Academic journal article European Comic Art

A Clear Line to Marcinelle: The Importance of Line in ÉMile Bravo's Spirou À Bruxelles

Academic journal article European Comic Art

A Clear Line to Marcinelle: The Importance of Line in ÉMile Bravo's Spirou À Bruxelles

Article excerpt


This article considers Émile Bravo's screenprint, Spirou à Bruxelles, in order to analyse the relations that existed between the two dominant styles of comic book drawing in Belgium during the mid-twentieth century: the ligne claire style associated with Le Journal de Tintin and the Marcinelle school characterised by artists affiliated with Le Journal de Spirou. Working outward from the specific details of this image, the article situates Spirou within the history of Belgian children's publishing, and the world of modernist and surrealist painting as it can be encapsulated in the figure of René Magritte. The article suggests that the study of line has been historically overlooked by comics studies, and suggests ways by which this absence might be rectified.

'Que serait une marque que l'on ne pourrait pas citer ? Et dont l'origine ne saurait être perdue en chemin ?' ['What would a mark be that one could not cite? And whose origin could not be lost on the way?']

Jacques Derrida, 'Signature, événement, contexte'.1

The Sketch

The question of whether or not a single image can constitute a comic is possibly the most boring and least productive debate in contemporary comics studies. While few would argue that a single image can contain a strong narrative component, many theorists of the comics form have identified sequentiality as a necessary component of comics. This narrow definition of the form has led to needlessly reductive arguments about what comics are or can do, and, consequently, helped to minimise scholarly understandings of the way that images circulate and gain currency within the comics world. Moreover, it has contributed to marginalisation of the form outside of the comics world. Single comics images are pervasive in the comics world, on promotional posters, calendars, collectible cards, and t-shirts, watches, bags, hats, coffee mugs, plates and other forms of comics ephemera. The migration of these images - often stripped from their original context as elements in a larger narrative and repurposed as visual 'samples' on merchandise - is testament to the fetishising aspect of comics art. Freighted with narrative weight in their original instantiations, comics images take on not only important branding roles in new contexts, but serve as a signal of highly personalised sets of aesthetic interests and preferences. By donning a Tintin t-shirt, for example, a comics reader announces something of her particular habitus to the rest of the comics world.

Hergé's Tintin, of course, is one of the predominant brands when it comes to the production of comics images beyond the limiting domain of the printed book. The website offers dozens of t-shirts, posters, postcards, sculptural figures, games, keychains and gadgets for sale, each adorned with the distinctive likeness of a Tintin character derived from one of the books produced by Hergé and his assistants over the course of a half-century. It is significant that the entrance to the Musée Hergé in Louvain-la-Neuve is adorned with a single image of Tintin rather than a sequence of images, as it speaks directly to the primary appeal of Hergé as it is conceptualised by the practices of the museum itself. In plain terms, the Musée Hergé poses the question: where does the appeal of Tintin reside? Is it in the stories, the texts or the images? As the success of the various lines of Tintin merchandise seems to attest, the fetishistic value of Tintin resides in the way that Hergé draws. That is, while the stories and jokes may be well loved and widely recalled, it is the particular specificity of Hergé's drawings that is the soul of the works.2 The Musée Hergé emphasises the pleasure of the image in the way that it frames the visitor's experience, minimising story elements and historical context in order to privilege the spectacular element in the works. To this end, the genius of Hergé resides primarily - but by no means exclusively - in the particularity of his line, and of the clear line style that he was so important in advancing as a dominant aesthetic in post-war Belgian comics production. …

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