Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #181: The Adventures of Herge by Bocquet, Fromental & Bartelemy

I don't want to claim that it's impossible to tell anyone's life story in a sixty-six page graphic novel: that would be too much. But one album of comics pages is only enough to illustrate some important moments, or to dive into a particular time or work -- not enough to give more than the abbreviated highlights of a full life.

The Adventures of Herge is an attempt to tell the entire life of Herge, aka Georges Prosper Remi, the creator of Tintin, in a volume very reminiscent in size and shape and scope and look to one of Herge's own books. It's an interesting, visually appealing conceit, but it does inevitable reduce Herge's life to a series of blackout sketches, each announced by the year they occurred and given no context at all.

It's written by Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental, with art by Stanislas Bartelemy, and the edition I read was translated into English by Helge Dascher. It's a modern comic in all ways: the only captions are those years and brief notes to indicate where a scene is set. Bocquet and Fromental have to rely on dialogue to tell us everything else about Herge and his life -- well, I exaggerate slightly, because they also included a four-page "index," listing the main characters (except Herge himself; he's the hole at the center of his own index) alphabetically and giving thumbnail sketches of them, which is vaguely useful to the kind of reader who flips to the end before starting a book. (Also, the main text doesn't give the full names of any of the characters on first appearance, so using the index as intended requires checking Bartlemy's sketches of the heads of those characters to figure out whom one is looking up. It's not a particularly elegant solution.)

Otherwise, Adventures is more properly "some important moments in the life of Georges Remi" -- we see him at age seven, causing trouble, then as a teenage Boy Scout, and then more scenes of his professional life and the phenomenal success of Tintin, interrupted only briefly by some trouble  related to collaborationism right after WWII. (Adventures doesn't tell us what work Herge published during the war that led to his arrest; it just shows us that he was briefly in prison and then released.)

I suspect Adventures of Herge is most successful to the audience that doesn't need it: those who already know the Tintin books well and have a good sense of their creator's life. (I'm led to understand that Adventures has a lot of visual references to specific Tintin books, but I don't know them and can't speak to that.) If you are a huge Herge fan, you will definitely get more out of this than the rest of us. But, if you're just mildly interested in the work of Georges Remi, as I was, this is definitely not the place to start.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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