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Tintin at 85: A Conference Review by Paddy Johnston

14 Feb

Tintin at 85 was a one-day symposium at UCL, scheduled for the 85th anniversary of Tintin’s first appearance in Le Petit Vingtième. Organisers Tyler Shores and Tom Ue had been working on a forthcoming academic book on Tintin for a year before the conference, pursuing a personal interest in Tintin, before being inspired to put together a conference after meeting with Moulinsart, the Hergé foundation. This meeting inspired Tyler and Tom to organise a conference which would interest scholars from various disciplines, fans of the Tintin series and the growing number of Tintinologists. In its bringing together of these communities, the symposium was the first of its kind in Anglophone scholarship. With the broad aim of examining and celebrating Tintin’s cultural legacy, the conference attracted a number of international scholars and, most notably, Tintinologist Michael Farr. Farr has written numerous books on Tintin, many of which are in-depth studies of the characters, and he has translated works from Francophone scholarship into English, including those of comics scholar Benoît Peeters.

I was captivated by Farr, whose own career somewhat mirrors that of Tintin – he spent much of it as a reporter in various European countries including Belgium, where he got to know Hergé personally. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Farr’s appearance and demeanour are a portrait of how Tintin might have looked were we permitted to view him ageing beyond his teens and into a warm, fatherly intellectual. Farr’s talk was a retrospective which suited the aim of celebrating Tintin’s 85th birthday well – he showed numerous photographs and magazine cuttings from Hergé’s personal papers which had been used as photo references for some of the most famous Tintin images, as well as pointing out numerous intricacies and intrigues, such as the origin of Tintin’s trademark quiff (a rush of wind from a car chase which Hergé enjoyed drawing so much he decided to make it a permanent fixture) and that Hergé was apparently something of a reckless driver.

Farr’s enthusiasm for Tintin was infectious and was indicative of the space that Tintin occupies in contemporary culture. He also commented numerous times on the audience’s intelligence and knowledge of Tintin, declaring every one of us to be a Tintinologist and remarking, quite rightly, that the conference’s turnout (around sixty attendees) was exceptional. He thought the turnout to be indicative of Tintin’s endurance and timelessness, but also of growing scholarly interest in Tintin, as evidenced by courses taught at the conference’s host university UCL, but also at other European and North American institutions.

The following panel sessions ran concurrently, so I could only attend two out of the four on offer. The first panel I attended, ‘Tintin in the World,’ featured a presentation from India via Google Hangout, which worked well despite technical difficulties and helped to foster the conference’s international feel and thus the idea of Tintin as a cultural figure with true international appeal. Independent researcher Subhayan Mukerjee presented his research on “Tintin and Contemporary Politics”. He was followed by Niall Oddy, a PhD student from the University of Durham, presenting on ‘Tintin and European Identity’, and Dr Hugo Frey from the University of Chichester with an analysis of intertextuality entitled ‘L’Affaire Tournesol: fragments from the mirror or key meta-text’. Of these three presenters, Frey has written extensively on comics and graphic novels, but the other two were pursuing a personal interest in Tintin – Oddy is currently pursuing a PhD in Renaissance literature, while Mukerjee informed us of his background in Computer Science. Mukerjee was also not the only independent researcher on the programme, an indication that Tintinology as a discipline has matured outside the academy as much as within.

The rest of the conference continued in a similar fashion. In the afternoon I attended the “Sight and Sound Panel,” which brought Tintin up to date with analysis and comment on the 2011 Spielberg adaptation. I learned, through Benjamin Franz’s paper (entitled ‘Raiders of the Unicorn: Assessing Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin for the World Audience’), that Hergé had met with Spielberg shortly before his death, and had always hoped that Spielberg would adapt his work, having admired Indiana Jones. Franz’s paper was followed by an intricate literary analysis from Shani Bans entitled ‘“Hello!… Hello!… Are you receiving me?”: Correspondence in Hergé’s Tintin’, which drew significantly on Derrida. The panel concluded with a close-reading of John Williams’ score for the Spielberg adaptation from Ariane Lebot, a PhD student in the Film department at NYU, entitled ‘Hearing Tintin’s Feats and Characters: John Williams’ Score for The Adventures of Tintin’. These papers all continued the conference’s showcasing of Tintin’s wide appeal for scholars across many disciplines, and once again all the scholars were clearly lovers of Tintin, delighted to be at a conference where they could pursue a personal interest in Tintin and Tintinology.

The keynote lecture was given by Royal Holloway’s Dr Eric Langley, whose primary research interests are in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, though he has previously given conference presentations on Hergé. His talk was a highly engaging romp through analyses of the florid, alliterative outbursts which are a huge part of the character of Captain Haddock. Despite it being a celebration of Tintin’s birthday, the show was perhaps stolen by Haddock, whose peculiar, alcohol-soaked insults were given on slips of paper to members of the audience to throw at Langley before he subjected them to Bakhtinian readings in celebration of Haddock’s vibrancy as a character and thus of the vibrancy of the Tintin canon as a whole.

The proceeds of the conference were donated to The Art Room, a charity which offers support to 5-16 year olds with emotional and behavioural difficulties, chosen by Tom Ue and Tyler Shores because of Hergé’s commitment to children’s charities and causes. Representatives from The Art Room were on hand throughout the day to answer questions and to promote their significant work in providing therapy for children through art, and I was glad to hear of their mission and to support them by attending the conference.

The conference gave Tintin a memorable 85th birthday celebration, and certainly succeeded in its stated aim of bringing together “an international ensemble of scholars, fans, and Tintinophiles” (Shores). The quality of the papers was indicative of Tintin’s enduring popularity, but also of his success across various media – a significant amount of critical attention was paid to the 2011 Spielberg film adaptation, for example. Whilst Tintin is of significant interest to comics scholars such as myself, it was refreshing to attend a conference focused on one enduring character who has inspired a significant fan culture and his own area of scholarship independent from comics studies but still related to it.

References:

Shores, Tyler. 2013. “Tintin Conference, London 2014.” http://www.tintinconference.org/ [accessed Feb 2, 2014].

Paddy Johnston is a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex, currently working towards his PhD in English. His thesis is entitled ‘Working With Comics’ and will examine what it means to work as a cartoonist, with attention to art pedagogy, materiality and the influence of literary modernism. He has given papers at the Transitions 4 symposium in London and the Comics and the Multimodal World conference in Vancouver and has been published in The Comics Grid journal and is a contributor to the comics blog Graphixia. He is also a cartoonist, singer/songwriter and writer of fiction for the One Hour Stories podcast.

 
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Posted by on 2014/02/14 in Guest Writers

 

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