Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Rainbow Orchid, by Garen Ewing

Any fan of Tintin will remember the childhood thrill of sitting down to read one of Hergé’s comic books for the first time, and I felt something of this when I saw Garen Ewing’s new series ‘The Rainbow Orchid’ in Waterstones.

Every Tintin fan will have been disappointed to discover Hergé only completed 22 colour albums, which is far too few. Although the poor quality of the Asterix books produced after the death of Gosciny, bear out Hergé’s wisdom to not allow new Tintin stories to appear after his death - and we must applaud Hergé’s wife, as the guardian of the Hergé Estate, for honouring Hergé's wish.

But now Hergé has an heir who is producing new, swashbuckling adventures, that we can freshly devour!

The mark of Tintin is all over these books: the boyish hero, Julius Chancer, the motley cast of characters, the 1920s’ setting, the villains, the exotic backdrop, the fast pace of the story, the A4 portrait format, with Hergé’s strict grid of four rows of pictures, and of course the ligne claire style, synonymous with the master!

Looking at the first pages of book 1, I am reminded of Hergé’s opening pages in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – although Garen Ewing’s style is not as immature as the pages of this first Tintin adventure, there is an awkwardness in the pictures, which definitely improves as the book moves on. I also found the colouring crude in places, and not a patch on Tintin – look at some of Hergé’s moody evening illustrations, in The Black Island, for example, as Tintin arrives in Kiltoch. Such subtlety! The colour seems to be translucent layers, rather than one flat colour. I wonder if the advent of photoshop caused the art of colouring to be lost. Once it was a skill in itself, done with colour inks, using glazes and washes. Ewing’s colour can seem quite dead and flat, in comparison, but I imagine Garen does not have the luxury of a studio of young and beautiful colourists to work on his cartoons (including one Fanny Vlamynck, who later became Mrs Hergé), and probably has to do it himself!

In fact the great Hergé had script writers, gag writers, research assistants, artists to help with drawing and inking, and towards the end of his career he managed a large studio, rather like a film director, without actually doing too much himself.

Times have changed! Cartoons were once big business and did not need merchandising and films to give them a raison d’etre!

I particularly don’t like Ewing’s clouds – they almost look like a different style. I also did not like the way some lines were coloured, and felt it would have been better to stick with black, rather than introduce a technique that is more Disney than Hergé. However, while comparisons with Hergé will inevitably be unfavourable, and the fact is that the best of Ewing’s drawings do come close – the station at Karachi and the truck driving down the street on page 7, both in volume 2, are both excellent examples of Ewing’s work, with attention to detail, great research and beautiful colour.

Ewings’ story writing and dialogue is certainly adequate, although the characters don’t seem to be very rounded, and you have little impression of their personalities, and therefore little emotional involvement with them. I wonder if this is because the plot is over complicated, and a lot of explanation is required, leaving less room for character development.

Despite my criticism, I salute Ewing’s attempt to bring a new series into being. He has set himself the highest challenge, and made an excellent start and am already looking forward to reading the third volume of this adventure.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See www.mikestonelake.com

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Adventures of Hergé, by José-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental and Stanislas Barthélémy

Tintin and his creator Hergé have always have legions of admirers: Charles de Gaulle once said ‘my only international rival is Tintin’. Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein admired his comic strips, as have almost every comic book writer that has followed. Seth, in his picture novella ‘It’s a good life if you don’t weaken’ wrote the memorable line “Whenever I see a train, I think of Tintin”, and many comic book readers and creators see life through Tintin-shaped goggles.

There have been many biographies about Hergé and Tintin, and now José-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental and Stanislas Barthélémy have added a cartoon biography. Titled ‘The Adventures of Hergé’, following the format of the Tintin albums, the book is a pleasing romp through his life, from seven year old boy to his death in 1983.

In the first caption Hergé’s grandmother sings Bianca Castafiore’s signature aria the Jewel Song from Faust: “Ah my beauty past compare…”, the first of the book's many hints and references to the inspiration for his characters, which the Tintin fan can amuse themselves by spotting.

The creators also do not sweep the problematic elements of his life under the carpet, and tell the full story of working for the Nazi paper ‘Le Soir’, contrasting his own treatment with that of others who were shot for collaborating.

Hergé’s depression and marriage difficulties, are all documented, along with his love of art and his ideas of giving up cartooning to concentrate on painting.

The artist includes many iconic images from the Tintin series: the house of Professor Tarragon from ‘The Seven Crystal Balls’, the flying boat from ‘King Otokar’s Sceptre’, the Alfa Romeo from ‘The Calculus Affair’ and the telescope from ‘The Shooting Star’, which make a parade of memorable images from the books, which is, after all, the reason anyone would read this book in the first place.

Written by Mike Stonelake, illustrator, cartoonist and designer. See www.mikestonelake.com