Tintin in Tibet (1959), page 15 panels 7-9. Herge.
Figuring out the density of a page of comics is one of the most important challenges that a cartoonist faces between idea and finished product, but it’s also one that’s frustratingly tricky to talk or even think about. How does one measure how much happens on a page other than pointing and saying “this much?” And how does a cartoonist decide on the optimum amount of story to convey with each canvas? I’d hazard a guess that most of the time for both reader and creator, these aren’t conscious practices, and the varying densities of different cartoonists’ approaches simply occur rather than being plotted out.
In his latest post at The Comics Journal, Frank Santoro engages in a little bit of compositional analysis, explaining how an artist determines where the eye will fall, and what are the static and dynamic areas of the page, using a page from a Tintin comic, King Otokar’s Sceptre, to demonstrate the ideas in action. In this case, the components of the drawn comic line up so neatly with Santoro’s diagram that it’s hard to believe Herge wasn’t doing it deliberately.
I’m usually suspicious of after-the-fact dissections, because it’s easy to look at a completed work and see things the artist may not have put in deliberately. But Santoro says that Herge was probably aware of the technique, but that for some artists it just comes naturally, like playing music by ear. And just as the artist may use it unconsciously, the reader probably isn’t aware of it, observing only that some pages are more attractive or compelling than others. It’s useful to be reminded that such swift impressions are often born of painstaking planning. Sometimes you have to work hard to make it look easy.
The resident bird-dog of all-things cool, Warren Ellis, has brought to the internet’s attention the online posting of 80s parody of Hergé’s classic TinTin, reappropriated into the then-current events of Thatcher-era Britain. Distributed in zine format then, it’s now online courtesy of Frank Lynn; click on the image for the complete pastiche strip:
I wonder what TinTin and Haddock would have to say about the current state of affairs?
Legal | A Belgian court has postponed until next week a hearing in the months-long trial over whether to ban Tintin in the Congo because of its racist portrayals of native Africans. The legal battle was launched three years ago by Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese man living in Belgium, who wants the book removed from the country’s bookstores, or at least sold with warning labels as it is in Britain. An anti-racism group joined Mondondo in seeking the ban. Wednesday’s scheduled hearing was postponed after one of the plaintiffs withdrew from the case; however, the article doesn’t say which one. [Expatica]
Legal | Cartoonist Rich Koslowski discovers that winning a copyright-infringement lawsuit against a company that used his artwork without permission didn’t end the matter. More than a year later, Ontario-based Geeks Galore Computer Center still hasn’t complied with the judge’s order, and continues to use Koslowski’s art in signage and advertising. [Eye on Comics]
Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.
Welcome and happy holidays to all our Comics College readers. Today, as a post-Thanksgiving treat to you, we’ll be talking a lengthy look at the career of one Georges Remi, better known by his pen name, Herge, and by extension, his most famous creation, the plucky boy reporter Tintin.
Comics | A copy of Detective Comics #27 bought for 10 cents by Robert Irwin in 1939 sold at auction Thursday for $492,937. It’s not a record price for the first appearance of Batman — a CGC-graded 8.0 copy fetched more than $1 million in February — but the $400,000 that the 84-year-old Irwin will make after the commission fee is subtracted will more than pay off the mortgage on his home. [Sacramento Bee]
Digital piracy | The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would grant the Justice Department the right to shut down a website with a court order “if copyright infringement is deemed ‘central to the activity’ of the site — regardless if the website has actually committed a crime.” In short, Wired’s Sam Gustin writes, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act “would allow the federal government to censor the internet without due process.” [Epicenter, AFP]
Aboard the CBR mothership, Alex Dueben talks to Black Hole author Charles Burns about his new book X’ed Out, in stores this week from Pantheon. And by the sound of it, the book — the first in a trilogy — is thoroughly indebted to Belgian comics master Hergé’s timeless Tintin tales, from the cover to the coloring to the format itself:
There’s certainly a very strong Herge influence. If you just think of the Franco-Belgian style of creating comic albums in that format, the way those European make them which is the 64 pages, 48 pages. A hardbound albums with continuing characters. I was one of those rare kids of my generation who grew up reading Tintin and it had a very profound effect on me, so this is the way that I can kind of reflect on that and play with some of those ideas.
“Black Hole” was always conceived of as being a book that would be all collected together. I’m not conceiving of this as, “Here’s three books that will eventually be collected into one book.” When I get interviewed by the French and Belgian press, I won’t be answering this question, because it’s a different tradition. I’m kind of emulating that tradition by doing a series of books in this manner. For example, when I was doing a signing in Southern France, there was someone who came up to me and who explained that he was really hesitant to buy “Black Hole” for a long time because it just seemed too foreign to him, this idea of this big volume. He wasn’t used to that idea of the graphic novel format, whereas now, it’s really been assimilated over there and popular over there as well. Here, the questions I get asked are, “Gee, this seems like a really slender volume for a graphic novel.” It’s not trying to pass itself off as a big graphic novel. It’s a different style of storytelling.
Unfortunately, Hergé passed away before he could ever release a graphic album in which he processed the influence of Charles Burns. Too bad — I would have liked to have seen Captain Haddock grow a small but strangely erotic vestigial tail.
Retailing | Laura Hudson surveys a handful of retailers about what part higher cover prices may have played in August’s plummeting comics sales. “This summer has underperformed, and I think [the $3.99 price point] is a big part of it,” says Chris Rosa of Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, “but also I think the lack of an event and the fact that the big books at both [companies] are extended denouements to events. There’s nothing really inspiring people to run out to the stores. People are tired of buying four Avengers titles at $3.99 a pop.” [Comics Alliance]
Publishing | Tom Mason looks at the return of Atlas Comics: “If you were 13 years-old in 1975 when the original books were out, you’d be 48 today. In other words, the age of the average direct market fanboy. But in order for these new books to succeed, they’d have to appeal beyond nostalgia because with most Marvel and DC comics at $4.00 a pop, you’ve got to have something special and excellent to lure some of those buyers into your own circus tent.” [Comix 411]
Legal | As rare Tintin memorabilia sold at a Paris auction for more than $1 million, an attorney for Moulinsart told a Brussels court that an attempt to ban the controversial Tintin in the Congo for racism is akin to book burning. “I cannot accept racism but I consider it equally lamentable that we burn books. To ban books is to burn them,” said Alain Berenboom, who represents the organization that controls the rights to Hergé’s works.
The civil case, which began last month, is the result of a nearly three-year-old effort by Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese man living in Belgium, to have the book removed from the country’s bookstores, or at least sold with warning labels as it is in Britain. The Court of First Instance is expected to announce on June 21 whether it, or a trade tribunal, should consider the case. [Agence France-Presse]
Publishing | Stanley Pignal takes a look at the transformation of the Tintin brand since the death of Hergé in 1983, as the cartoonist’s widow Fanny Vlamynck and her husband Nick Rodwell drastically changed merchandising strategies. In the process, the prickly Rodwell has become a controversial figure, running afoul of fans and journalists alike in his effort to exert control over Tintin’s image.
Of particular interest is a brief profile of Bob Garcia, a novelist and fan who published a series of books examining Hergé’s possible inspirations for Tintin. Garcia believed he could legally reproduce a few copyrighted illustrations for the purpose of critique, but Moulinsart saw things differently: The writer is now fighting to keep his home as penalties and legal fees mount. [Financial Times]
Crime | Danny Wayne Barton, owner of Kryptonite Komics in Carbon Hill, Alabama, was arrested Thursday after he allegedly sold marijuana to police informants on four separate occasions. Three of those incidents reportedly occurred in Barton’s shop, which also sells smoking devices as the Good Karma Store. The 38-year-old retailer faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison on four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance within a three-mile radius of a school. [Daily Mountain Eagle]
Yet another reason to visit Belgium before you die.
The Ephemerist found this charming Magritte/Herge mash-up created by Karl Meersman to celebrate the recent openings of two new museums in Belgium that honor each artist.
Professor Calculus’ shark-shaped minisub from The Adventures of Tintin has become a reality — albeit a pricey one.
The Deep Flight Super Falcon, designed by Graham Hawkes, possesses two sets of wings and two tail fins that allows it to do barrel rolls with dolphins while traveling at speeds of up to 6 knots.
The base price, CNN reports, is $1.3 million. Another model, with open cockpits, is available for $350,000.
Calculus’ shark-shaped submarine first appeared in 1943 in The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure, by Herge. In the story, the eccentric scientist offers the use of his invention so that Tintin and Captain Haddock won’t be harassed by sharks while searching for a sunken ship.
Calculus’ submersible also plays a role in the 1927 animated film Tintin and the Lake of Sharks and its comic-book adaptation, which Hawkes cites in the CNN article.
I plan on celebrating by buying a white Scottie dog, befriending an inebriated sea captain and thwarting a string of drug smugglers and slave traders. All the while being pursued by two identical policemen. Then I’ll read this BBC article.
Ironically, when it comes to Tintin the person, it is perhaps his very internationality that is his undoing. Euro-characters who do well in the States – James Bond, but also those portrayed by Hugh Grant and Gerard Depardieu – often play on national stereotypes and foible-laden sophistication. Herge, however, went out of his way to deny Tintin any specific Belgicite, underlining rather his international features.
And then I’ll go to Tibet.