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Georges Prosper Remi (22 May 1907 – 3 March 1983), better known by the
pen name Hergé, was a Belgian comics writer and artist. "Hergé" is the
French pronunciation of "RG", his initials reversed. His best known
and most substantial work is The Adventures of Tintin comic book series, which he wrote and illustrated from 1929 until his death in 1983, leaving the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure Tintin and Alph-Art
unfinished. His work remains a strong influence on comics,
particularly in Europe. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of
Fame in 2003.
Georges Prosper Remi was born in 1907 in
Etterbeek, in Brussels Belgium to middle class parents, Alexis Remi and
his wife Elisabeth Dufour. His four years of primary schooling
coincided with World War I (1914–1918), during which Brussels was
occupied by the German Empire. Georges, who displayed an early affinity
for drawing, filled the margins of his earliest schoolbooks with
doodles of the German invaders. Except for a few drawing lessons which
he later took at l'école Saint-Luc he never had any formal training in
the visual arts.
In 1920 he began studying in the collège
Saint-Boniface, a secondary school where the teachers were Catholic
priests. Georges joined the Boy Scouts troop of the school, where he
was given the totemic name "Renard curieux" (Curious fox). Recently an
old strip by him was found on a wall of this school. His first
drawings were published in 1922 in Jamais assez, the school's Scout paper, and in Le Boy-Scout Belge,
the Scout monthly magazine. From 1924, he signed his illustrations
using the pseudonym "Hergé". His subsequent comics work would be
heavily influenced by the ethics of the Scouting movement, as well as
the early travel experiences he made with the Scout association.
On finishing school in 1925 Georges worked at the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle under
the editor Norbert Wallez, a Catholic abbot who kept a photograph of
Mussolini in his office. The following year, he published his first
cartoon series, Totor, in the Scouting magazine Le Boy-Scout Belge. In 1928, he was put in charge of producing material for the Le XXe Siècle's new weekly supplement for children, Le Petit Vingtième. He began illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette, and Cochonnet,
a strip written by a member of the newspaper's sports staff, but soon
became dissatisfied with this series. Wallez asked Remi to create a
young hero, a Catholic reporter who would fight for good all over the
world. He decided to create a comic strip of his own, which would
adopt the recent American innovation of using speech balloons to depict
words coming out of the characters' mouths, inspired by their use by
established French comics author Alain St. Ogan.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,
by "Hergé", appeared in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième on 10 January
1929, and ran until 8 May 1930. The strip chronicled the adventures of
a young reporter named Tintin and his pet fox terrier Snowy (Milou) as
they journeyed through the Soviet Union. The character of Tintin was
partly inspired by Georges' brother Paul Remi, an officer in the
In January 1930 Hergé introduced Quick & Flupke (Quick et Flupke), a new comic strip about two street urchins from Brussels, in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième.
For many years, Hergé continued to produce this less well-known series
in parallel with his Tintin stories. In June he began the second Tintin
adventure, Tintin in the Congo (then the colony of Belgian Congo), followed by Tintin in America and Cigars of the Pharaoh.
20 July 1932 he married Germaine Kieckens, the secretary of the
director of the Le XXe Siècle, whom he had first met in 1927. They had
no children, and divorced in 1977.
Hergé reached a watershed with The Blue Lotus,
the fifth Tintin adventure. At the close of the previous story, Cigars
of the Pharaoh, he had mentioned that Tintin's next adventure would
bring him to China. Father Gosset, the chaplain to the Chinese
students at the Catholic University of Leuven, wrote to Hergé urging
him to be sensitive about what he wrote about China. Hergé agreed, and
in the spring of 1934 Gosset introduced him to Chang Chong-jen (Chang
Chongren), a young sculpture student at the Brussels Académie Royale
des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends,
and Chang introduced Hergé to Chinese culture and the techniques of
Chinese art. As a result of this experience, Hergé strove in The Blue Lotus,
and in subsequent Tintin adventures, to be meticulously accurate in
depicting the places which Tintin visited. As a token of appreciation
he added a fictional "Chang Chong-Chen" to The Blue Lotus, a young
Chinese boy who meets and befriends Tintin.
At the end of his
studies in Brussels Chang returned home to China, and Hergé lost
contact with him during the invasion of China by Japan and the
subsequent civil war. More than four decades passed before the two
friends would meet again.
The Second World War broke out on 1
September 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Hergé was mobilized as
a reserve lieutenant, and had to interrupt Tintin's adventures in the
middle of Land of Black Gold. Prior to the invasion of neutral Belgium
by German forces, Hergé published humoristic drawings in the L'Ouest,
a paper run by future collaborator Raymond de Becker and which strongly
advocated that Belgium not join the war alongside its World War One
allies France and Britain. By the summer of 1940 Belgium had fallen to
Germany along with most of Western Continental Europe.
Le Petit Vingtième,
in which Tintin's adventures had until then been published, was shut
down by the Nazi occupiers. However, Hergé accepted an offer to
produce a new Tintin strip in Le Soir, Brussels' leading French daily, which had been appropriated as the mouthpiece of the occupation forces.
chose a subject that was as fantastic as possible rather than issues
related to the crisis of the times to avoid trouble with the censors.
Nonetheless politics intruded.
During and after the German occupation Hergé was accused of being a collaborator because of the Nazi control of the paper (Le Soir),
and he was briefly taken in for interrogation after the war. He
claimed that he was simply doing a job under the occupation, like a
plumber or carpenter.
After the war Hergé admitted that: "I
recognize that I myself believed that the future of the West could
depend on the New Order. For many, democracy had proved a
disappointment, and the New Order brought new hope. In light of
everything which has happened, it is of course a huge error to have
believed for an instant in the New Order."
The occupation of
Brussels ended on 3 September 1944. Tintin's adventures were
interrupted toward the end of The Seven Crystal Balls when the Allied
authorities shut down Le Soir. During the chaotic
post-occupation period, Hergé was arrested four times by different
groups. He was publicly accused of being a Nazi/Rexist sympathizer, a
claim which was largely unfounded, as the Tintin adventures published
during the war were scrupulously free of politics (the only dubious
point occurring in The Shooting Star, discussed above). In fact, one
or two stories published before the war had been critical of fascism;
most prominently, King Ottokar's Sceptre showed Tintin working to
defeat a coup attempt that could be seen as an allegory of the
Anschluss, Nazi Germany's takeover of Austria. Nevertheless, like
other former employees of the Nazi-controlled press, Hergé found
himself barred from newspaper work. He spent the next two years
working with Jacobs, as well as a new assistant, Alice Devos, adapting
many of the early Tintin adventures into colour.
ended on 26 September 1946. The publisher and wartime resistance
fighter Raymond Leblanc provided the financial support and anti-Nazi
credentials to launch the comics magazine titled Tintin with Hergé.
The weekly publication featured two pages of Tintin's adventures,
beginning with the remainder of The Seven Crystal Balls, as well as
other comic strips and assorted articles. It became highly successful,
with circulation surpassing 100,000 every week.
demands which Tintin magazine placed on Hergé began to take their
toll. In 1947 Prisoners of the Sun was interrupted for two months when
an exhausted Hergé took a long vacation. Hergé, disillusioned by his
treatment and that of many of his colleagues and friends after the war,
planned to migrate with his wife Germaine to Argentina, but later
abandoned the plan when he began a love affair. In 1949, while working
on the new version of Land of Black Gold (the first version had
been left unfinished by the outbreak of World War II), Hergé suffered a
nervous breakdown and was forced to take an abrupt four month-long
break. He suffered another breakdown in early 1950, while working on Destination Moon.
order to lighten Hergé's workload Hergé Studios was set up on 6 April
1950. The studio employed several assistants to aid Hergé in the
production of The Adventures of Tintin. Foremost among these was artist
Bob de Moor, who collaborated with Hergé on the remaining Tintin
adventures, filling in details and backgrounds such as the spectacular
lunar landscapes in Explorers on the Moon. With the aid of the studio,
Hergé managed to produce The Calculus Affair from 1954 until 1956, followed by The Red Sea Sharks
in 1956-1957. By the end of this period his personal life was again in
crisis. His marriage with Germaine was breaking apart after
twenty-five years; he had fallen in love with Fanny Vlamynck, a young
artist who had recently joined the Hergé Studios. Furthermore, he was
plagued by recurring nightmares filled with whiteness. He consulted a
Swiss psychoanalyst, who advised him to give up working on Tintin.
Instead, he finished Tintin in Tibet, started the year before.
Published in Tintin magazine from September 1958 to November 1959, Tintin in Tibet
sent Tintin to the Himalayas in search of Chang Chong-Chen, the Chinese
boy he had befriended in The Blue Lotus. The adventure allowed Hergé
to confront his nightmares by filling the book with austere alpine
landscapes, giving the adventure a powerfully spacious setting. The
normally rich cast of characters was pared to a minimum—Tintin, Captain
Haddock, and the sherpa Tharkey—as the story focused on Tintin's dogged
search for Chang. Hergé came to regard this highly personal and
emotionally riveting Tintin adventure as his favorite. The completion
of the story seemed also to signal an end to his problems: he was no
longer troubled by nightmares, divorced Germaine in 1977 (they had
separated in 1960), and finally married Fanny Vlamynck on 20 May of the
The financial success of Tintin allowed Hergé to
devote more of his time to travel. He traveled widely across Europe,
and in 1971 visited America for the first time, meeting some of the
Native Americans whose culture had long been a source of fascination
for him. In 1973 he visited Taiwan, accepting an invitation offered
three decades before by the Kuomintang government, in appreciation of
The Blue Lotus.
In a remarkable instance of life mirroring art,
Hergé managed to resume contact with his old friend Chang Chong-jen,
years after Tintin rescued the fictional Chang Chong-Chen in the
closing pages of Tintin in Tibet. Chang had been reduced to a
street sweeper by the Cultural Revolution, before becoming the head of
the Fine Arts Academy in Shanghai during the 1970s. He returned to
Europe for a reunion with Hergé in 1981, and settled in Paris in 1985,
where he died in 1989.
Hergé died on 3 March 1983, aged 75. He
had been severely sick for several years, but the nature of his disease
was unclear, possibly leukemia or a form of porphyria. His death was
hastened by the HIV he had acquired during his weekly blood
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