A boy, his dog and the graphic novelist. March 26, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Speaking of comic art – I recently read Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin – by Pierre Assouline (translated by Charles Ruas), translated from the French no less. And most interesting it was too, even eye-opening. I’ve got to admit firstly that I’ve been, I guess a fan isn’t too strong a word, of his art for many many years. I’ve all the books, even some of those in a similar style – Edgar P. Jacobs, Blake and Mortimer books too. And yet reading the book it was clear that above and beyond the art itself there were troubling issues. Whether one can detach Tintin from its creator is an interesting question. I would hesitantly say yes, but that creator, George Remi, was problematic. The detail of his connections with reactionaries, conservatives and those who could be suggested to be shading into fascism is outlined in the book. Before the war his ‘mentor’ was a Catholic priest whose dedication to far-right causes and anti-semitism was clear. During the war Remi’s accommodation with the strictures of German occupation of Belgium saw him contribute to licensed magazines of the period. Tintin during this period wasn’t, in fairness, notable for pushing the German line, but there were aspects of it that were deeply troubling, not least the appearance of some anti-semitic caricatures amongst certain characters.
But after the war in some ways it is arguably more damning. He sought to find work for people, friends, or friends of friends, who had had connections with far-right conservative or even nationalist/fascist groups. One is reminded of the old line ‘loyalty is their only crime’, but his lack of understanding of what they represented, or at least his seeming lack of understanding, is lamentable.
It does make one wonder just how much he understood politics or the world around him. He himself was broadly speaking conservative and pro-monarchy though in his personal life he certainly didn’t seem too wedded to the first in terms of personal/intimate relationships. So was it all personal, these were his friends, his peer group and he wasn’t going to abandon them entirely?
There’s a telling line in the biography which notes that he was a man who, in the post-war period had no friends, indeed no acquaintances, who really could be considered liberal, or socialist (there is the oddity of the way he was cleared of collaboration after multiple investigations. The author of the biography takes a rather cynical view of all that, not least the idea that since he was just an illustrator of juvenile fiction he somehow wasn’t really collaborating). That wasn’t an absolute in his life. By the 1960s he’d taken a somewhat modish tilt towards popular culture and met figures like Andy Warhol, expressed a love of the Beatles and started collecting modern art.
But reading it one doesn’t have the sense of a man who was a fascist, or even an avowed collaborator, as much as someone who tended to acquiesce to the prevailing trends in his personal and broader environment. The occupation was an inconvenience to him one senses, but not much more so than that.
In a way it’s deeply sad but I think it also is extremely useful in understanding those who in and of themselves would be reflective of but not particularly exercised by various noxious approaches – anti-semitism, racism (oddly he was probably less racist than most of his peers), extreme nationalism but who would not dissent either in any useful manner or at all.
The manner in which his works were revised by him subsequently to excise implicit and in some instances explicitly problematic depictions of race and so on is to his credit. But there’s a further aspect to that where the sometimes naive and certainly unnuanced earlier works were replaced with a sort of cynicism later. It’s difficult to characterise that as radicalism. But perhaps there was a learning curve extant. Perhaps it is this sense of Hergé as someone who these events flowed around, that allows his work still to be enjoyed on its own terms, particularly as he later sought to critique in a gentle sort of a way colonialism and western (and eastern) interventions and manipulations.
The work consumed him, the work became in a way its own justification, whether people can read and view it as standing apart from its time is in some respects a matter of interpretation, I think there’s no right or wrong answer there.