as a regular Tintin album. But I’d have given that up in a moment for something twice the length, more even, just to get all the detail, all the story, that this biography really needs.
As it is, it’s beautifully done, lovingly illustrated, yet ultimately empty of the rich promise the packaging and art would have you believe, did have me believe on first look. Aficionados will love it, regular Tintin fans like me, maybe not so much.