Conference Report: International Conference “Tintin au XXIe siècle” [Tintin In The 21st Century]

11 Dec

17 – 20 May 2017 – Louvain-la-Neuve – Musée Hergé – Collège Érasme, Université Catholique de Louvain

by Olivier Roche

Translated by Annick Pellegrin

Edited by Lise Tannahill


In Europe, the Belgian author Hergé, whose real name was Georges Remi, is considered to be one of the greatest bande dessinée artists of the 20th century, just like Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), Charles Schulz (Peanuts) or Jirō Taniguchi (A Distant Neighborhood). His body of work—mostly The Adventures of Tintin and Quick and Flupke—has become mythical, and the subject of collections, of speculation, of exhibitions, of hundreds of scholarly studies, of thousands of articles and all kinds of artistic and cultural tributes. In France or in Belgium, universities have had a lot of trouble embracing bande dessinée. However, in the last few years, there has been a notable and growing interest for the ninth art, and in particular for Hergé’s work, in higher education and research. From 17 to 20 May 2017, an international conference was held in Louvain-la-Neuve, at Université catholique de Louvain and at Musée Hergé [Hergé Museum], to mark Hergé’s 110th birthday. The conference, organised by a scientific committee representing six universities in Belgium, France and Switzerland, brought together 20 speakers from 8 countries over 4 days, a first, and it was a great success.

Bande dessinée and Research

The first scholarly works on bande dessinée and Hergé’s work are old[1], but one cannot say that academia realised the importance of the ninth art in 20th century popular culture at the time. Things are progressing and every year there are tens of thesis defences that focus on bande dessinée. The main disciplines that are concerned are French literature, linguistics, comparative literature, history of art, information and communication sciences, political science and medicine. Students are turning more and more towards bande dessinée for their research. University research groups were created in the field, such as Groupe de recherche sur l’image et le texte (GRIT; Image and Text Research Group) within Université catholique de Louvain since 1997; ACME, the bandes dessinées research group created at the University of Liège in 2008; or Groupe d’étude sur la BD (GrEBD; Bande Dessinée Study Group), made official by the University of Lausanne in 2014. Substantial funds are also available for researchers in Lausanne or Angoulême. In his latest essay, Thierry Groensteen highlights France’s backwardness in the matter in a chapter titled “Comment la bande dessinée devient un objet de recherche dans le monde académique” [How Bande Dessinée Became a Research Topic in Academia][2]. Analysing the state of teaching (which remains marginal) and of research dedicated to the ninth art, he came to the conclusion that “la bande dessinée suscite encore certaines résistances, en particulier dans les champs des études littéraires, même si la légitimité de l’objet fait de moins en moins débat” [bande dessinée still meets with some resistance, in particular in the fields of literary studies, even though the legitimacy of this cultural product is less and less questioned]. According to this specialist, good things are happening, such as, for instance, the emergence of a community of young bande dessinée researchers and the creation of exchange and support networks such as La Brèche in 2015. In Europe, the study of bande dessinée in academia is developing and bande dessinée is becoming a real research field. Several quite significant day-long seminars or conferences have previously been dedicated to Hergé. In January 2017, already, an important conference entirely dedicated to the young tuft-haired reporter was held in Paris: “Les Géographies de Tintin” [Tintin’s Geographies], organised by the Société de Géographie [Geography Society]. For the first time, some twenty specialists from the same discipline discussed the topic for two days marked with debates, questions and paths to explore… “Les Géographies de Tintin” demonstrates the possibility for this rich body of work that has several layers to become a subject of study in a variety of fields. Each discipline can indeed try to take on The Adventures of Tintin: history, geography or philosophy, of course, as numerous special issues of magazines have proven to us in Francophone areas, including Québec[3], but also all the other sciences, hard, human, or social. Specialists from fields as diverse as medicine, psychoanalysis, esotericism or the arts can also place Hergé and Tintin under their own lens…

Tintin From The Museum To The University

Louvain-la-Neuve is a university campus/city in the province of Walloon Brabant in Belgium, where Hergé lived, and which is notable for housing Musée Hergé, the first museum to be dedicated entirely to a bande dessinée author. The magnificent and well-lit building measuring 3600m2 was designed by the French architect Christian de Portzamparc and opened its doors in June 2009. It consists of eight rooms dedicated to permanent exhibitions, one room dedicated to temporary exhibitions, a restaurant and an immense atrium. It is a magical place for all Tintin lovers. The conference held in May 2017, thanks to the support of Fanny and Nick Rodwell who manage Hergé’s estate, was put together in close collaboration with Moulinsart (Hergé’s estate), Musée Hergé and the scientific committee, with the support of several partners such as the association Les Amis de Hergé [The Friends of Hergé]. The aim of the conference was to shed light on the extraordinary importance of Hergé’s work in the artistic and cultural history of the 20th century and to capture the mythical and universal character of The Adventures of Tintin and their continuation in the 21st century. The scientific committee selected twenty speakers from eight countries (Belgium, Switzerland and France, but also the USA, South Africa, Mauritius, Portugal and the UK). The organisers put together a program with nineteen papers, three roundtables and two keynotes, as well as some convivial moments… The opening reception and the presentation of the conference were held on 17 May at Musée Hergé, with Anne Eyberg, the director of Musée Hergé; Philippe Goddin, the president of Les Amis de Hergé; Philippe Marion, professor at Université catholique de Louvain; and the illustrator François Schuiten (Cities of the Fantastic/The Obscure Cities). The conference was then held at the university for two days. Six sessions were held around the notions of “territory” and of “temporality” in The Adventures of Tintin. A first session, titled “Territoires de l’imaginaire” [Territories of the Imaginary], investigated the representations of the world in Hergé’s work. What territories, what themes do The Adventures of Tintin show us? What are the visible territories in the work? The continents Tintin visits, the imaginary countries Hergé created, everything that enables us to see a representation of Tintin’s real country: Belgium. In response to this first session, a roundtable, “Imaginaire des territoires” [Imaginary Territories], focused on the relationship between Hergé’s work and different regions of the world in order to gauge its universality: in Europe, where The Adventures of Tintin have thrived under the impetus of the copyright holders and of dedicated groups, the source of events, a whole literature or of translations in regional languages; and elsewhere, where one also finds, sometimes surprising traces of tintinophilia. A second session, titled “La Traversée du siècle” [Crossing the Century] broached the topic of temporality in Tintin. Historical and social, the session retraced how “the little reporter” lived through the 20th century, the world, the values and the societies described in the albums, from the Soviet revolution through technological conquests, political upheavals, wars and trafficking to modern art. “Le Temps des métamorphoses” [Time in Metamorphoses], a keynote, and a roundtable (“Métamorphoses et adaptations” [Metamorphoses and Adaptations]), then broached the question of external metamorphoses in The Adventures of Tintin. Through three generations, Hergé’s work begins at the end of the 19th century, goes through the 20th century and continues in the 21st, still as powerful and surprising. Is Tintin eternal? We tried to trace back the transition, over time, from the œuvre to the myth. Finally, in “Hergé, le fondateur” [Hergé, the Founder], we underscored the artistic history of the work, a now closed series (in that it is completed and unalterable) that is open towards infinity, open to its internal metamorphoses, the evolution of the body of work and the issues of canonicity that surround it, without forgetting, of course, the seminal character of Hergé’s work in the history of the ninth art and the narrative systems that he developed. On the last day, the participants returned to Musée Hergé for a big closing morning session. Under the title “Presse en stock” [Press in Stock][4], we first expanded our field of study to virtual territories that exist outside Hergé’s work. The written press, for example, during and after Hergé’s time, was invaded by a tintinophile imaginary that now often enables it to do what it has to do and fulfil its mission: show and tell the world… In the same way, advertising, research, the vast number of secondary sources, the profusion of parodies and artistic tributes, draw up new territories, bring the myth to life and would have probably left Tintin’s creator speechless. To complete the conference, a roundtable titled “L’Héritage de Tintin” [Tintin’s Legacy], brought together Belgian artist Kroll; Hergé specialist Jacques Langlois; and scriptwriter and publisher Yves Sente. Finally, Jan Baetens, professor at University of Leuven; and Benoît Peeters, publisher, writer, scriptwriter and critic, concluded—for now—the discussions.

The big attendance figures throughout the four days, beyond the academic milieu, very good media coverage (several television channels came to meet the conference organisers, important Belgian newspapers covered the event)[5], and the presence of a few guests who are considered prestigious in the bande dessinée milieu were proof of the still vivid interest in Hergé and his work. The conference Tintin au XXIe siècle [Tintin in the 21st Century] will mark a major milestone in the history of tintinology and let’s hope that the links thus established between Musée Hergé and Université catholique de Louvain will become stronger in the future. Finally, beyond the conference proceedings, which will be published in 2018 under the title Tintin au XXIe siècle : images et imaginaire [Tintin in the 21st Century: Images and Imaginary], in a Belgo-Swiss co-publication, another sizeable project around Tintin and bande dessinée, involving several European universities, should come to fruition within Université catholique de Louvain in the coming months. To be continued…

Olivier Roche is a board member of the association Les Amis de Hergé and a member of all French and European tintinophile associations. Collector, stakeholder and attentive observer of the tintinophile movement, he is co-author, with Dominique Cerbelaud, of Tintin : Bibliographie d’un mythe (Les Impressions nouvelles, 2014). He laid the foundations of what he has called “métatintinologie” [metatintinology] (“Tintin, de la collection à l’encyclopédie”, Porret, Michel, ed. Objectifs Bulles: Bande Dessinée & Histoire. Chêne-Bourg (Suisse: Georg éd, 2009. Print).

[1] Regarding Tintin, the oldest one would be that of STOLLER Claude. L’Univers politique de Tintin. Master’s thesis, Institut d’études politiques de Strasbourg. 1966.

[2] Groensteen, Thierry. La Bande dessinée au tournant. Bruxelles : les Impressions nouvelles, 2017. Print, p. 83-90.

[3] See for instance, Tintin grand voyageur du siècle, Géo and Moulinsart, 2000 ; Tintin au pays des philosophes, Philosophie Magazine, 2010 ; or Les Personnages de Tintin dans l’histoire (2 volumes), Historia, 2011 and 2012.

[4] Translator’s note: the title is a reference to one of Hergé’s albums, Coke en Stock [The Red Sea Sharks].

[5] The Belgian benchmark daily covered the event extensively. Daniel Couvreur, “Tintin à la conquête de l’imaginaire universel” and “Hergé à l’égal de Rabelais et de Dumas”, Le Soir, 21 and 23 May 2017 issues.

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