Tintin and Alph-Art (Review)

I drew lots of comics when I was at the age of 9 to 12 – it could be about two kung-fu fighting dudes by the sonorous names of ‘Lee & Lim’ or about a bunch of five fearsome but somewhat carefree ninjas (a clear nod towards Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Nothing survived in writing till this day though (I’d have been proud to scan it and show it here) as most have been destroyed by the enforcer of the house AKA Mom. It must be said that the prevalent Asian mentality even back in the early 1990s is fertile enough to nurture the stirrings of a second Cultural Revolution – there’s no way to survive being an artist and all that bullshit – no, go to school and get good grades and don’t even think about drawing comics ‘cos nobody will read ‘em.  That being said, most of the inspiration for the comics was derived from the leading video games of the day, such that if those comics got published today, it would have surely infringed lots of copyrighted material. But the real driving force – the inspiration – was derived from Hergé (the nom de plume of Belgian cartoonist, Georges Prosper Remi) and his best-known creation: ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.

It’s not easy to pinpoint a particular reason as to why Tintin comics hold so much appeal around the world – it could be down to his globe-trotting exploits where he would eventually be fêted and universally praised at the end of a particular adventure, or his uncanny and resourceful ability to survive against overwhelming odds, or even his keen sense for adventure at the most unlikely of places like Peru and the fictional Pulau-pulau Bompa. I think that the wide cast of interesting characters (including adorable and whisky-loving Snowy, the volatile but well-meaning Captain Haddock and the somewhat irritating Professor Calculus) helped boost its appeal even further.

I’ve read every single adventure in the series except for the elusive one – ‘Tintin and Alph-Art’ which lay unfinished upon Hergé’s death in 1983. As the work was not completed, it only survived in sketch form with its accompanying French text. I just acquired my copy from Kinokuniya for RM41.90 (softcover) which is a tad more expensive than the other completed albums (selling for RM29.90). If memory serves, the RM29.90 price tag has been constantly fixed since 1991 when I bought quite a number of Tintin albums then so I guess that this series wasn’t affected by inflation at all. Nevertheless – primarily motivated by curiosity – I finally bought the book.

cover page

(I absolutely loved the gold-coloured cover which exuded class through and through.)

preface

As you can see, and as you probably already knew, the book consists primarily of Hergé’s sketches leaving a very vague direction as to its conclusion. But from the first page of the actual comic itself, you could see the lively strokes portraying Bianca Castafiore and her horrible manifestation in Haddock’s dreams and in that same instant, I also realized that the work done on Tintin’s many adventures – the initial drafts, colouring etc. – are laborious and painstaking. The image of Bianca itself was so sharp and cleverly drawn that it doesn’t appear like a sketch at all. Being a (terrible) cartoonist myself before, I knew how much revision needs to be done before achieving that particular image in mind that was intended to be portrayed.

However, the rest of the book alternates between some pretty interesting sketches to downright abomination (as shown below). Again, it’s hard to be reminded constantly that it is only a preliminary thing.

excerpt

I finished reading the album in one night and hope to understand it better in the future. As a suggestion, you wouldn’t want to approach this particular work like you did with the previous Tintin albums – I found it rather difficult to finish guided by the initial mindset that this work is and never would be completed. Instead, I attempted to read it rather mindlessly and came away with at least some semblance of a storyline in the making. The version I bought also features some rediscovered pages towards the end and while mildly intriguing, it does not really raise the value of the entire package by much. That’s just me, though.

While the unfinished work doesn’t digress too much from the successful structure of Tintin’s past stories (including the running gags of Mr. Cutts the butcher and the exploding cigars prank perpetrated by the little scamp, Abdullah), it could also be observed that there are some fresh ideas developed in this story – the microtransmitter in the jewel belonging to Martine Vandezande, for instance, invoked feelings of a bona fide mystery in the making. We could only express regret that Hergé was not afforded the time to grace this work with his final touches nor instruct his able team to do so on his behalf.

I would recommend this book to any ardent fan of Tintin comics. Just don’t ask me for the scanned pages. Buy the album and appraise it for yourself. It’s worth your while and money.   

      

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