Art Review: The Adventures of Tintin
Tintin and Snowy
Are comics fine art? A recent article in the International Herald Tribune
covered how an art museum at the University of Nebraska"a
temple to high modernism," according to the articledealt
with a donation of 120 pieces of original comic strip art from a former
chairman of the university's art history department: They put them
on display. And the museum curator plans to exhibit the collection regularly,
exploring "how this genre impacted and is impacted by the whole
tradition of Western art."
In Japan, fine art and illustration are historically less divided. This
ambiguity is perhaps what earned Tintin his first exhibition in Japan
at the Bunkamura Museum. It is also perhaps the reason that the show avoids
the issues addressed by the Nebraska museum and instead settles into simple
Tintin is the globe-trotting Belgian reporter with the Kewpie hairstyle
and the high-water pants (plus fours) well-loved by European kids and,
apparently, Japanese women in their 20s. But Rube Goldberg, not JAL, plans
his trips. Tintin, his white fox terrier Snowy, and a menagerie of charactersgruff
Captain Haddock, absent-minded Cuthbert Calculus, and twin cops Thompson
and Thomsonstumble from one incredible Indiana Jones misadventure
to the next en route to discovering the mysteries of the Black Isle and
the Blue Lotus.
Artist Georges Remi (1907-83), working under the pen-name Hergé, first
created Tintin for the children's corner of the Belgian Catholic
newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle in 1929. The subsequent 23 volumes of Tintin's
adventures have been translated into 40 languages and made into videos,
T-shirts and towels.
With specialty shops already open in Hiroo, Daikanyama, Harajuku and Odaiba,
Tintin needs no introduction to Tokyo. So why hold this exhibition? To
uncover how the "father of the modern European comic book"
influenced generations of young artists with his rich colors and easy-reading
storyboards? To dig into Hergé's portrayal of the complicated politics
of WWII (e.g., in Tintin's journey to Japanese-occupied China in
"The Blue Lotus") or of foreign cultures (Tintin's
buffoonish, big-lipped black companion in the Congo)?
No, to treat Tintin as a matinee idol. Viewers enter the fictional character's
adventures via poorly realized anthropology museum dioramas. A real Willy's
jeep parked on a sand pile is just like the car that inspired the one
Tintin drove in the desert adventure, "Land of Black Gold."
A full-scale model of Tintin's shark submarine from "Tintin
and the Lake of Sharks" is surrounded by watery blue lights and
an old-fashioned diving suit. There's a moon rock next to a model
of Tintin's moon rocket.
This show is really "The Mystery of the Magnetic Newsman."
Why are young women but not manga fans attracted to Tintin? Is it the
style, the color, the trips abroad? Tight-lipped Tintin, pictured here
as an idealized young boy-husband, both son and lover (he's curiously
absent from the full-scale rendition of his living room), offers no answer.
Tintin is undeniably a product. But Bunkamura ("culture village")
is an art, not wax, museum. It's disappointing they didn't
devote more space to how the Tintin books fit into the history of visual
culture. As it is, the exhibition's best section has a series of
panels tracing the production process, from rough sketches to black and
white drawings and color proofs.
Tintin followed his reporter's nose for things unusual or out of
place. He peeped, creeped and overheard. He unearthed enigmas and righted
wrongs. His curiosity was the source, means and end of his adventures.
He wasn't a traveling salesman.
Bunkamura Museum of Art
Until May 6. Shibuya stn, Hachiko exit. Tokyu Bunkamura, Dogenzaka 2-24-1.
Daily 10am-7pm. Tel: 03-3477-9252. Adm: Adults ¥1,000, students
¥800, children ¥500.
Photo credit: © Hergé/Moulinsart