- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

PARIS — The unmistakable red-and-white-checked moon rocket spanning the height of the French capital’s huge Pompidou Center leaves little doubt of the enduring popularity of the intrepid comic boy hero Tintin.

With his ceaseless taste for adventure, often in international hot spots, the ageless and iconic blond-haired boy reporter was the brainchild and creation of Belgian author Herge (Georges Remi) in 1929.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Herge’s birth next year, an exhibition of original drawings and plates by the artist are on display at the Paris contemporary arts mecca as part of events in Europe and North America planned throughout 2007.

“It was important for the center to show the work of Herge next to that of Matisse or Picasso, important that the museum show Herge as another artist … ,” says exhibition organizer Laurent Le Bon, who also is curator at the National Museum of Modern Art. “What I wanted was to bring cartoon into the collections of the Modern Art Museum.”

About 300 original items take visitors to the Paris exhibition through the illustrative career of the artist, who died in 1983 and is recognized as one of the leading creative forces of the 20th century.

Born in May 1907 near the Belgian capital Brussels, Georges Remi began signing his drawings with his inverted initials RG in 1924. Soon, he was to become known simply as Herge, derived from the French pronunciation of the letters R and G.

From his first drawings that appeared in the Belgian press, his career went on to include his meeting the American king of pop art, Andy Warhol, in the mid-1970s as well as develop a passion for contemporary painting.

Mostly, though, Herge is known for Tintin.

The boy reporter first appeared in print on Jan. 10, 1929, in a children’s supplement to the Brussels newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle in the adventure “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.”

“Tintin has been for me an opportunity to express myself, to project, outside of myself, the desire for adventures and violence, of violence and resourcefulness that there is in me,” Herge once said.

That first adventure was followed by 23 other albums (including one left unfinished at Herge’s death), while the books have been translated into more than 60 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.

Today, 77 years after his “birth,” Tintin is still a children’s favorite and provides an initiation into modern history, with tales of conflict in the Middle East (“Land of Black Gold”) or South American revolution (“The Broken Ear”).

Perhaps the highlight of the Pompidou Center’s tribute underscores the stories’ equal appeal to grown-ups, as Herge sought to present underlying values, such as courage or fraternity, in his work.

More than 120 original plates for “Blue Lotus” offer insight into the adventure that ran from opium dens to acts of railway sabotage and whose inspiration was sparked by a meeting in 1934 with a Chinese student portrayed as Chang in the cartoon.

The album marked a significant point in Herge’s career as he became conscious of the universal nature of his character and set out to defend humanist values.

In the 1940s, Tintin’s world expanded to include characters such as Captain Haddock, Tintin’s seafaring best friend; Bianca Castafiore, the opera diva; and another of his companions, Cuthbert Calculus.

But the exhibition also reveals an artist troubled, at times, by self-doubt, who hesitated, abandoned or resumed different projects and who, responding to a reader in a 1954 letter, found himself defending having yielded to anti-Semitism in one of his characters.

Other exhibits revealed at “Herge” in the Centre Georges Pompidou in central Paris include manuscript notes and sound recordings of the artist, a “family portrait” of his characters and a series of self-portraits.

The exhibition runs until Feb. 19.

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