- The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines Are Not So Clear ed. by Joe Sutliff Sanders, and: Panel to the Screen: Style, American Film, and Comic Books During the Blockbuster Era by Drew Morton
Tintin is a myth. And to call Tintin a myth has by now become a myth, too (or, to be more precise, a popular trope that calls for critical reflection). Thus argues one of the chapters in a new essay collection, The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines Are Not So Clear, a collection that Joe Sutliff Sanders has edited. Sutliff Sanders, too, addresses Tintin's reception and puts it center stage in his introduction, where myth-making and the ongoing popular reception of the fictional reporter with the iconic quiff are discussed, along with other comics series Hergé created and creatively oversaw between the 1920s and 1980s. The editor explains that the collection is intended to keep Hergé scholars reading just as much as it is meant as an entry point for the uninitiated, particularly perhaps in the North American context, where Tintin's standing has traditionally been less prominent than it has been in Europe (and elsewhere in the world). At first sight, such Felliniesque endeavors to speak [End Page 129] to two audiences alike may appear to be an impossible feat, but the book indeed strikes one as compelling in its diversity of approaches: Hergé's comics are illuminated from a variety of perspectives and with various methodologies—from formalist narrative theory all the way to historical contextualization (e.g., of Hergé's interest in Jungian psychoanalytical practice). Materials discussed include the classic albums, but also print matter, film, digital comics, and rare archival material.
At times, indeed, both audiences seem to be addressed at the same time. An example is the aforementioned contribution on Tintin's reception as a myth. Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey here provide a convincing and dense discussion of earlier essays on Tintin's reception, a discussion that is crucially informed by critical literature on contemporary concepts of myth and shows the polyvalence I have played with in the initial statement, i.e., that myth, properly reflected on, may not be congruent with "myth" in its everyday usage. If this taps on previous Tintin discourses, the authors also discuss very specific primary literature—three North American "afterlives" of Tintin in the works of Seth, Charles Burns, and Matt Madden. They do so in a manner that is smart yet descriptive, with clever hermeneutical twists, yet without ever turning unnecessarily verbose. Each of the three cases is presented as idiosyncratic, though they all serve to illustrate that many of the Tintin myths, e.g., Jean-Marie Apostolidès's "superchild" concept, are simplifying matters unduly.
Gwen Athene Tarbox's chapter is a helpful entry point, as it harbors substantial discussions of plot matters and thematic connections between the Tintin albums. In the beginning of her text, Tarbox contends that there is, in our time, a sort of organically conventionalized form of representing violence in contemporary black-and-white Anglophone and Francophone comics. That only three cartoonists are mentioned to illustrate this premise may be surprising, yet it does not alter the fact that her ensuing observations regarding "clear line"-style violence in Hergé's comics vis-à-vis those by Gene Luen Yang are as insightful as they are nuanced. Equally interested in formal concerns is Joe Sutliff Sanders's own contribution. A comparative study of page layout in the black-and-white serialized comics of the pre-Occupation and Occupation periods, as well as the later color versions, Sutliff Sanders's essay argues that the politically most dubious years of Hergé's biography—his willingness to work for a periodical known for its collaboration with the Nazi occupants of Belgium—coincided with some of the most formative artistic changes in Hergé's...