Upcoming in June from publisher Thames and Hudson,Â “Comics: a Global History, 1968-present,”Â written by Alexander Danner and me. Â I want to post some snippets from the book, including some great comics images (from foreign lands and bygone days) that we couldn’t quite fit in the book. Â
As the title suggests, the book covers the period from, roughly, 1968 until 2010. The introduction, though, provides some background on the development of comics around the world (focusing mainly on Europe, Japan and the U.S.) during the post-war era through the mid-60s. Â Text in italics is directly from the book.
Postwar European Â Comics
French-language comics created in Belgium rose to international prominenceÂ in the postwar years. While most major European countries had their ownÂ comic book industries, their comics were generally popular only within theirÂ own borders and tended to be derivative of pre-war American newspaperÂ strips. In Belgium, however, bandes dessinÃ©es quickly developed a decidedlyÂ modern flavor that made them popular throughout the continent. Â The most popular Belgian comics periodicals, Tintin and Spirou, representÂ two influential stylistic branches. Â
Tintin, founded in 1946, was named for theÂ popular reporter hero created in 1929 by HergÃ©, who was the magazineâ€™s firstÂ artistic director. Tintinâ€™s pages showcased the Ã‰cole de Bruxelles, a style laterÂ dubbed the ligne claire (â€œclear lineâ€) style. Pioneered by HergÃ©, the style wasÂ practiced by other artists, such as Edgar P. Jacobs (Blake et Mortimer), WillyÂ Vandersteen Â (Suske en Wiske) and Bob De Moor.
Fred Funcken – Le Trone de Gilgit, 1953. Colonialist themes were very prominent in the Francophone comics of the period.
Le Journal de Tintin demonstrated the high levelÂ of artistry and imagination comics creatorsÂ could bring to the form, in the decadesÂ when it was primarily a commercialÂ childrenâ€™s medium. Following the exampleÂ of Tintin creator HergÃ©, artists such as BobÂ De Moor offered European readers theÂ bright, clean, modern style known as lâ€™EcoleÂ de Bruxelles, later dubbed the ligne claire orÂ â€œclear lineâ€ style. Graphically, the hallmarksÂ of the ligne claire are the use of an even,Â unvarying line to define contours, flat colorÂ and avoidance of cross-hatching or otherÂ graphic forms of shading. In storytellingÂ as well as graphcs, an inviting clarity andÂ legibility were emphasized.Â
The Ecole d’Herge’s emphasis onÂ lisibilitÃ©Â – legibility – can be seen in an ideological light. Â The entire graphic approach: unvarying line, the lack of dramatic lighting effects, consistency of background and foreground; as well as the approach to layout, using only “medium shots” and regular grids, with no close-ups or unusual angles, suggest an objectivity and stability to the universe being depicted. Â In a period where France and Belgium were still Â Colonial powers, the clearly-defined graphic and narrative quality of the ligne clair was a support for the rationalist, hierarchical world view that benefitted the existing power structure, helping to mold the journal’s youthful readership into good citizens. Â As the great French comics critic Bruno Lecigne says, “Toute lâ€™Å“uvre dâ€™HergÃ© tÃ©moigne dâ€™une doctrine d lâ€™art classique;” (HergÃ©â€™s entire Å“uvre demonstrates a doctrine of classical art. “) the ligne claire was the High Classicism of European comics art.
Â This classicism also expressed itself in a sort of playfully reassuring cartoon modernism, brimming with optimism about technology and progress.
What I love most about the ’40s and ’50s Tintin are the covers. Â Can you Â imagine being a French or Belgian kid, running to the newsstand kiosque every week for one of these jewels of color and drama?
Jacques Laudy is a neglected artist from this period. Â He did some breathtaking covers:
More Laudy, from his fanciful, Orientalist series Hassan et Kadour:
Bob De Moor’s style was the closest of all the Journal de Tintin artists to that of Herge.
For French comics critic Lecigne, this stylistic simulacrum is what reveals the essence of the Hergean ligne claire:
“In Barelli [De Moor’s best known series], itâ€™s the fascinating appearance, the opaque surface of the style dâ€™HergÃ© thatâ€™s on display.Â Hypnotized, I read Barelli without deciphering the text, unable to follow the plot, fascinated by the dramaturgy, the gestures.Â What I have before me is HergÃ© emptied of substance, depth and mythology; the signifier without the signifiedâ€¦Â reading Bob De Moor is an experience that permits me to perceive a language solely from the point of view of the signifier, syllables repeated until meaning disappears, whose existence becomes purely, concretely sonorous.” (Lecigne, Les Heritiers d’HergÃ©, p 39, translated by me)
Edgar P Jacobs‘ Blake et MortimerÂ rivaled HergÃ©’s Tintin in populariy; JacobsÂ represented the opposite pole of the Ecole de Bruxelles: moodier and more gothic than Herge, the series was an espionage thriller that also blended science fiction and horror. Â His detailed, atmospheric London was an influence on young fan Jacques Tardi.
More great TINTIN covers:
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