I've been deep-diving on BD lately, which led to my post over in the archivism thread, describing a lot of the strangeness I encountered looking through Le Journal de Spirou. Nearly everything in BD is distinct from American and Japanese comics, from its choice to serialize comics at 2 pages a week, to different comics having different amounts of color plates used, to unsold issues being collected in weird bound hardcover compilations and to the stricture of its panelling. There's a lot of idiosyncratic weirdness you just don't see in other comic book traditions.
I was greeted with further oddness looking through early editions of Le Journal de Tintin. I mentioned how the strict, neat strip layouts allow for different configurations of strips per page, allowing strips to be translated (in the math sense).
This reminded me of a series of posts on the Comics Journal blog from over a decade ago trying to show a deep geometric structure to comic layouts.
This sense of geometric perfection underlying the work of Hergé, the originator of the ligne-claire, is a tantalizing possibility. But it contradicts something I've always felt about Hergé's work, which is how incidental and spontaneous it is, in spite of how stolid it feels at the same time. (Aside: artistically Tintin is full of contrasts. For one there's this notion that Hergé is an exceptionally tight comics writer which I find odd, because they're more yarns than structured dramatic stories with setups and payoffs, which btw isn't a value judgment, it's just the nature of his work, which he reworked ad infinitum but the underlying structure is still a series of exciting vignettes and cliffhangers, very much the result of the serialized format). It kind of feels like when you superimpose the golden ratio over random works of art.
Has anyone ever seen anything like this before? Very peculiarly, and in contrast to every other comic in the magazine, Tintin occupies a 2 page spread with strips reaching from end to end. Zoomed in quite a bit as well, as there are 3 rows instead of the customary 4 you expect in BD. No wonder Hergé (really his assistants) spent so much time having to rework these.
As you can see in the album collection, several panels are truncated to squeeze them into their proper place in the 1 page, 4 strip layout. The pacing and story beats end up falling on completely different spots on the page. Things that seem like end of page/strip moments and punchlines wind up in the middle of a strip. No consideration seems to have been given to this at all, nor does the comic page in its entirety seem to have been one either. It simply can't have been, given how completely different the layouts of the serialized and album versions end up being. I think the notion of Hergé as an architect with a golden compass can be considered deboonked.
Anyway, the non-truncated panels breathe a lot better in the original serialized version, and the large size of the drawings is quite pleasing as well, it truly feels lavish. In fact I feel somewhat gypped reading them in the album format now.
The newsprint and limited color choices creates certain effects not present in later editions (all of the comics from this era with the exception of Tintin in the USSR would be extensively reworked for album publication). Rare use here of what looks to be grease crayon.
Picture compositions are incredibly loose and free. These get completely ironed out in the album adaption. Some of these panels are present on this page, and they're quite flat in comparison to the Petite Vingtième covers.
Hergé's (who was at this point still working alone) design instincts are great. He seems to really reign them in later on in favor of the most literal and matter of factual depictions possible.
Moods such as this aren't really present in what we associate as "Tintin".
More great design.
This version of le monde de Tintin seems more tense and threatening but also more caricatured and elastic.
The concept of being hopelessly adrift at sea in a coffin is a great image and this interpretation is perfectly disquieting.
But once again in the album rendition of this sequence the sense of dread and tension seems to have been sanded off.
I haven't read the original serializations of Tintin in Le Petit Vingtième or Le Soir, and I'm unsure whether the comics inside also reflect the dark and dreamy moods of these covers.
On a side note the serialization schedule of these comics provide something which is lost when they're finally collected as a single work, which is multiple covers throughout its run based on where the story is at the time of publication. Here the cover lingers on Tintin and Capt. Haddock's arrival in the Andes, in a way that this week's installment doesn't. Mid-story covers like this are enjoyable because they provide a bit of repose during the course of the story events.
This one makes a cover out of a 2 panel gag. It almost acts as lead-in to that particular sequence depicted later in the issue.
Even though these covers don't tap into the frightening unconscious the way the early ones do they provide the story with a bit of breathing room and/or anticipation.
The most obvious change is the color of Tintin and Capt. Haddock's jumpsuits, which now match the color of their clothes. It's much better that all the members of the moon mission wear the same color (the shade of green is even varied for the individual crew members) with their everyday clothes peaking through underneath. To me that makes more logical sense and also the blue on blue looks a lot worse.
The warm grays of the original backgrounds are a lot more inviting than the sickly hospital greens of the recolored version. Plus the green jumpsuits now start to blend into the background. The incidental details of the backgrounds are given just enough pop in the original to stick out and emphasize aspects of the setting without drawing too much attention to themselves.
The frame of the beds and the mattresses really stick out in the original, and draws the eye to the crew members get into position for the launch. The mattresses also looked better as blocks of solid color without the repeating design on the side. You're not given much to focus on in the album version.
So far, these could all be considered matters of taste, but this one should be considered a breach of coloring best practices. The rocket interior shares a background color with mission control. In the original it's immediately obvious that his is at a different location. Some details are better presented in the album version, the microphone set against a lighter background color and the color of the bullhorn are better. But in the big picture view the colors are a lot worse overall.
Hergé was an obsessive self-editor, and would continually revise his previous work. In fact his next project immediately after this would be redoing Cigars of the Pharaoh which we saw scenes from in the previous post. It's impossible to ever know why he made, or signed off on, these changes, but it's a bit of a shame that the definitive version of this comic should have these colors, when Hergé and co. got it almost completely perfect on the first try.
But if you want a truly awful color expierence read the Moulinsart digital edition.
Was browsing scans of old Spirou Magazine and found the most incredible comic. It's called S.O.S. Bagarreur and was drawn by René Follet. I can't understand much because I don't know french but man is this artstyle great. It's pure illustration during its mid-20th century peak (this began publication in 1968 in Spirou 1552, heavily referenced and heavily stylized (think guys like Bernie Fuchs, Joseph Cleary, Bernie Noyle etc.). Correct anatomy is a given, what's more impressive is the nuances of body language and individual appearance of the people in the strip. Everything has appropriate weight, articulation and character. No one can draw like this anymore.
Full 2 page spread as it would appear weekly in Le Journal de Spirou.
As is customary with the Franco-Belgian style of this period (and decades beyond), the panel boarder is treated with the utmost deference. There are two panel breaks here (in the first two panels) which are so subtle they're nearly invisible.
The town scenes are especially great in their economy of detail. It's always impressive when an artist is able to convey a lot with a few well placed lines, a skill which becomes a necessity when you have panel after panel of this sort of thing.
The story needs a re-cap at this point because Belgium had been recently liberated by the allies, and everyone who worked for Le Soir under the occupation either got blacklisted from publishing or in some cases executed. It took a while but Hergé got his name cleared thanks to an influential member of the resistance having been fond of his work, and he could start publishing Tintin again, now as a magazine (this connection also helped in acquiring printing material which were in short supply in the immediate post-war period). He decided to pick up the story where he left off in Le Soir, which is at about 3/4ths of the way through the 7 Crystal Balls. I thought this was quite interesting, especially the brief glimpse of the town of Moulinsart (Marlinspike).
Everything from panel 3 is included in the album.
In fact panels 2-4 appear twice in the collected album. Something I've never noticed until now despite reading this album approximately 7,000 times before. There are some very subtle differences between them. Namely Milou (Snowy) is in a different place, but also the foliage lines are ever so slightly different. There's a few other extremely subtle clues that he (well, in all likelihood Edgar P. Jacobs) had to ink this twice. Nestor's hands are in a different place and Tintin's collar is folded.
I didn't mean to get sidetracked by this revelation. This repetition does serve some narrative-thematic purpose, but I hadn't noticed that it was literally the exact same sequence of panels until now. Anyway the main point of the post, there's a little span of perfectly good Tintin comic that ended up on the cutting room floor.
And I'm not talking about the literal dream scenes (which are indeed some of the most dream-like ever depicted). Although those are quite good, and I'll get to some from the latter day adventures of Tintin further down in this post.
What I mean is you get things like this fakir jumping out of the jungle bushes and hypnotizing you.
And truly bizarre plot-twists like [SPOILER] the opium league Tintin has been chasing throughout the volume having their headquarters directly underneath the Maharaja of Gaipajama's palace (whose palanquin Tintin happened to fall into while escaping an asylum where the owner is in on the conspiracy).
"How strange!?!" indeed.
Here, the artstyle has been updated (this is from the heavily reworked 1955 edition of Cigars of the Pharaoh, which I talked about in an earlier post), but what hasn't been updated is the bizarre string of happenings that make up the story.
The Broken ear was reworked into its album format over 10 years earlier, in 1943. And the difference in treatment is quite stark. Here Hergé and Jacobs really must have not had any National Geographics on hand with pictures from South America, because the result in this sequence is one of the most symbolic or pictographic depictions of a street in the entire series, which also makes it one of the most uncanny and surreal. It looks like it takes place in a Chirico.
And what about this truly metaphysical intervention from the heavens?
And on that note the volume ends with what I believe is the only depiction of the human soul leaving its corporeal form in the series, where the album's antagonists are dragged to Hell by gleeful devils.
A major component to the oddness of early Tintin is the crudeness of its artstyle, which would become increasingly polished as Hergé's acumen and stable of assistants grew. The primitive artwork of the ethnographic museum's exhibits are rendered with a fittingly primitive touch, giving them a graphic quality quite unlike what you find even in the albums directly succeeding this one (a return to South America with proper reference this time, 7 Crystal Balls and Temple of the Sun).
I did say I'd end with another dream-scene from Tintin. It's curious what a keen observer of the fleetingness of dreams Hergé is, given that le monde du Tintin is one of the most literal minded story-worlds there is. (More Chirico-isms in the background?). From Tintin in Tibet, 1958-59.