Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tintin and Tezuka, again


(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

A year ago, (Jan. 7), I speculated on the possibility that Osamu Tezuka had originally been influenced by Herge's Tintin. My rationale was that parts of the story in Shin Takara-jima are very similar to that in Red Rackham's Treasure, published 3-4 years earlier. The problem is that Tintin is drawn really well, and if Tezuka had one of Herge's books in front of him to copy in 1946-7, his first manga would have looked a lot more polished. That, plus I have no proof that Tezuka had access to the Belgian newspaper that Tintin was serialized in.


(Back cover art, showing the modern version of Tintin and Snowy for contrast.)

On the other hand, I've never really studied Herge's works all that closely, and I hadn't paid attention to his growth as an artist, either. So, when I received 4 Tintin books for Christmas (Tintin in the Congo, Tintin and the Picaros, The Castafiore Emerald and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), I was particularly interested in the fact that the cover for Soviets is much more primitive and crude than all the others. Turns out that just as Tezuka hated what his mentor, Shichima Sakai, had done to Shin Takara-jima, Herge disliked the overly heavy handed anti-communist propaganda his editor had insisted on for his own first story. The difference is that Tezuka completely redrew Shin Takara-jima for later reprint, while Herge redrew and recolored everything BUT Soviets for the book releases (the earlier, cruder Tintin stories having originally appeared in black and white in the newspaper serials). According to the wiki entry, because Herge refused to do a book release, Soviets became a collector's item and a number of pirate copies came out. In the 70's, Herge relented and authorized an official book reprint, but with virtually no changes. (Compared to Tezuka, whose estate didn't authorize the original unretouched version of Shin Takara-jima to be reprinted until the 2000's.)


(Here we have a speeding car. Compare this to Petey's car in Shin Takara-jima. Notice how the headlights give the vehicle an anthropomorphic feel.)

Which means that with the unretouched Soviets we have access to Herge's earliest work (dating back to 1929), and we can compare that with Tezuka's own first story (released in 1947). And yes, the visual similarities are striking. Note that the other stories immediately following were equally crude but were redrawn to look the way they do now in modern reprints. Shin Takara-jima is what you would get if you copied early Tintin, and then changed it somewhat to "personalize" it. The Tintin in Soviets starts out very rough. At one point I thought I was looking at a 35-year-old man - pudgy and with bags under his eyes. There are a number of panels where the characters look like they've been copied directly from Windsor McCay (which is reasonable, given that Herge had stated that he really liked Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)) while in others Tintin himself is just a round ball with a stick nose and two little dots for eyes.


(Tintin received a black eye in a previous panel that leaves him looking like a zombie here.)

If you're a fan of Herge, then you probably already have all of the Tintin books. If not, then Soviets is definitely worth getting just to see Tintin proto version 1.0. If you're a fan of manga, it's worth getting Soviets to put it side-by-side with the original version of Shin Takara-jima to see if I'm wrong or not. I still have no proof that Tezuka had access to the unretouched Tintin artwork when he first started out, but I am willing to buy into this particular conspiracy theory.


(The polar bear is classic Windsor McCay. After a year of practicing, Herge is finally figuring out how to draw Tintin consistently, but still having trouble with Snowy's legs and trunk.)

4 comments:

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

Turns out that just as Tezuka hated what his mentor, Shichima Sakai, had done to Shin Takara-jima, Herge disliked the overly heavy handed anti-communist propaganda his editor had insisted on for his own first story.

It also didn't help he was working for a Catholic-operated newspaper in town as well that made him cover material like that. It took a Chinese friend who had been with Herge during the early 30's to sorta turn him around to the right direction with "The Blue Lotus" (of course then Brussels was taken over by the Nazis and Herge ended up in that mess too, but thankfully got out for not knowing anything after the war). The face that he went back and redrew/wrote those earlier books except for "Soviets" kinda shows how far aware he was of what politics and propaganda could do to tarnish such an image as his famous character. Often these alternations happened over time, often from insistence by foreign publishers such as those from the UK and US who objected to certain racial stereotyping or geolocial errors (The Black Island is a good example of this). Of course critisms and concerns over such usses as racism or misogynistic entrails would dog Herge to his final days as people often read too far into the subtext of these stories than accepting them for what they are (historically speaking).

There are a number of panels where the characters look like they've been copied directly from Windsor McCay (which is reasonable, given that Herge had stated that he really liked Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)) while in others Tintin himself is just a round ball with a stick nose and two little dots for eyes.

Should be of note that Herge (George Remi) was a self-taught artist, and at the time he published his first Tintin adventure he was 21, and certainly it shows in these earlier stories the way things are simple and makes use of the kind of simplifications that were commonplace in cartoons of the day. Tintin in particular won't get his "quiff" until partway through the book as it didn't dawn on the artist at the time to draw his hair that way at first but it stuck. Certainly Herge's work improved over time to the look and feel of Tintin we would know for a long time. Not too many people can get into it however as Tintin's appearance and personality is not meant to be the strength of the character. He is meant for the reader to put himself in his shoes and follow the adventure as he does (a self-insertion device).

Aside from the Soviets book, I often think getting ahold of those early B&W albums is also worth checking out for how the work evolved over time in the Tintin series. A local library near my house had one for Tintin in America that certainly shows some growth from the previous two stories.

TSOTE said...

Of course critisms and concerns over such usses as racism or misogynistic entrails would dog Herge to his final days.

Speaking of which - a couple of years ago, in reference to the news that the new Tintin movie was going into production, some gay critic wrote a long piece about how Tintin was gay and Herge was in denial about it. He's still not free of such assertions.

Any comments about the new movie?

Not too many people can get into it however as Tintin's appearance and personality is not meant to be the strength of the character.

I'm finding that I prefer comics written after the 1950's, both in terms of western strips and manga. I've been sampling earlier works (manga and comics from pre-WWII), and there's a stiffness to the designs and storylines that distracts me. I'm more partial to Astrix and Obelix, for example. (Interestingly, though, animated cartoons from the 20's and 30's are much better in terms of both art and story, in my opinion.) It's only been in the last year that I've been following Tintin more seriously and looking at the artwork on its own merits.

Aside from the Soviets book, I often think getting ahold of those early B&W albums is also worth checking out for how the work evolved over time in the Tintin series.

To me, seeing the progress of an artist that I like is always fascinating. I don't care much about most modern artists, because they started out by building on everything that came before them. It's the Herge's, the Tezuka's and so-on, who are building up a repertoire from scratch and blazing trails for those who come after that fascinate me. Especially when you can look back on a long span of their works and connect the dots along the way.

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

Speaking of which - a couple of years ago, in reference to the news that the new Tintin movie was going into production, some gay critic wrote a long piece about how Tintin was gay and Herge was in denial about it. He's still not free of such assertions.

Sad really (course I thought Jolyon Wagg, the insurance salesman from The Calculus Affair was gay myself, but I see he's got a family too).

Any comments about the new movie?

I thought it was pretty exceptionally good, and came out with a happy feeling knowing the admission to see the film (plus the glasses since it was in 3-D) was worth every cent. I hardly get that feeling in movies anymore (they certainly adapted this very well and nothing like what happened with the Astro Boy movie a few years ago that I came out feeling disgusted over).

I'm finding that I prefer comics written after the 1950's, both in terms of western strips and manga. I've been sampling earlier works (manga and comics from pre-WWII), and there's a stiffness to the designs and storylines that distracts me. I'm more partial to Astrix and Obelix, for example. (Interestingly, though, animated cartoons from the 20's and 30's are much better in terms of both art and story, in my opinion.) It's only been in the last year that I've been following Tintin more seriously and looking at the artwork on its own merits.

I've been into Asterix as well since I use to enjoyed the animated movies as a kid. Uderzo's work certainly shows on every page though his writing after his partner's death leaves a lot to be desired. Asterix represents an opposite style of Franco-Belgian comics in particular known as "Comic-Dynamic", as Herge's Tintin represents a form known as "Ligne Claire" (or "clear line"). Both styles certainly had shaped French comics for much of it's history in the last century along with other talented artists I don't know much about.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Belgian_comics

The American comic scene however fell into a formulaic pattern that stiffled such creativity that only ever came out through the underground and independent comics as well. These days though it's been pretty bad here with most readers often turning to foreign publications as well as trying to copycat certain styles like "Manga" to get their comics out at all I see (or doing like what DC Comics did with rebooting their classic series back to #1 and start over).

To me, seeing the progress of an artist that I like is always fascinating. I don't care much about most modern artists, because they started out by building on everything that came before them. It's the Herge's, the Tezuka's and so-on, who are building up a repertoire from scratch and blazing trails for those who come after that fascinate me. Especially when you can look back on a long span of their works and connect the dots along the way.

I feel that way too.

TSOTE said...

(course I thought Jolyon Wagg, the insurance salesman from The Calculus Affair was gay myself, but I see he's got a family too).

Having a family doesn't preclude one from being gay. Could be a cover to fit in with regular society, or he could be bi-. Homosexuality has been accepted in certain cultures at different times, as long as one isn't blatant about it. Jolyon could fit in this latter category.

I thought it was pretty exceptionally good, and came out with a happy feeling [clip] ... and nothing like what happened with the Astro Boy movie a few years ago that I came out feeling disgusted over).

That's good. The Tintin move came out in Japan a couple of weeks ago, but the English newspapers have been very silent about it. Both the Astroboy and Speedracer live remakes looked wrong to me just based on the westernized character designs so I ignored them out of reflex.

Asterix represents an opposite style of Franco-Belgian comics in particular known as "Comic-Dynamic", as Herge's Tintin represents a form known as "Ligne Claire" (or "clear line").

Then I guess I'm a Ligne Claire fan. I've seen a little of the works listed in the wiki entry, but it's not something that was readily available in Minnesota when I was growing up, or in Japan now. I've just recently discovered Blacksad (Spanish but for the French market), which I like a lot. And I've seen a little German comics, but not enough to remember the titles. Otherwise, I haven't had much exposure to European works.

For American comics, I like Bone, Boneyard, Goon, Girl Genius, Buck Godot, very early Sandman (from Neil Gaiman) and Y, the Last Man.