Gavin Greig (ggreig) wrote,
Gavin Greig

Tintin à gogo

Well, no Tintin at all actually, but several books with strong links to Tintin and Hergé, including the ligne claire (clear line) style and mid-20th century settings associated with both.

The Yellow "M"Atlantis Mystery

First up are the adventures of Blake and Mortimer, a series of 19 books written between 1950 and 2009, 14 of which are available in English now or will be soon. Created by Edgar P. Jacobs, a Belgian contemporary of and collaborator with Hergé, they recount the adventures of Captain Francis Blake (head of MI5) and his friend, nuclear physicist Professor Philip Mortimer. In a partial reversal of what your character expectations might be, Captain Blake tends to be the cool, calm one, while the Professor has a bit of a temper.

The Yellow “M” was apparently number 1 in the series, and appears to be regarded as a bit of a classic, so it’s a shame I don’t agree. The story of pursuing a somewhat John-MacNab-style villain who pre-announces his crimes is intriguing enough, there’s some weird science, and a nice twist; but it’s all rather clunkingly handled, with an awful lot of excess verbiage, both in narrative boxes and from the characters – I just picked one (of many) largish speech bubble just now and counted 117 words! it doesn’t help that the translation is not really up to scratch. There are quite a number of places where the dialogue just isn’t ringing true, and suddenly you realise “Hang on, this would sound fine in French!” Then a key moment at the end references a previous book – which is fine, except that I thought this was book 1? It turns out it’s only book 1 according to the English publishing order, and that books 2 and 3 actually preceded it in France – not to mention three other volumes that haven’t been published in English at all yet.

It may be of some local interest to Londoners – there’s a lot of chasing around London streets, and I’ve seen it suggested online that Jacobs’ art was particularly  well-researched in that regard. I can’t tell, I’m afraid.

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was money wasted, but at that point my initial Tintin-tinged enthusiasm for Blake and Mortimer was fading a bit. Luckily Atlantis Mystery restored my faith. The jabber is cut way back, and to a far greater extent the pictures tell the story – and what a story it is! As you can probably guess from the title and the cover, there’s an ancient civilisation with higher tech than us involved and it is just rather a lot of fun. This is far more what I was hoping for, and I didn’t notice any translation issues this time round.

I’ll probably get more of these, but on the basis of the two I’ve read it’s unclear what to expect. Both books despite being written and drawn consecutively by Jacobs himself were of different quality; and later books in the series are by other authors and artists, after Jacobs’ death in 1987. Fingers crossed!

The Rainbow Orchid (Volume 1)

The Rainbow Orchid has been around for over a decade in one form or another, but has been more recently revamped and issued in book form. In fact the final Volume 3 is coming out on Monday (April 2nd). The writer and artist this time (Garen Ewing) is British, and openly acknowledges Tintin’s influence on his work, while making the point that ligne claire is a European style of comic art of which Tintin is only the example we know best in the UK.

I felt this first volume was a little thin, so you might be better waiting for the single volume edition of The Rainbow Orchid that’s apparently also planned, but that is pretty much my only criticism. I was very comfortable with both the style and the content of this story – it flows nicely, the characters are varied and appealing, and best of all there’s a sense of humour to it that may be the strongest link to Tintin. There are differences of course; the young reporter in this tale is not the hero, though he is a catalyst for the quest the actual hero and heroine find themselves on!

I would whole-heartedly recommend The Rainbow Orchid. You can wait for the single-volume edition, or order autographed and sketched-in copies of the individual volumes from Garen Ewing’s shop.

The Adventures of Hergé

I thought this graphic biography might be a light-hearted and fun way to learn a bit about Hergé, but I was wrong. The artwork doesn’t match up to the standard of the other books reviewed here, and while of course a real person’s life isn’t going to be as tidy as a plotted adventure, this book is very episodic with great leaps between episodes in Hergé’s life. Even within particular episodes, it’s not always easy to follow what’s going on. I’m afraid I’d rather have read a “proper” prose book to cover Hergé’s background. Must get hold of Tintin: The Complete Companion someday.

Tags: books, review, science fiction

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