Rewriting Tintin

By Taylor, Raphaël | European Comic Art, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Rewriting Tintin


Taylor, Raphaël, European Comic Art


Rewriting Tintin

Daniel Couvreur, Frédéric Soumois and Philippe Goddin, Les Vrais Secrets de la Licorne ['The True Secrets of the Unicorn'] (Brussels/Tournai: Moulinsart/ Casterman, 2006). 127 pp., ISBN 978-2-87424-118-5 (hardback, euro15.00)

Daniel Couvreur and Frédéric Soumois, with a preface by Dominique Maricq, À la Recherche du Trésor de Rackham le Rouge ['In Search of Red Rackham's Treasure'] (Brussels/Tournai: Moulinsart/Casterman, 2007). 135 pp., ISBN 978-2-87424-160-4 (paperback, euro15.00)

During an interview broadcast by Radio-Bruxelles on 5 March 1942, Hergé describes in some detail the making of a Tintin adventure. Following the choice of a guiding concept, the principal stages of the writing process are characterised throughout by a sense of movement.

Early sketching is improvisational: 'Je jette les idées à la suite, comme elles me viennent [...] Tout cela est naturellement pensé directement en dessins [...] et remanié très souvent' ['I throw down the ideas one after the other as they come to me [...] Naturally all of this is directly thought out in drawings [...] and revised very often'].

Fitting the story to the constraints of the serial form calls for reshaping of material: 'opérer la soudure avec le dessin du jour précédent [...] faire ensuite en sorte qu'il se passe quelque chose [...] terminer sur une scène qui prépare les dessins du lendemain' ['linking up with the drawing of the previous day [...] then ensuring that something happens [...] ending with a scene which sets up the drawings of the next day'].

Pencil underdrawings for the fair copy evolve upon the sheet: 'D'après mes brouillons, j'effectue la mise en place par de petits croquis très sommaires. Chacun de ces croquis est alors poussé, travaillé au maximum, jusqu'au moment où chaque personnage prend forme et vie' ['Proceeding from my drafts I carry out the mise en place [transposition of story material to a new large-format sheet] with highly abbreviated sketches. Each of these sketches is then developed, worked up continuously, until each character takes form and comes to life'].1

Inking-over - the 'fixing' of the work - is not addressed in the interview. Its importance, however, cannot be overestimated: Hergé's fluent pen work captures in a final compositional layer the dynamism of the entire creative process. Moreover, it yields the only pictorial marks to be reproduced in print (the pale blue wash applied to indicate areas later printed in grey should be considered separately from his draughtsmanship).

Whilst the genetic evolution of the work was open to change at every moment, publication followed an established and relatively straightforward procedure.2 From 1929 onwards the first Tintin narratives appeared as weekly instalments, consisting of two three-strip pages in the newspaper supplements Le Petit Vingtième (January 1929 to May 1940) and Le Soir-Jeunesse (from October 1940). The subsequent black-and-white books were compiled directly from the photographic plates for these pages.

As a consequence of wartime paper shortages, however, matters were to become more complicated. First of all Le Soir-Jeunesse was transferred to a half-page within Le Soir (from May 1941) and the space devoted to the Tintin serial was reduced to twothirds of the usual two-page instalment. This was soon followed by a change of format to daily strips of four frames (from September 1941).3 Although each of these reductions necessitated a different approach to the treatment of suspense, Hergé was nevertheless able to continue working towards the same book page layout: in the first instance, three new instalments were equivalent to two of the old; in the second instance, three individual daily strips (usually three times four frames) were equivalent in content to the original standard double page (usually six times two frames).4

This pattern was about to change, however. For the next few years, book production requirements would invest the Tintin stories and Hergé's practice of storytelling with an additional form of mutability. …

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