Herge: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Creator of Tintin

Tintin Herge Animation art from "The Adventures of Tintin," after Herge, 1992. Two original celluloids, depicting Tintin and Snowy, applied on a copy. Sold for €120 via Rossini Maison de Ventes aux Encheres (October 2009).

Georges Prosper Remi (1907-1983), more widely known as Herge, was the legendary cartoonist and creator of Tintin, one of the best-loved series of graphic novels of the 20th century. The Adventures of Tintin featured the loveable crime-stopping adventurer, Tintin, and his dog, Snowy.

Hergé’s work is immediately recognizable for his bold yet sophisticated illustrative style, which later became known as ligne claire (French for “clear line”). Ligne claire refers to Hergé’s use of heavy outlines of a singular width, and minimal use of shading in block colors. On his approach to illustration, the cartoonist once said, “The notion of shadows, of light and shade, is a convention… I prefer to stand up for single colors, which have the advantage of being simpler and more comprehensible. For a child, Tintin’s jumper is blue, completely blue. Why should it be light blue on one side, and dark blue on the other? It’s the same jumper.”

Studio Herge, “Tintin and Snowy.” China ink illustration. Sold for €1,010 via Artcurial (June 2012).

Hergé’s style was swept up with the revolutionary spirit of late-1960s France. It was during this period when his work and that of other leading cartoonists became regarded as high art through a movement known as “Ninth Art,” which valued the Herge’s sophisticated references and style. The Adventures of Tintin became as popular in both France as well as his native country of Belgium, along with other comic book creators Albert Uderzo, René Goscinny, Jean-Yves Ferri. To this day, Tintin books stand at the helm of a proud Franco-Belgian history of cartoonists and graphic novels.  

Anyone who has grown up with Herge’s beloved characters — Tintin, Quick & Flupke or Jo, Zette & Jocko — may think they know legendary creator Hergé, but here are 5 lesser-known facts that might surprise you.

1. Herge experimented with abstraction.

Hergé’s work became increasingly abstract with time, and in the 1960s he produced canvas paintings in honor of artists he admired, such as Joan Miro and Paul Klee. He asked the well-reputed Belgian abstract painter Louis van Lint to tutor him and to help him to further his abstract work. This period of experimentation was short-lived, as Hergé soon returned to the cartoons for which he is known and loved. It should be noted, however, that with the passage of time even the likes of Tintin became increasingly daring and abstract in style.

Louis Van Lint, Mécanique rouge (Red Mechanics), circa 1972.

Louis Van Lint, Mécanique rouge (Red Mechanics), circa 1972. Oil on canvas. Sold for €24,375 via Cornette de Saint-Cyr Brussels (December 2016).

2. He was fascinated by cultures around the world.

Hergé was captivated by art and creativity from other cultures, and regularly visited museums and exhibitions for inspiration. He created his scenes using the art, sculpture and photography of faraway places. Retrospectives of Hergé’s work have drawn direct correlations between objects featured in exhibitions at the time and the statues and artifacts that appeared in Hergé’s comics set in locations around the world.

Tintin's Museum by Herge

Poster by Herge, “Tintins Museum Etnografisk Samling,” 1983. €140 – €300 via Van Sabben Auctions (July 2017).

In recent years, however, the work of Hergé has been embroiled in controversy over his depictions of the foreign cultures he was so fascinated by. This has led to his works being featured in high-profile court cases, added to lists of banned books in some countries, or removed entirely from children’s shelves. During his lifetime, Hergé followed in the footsteps of artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin, who explored the art of other cultures through the lens of Orientalism and Exoticism, which offered exaggerated and sometimes distorted depictions of East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.

3. Hergé worked with leading scientists of his time.

In addition to drawing inspiration from artifacts in museums, Hergé sought to offer an accurate representation of science as it was known so that his books could educate as well as entertain. This is particularly evident in his space exploration books. Although man had yet to land on the moon at the time they were published, Hergé frequently — and with surprising accuracy — illustrated rockets and space shuttles that were being developed at the time. These depictions provide a fascinating glimpse into the scientific, social and political climate at the time, and in this instance, the cartoonist’s Destination Moon comic strip demonstrates the political impetus and atmosphere of optimism and excitement around the space race.

Tintin by Herge

Georges Remi, “We Walked on the Moon.” Lithograph signed by Herge and 5 astronauts from the Apollo missions to the moon. Sold for €62,400 via Artcurial (April 2017).

4. The cartoonist’s followers are many and varied.

Even in his day, Hergé had a group of dedicated followers. When Tintin became a weekly publication, Hergé — who mostly worked alone — took on and directed a team of illustrators to help bring production to scale. In the 1950s, this team was known as “l’école d’Hergé (the Hergé School),” but today this group of artists has become known as the Brussels School.

Roy Lichtenstein's Tintin Reading

Roy Lichtenstein, “Tintin Reading,” 1995. Sold for €701 via Tajan (June 2013).

Hergé inspired many illustrators and artists in a range of disciplines, from cartoonists and comic creators to 20th- and 21st-century artists in a variety of genres. Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were vocal fans of Herge, with Lichtenstein even featuring the artist’s work in his own compositions. Artist Julian Opie has also attributed the inspiration for his signature style to Hergé, and the London-based artist and socialite Pandemonia Panacea is known to bring a small inflatable dog named Snowy to events.

Julian Opie's "David, schoolboy," 2001.

Julian Opie, “David, schoolboy,” 2001. Sold for $22,500 via Christie’s (September 2014).

5. Hergé was also a graphic designer.

Hergé also spent time working in the advertising industry, producing posters and advertisements with his legendary recognizable ligne claire style. At the time, working in advertising was considered to be a more respectable career than cartoons, so the artist set up a studio called “Atelier Hergé.” Ultimately, however, Hergé returned his focus to the cartoons that have led to his enduring reputation.