Herge (1907 – 1983)

Georges Remi (May 23, 1907- March 3, 1983), better known by the pen name Herge, was a Belgian comics writer and artist.

"Herge" is the French pronunciation of "R.G.", the reverse of his initials. His best-known and most substantial work is The Adventures Of Tintin, which he wrote and illustrated from 1929 until his death in 1983, which left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished. His work remains a strong influence on comics, particularly in Europe. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2003.

The notable qualities of the Tintin stories include their vivid humanism, a realistic feel produced by meticulous and wide-ranging research, and Herge's ligne claire drawing style.

Other series that Herge wrote and drew include Jo, Zette and Jocko and Quick & Flupke (Quick et Flupke).

Georges Remi was born in 1907 in Etterbeek, in Brussels, Belgium to middle class parents, Alexis and Elisabeth Remi. His four years of primary schooling coincided with World War I (1914-1918), during which Brussels was occupied by the German Empire. Georges, who displayed an early affinity for drawing, filled the margins of his earliest schoolbooks with doodles of the German invaders. Except for a few drawing lessons which he would later take at Ecole Saint-Luc, he never had any formal training in the visual arts.

In 1920, he began studying in the "college Saint-Boniface", a secondary school where the teachers were catholic priests. Georges joined the Boy Scouts troop of the school, where he was given the totemic name "Renard curieux" (Curious fox). His first drawings were published in Jamais assez, the school's Scout paper, and, from 1923, in Le Boy-Scout Belge, the Scout monthly magazine. From 1924, he signs his illustrations using the pseudonym "Herge".

His subsequent comics work would be heavily influenced by the ethics of the scouting movement, as well as the early travel experiences he made with the scout association.

On finishing school in 1925, Georges worked at the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siecle. The following year, he published his first cartoon series, The Adventures of Flup, Nenesse, Poussette, and Cochonnet, a strip written by a member of the newspaper's sports staff, but soon became dissatisfied with this series. He decided to create a comic strip of his own, which would adopt the recent American innovation of using speech balloons to depict words coming out of the characters' mouths.

Tintin In the Land Of the Soviets, by "Herge", appeared in the pages of Le Petit Vingtieme on January 10, 1929, and ran until May 8, 1930. The strip chronicled the adventures of a young reporter named Tintin and his pet foxhound Snowy (Milou) as they journeyed through the Soviet Union. The character of Tintin was inspired by Georges' brother Paul Remi, an officer in the Belgian army.

In January 1930, Herge introduced Cigars Of the Pharaoh.

In 1932, he married Germaine Kieckens, the secretary of the director of the Le XXe Siecle. They had no children, and would eventually divorce in 1975.

The early Tintin adventures each took about a year to complete, upon which they were released in book form by the Casterman publishing house. Herge would continue revising these stories in subsequent editions, including a later conversion to colour. However, he would also express embarrassment over the ill-informed and prejudiced views expressed in these works. For instance, an infamous scene in Tintin In the Congo had Tintin giving a geography lesson to native students in a missionary school. "My dear friends," exclaimed Tintin, "today I am going to talk to you about your country: Belgium!" In a later edition, the scene was changed into an arithmetic lesson.

Herge reached a watershed with Cigars of the Pharaoh, he had mentioned that Tintin's next adventure would bring him to China. Father Gosset, the chaplain to the Chinese students at the University of Leuven, wrote to Herge urging him to be sensitive about what he wrote about China. Herge agreed, and in the spring of 1934 Gosset introduced him to Chang Chong-jen (Chang Chongren), a young sculpture student at the Brussels Academie des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Chang introduced Herge to Chinese history, culture, and the techniques of Chinese art. As a result of this experience, Herge would strive in The Blue Lotus, and in subsequent Tintin adventures, to be meticulously accurate in depicting the places which Tintin visited. As a token of appreciation, he added a fictional "Chang Chong-Chen" to The Blue Lotus, a young Chinese boy who meets and befriends Tintin. In the book, the fictional Chang serves to dispell some of the more outrageous fabrications about Chinese culture.

As another result of his friendship with Chang, Herge became increasingly aware of the problems of colonialism, in particular the Japanese Empire's advances into China. The Blue Lotus carries a bold anti-imperialist message, contrary to the prevailing view in the West, which was sympathetic to Japan and the colonial enterprise. As a result, it drew sharp criticism from various parties, including a protest by Japanese diplomats to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. However, the passage of time has since vindicated Herge's views.

At the end of his studies in Brussels, Chang returned home to China, and Herge lost contact with him during the invasion of China by Japan and the subsequent civil war. More than four decades would pass before the two friends would meet again.

World War II

The Second World War broke out on September 1, 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Herge was mobilized as a reserve lieutenant, and had to interrupt Tintin's adventures in the middle of Land Of Black Gold. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1940, Belgium had fallen to Germany with the rest of Continental Europe.

Le Petit Vingtieme, in which Tintin's adventures had hitherto been published, was shut down by the Nazi occupation. However, Herge accepted an offer to produce a new Tintin strip in Le Soir, Brussels' leading French daily, which had been appropriated as the mouthpiece of the occupation forces. He had to leave The Land of the Black Gold unfinished, due to its anti-fascist overtones, launching instead into The Crab With the Golden Claws, the first of six Tintin stories which he would produce during the war.

As the war progressed, two factors arose that led to a revolution in Herge's style. Firstly, paper shortages forced Tintin to be published in a daily three or four-frame strip, rather than two full pages every week which had been the practice on Le Petit Vingtieme. In order to create tension at the end of each strip rather than the end of each page, Herge had to introduce more frequent gags and faster-paced action. Secondly, Herge had to move the focus of Tintin's adventures away from current affairs, in order to avoid controversy. He turned to stories with an escapist flavour: an expedition to a meteorite (Prisoners of the Sun).

In these stories, Herge placed more emphasis on characterization than on the plot, and indeed Tintin's most memorable companions, Captain Haddock and Cuthbert Calculus (In French Professeur Tryphon Tournesol), were introduced at this time. Haddock debuted in The Crab with the Golden Claws and Calculus in Red Rackham's Treasure. The impact of these changes were not lost on the readers; in reprint, these stories have proven to be amongst the most popular.

In 1943, Herge met Edgar Pierre Jacobs, another comics artist, whom he hired to help revise the early Tintin albums. Jacob's most significant contribution would be his redrawing of the costumes and backgrounds in the revised edition of The Seven Crystal Balls.

Post-war troubles

The occupation of Brussels ended on September 3, 1944. Tintin's adventures were interrupted toward the end of The Seven Crystal Balls when the Allied authorities shut down Le Soir. During the chaotic post-occupation period, Herge was arrested four times by different groups. He was publicly accused of being a Nazi/Rexist sympathizer, a claim which was largely unfounded, as the Tintin adventures published during the war were scrupulously free of politics (the only dubious point occurring in King Ottokar's Sceptre showed Tintin working to defeat a thinly-veiled allegory of the Anschluss, Nazi Germany's takeover of Austria. Nevertheless, like other former employees of the Nazi-controlled press, Herge found himself barred from newspaper work. He spent the next two years working with Jacobs, as well as a new assistant, Alice Devos, adapting many of the early Tintin adventures into colour.

Tintin's exile ended on September 6, 1946. The publisher and wartime resistance fighter Raymond Leblanc provided the financial support and anti-Nazi credentials to launch Tintin magazine with Herge. The weekly publication featured two pages of Tintin's adventures, beginning with the remainder of The Seven Crystal Balls, as well as other comic strips and assorted articles. It became highly successful, with circulation surpassing 100,000 every week.

Tintin had always been credited as simply "by Herge", without mention of Edgar Pierre Jacobs and Herge's other assistants. As Jacobs' contribution to the production of the strip increased, he began demanding a joint credit. Herge refused and ended their hitherto fruitful collaboration. Jacobs then went on to produce his own comics for Tintin magazine, including the widely-acclaimed Blake and Mortimer.

Personal crises

The increased demands which Tintin magazine placed on Herge began to take their toll. In 1949, while working on the new version of Destination Moon.

In order to lighten Herge's workload, the Herge Studios was set up on April 6, 1950. The studio employed a variety of assistants to help Herge in producing the adventures of Tintin. Foremost amongst these was the artist Bob De Moor, who would collaborate with Herge on the remaining Tintin adventures, filling in details and backgrounds such as the spectacular lunar landscapes in The Red Sea Sharks in 1956.

By the end of this period, his personal life was again in crisis. His marriage with Germaine was breaking apart after twenty-five years; he had fallen in love with Fanny Vlaminck, a young artist who had recently joined the Herge Studios. Furthermore, he was plagued by recurring nightmares filled with whiteness. He consulted a Swiss psychoanalyst, who advised him to give up working on Tintin. Instead, he launched into Tintin In Tibet, possibly the most powerful of the Tintin stories.

Published in Tintin magazine from September 1958 to November 1959, The Blue Lotus. The adventure allowed Herge to confront his nightmares by filling the book with austere alpine landscapes, giving the adventure a powerfully spacious setting. The normally rich cast of characters was pared to a minimum - Tintin, Captain Haddock, and the sherpa Tharkey- as the story focused on Tintin's dogged search for Chang. Herge came to regard this highly personal and emotionally riveting Tintin adventure as his favorite. The completion of the story seemed also to signal an end to his problems: he was no longer troubled by nightmares, divorced Germaine in 1975 (they had separated in 1960), and finally married Fanny Vlaminck in 1977.

Last years

The last three complete Tintin adventures, were produced at a much reduced pace: Tintin and The Picaros only in 1975. However, by this time Tintin had begun to move into other media. From the start of Tintin magazine, Raymond Leblanc had used Tintin for merchandising and advertisements. In 1961, the first Tintin movie was made: Tintin and the Golden Fleece, starring Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin. Several Tintin animated cartoons have also been made, beginning with Prisoners Of the Sun in 1969.

Tintin's financial success allowed Herge to devote more of his time to travel. He travelled widely across Europe, and in 1971 visited America for the first time, meeting some of the Native Americans whose culture had long been a source of fascination for him. In 1973, he visited Taiwan, accepting an invitation offered three decades ago by the Kuomintang government, in appreciation of The Blue Lotus.

In a remarkable instance of life mirroring art, Herge managed to resume contact with his old friend Chang Chong-jen, years after Tintin rescued the fictional Chong-chen Chang in the closing pages of Tintin in Tibet. Chang had been reduced to a street sweeper by the Cultural Revolution, before becoming the head of the Fine Arts Academy in Shanghai during the 1970s. He returned to Europe for a reunion with Herge in 1981, and he would settle in Paris in 1985, where he died in 1998.

Herge died on March 3, 1983, aged 75, due to complications arising from anemia, which he had suffered from for several years.

He left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished. Following his expressed desire not to have Tintin handled by another artist, it was published posthumously as a set of sketches and notes in 1986. In 1987, Fanny closed the Herge Studios, replacing it with the Herge Foundation. In 1988, Tintin magazine was discontinued.

A cartoon version of Herge makes a number of cameo appearances in Ellipse-Nelvana's The Adventures of Tintin TV cartoon series.

Books by Herge