George Prosper Remi, better known by his pen-name Hergé, was a Belgian cartoonist who created one of the most internationally famous comic strip characters of the 20th Century, the intrepid boy reporter, Tintin.
Hergé was born in Etterbeek, near Brussels, Belgium, in 1907. He showed an early affinity for drawing, but had very little formal art education. As a teen, he joined a Boy Scout troop at the Catholic school he attended, and his first published work appeared in a scouting magazine.
In 1923, Hergé began working for Le XXe Siècle, a Catholic newspaper. His editor asked him to create a new comic strip for a children's supplement to the paper, Le Petit Vingtième. He wanted Hergé to come up with a Catholic reporter who would travel the world fighting evil. For his first adventure, Hergé sent his boy reporter to the Soviet Union, basing the story on an anti-communist exposé titled Moscow Unveiled.
Hergé used speech balloons for his characters' dialogue, as American comics did; something rare in European comics at the time. When the first Tintin stories were reprinted in France, the editors added narration to the bottom of each panel to explain what was going on! Hergé's drawing style was simple and clean and ultimately evolved into his "Clear Line" style of simple characters against a detailed, realistic setting, all drawn with a fine, controlled line.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was a success, and for a sequel Hergé sent Tintin to Africa. Unfortunately, Tintin in the Congo turned out to be an embarrassing apologetic marred by stereotypical portrayals of blacks and a paternalistic view of Belgian colonialism.
Succeeding adventures sent Tintin to America (where he encountered Indians and captured Al Capone), to Egypt and to India. At the end of his fourth storyline, Cigars of the Pharaohs, Hergé announced that Tintin would next travel to China. This led to a letter from Father Gossett, the chaplain at the Catholic University of Leuven, asking him to take care in depicting the Chinese people. Father Gossett introduced Hergé to a young art student named Chang Chong-jen, who introduced him to Chinese art and culture. Thanks to Chang's input and assistance, The Blue Lotus had a greater level of detail and accuracy as well as a more sympathetic view of the Chinese than was common in western popular culture at the time. Hergé worked the Japanese invasion of China into the plot of his story and Chang wrote anti-Japanese slogans in Chinese into the signs in the backgrounds.
With The Blue Lotus, Hergé began taking a greater interest in research, taking great pains to make his comics as accurate as possible. Often he built models of the ships and vehicles in his stories to ensure accuracy.
In 1940, Belgium fell to the German advance during World War II and the Nazis shut down Le Petit Vingtième. Hergé took Tintin over to Le Soir, Brussels' leading newspaper, which had been taken over and turned into a Nazi mouthpiece. The change in papers meant a change in format and the way Hergé structured his stories; more importantly, it meant that he could no longer work political themes into his stories, as he did in King Ottokar's Sceptre (based loosely on the Nazi Anschluss of Austria) and the partially-completed Land of Black Gold (involving Middle-Eastern intrigue and featuring a German villain). Hergé's stories in this period featured more fantastic plots and he began to expand his cast of supporting characters.
After the War, Hergé found himself in trouble with the authorities. During the Occupation, Le Soir had been a collaborationist newspaper, and Hergé was arrested as a Nazi collaborator four times, each time by a different service. Each time he was released the following day, because the the authorities were reluctant to prosecute Tintin's papa. "I would make myself ridiculous!" the military Commissioner said.
Nevertheless, Hergé found himself blacklisted after the War. No newspaper would hire him because of his wartime connections to the occupying Germans. Then in 1946 a publisher and former Resistance fighter named Raymond Leblanc provided the financing and clout to start up a new weekly comics magazine called Tintin to showcase Hergé's hero.
Hergé suffered from recurring health and personal problems in the post-war period, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1949 and again in 1950. Before the War he had worked with one or two assistants, now he set up a studio to ease production of the strip. His long-time collaborator, Edgar Pierre Jacobs, left Tintin to create his own strip, Blake et Mortimer. During this period, he created some of his best stories, Destination Moon and The Calculus Affair.
His marriage was falling apart by the late 1950s and he began to suffer from recurring nightmares about being trapped in a landscape of unbearable whiteness. His psychiatrist recommended he drop Tintin, but instead he used the story he was working on, Tintin in Tibet, to exorcise his terrors.
After Tintin in Tibet, Hergé did slow down a bit. He divorced his wife and remarried, and took some time to travel. In 1981, he was reunited with his old friend Chang, who had become director of the Fine Arts Academy in Shanghai after being reduced to working as a street sweeper during China's Cultural Revolution.
Towards the end of his life, Hergé became interested in art collection. He died in 1983 at the age of 75, with his final story, Tintin and Alpha-Art, unfinished.
Game and Story Use
- Hergé might turn up in a World War II-era game set in occupied Brussels.
- The famous cartoonist has been arrested by the Gestapo! They caught him drawing sketches of their headquarters and suspect him of espionage. He claims he was just drawing the house as an architectural reference and had no idea the Gestapo had commandeered it. Can the PC's get him out of this jam?
- The PC's need to get into the offices of Le Soir as part of an espionage mission. Your contact is a tall, lanky cartoonist. But can you trust him?
- After the war, Hergé needs help clearing his name. Can the PC's help?
- The PC's might also meet him later in life, during the late '60s and '70s, when he was traveling the world.