Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Georges Remi (May 22 1907 - March 3 1983), better known by the pen name Hergé, was a Belgian comics writer and artist. "Hergé" is the French pronunciation of "R.G.", the reverse of his initials. His best-known and most substantial work is The Adventures of Tintin, which he wrote and illustrated from 1929 until his death in 1983, which left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-art, unfinished. His work remains a strong influence on comics, particularly in Europe.

The notable qualities of the Tintin stories include their vivid humanism, a realistic feel produced by meticulous and wide-ranging research, and Hergé's ligne claire drawing style.

Other series that Hergé wrote and drew include Jo, Zette et Jocko and Quick et Flupke.

Table of contents
1 Childhood and Early Career
2 World War II
3 Postwar Troubles
4 Personal Crises
5 The Last Years

Childhood and Early Career

Georges Remi was born in 1907 to Alexis and Elisabeth Remi, a middle-class couple living in Brussels, Belgium. His four years of primary schooling coincided with World War I (1914 - 1918), during which Brussels was occupied by Germany. 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 would later take at Ecole Saint-Luc, he never had any formal training in the visual arts.

Like many other Catholic boys, Georges joined the Boy Scouts, which brought him to many countries in Europe for summer camps. His subsequent comics work would be heavily influenced by the ethics of the scouting movement, as well as these early travel experiences.

On finishing school in 1925, Georges worked at the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle. The following year, he published his first cartoon series, The Adventures of 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. He decided to create a comic strip of his own, which would adopt the recent American innovation of using speech balloons to depict words come out of the characters' mouths. Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, by "Hergé", appeared in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième on January 10, 1929, and ran until May 8, 1930.

In January 1930, Hergé introduced Quick and Flupke, a new comic strip about two street urchins from Brussels, in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième. For many years, Hergé would continue 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 a Belgian colony), followed by Tintin in America and Cigars of the Pharaoh.

In 1932, he married Germaine Kieckens, the secretary of the director of the Le XXe Siècle. They had no children, and would eventually divorce in 1975.

The early Tintin adventures each took about a year to complete, upon which they were released in book form by the Casterman publishing house. Hergé would continue revising these stories in subsequent editions, including a later conversion to colour. However, he would also express embarrassment over the ill-informed and prejudiced views expressed in these works. For instance, an infamous scene in Tintin in the Congo had Tintin giving a geography lesson to native students in a missionary school. "My dear friends," exclaimed Tintin, "today I am going to talk to you about your country: Belgium!" In a later edition, the scene was changed into an arithmetic lesson.

Hergé reached a watershed with The Blue Lotus, the fifth Tintin adventure. At the close of the previous Tintin strip, 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 University of Louvain, 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-chen, a young sculpture student at the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Chang introduced Hergé to Chinese history, culture, and the techniques of Chinese art. As a result of this experience, Hergé would strive 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" to The Blue Lotus, a young Chinese boy who meets and befriends Tintin.

As another result of his friendship with Chang, Hergé became increasing aware of the problems of colonialism, in particular the Japanese Empire's advances into China. The Blue Lotus carries a bold anti-imperialist message, contrary to the prevailing view in the West, which was sympathetic to Japan and the colonial enterprise. As a result, it drew sharp criticism from various parties, including a protest by Japanese diplomats to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. However, the passage of time has since vindicated Hergé's views.

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 would pass before the two friends would meet again.

World War II

The Second World War broke out on September 1, 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 The Land of the Black Gold. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1940, Belgium had fallen to Germany with the rest of continental Europe.

Le Petit Vingtième, in which Tintin's adventures had hitherto been published, was shut down by the Nazi occupation. 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. He had to leave The Land of the Black Gold unfinished, due to its anti-fascist overtones, launching instead into The Crab with the Golden Claws, the first of six Tintin stories which he would produce during the war.

As the war progressed, two factors arose that led to a revolution in Hergé's style. Firstly, paper shortages forced Tintin to be published in a daily three or four-frame strip, rather than two full pages every week which had been the practice on Le Petit Vingtième. In order to create tension at the end of each strip rather than the end of each page, Hergé had to introduce more frequent gags and faster-paced action. Secondly, Hergé had to move the focus of Tintin's adventures away from current affairs, in order to avoid controversy. He turned to stories with an escapist flavour: an expedition to a meteorite (The Shooting Star), a treasure hunt (The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure), and a quest to undo an ancient Inca curse (The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun). In these stories, Hergé placed more emphasis on characterization than on the plot, and indeed Tintin's most memorable companions, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus (In French Professeur Tryphon Tournesol), were introduced at this time. The impact of these changes were not lost on the readers; in reprint, these stories have proven to be amongst the most popular.

In 1943, Hergé met Edgar Pierre Jacobs, another comics artist, whom he hired to help revise the early Tintin albums. Jacob's most significant contribution would be his redrawing of the costumes and backgrounds in the revised edition of King Ottokar's Sceptre. He also began collaborating with Hergé on a new Tintin adventure, The Seven Crystal Balls.

Postwar Troubles

The occupation of Brussels ended on September 3, 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 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, which showed a rival scientific expedition flying the American flag.) In fact, the stories published before the war had been unequivocally critical of fascism; most prominently, King Ottokar's Sceptre showed Tintin working to defeat a thinly-veiled allegory of the Anschluss, 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.

Tintin's exile ended on September 6, 1946. The publisher and wartime resistance fighter Raymond Leblanc provided the financial support and anti-Nazi credentials to launch Tintin magazine 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.

Tintin had always been credited as simply "by Hergé", without mention of Edgar Pierre Jacob and Hergé's other assistants. As Jacob's contribution to the production of the strip increased, he began demanding a joint credit. Hergé refused and ended their hitherto fruitful collaboration. Jacob then went on to produce his own comics for Tintin magazine, including the widely-acclaimed Blake and Mortimer.

Personal Crises

The increased demands which Tintin magazine placed on Hergé began to take their toll. In 1949, while working on the new version of The Land of Black Gold (the first version had been left unfinished by the outbreak of the war), 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.

In order to lighten Hergé's workload, the Hergé Studios was set up on April 6, 1950. The studio employed a variety of assistants to help Hergé in producing the adventures of Tintin. Foremost amongst these was the artist Bob De Moor, who would collaborate 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 (regarded by some as his most polished work) in 1954, followed by The Red Sea Sharks in 1956.

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 Vlaminck, 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 launched into Tintin in Tibet, possibly the most powerful of the Tintin stories.

Published in Tintin magazine from September 1958 to November 1959, Tintin in Tibet sent Tintin to the Himalayas in search of Chang, 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 1960, and finally married Fanny Vlaminck in 1977.

The Last Years

The last three complete Tintin adventures, were produced at a much reduced pace: The Castafiore Emerald in 1961, Flight 714 in 1966, and Tintin and the Picaros only in 1975. However, by this time Tintin had begun to move into other media. From the start of Tintin magazine, Raymond Leblanc had used Tintin for merchandising and advertisements. In 1960, the first Tintin movie was made: Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece, starring Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin. Several Tintin animated cartoons have also been made, beginning with Prisoners of the Sun in 1969.

Tintin's financial success allowed Hergé to devote more of his time to travel. He travelled 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 ago 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-chen, years after Tintin rescued the fictional Chang 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 he would settle in Paris in 1985, where he died in 1998.

Hergé died on March 3 1983, aged 75, due to complications arising from anemia, which he had suffered from for several years.

He left the twenty-sixth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph Art, unfinished. Following his expressed desire not to have Tintin handled by another artist, it was published posthumously as a set of sketches and notes in 1986. In 1987, Fanny closed the Hergé Studios, replacing it with the Hergé Foundation. In 1988, Tintin magazine was discontinued.