After picking up my tickets I met up with Chris, a fellow tintinologist , and was surprised to discover that not only did we both work as designers, but we also both played the bass guitar in bands (see his website). But he's much taller than me! I was also surprised to see that the small lecture theatre where the day's talks would all take place was not packed out, in fact there were perhaps only about 30 or so people there, and one of the organisers stated that about 20 people hadn't turned up. Well, this gave it all quite a nice intimate feel.
The first talk was by Michael Farr, author of 'Tintin The Complete Companion', as he went through some slides mainly reflecting the content of his excellent book, that is Hergé's research sources, but he had many interesting notes to add. Mr. Farr really is a knowledgeable Tintinophile with facts and anecdotes at his fingertips, and was also an excellent and intreresting speaker.
Next up was Paul Gravett, someone I have long admired as a champion of quality comics in the UK, and who, if I remember correctly, would like to set up a permanent comic strip museum for the country, similar to Brussels' amazing and inspiring Musée de Bande Dessinée. His talk was on the evolution of the ligne clair style of BD, from who and what influenced Hergé, to who and what were influenced by Hergé - he really is at the head of a whole respected school of European comic art. If you have read Paul's articles 'Hergé and the Clear Line' from Comic Art magazine (thank you Paul Harrison for sending me those!), then this was basically his talk. Very fascinating - almost too much to take in in one go, but Paul kindly offered to take people's emails and send them the text of his talk (the article). During his talk, Paul handed out various albums for us to flick through, some of which I already had, and some I wish I had.
Chris, Elyssa and I had our sandwiches in the park behind the museum and then had a quick look round the exhibition. It was nicely put together, smaller than I had imagined, but very good, and I'd certainly consider another visit with a bit more time to devote to it. The first display case held a very interesting Hergé self-portrait from 1930, which I'd never seen before, and one of his dip pens, almost like an altar. The highlight of the exhibition were the various pieces of original artwork, which quite frankly I could sit in front of and stare at all day. His line is beautiful, almost perfect, and the composition within each and every panel is just wonderful. They are very inspiring pieces.
The afternoon's talks began with the much-venerated Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, the English translators of the Tintin books, who enjoyed a close working relationship with Hergé and are a very important part of the Tintin scene for any British reader, as their own love of the books made sure we ended up with a version of Hergé's ouvre that was as meticulous as the artist himself was. They too had some fascinating anecdotes and stories to tell, and some excellent insights into the work itself, as well as of the publishing world in which Tintin made his entrance to this country. Michael Turner looks very much as though he could quite easily become one of Hergé's mad professor characters, but they are both lovely and approachable people.
Bernard Tordeur, one of the three employees at Fondation Hergé was next up to the lecturn. He apologised for his English, which was actually rather good, but I was particularly amused by the expression of mild shock on the chairman of the day's face, Robert Blyth, when, after a brief introduction, he said his 'talk' would consist of answering questions from the floor. There was a bit of a pause before a few people thought of something to ask and it all got going - though things weren't looking too bright when his answer to the first question was a single word, 'no'. Information, generally, was slow in coming and though what Bernard did have to say was of great interest, I felt it wasn't given up too freely. Someone asked about the possible Spielberg film, and though obviously under orders not to give anything away on this subject, he did confirm it was a definite project. In Bernard's defence he was speaking in a second language, but there is, I think, a general feeling that the whole Moulinsart estate is a bit of a closed shop, perhaps a remnant of the business politics that followed Hergé's death in 1983. If this is not the case, then it must be recognised that public relations is an important aspect towards diminishing this feeling that does exist, justifiably or not. The horizon may be brighter though, as Bernard mentioned the planned Hergé museum that will exist outside Brussels in the next few years.
The day's lecturers then assembled at the front for a question and answer panel. It's a shame this couldn't have been longer, but was still very absorbing. I'd have liked to have heard more from Paul Gravett who has some very interesting and worthwhile views on comics, and Michael Farr again showed his fingertip knowledge of the world of Tintin and all things Hergé, giving particular insight into the misguided accusations that George Remis was a collaborator during the German occupation of Belgium. There was hardly a peek out of Monsieur Tordeur, despite some encouragement from Michael Farr. I hope I'm not being unfair to Bernard who did add nicely to the day, and was perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it all.
The last item on the day's agenda was the UK premiere showing of the documentary 'Tintin et Moi', which I was very much looking forward to, but while that was being set up there was a bit of a disorganised jumble to get autographs from the participants of the day's unique gathering. Due to this slight disorganisation (no one's fault at all) I only managed to get the signatures of Michael Turner and Michael Farr, but not being much of an autograph hunter I didn't really mind. It would have been nice if this had been an organised part of the day though, which was hinted at earlier in the morning.
'Tintin et Moi' was very interesting, but ultimately slightly disappointing. It centred around the taped interviews with Hergé from the conversations Numa Sadoul conducted in the early seventies, but they were pictured with footage of Hergé that had a very annoying 'line-drawing' style filter applied to the image, possibly to hide the fact that words and pictures did not go together. It was a bit unnecessarily artsy, and had an overall melancholy atmosphere to it for some reason, partly due to the music. One bit I found quite moving was the footage of Hergé at the airport to meet Tchang, Hergé himself looking in poor health and quite emotional, Tchang looking slightly bewildered, and the whole thing surrounded by a media circus that can't have helped. Overall it was good, but I wished for more, particularly more insight into the creative process . In fact Chris told me he had seen a version off Swiss television that was an hour and twenty minutes, almost half an hour longer than the cut we saw.
I very much enjoyed the day, and felt I had been to a unique and special event. It was very nice to meet Chris and to bask in the presence of fellow tintinophiles.
Sketch by Hergé for The Secret of the Unicorn