Thursday, September 1, 2011

Essay RG – most dreamlike of Hergé biographies

Huib van Opstal (from Amsterdam, the Netherlands) wrote, designed, and published this essential history ‘Essay RG; Het fenomeen Hergé’ (Essay RG; The Hergé phenomenon), the result of fourteen years labor which which hit the stands in 1994 The original edition appeared in Dutch with a French language edition ‘Tracé RG; Le Phénomène Hergé’ (Brussels: Lefrancq), following in 1998. Van Opstal’s work is a true analysis of a most influential comic strip artist.

Reviewers called ‘Essay RG’ ‘...monumental...,’ ‘definitive...,’ ‘classic...,’ and ‘astounding...’  The fanzine of the experts, Les Amis de Hergé stated: “There is more in 10 pages of Van Opstal than in the majority of books on Hergé.”

Essay RG is about the life and work of Belgian ‘Tintin’ author Hergé (full four-part name Georges Prosper Remi Remi, Georges Remi in short, 1907-83), who composed his signature out of his reversed initials. Hergé, a Belgian, was born in Etterbeek, near Brussels, and was bilingual, speaking both French and Dutch. In his second language, in 1943, his primary comic strip hero ‘Tintin’ was named ‘Kuifje’ (‘little quiff’) in the first daily Tintin strips translated into Flemish, the Dutch spoken in the upper half of Belgium.

This most dreamlike of biographies about a comic master is a masterful blending of text and graphics taken from comic strips, cinema, and popular boys’ literature. Text is based on interviews and solid research in archival collections. Nothing is insignificant to the author — the little notice of the death of Hergé, the postal stamps, the signatures of Christophe and the many signatures of Georges Remi or Hergé, the hand-lettered art-deco designs — good designers understand that text and pictures are both graphics, and of equal importance. The cover is brilliant, no stating the obvious, but a sunny
black-and-white picture of a proud and pleased Hergé arms on hips in his backyard — a still life with a garden basket from the 1920s.

I have some problems reading the text (not familiar with Dutch) but a lot of the text I typed into Google Translate, with mixed results. Sometimes the robot is uncannily accurate; othertimes baffling.

Covers of 1994 ‘Essay RG. Het fenomeen Hergé’ (Delange). The 1995 extra 16-page quire with media background reportage ‘Essay RG. De eerste reacties’ (Delange). The 1998 French edition ‘Tracé RG. Le Phénomène Hergé’ (Lefrancq).
Titles and dates printed under the images and in the text are in the original languages and the whole is admirably footnoted. The pictures are from primary sources; photographs of the cartoonist, samples of his early work, odd little strips from the twenties and thirties supplements of Le XXe Siècle and Le Vingtième Siècle, newspaper comics in black-and-white from the period of Nazi occupation, the 1960 Europress Junior logo, stills from films like The 39 Steps and the Rin Tin Tin serials, covers from Voilà, and the cemetery map to the master’s grave. The pictures are often shown in fascinating pairs or sets, titled ‘beeldrijm’ or ‘picture rhyme’ to show the amazing range of historic influences on Hergé’s work.

The author knows his comic history and here are early and often surprising influences from American and European comics, and examples of unknown work by Hergé. Hergé’s cultural influences are also explored — he grew up with Fantomas, Meliès, Paul D’ivoi, Charlie Chaplin and Baden-Powell to feed his imagination.

There is a chilling image of Hergé from the brochure ‘Galerie des Traitres’ (Gallery of Traitors) which published photographs and home addresses of the artist and 44 co-workers at the ‘stolen Le Soir’ daily newspaper of World War II. It was nothing less than a bloodcurdling call to murder. The cover of Pourquoi Pas? (Why Not?) titled ‘L’expiation’ (the atonement) graphically illustrates the climate after the war with its drawing of hanged collaborators.

The design in the Dutch first edition (all the work of the author — the book is a real one-man show) is only a little different from that of the 1998 French first edition. Each of its 256 pages is packed with information in the form of texts, graphics, photographs and illuminating footnotes and bibliographies. I would gladly trade all other current Hergé biographies in English for a chance to read ‘Essay RG’ — a stunning feast for the mind and eye — in my native language.

No comments:

Post a Comment