Monday, 30 October 2017

Le ‘Manitoba’ ne respond pas and L’Eruption du Karamako, by Hergé

Hergé wrote these two books, which together make up one adventure, about his other characters, Jo, Zette and Jocko. The story starts with masterful suspense as all the passengers and crew pass out on a transatlantic liner, on its way to America, waking up to find themselves lightened of any jewellery they had. At the same time Jo, Zette and Jocko get lost at sea in a fog, which starts a Jules Verne-esque adventure, on the sea, under the sea and over the sea, on a desert island, peopled by a primitive tribe, with appearances from mad scientists and other archetypes from contemporary fiction.

The artwork is, in my opinion, of a higher standard than the other books about these characters, which, at times seems lacking the detail of Hergé at his best. Some of the frames and illustrations in this book are among Hergé’s finest: the cover of L’Eruption du Karamako is wonderful, and seems to have been the inspiration for the cover of Tintin and the Picaros. Some of the storyline seems to reappear in the film Tintin and the Lake of Sharks, namely the scene in the underwater craft on the seabed.

It is a great shame that the books have never been translated into English, and I am assuming the reason is the way the tribe on the island were portrayed, which is similar to Tintin in the Congo (but no worse!) The editions I have are facsimile editions of the first edition published in 1952, and are exquisitely produced, with uncoated paper and board covers.

I think the time would be right to release them in English, as Tintin in the Congo has been. The sensitivity of the publisher is commendable but I think, if they are sold as interesting items from the Hergé archives, rather than books for children, I can’t see what harm it would do. I managed to find my way around them with my virtually non-existent French and some help from google translate, so don’t let the fact they are not in English deter you from buying them.

The Hergé Museum

The Hergé Museum, in Louvain-la-Neuve, an hour’s train-ride from Brussels, is the Museum set up by Hergé’s widow, Fanny Rodwell, as a home for the Hergé archives.

The Museum, in its custom-built home, is imposing, but also fun, with eccentric angles and shapes, covered with enlarged pen-stroke graphics, maybe from the backgrounds of some of Hergé’s work, but abstract at such a large size. The shop is housed in a block that is reminiscent of Tintin in America: a New York style apartment block, a building within a building.

You take a lift to the top floor, and start a chronological journey, from Hergé’s birth and first drawings, ending up with his death, mourned by many fans around the globe. In-between are examples of his output, including graphic design: posters, advertising and logos. This work, although looking of its time is of a high quality, and Hergé’s professionalism, meticulous approach and work ethic can be clearly seen here. At this early point in his career his drawings were not his ‘serious work’, but, as is often the case, it was where is heart lay. Hergé’s prodigious talent as a draftsman was abundantly clear from sketches he did as a young boy: the energy, observation and wit visible in them was what defined his work. Even when people more technically proficient than him were assisting him, it was Hergé’s vision and energy that drove Tintin and all his other projects.

The main-stay of the exhibition are examples of artwork from the Tintin books, with some from his other series’: Bob and Bobbet and Quicke and Flupke. There is the finished line artwork from pages of the albums and book covers, in all its messy glory, with squares of paper pasted in and white opaque masking out mistakes and redraws. There are also preliminary sketches showing early versions of various scenes, a page of Tibetan portraits, sketches of different poses, all testimony to the painstaking work that went into the stories. There are also some colour proofs of the colour plates, although sadly no original painted colour artwork, which would have been interesting to see.

My 12 year old daughter enjoyed the Museum very much, saying she liked it because it was small! Maybe the never-ending size of some of the large Museums is overwhelming to a child. My own impression was also positive, especially as an illustrator, to see the original artwork and techniques of such a master, and understand just what went into his work.

I could not help but compare the difference in approach that Somerset House took with their Tintin exhibition in 2015. This exhibition, in reality not much more than a few window and wall vinyls, was playful, engaging, delightful and immersive, and while the Hergé Foundation see themselves as repository of Hergé’s memory, another light in which to see his work was visible at the Somerset House exhibition. Thinking back to my childhood when I first discovered Tintin, the books immersed me in their world, and I really felt that I was traveling to the Middle East, to Eastern Europe, Peru, that I was on a merchant ship in the Red Sea, or a Chateau in rural Belgium. It was the way the simple window vinyls drew one into Tintin’s world that I loved so much about that exhibition. The vinyls in the fireplace of Dr Muller emerging, sneezing, or snowy covered in soot. The windows of Somerset House became windows onto different scenes in the books: the broken glass of The Calculus Affair, the stick bouncing off the bars of the castle in King Ottokar’s Scepter or a view of New York from Tintin in America. There was also an entire wall with the end-paper graphics from the hard-back books – the wall of portraits, enlarged to the size of an entire wall, and looking like the wall of a room in a chateau.

Part of me thinks the Hergé Museum was a lost opportunity to captivate a new, younger audience. There could have been, for example, a Middle Eastern souk that you could walk down, with life sized figures of Tintin, in disguise and Captain Allen, or maybe the Emir on a donkey with the Thomsons in the background. How about a life-sized rocket that you could walk through, and see Calculus at the controls, or, even better, sit at the controls yourself. Or maybe a jungle, with a warm breeze blowing through the palm trees, and swearing parrots in the branches and the Francis Haddock idol. (This is starting to sound more like Disneyland than Tintin… maybe it just needs to stay in my imagination!)

What Hergé achieved with his Tintin books was to transport his readers to a different place: they are a trigger for the imagination, a frame with which to see the world: much more than pen and ink, rather the magic of story-telling, taking a place in a tradition that encompasses both Greek Mythology and the films of Steven Spielberg.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Saturday, 13 August 2016

'The Voronov Plot' by Yves Sente and André Juillard

Blake and Mortimer’s resurrection is an interesting phenonomen. Edgar P Jacobs was at the forefront of the development of the cartoon in the forties and fifties, as he worked with Hergé, who pushed the boundaries of the new medium. 

Hergé’s last complete book was in the seventies and Jacobs died in the eighties. It was not for two decades that Blake and Mortimer were brought back to life, and those years had seen many changes in cartoon books, or graphic novels, as they had come to be known. The medium had matured, and artists were tackling much more ambitious subjects. The gag, that underpinned early comics, was now all but gone, and the flippant tone, aimed only at children was replaced with serious subject matter, such as the Holocaust, in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

The evolution, started by Hergé, had continued throughout the sixties with Robert Crumb, through to the eighties, with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, bringing even more complex themes, plots and characters.

The new Blake and Mortimer books reflect the new readership, of a generation brought up on these books. Characters have a past which sometimes catches up with them (The Oath of the Five Lords), old flames that they reconnect with (The Gondwana Shrine) and in interest in the opposite sex that Tintin and indeed the old Blake and Mortimer never did.

The Voronov Plot is an absorbing cold war thriller, that gives James Bond a run for it’s money. The plot stays on the right side of credible (unlike The Gondwana Shrine), and is, with the benefit of hindsight, is a little more gracious to the Soviet Union than many novels and comics produced during the cold war.

The book also features interviews, not only with the artist and writer, but also the colourist, which give a valuable insight into the creative process. They talk about their Hergé tributes (if you do not spot them they are revealed in the interview section at the end), and the colourist talks about the challenges of colouring a work like this, and how the eye of the reader has changed since the first books came out, over 60 years ago.

This is one of the best of the new Blake and Mortimer books that I have read, and if I was to compare it to one of the Tintin books it would be The Calculas Affair, one of Hergé’s best.

There are also figurines available, such as this one of Olrik, in his Russian uniform, costing 850 euros.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver

Blake and Mortimer were created by one time Tintin artist, Edgar P. Jacobs, who, on asking Hergé for a credit (he worked on several Tintin albums, including The Secret of the Unicorn and Prisoners of the Sun), found their partnership over. Not one to mope, Jacobs launched his own cartoon, which in 1950, debuted in the Tintin magazine. The two Brits, Francis Blake, head of MI6, and Professor Philip Mortimer, had adventures and solved mysteries, much in the style of Hergé’s books, but with less humour and more labyrinthine plots. 

Hergé felt his characters could not be brought to life without him, and stipulated in his will that there could be no more new Tintin adventures. Jacobs made no such demands, and since his death in 1987, Blake and Mortimer have appeared in some 11 new adventures. Artists like Ted Beniot and André Juillard, fine French exponents of the Ligne Clare, have helped to breath new life into the two gentlemen.

The curse of the 30 pieces of silver is a two part story, so I suggest you buy both at the same time, to avoid being left on a cliff hanger, while you wait to find part 2. As its title suggests, it deals with the new testament story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and the 30 pieces of silver that he was paid by the sanhedrin. A mysterious letter from the curator of a museum in Athens sends Mortimer to Greece, and starts a wonderful chain of plots and sub-plots, delving into early Christian history, Nazism and swashbuckling adventure, and, almost inevitably, ending with a subterranean gun fight.

Writer Jean Van Hamme has tried not to discredit the Christian story, coming up with a plausible reason to deviate from Christian tradition, although it does not bare close scrutiny. At the end of the book, the whole affair is hushed up by the Greek Archbishop, the evidence stored away with other manuscripts that contradicted the official version of Christianity. Mortimer is a man of science, and believes that every unexplained event, including religious ones, have a rational explanation.

The story is well researched, and the traditions of the early Christian church and the later Greek Orthodox Church have been faithfully portrayed.

Artists René Sterne/Chantal de Spiegeleer, Antoine Aubin/Etienne Schreder are accomplished illustrators, the artwork of the highest standard. The colour is not flat, but more subtle, with depth and shading and fine details. I don’t know if digital media or traditional materials have been used, but it certainly has a wonderful attention to detail.

Look out for the nice Tintin tribute in the first book - I’ll say no more than that, so you can enjoy discovering it! It might be that there are more than the one I spotted, but, regardless of that, Tintin casts a heavy shadow across many of these books, but never to their detriment. 

I bought my copies from Foyles in London for £7.99 each, while Amazon sell them for much more. It might be that Amazon is only selling the hard back edition, but Foyles has a nice selection of Bande Dessine books, worth a browse if you are passing.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Is that all there is? Joost Swart

This collection of comic strips from 1972 - 2010 from the Dutch artist Joost (rhymes with 'post' not 'juiced' as Chris Ware informs us in the introduction) Swart, is a delight from start to finish for fans of the European style of cartooning.

Joost was strongly influenced by Hergé's Tintin adventures, and his style is similarly precise and clear, meticulously crafted and elegantly coloured by watercolour. Yet his content could not be further from the innocent Tintin, taking it's cue across the Atlantic from the adult content of the underground American comics scene, and artists like Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb.

Joost Swart's most popular creation was Jojo de Pojo, a lad sporting a quiff and plus-fours, yet who, rather than save the world from crime and evil, indulges in activities Tintin never even dream of. His audience, brought up as boy scouts, and now young adults in the seventies, experimenting with narcotics, alcohol and sex, would have appreciated the artist struggling with complexities that they encountered in their everyday lives.

Swart is a renaissance man, and is a graphic designer and architect, has designed furniture, murals and stained glass windows. He designed a theatre in Haarlem (his hometown), and designed the interiors of the Hergé Museum in Brussels. He founded a publishing house in the eighties and in the nineties instigated the Comics Event held in Haarlem. Chris Ware also writes in his introduction that, when he visited the artists studio, he had just finished designs from pastries for his local patisserie, and how he faxed him a beautifully drawn map showing how to get to the studio. This charming and innocent approach seems to underpin much of his work, and he operates at the personal level, getting involved in projects close to his heart (and his home), rather than the one with the largest pay-cheque.

This small book will introduce one of the greats of European comics to a new audience, bringing together strips that were published over 40 years ago, in obscure Dutch magazines, and re-presenting and translating them for fans of comic books the world over.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Tintin. The Art of Hergé

Hergé is probably the most important figure in cartooning and Tintin his most popular creation. This coffee table tome runs to almost 500 pages of reproductions from the Archives of the Hergé Museum, and will delight anyone who has enjoyed the books.

The first chapter is dedicated to the Hergé Museum, which is a shame, as it gives the book the feel of a catalogue, which would be a disservice to such a wonderful book. I feel this chapter should be the last chapter, especially as, chronologically it comes last in the Tintin story.

However, that's a small fault, in an otherwise very satisfying book, crammed full of treasures. There are early sketches of Hergé, from when he was a young teenager of 16 years old - fine drawings, showing he was a talented draftsman from the start. It contains some pages from his early cartoon, Totor, the boyscout, a forerunner of Tintin, and important frames from the first Tintin drawings, black and white, printed in Le Petite Vingtième in 1929, for example, the moment Tintin gets his quiff, as the wind blows back his hair as he speeds away in a car.

There are also many photographs, documenting important events, for example, the moment a young lad and a bleached fox terrier arrived at Gard du Nord station, met by crowds of children, already fans of the young reporter.

There are also examples of his other cartoons. Quick and Flupke and Jo, Zette and Jocko, which featured a family, in response to Tintin's unmarried status! Also of interest are the examples of Hergé's graphic design and advertising illustrations and posters, very much of it's time, but beautiful nonetheless.

The book reproduces many working drawings, black and white line art, as well as some of the original versions (the books that most of us know where later workings of serialised adventures, many originally reproduced in black and white.

The book plots the development of Hergé, as he became more interested in accuracy and detail, and documents some of the source information he used: postcards; newspaper cuttings; museum exhibits.

The real hero shots in the book, however, are the enlarged colour panels, watercolour on printed proof, showing the artwork in all its subtlety.

The book has a debossed, black and white reproduction of Tintin's iconic head, enlarged many times over. The edges of the pages have a pleasing red and white, checkered pattern from the rocket in Explorers on the Moon. Unfortunately the process made the pages of my copy stick together, which took a while to unstick. But that was just a tiny fly in a beautiful ointment!

View the book here.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Red Moon by Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso

Red Moon, a flame haired princess meets a travelling acrobat, Antolin, and they form an unlikely friendship, setting off on several quests together, in a medieval world of magic, witches and fairies.

The protagonists are both around ten years old, and the book is aimed at this age group. Drawn in a typically Bande Dessinée style, the Argentine author and artist are obviously drawn to this European tradition, rather than the American comic book.

Carlos Trillo, who died in 2011, was a prolific writer, collaborating with many notable artists, and this is one of several efforts with Eduardo Risso (of 100 Bullets fame). Originally published in four editions by SAF Comics, they have now been brought together in an omnibus edition, and should have enough excitement, fantasy and adventure to satisfy most young children.

It is good to see this kind of European comic book on sale in the UK (I bought it from Forbidden Planet, in Shaftesbury Avenue, London) and Risso’s artwork is accomplished, his lines part pen, part brush, he draws the characters expressively, and  I cannot fault his drawing, his research, nor his style.

If I did have to find a fault, it would be the colour, which is very ‘photoshopped’, with very flat areas of colour and very precise graduations. To make things worse, it is printed on gloss paper, which seems to emphasise this crudeness.

I also found it clumsy in its ‘story boarding’, and at times it seemed too hurried, and I think it would have been better if it had tarried somewhat at certain points of the story, and if the creators had spent more time acquainting us with the characters. I did not feel much empathy with anyone in the story, as they all seemed rather two-dimensional.

I also found the ending rather unsatisfying, not very believable and a bit of an anti-climax. I know the story is for young children, but they will still respond to engaging and believable characters and situations, as the early Asterix books atest.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See