In ink or in pixels, on the sea or in the air, as a lady or as an elder, this exhibit shows there are endless ways to represent the beloved comic character.
Tintin began his adventures in the 1930s, only hanging up his blue sweater and giving his ageless face a rest in the mid-’70s. Many adult Tintin fans spent their childhoods reading the comics or watching the Nelvana-produced cartoon with the trouble-hunting reporter, his sailor-tongued chum Captain Haddock, and faithful dog Snowy (Milou, for purists). For having brightened so many lives with his engaging and accessible works, Hergé, the Belgian artist responsible for Tintin, is one of the most admired names in comic art history. “The French take their Tintin very seriously,” says Peter Birkemoe, owner of comics store The Beguiling. And if you visit the Steamwhistle Gallery between now and November 27, you’ll find Torontonians take him very seriously too.
“Toronto Draws Tintin” features dozens of works celebrating Hergé by Toronto’s talented, local admirers. Artists from comics to video games, new to old, famous to students have donated a myriad of works portraying the friendly fictional adventurer, ranging from Faith Erin Hicks’ (Demonology 101, Friends with Boys) sentimental embrace to Chip Zdarsky’s (Prison Funnies) hardened, Ron Perlman–statured take, which greets visitors at the exhibit’s entrance. While it would be much easier to pin this peaking Tintin fandom on a certain Spielberg-produced animated epic, this local show has more substance.
“There’s a few points of genesis for this,” says Birkemoe. “One is we wanted to do something to promote a book that is coming out in English for the first time called The Adventures of Hergé. It’s by a French cartoonist named Stanislas, now being published by Drawn & Quarterly.” The graphic biography takes Hergé’s already animated life and adds slightly fictionalized dashes of adventure, to create a story that meshes Hergé’s tale with the ones he famously created. Another big inspiration for the gallery is not nearly as celebratory.
“We had been looking at this case coming up for the Comic Legends Legal Defence Fund,” says Birkemoe, “and we wanted to raise money for the legal defense of a young man.” The CLLDF has been in existence since the ’80s, raising funds to protect collectors and retailers alike from persecution over creative works. They have recently been picking up steam and fuming in Calgary, after an American crossing the border had his laptop searched by Customs where they discovered manga, which officials later deemed “child pornography.” Oddly enough, Calgary was also where a store’s collection of Crumb’s Zap and Weirdo were confiscated, the incident that spurred the establishment of CLLDF. All money raised by auction at Toronto Draws Tintin will be donated to the CLLDF.
Toronto doesn’t need to be told this, but Toronto is plenty talented. Using their well-rooted network through the store and TCAF, the Beguiling sent out a signal flare to all interested, talented types, and while Birkemoe wasn’t surprised by the volume of responses, he was surprised by new faces. “There are many people who I’ve known at the store, because they buy comics from me regularly, and we talk about comics, but I don’t know their names, I don’t know their jobs. But it turns out, as they hand me art, that they are artists too; they just never said anything.”
Established artists, especially of the comics variety, make appearances throughout: Chester Brown (Louis Riel, Paying For It) contributed two re-creations of scenes from The Black Island and Zach Worton (Drawn & Quarterly, The Klondike) submitted a tribute to Haddock’s cussing. Newer star Michael DeForge (LOSE, Thickness) is no stranger to subjecting pop culture icons to beautiful misery; you could argue sinking Tintin eyes-high in a murky jungle pool is “going easy on him.” But Toronto’s talent pool doesn’t end at comic art. Creators of the digital and design world paid respect with gusto.
“The chance to draw Tintin, especially in a pixelated style, is something I knew I’d have a lot of fun doing,” said Miguel Sternberg (a.k.a. Spooky Squid Games, creator of the upcoming They Bleed Pixels), who had grown up reading the books with friends. “He’s just one of those iconic figures you grow up with. It’s been ages since I’ve actually read a volume.”
While styles differed wildly, themes seemed to emerge in neat pairs. Many had recreated or paid homage to specific volumes and scenes, but both Tess Reid and Fiona Smyth (Cheez 100) practised the fan-art tradition of gender-swapping, and Joe Ollmann (Mid-Life) and Rina Picollo (Tina’s Groove) pitted Hergé’s heroes against old age. One coincidence seemed incredibly unlikely, but both Ben Rivers (Snow) and John Martz (Heaven All Day) drew Tintin on a Tauntaun. “I’m amazed,” said Rivers, “but at least the execution is different.”
Star Wars isn’t the only nerd-flavoured crossover in this nerd-filled room. Brice Hall dumped the Tintin ensemble onto the set of Jaws, while Steve Manale (Superslackers) subjected Tintin to a grotesque, The Thing–inspired fate. “I guess it’s been on my brain for a while,” says Manale, who’s actually an extra in the new remake but hasn’t seen it yet. “I love the scene where Bennings mutates and has those gross, tree-stump arms. I just thought I’d cast Tintin in that role. I feel like you can easily see Tintin in the Arctic. It could be that adventure. It would be a shocking, startling scene, but it seemed right to me.”
From detailed paper cut-outs to pixel-perfect prints, Toronto can draw Tintin in many ways. Those who want to take home a piece of the adventure can bid on any work till the closing ceremonies on November 27, when Stanislas will visit to launch his newly translated biography. A nice set of drawings is also available online.
CORRECTION, November 4, 3:55 p.m. This post originally misspelled artist Rodrigo Bravo’s name as Rodrigo Brava. That has been corrected. We regret the error.