The man we know as Hergé was born Georges Remi, in Etterbeek, Belgium. As a young boy, he was nicknamed “curious fox” by his friends. His first drawings were published in Le Boy-Scout Belge (The Belgian Boy Scout) at the age of 17. Around this time, he began using the name “Hergé” – derived from the pronounced sound of his initials in French – as a pen name, like the illustrator Erté.
His first comic strip, which would eventually lead to the creation of Hergé’s world famous character Tintin, was called Totor, de la Patrouille des Hannetons, and was published in Le Boy-Scout Belge. Hergé then began working for the newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle. Tintin was born in 1929, when Hergé was promoted to the chief editor position of the children’s section of the magazine. Originally, Tintin was was created to be, essentially, propaganda for children, since the magazine was very conservative. The first Tintin story published was Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.
Hergé began doing more extensive background research for his Tintin books as the popularity of the character grew. His elaborate plots were well planned, historically and culturally accurate (to a certain degree, more on that later) and featured action stories that were still nonviolent.
During World War II, Le Vingtieme Siecle was closed by the Nazis, and Hergé began working at Le Soir, a popular French newspaper controlled by the Nazis. Here, Hergé continued creating and publishing Tintin stories, and also began printing them in color. The end of the war brought an investigation into the newspaper, which was accused of conspiring with the Nazis. Hergé was swept into this controversy, and was even accused himself, but managed to escape accusations unscathed.
However, Hergé’s works and career were far from spotless. A depressed man and a heavy drinker, Hergé didn’t take criticism well and was, overall, not the best person. Many (most, ALL?) of his Tintin stories contain subtle, or explicit, racist messages. His style of portraying asian and black characters was extremely caricatured and stereotyped, and relied on negative and racist imagery. However, many of Tintin’s adventures were set abroad, and Hergé thoughtful research and portrayal of these places was appreciated. Later in life, he travelled worldwide, celebrated in the countries he visited. Hergé himself, as well as his work, faced many continued accusations of racism throughout his career and after his death. Some biographers and friends argue that Hergé’s views expressed in Tintin were no more than reflections of the commonly held political beliefs of the time. Hergé is also known for his obsessive passion for creations. Some of his questionable decisions (ex. working for Le Soir) have been chalked up to his number one priority being the continued publication of the Tintin books.
Tintin wasn’t the only thing Hergé created. He also produced two other comic series: The Adventures of Jo, Zette, and Jocko and Quick & Flupke. His skilled storytelling and endearing characters have made him a worldwide favourite with children and adults alike. Tintin books have a sense of adventure and possibility. A skilled draftsman and colorist, I feel that it is sometimes overlooked just how talented Hergé was with a pencil. As well, his ability to portray light and shadow with flat color rivals some of the best artists I know.
Hergé is a personal favourite of mine, since he introduced me to graphic novels as a genre, and helped me realize how much I love storytelling through art. Hergé even taught me how to draw hands! Regardless of Hergé as a man, Tintin will always have a very special place in my heart, as he does in the heats of millions of people all over the world.