My favourite Comics in French !

Oh Yes !

Many of you reading this would be flabbergasted by this honest preference of mine. I grew up reading French comics or rather reading them in French only. Of course, I consider the Belgium ones as ‘French’ too … So, naturally I can relate better to French cartoons that DC Comics or Mangas. Over the years, I have read many others but till date, my heart skips a beat whenever I see a new French cartoon album. When I am in Paris, my most favourite place apart from many others, remains the FNAC on Champs Elysees. I spend hours drooling, relaxing, skipping, browsing, reading and just taking it all.

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I would not be able to enumerate the number of cartoons albums I have read nor seen on TV. But I can distinctively remember my first read. It was a Tintin. A revelation ! A pleasure to inhabit my psyche for many years to come. It was ‘Tintin au Pays du Congo’. There was born probably my first love for graphism. I remember the glossy hard cover and the inside cover’s vignettes. It was written in such simple French that it was like seeing the scenes alive with the direct, fuss free illustrations. I marveled at the eccentricities of Captain Haddock, and loved Tintin’s dog, Snowy or Milou as I prefer it in French. I discovered with eager interest and complete devotion all the other titles gulping them down with avidity each time I could lay hand upon them. From the mutiple adventures that Tintin followed as a reporter, I learnt many aspects of other countries along side. I did not need to learn how to read from an encyclopeadia to know that there were Opium parlours in China, that the ancient Aztecs worshipped the sun, that there was oil in Iraq, that the Zappatas ruled by booze, cigars and guns. I find this account of Dom Doly similar to mine:

To most adults, therefore, Tintin is living the “never grow up” dream, the sort of life bereft of responsibilities, financial worries and basic drudgery to which we all aspired before reality set in. As a kid, however, I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t the appeal – I just loved reading about Tintin’s globetrotting. I travelled the world through his pages, taking in every gloriously exotic detail, every curious foreign trait. A vast part of my passion for travelling and exploration comes from having devoured so many of these extraordinary foreign adventures. At the age of seven, I used to have a huge map of the world up on my bedroom wall in Beirut, and I would put pins into every recognisable destination that Tintin had visited. I would tell anyone who cared to listen that one day, I too would visit these places.

On my travels, I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been in some far-flung destination, suddenly had this weird feeling of dejà vu, and realised that I was experiencing a Tintin flashback. There was Prague in the early 1990s – I was a diplomat there for a while and kept seeing striking similarities in both the architecture and the politics between Czechoslovakia and Syldavia, the East European setting for King Ottokar’s Sceptre. I even came across the tomb of a King Ottokar in the capital’s cathedral.

When travelling in China, I found myself in a small town two hours south of Beijing, in a Herge street scene straight out of the pages of The Blue Lotus. One of the little shops on the street was even selling a wooden statue of Snowy, Tintin’s dog. The shopkeeper had no idea who Snowy or Tintin were, it was just a weird coincidence. Obviously, I bought it, and the statue now sits in my loo as a reminder of the weird connections that travel so often throws up.

The really extraordinary thing is that Herge, Tintin’s creator, had never actually travelled abroad when he was writing the books. He was an obsessive hoarder of photographs, newspaper clippings and drawings, and he used them to make every detail of the books completely authentic. Every car, uniform or building depicted in the stories were painstakingly researched, and this helped to bring hyperreality to the adventures. Is it possibly this detached view of the world that allowed him to make absolutely everywhere seem so desirable and attractive to me? If he had actually macheted his way through insect-ridden swamps or seen African poverty in its rawest form, then maybe the books would have been more politically correct but somehow less magical.

Tintin in the Congo has recently come under a lot of flak for its depiction of the Africans as dim-witted colonial subjects, and for Tintin’s wholesale slaughter of almost every animal he encounters. I happen to agree with the criticism. I understand why it would have been written as it was at the time. But I’ve started to read Tintin to my six-year-old daughter Parker, and I can’t quite square why someone so obviously good and “nice” behaves so oddly in the Belgian Congo. She’s a little too young for lessons on the excesses of European colonial rule, so we’ve just avoided this one so far.

On the plus side, she has become fascinated, as I was, by all the countries that Tintin visits, and currently wants to go to Nepal to find the Yeti (one of the adventures that I haven’t done yet, so I’m up for it, we just have to ask Mum).

Tintin’s travels have always seemed to me to be in the same vein as early James Bond, in that each story unfolds in some exotic global environment as yet unsullied by mass tourism. As with Bond, I’ve often tried to think of places that Herge didn’t cover. Bond covered most of the British Empire, although I think that we have yet to see an adventure in either Australia or New Zealand. Herge also ignored Australia and New Zealand (apart from commencing an ill-fated flight from Sydney in Flight 714), but manages to cover most of the rest of the world. If you ever see Tintin sitting next to you on a plane, get off immediately. It’s very rare that he ever steps on to one without something exciting happening to him. I guess airport security was a little less taxing in his day.

As a kid, however, I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t the appeal – I just loved reading about Tintin’s globetrotting. I travelled the world through his pages, taking in every gloriously exotic detail, every curious foreign trait. A vast part of my passion for travelling and exploration comes from having devoured so many of these extraordinary foreign adventures.

Recently, my living in Vietnam gave  another little surprise !. Here, there is a fascination of Tintin. They exist in all forms of tourist objects from tshirts, embroidered fine linen to lacquer paintings. Probably, the remnants of a past French colonial past. It is translated among many other things into lacquer paintings, a technique that the Vietnamese have mastered over the centuries. It is the only country known in the world which still uses traditional natural sap resin to make lacquer, unlike many Asian countries which have been taken over by synthetic dyes and chemicals. One can find all the best of Tintin illustrations reproduced in fine lacquer here. They exist in a few sizes, but the A4 and A3 sizes are the most popular as they can be heavy, being mounted on board. Should I say that I own a couple modestly ? . They are 2 small A4 sizes, handy to take with us when we leave.

If you want to buy any of Tintin’s lacquer, drop me a word.

Tintin in lacquer P1000178

Tintin in lacquer

The biggest thrill came when I first saw an animated film of Tintin. It was that of ‘Tintin et le temple du soleil’. Pure Bliss.

Who can deny the peals of laughter that enlivened our days when we read the adventures of Tintin and his companions.

Next on my list came the famous cowboy who can shoot quicker than his shadow ! Yes, weare talking of Lucky Luke.

lucky madalton luck

Jolly Jumper, Ma Dalton, Dalton Brothers and Rantanplan featuring regularly in Lucky Luke’s adventures were rich of life in the Far West. My initial response was that of getting used to the elaborate details that the illustrations came with. Gone was the sobriety and visual simplicity that was present in Tintin. Dynamism and loud noise ruled in Lucky Luke. But the lonesome cowboy walking down the sunset triggered a nostalgic feeling wach time the chapter closed on an adventure. Ready to discover the next.

But my ribs tickled more with Asterix and Obelisk. The lovable contrasting duo of two of the most famous Gauls.

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Asteris brought me the love good natured humour and friendship. Every time I am in Brittany ( ancient Gaul ), I adore visiting the menhirs or dolmens. Walking in the woodland areas, I always fantasise that I will see a running boar being chased by Obelix. O also think of Becassine, another of my favourite cartoon character based on the typical Breton maid. And the magic of the medicinal herbs and ingredients of the magic potion tickles my spine when I am in Wales. Another Celtic country sharing the same family root as the Gauls. The land of Merlin. All things said, I think each and every account and details of my favourite comic books still inhabit me and would always travel with me.

I cannot fail to mention Iznogoud, the Grand Vizir of El Haroun, the Calife who tries incessantly at attempting at the latter’s life to claim his throne. Good versus evil all punctuated with infectious humour makes Iznogoud of my fail free potion of lift me up comic books.

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2 thoughts on “My favourite Comics in French !

  1. Yes , comics certainly have universal appeal, probably because pictures can be interpreted by most – even if the interpretation differs.

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