It was in reading the work of Edgar P. Jacobs that I rediscovered the genius of Georges Remi, or Herge, whose birthday falls today (May 22).
Let me explain.
I began reading Herge’s best-known work, Tintin, when I was around 4 years old. (I use the term “reading” loosely because I have fond memories of scribbling inside Tintin in Tibet).
The Tintin albums had everything a young reader wanted: action, adventure, friendship, humor, even a dog. But there is a clear line between works that appeal to you when you’re a child and ones that appeal to you as an adult. Rare is the work that crosses that barrier. Tintin is prime among them.
Although the work is still anchored by action, adventure and all those characteristics I mentioned earlier, it is rooted in great storytelling, narrative, pacing and character development. Anyone who has attempted to write fiction can attest to how difficult those are (I certainly do, and the revisions to my upcoming first novel are a testament to that). But to do it repeatedly over the course of a many-decade-long career requires a rare form of genius. There were missteps, of course. There always are. Anyone who has read Tintin in Congo or Tintin in the Land of the Soviets can attest to that (not to mention Herge’s wartime actions). And a childhood favorite of mine, Flight 714, alas does not translate at adulthood (but that could merely be me). Still, it is this ability to remain meaningful in adulthood that makes Tintin special.
Which brings me to Edgar P. Jacobs.
Jabobs, a collaborator of Herge’s, had his own series of comics, Blake and Mortimer (published in English by Cinebook). They feature the adventures of a spy, Blake, and his friend Mortimer, a scientist. Much like Tintin and Haddock, they traipse across the world, chasing bad guys and their nemesis, Col. Olrik. The art is clean, as you’d expect with the ligne claire school, the characters fun and the narrative … well, the narrative ain’t Tintin. Don’t get me wrong, Blake and Mortimer are an excellent read and a great addition to the shelves of any comics fan, but Herge’s work is in a different league.
And if you don’t believe me, just pick up The Castafiore Emerald, a book seemingly about nothing, but, as Mary Poppins might say, practically perfect in every way.
Herge is, of course, undergoing a bit of a rediscovery in the U.S. thanks to the Spielberg-Jackson film. There’s a new edition of his work, unfortunately not the large-format albums much of the world knows and loves. All this is nearly 30 years after his death. Had he been alive, he’d be 105, no doubt trying to take Tintin to as-yet undiscovered realms.