This time round it’s a tip of the hat to Hergé and his creation Tintin. I have assembled collected editions of the complete set of albums in the reduced size format, a copy of the Tintin magazine Le Journal Des Jeunes De 7 A 77 Ans, some scholarly works, items of clothing and accessories, a DVD set and a previously published, related bande dessinée franco-belge exhibition review.
The Adventures of Tintin in albums, as the French call them, totalling 24 in all including the unfinished final one, were executed in the attractive ligne clair or clear line drawing style that was developed by Hergé and his colleague and collaborator Edgar Pierre Jacobs. I never read these as a child. I was given comic books by Carl Barks and Hank Ketcham then and didn’t get to Tintin till my adolescence. It wasn’t until the English translations had been published that they began to appear. They were the first comics I found in libraries. Librarians seemed to like acquiring them. I suspected the fact that they came in hardcovers and not the soft, pamphlet form of North American comics made them seem more like books and right for library collections. And groups of boys tended to monopolise the borrowing of them to the extent that it was really difficult to find them on the shelves. Re-reading the Tintin comics now with their beautiful colour and drawing, the adventures in unfamiliar geography, the abusive babble from Haddock and the amusement provided by the surprising amount of slapstick my appreciation of bande dessinée and the Ninth Art is extended.
Comic Strip, Passion’s Trip exhibition, Sydney, Alliance Francais de Sydney November 18-December 20, 2002, review by Michael Hill, first published in International Journal of Comic Art, Vol.5 No.1 Spring/Summer 2003
The “Tintin” Qantas Flight 714 finally touched down in Sydney in November 2002. Originally carrying Tintin and his associates to a scientific symposium in Sydney in the Herge comic Flight 714 to Sydney (1968) his party left the plane in Jakarta and went off on a private jet and another adventure. Now, 34 years later, Tintin, in the shape of a cargo of beer, chocolates and comics, three of Belgium’s significant export commodities, as well as members of the Royal family and an exhibition of French language Belgian comics titled Comic Strip, Passion’s Trip has arrived.
For a country that exports considerable quantities of comics (65% of publication exports) and which refers to comics as the Ninth Art and so has a museum devoted to comics, it was no surprise that the exhibition was opened by members of the Belgian monarchy, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, giving the exercise the Royal seal of approval. The exhibition formed part of an economic mission organised by the Wallonia-Brussels Sydney Trade Office. 300 different titles in French plus a further 70 in English were shipped to Sydney and put on sale in Dymocks, one of the city’s larger bookshops, creating a mini-venue for Euro comics to compete with the growing presence in the local retail market of Japanese manga and Hong Kong comics.
The exhibition was staged at Alliance Francais de Sydney, a combination gallery, café and French language teaching centre. It was a noisey location next to a city bus stop but this was a bonus for waiting passengers as they could admire the window display of merchandise and old comics and the staged acrobatics of a large model of the André Franquin character Marsupilami. The exhibition had undergone a serious design process by the curator Jean-Marie Derscheid and had a multi-strand focus: the exhibition of actual comic books, original art and rough process art, a display revealing the workings of the artist’s studio, a child’s bedroom decorated with comics merchandise and videos, and a gigantic mock-up comic book album, 82cm (heigth) x 56 cm (width), beautifully bound and designed, contextualising Belgium comics and featuring brief biographies and examples of the work of 20 significant artists: Didier Comes, André Franquin, Greg, Hergé, Hermann Huppen, Edgar Pierre Jacobs, Jijie, Lambil, Raymond Macherot, Morris, Peyo, Francois Schuiten, Jean-Claude Servais, Tibet, Maurice Tillieux, Tome and Janry, Will, and Yslaire. References were made to Spirou magazine and to two emergent schools of comics: the Brussels School and the Marcinelle School.
The bed in the child’s room had a Tintin doona cover and bed sheets, a Gaston Lagaffe reading lamp, a Marsupilami alarm clock, various posters and a cupboard containing Lucky Luke figurines. Surprisingly there was not a Smurf in sight. The room also had a small television and vcr with a collection of Belgian animated cartoon series. Amusingly, by the end of the opening night, the child’s room was littered with empty beer bottles from the large crowd viewing the exhibition, giving the installation a bizarre visual association between beer and comics in the nursery. The child’s room, the mock-up of the studio and the giant book brought to the exhibition features not available in the normal process of reading the comic books.
Another section of the exhibition consisted of individual displays of the work of particular artists. These included examples of original artwork and a copy of the comic album that was accessible for visitors to read (some appeared quite soiled near the end of the exhibition) and collaborative partnerships including Hermann, Geerts, Midam, Yslaire, Morris, Jacobs, Herge, Francois and Luc Schuiten, Francqu and Van Hamme, Dufaux and Marini, Lambil, Marc Bnoyninx, Tome and Janry, Constant and Vandamme
Upstairs in a small seminar room there was a mock-up called ‘the artist’s studio.’ Large blow-up photographs on the walls showed the interiors of various comic book creators’ work spaces although these were not identified. A working drawing table had been set up with pencils and other equipment, again more of a generic than specific representation, and there was a video corner screening a documentary on one of the featured artists, Frank, at work on illustrations for the comic book about Australia which had been scheduled to be released for the exhibition. His watercolour sketches of Australian animals were impressive. In the current ‘making of’ climate being reinforced by DVDs of particular films, this part of the exhibition seemed timely.
Although there was no exhibition catalogue a special edition comic book The Source by Frank was specially commissioned and published for the exhibition. Set in Australia, even though the creator had never been there prior to the exhibition (Frank came to Sydney for the opening) his story was based in the desert and although his use of colour was accurate some of his content was neither sensitive nor politically correct. Based on an attempt to move what he insensitively refers to as Ayers Rock, a giant natural rock formation now known as Uluru having reverted to the control of the indigenous owners several years ago and consequently treated as a sacred place, Frank plays with Aboriginal art and icons, a practice which local artists respect as the cultural domain of the indigenous people. Conscious of the lack of local knowledge perhaps, and in tongue-in-cheek fashion, the exhibition points to “our delightfully cliched images of Australia: kangaroos, boomerangs, mythical Aborigines and smouldering red deserts.”
But this exhibition was about culture in any case: the culture of a country where comics have been elevated to the level of art, are treasured, and are collected by libraries and museums; and a culture where comic books are also treated as consumables, collected, handled, read, and integrated into everyday life as objects of desire.