There's always a temptation to dwell on the most spectacular and acclaimed sections of Explorers On The Moon; the vulnerable and yet defiant spaceship standing on the Lunar surface, Haddock's self-inflicted near-miss with Asteroid Adonis, the sight of the lonesome Earth diminishing behind Calculus's spacebound rocket, Snowy in his ill-fitting and impossibly-endearing space-suit. Yet some of Herge's most subtle and impressive storytelling is often to be found in the book's less immediately eye-catching sequences.
I've a particular fondness, to say the least, for the above page. In it, Herge ensures that a broad range of readers can become involved in Tintin's entrapment and bludgeoning. A lesser creator would have tailored the sequence to a single audience. After all, Herge's primary responsibility was to the least literate of those sharing Tintin's adventures, and it's an obligation that he brilliantly fulfills. Though there are substantial aspects of the plot that inescapably rely upon the text, the basic sense of the page is clear; Tintin and a nervous Frank Wolff are alone on the rocket, and the former's journey down into the craft's storeroom results is his ambush by the fiendish General Jorgen. In line with the same measure of duty, Herge accentuates the force of Jorgen's page-closing blow without unduly upsetting his more-impressionable fans. To do so, he ensures that the page's
last three panels are well-lit and largely free of any tension-generating foreshortening, while the penultimate frame shows no hint of Jorgen's lurking presence. Through only presenting the Colonel in the final panel, Herge reduces the potential for any anxious anticipation while still allowing for a notable charge of surprise. Even there, Jorgen’s stance is such as to restrict the possibility of an inappropriate level of shock. Though he's obviously strong, dangerous and merciless, his posture is as braced and as static as can be. As such, there's nothing here of the frame-bursting kineticism that Simon and Kirby pioneered in the American comic book of the early Forties. By contrast, Herge's depiction of violence is paternalistically mild and judiciously unthreatening. It undeniably does its job, but it quite rightly strives to do no more.
That same visual restraint inevitably works against the artwork's capacity to excite the older and more experienced of readers. But that inevitability is partially - and very smartly - offset by Herge's text. For the closer that the reader can follow its details, and the more they're able to relate captions and word balloons to action, the more enigmatic and anxious is the situation. With literacy and concentration comes the knowledge that Wolff is not only deeply apprehensive, but culpable in maneuvering Tintin into danger. Similarly, it's Tintin's monologue to Snowy that underscores the mystery of how Frank Wolff's character has changed since Destination Moon. None of this transforms Explorers On The Moon from a juvenile adventure to an adult thriller, let alone from a U to an 18. But who would want it to? The ability of Herge's work to reward the capacities of different audiences is undeniably remarkable. The more we can pick up on the subtleties of the tale's foreshadowing, the more we're complicit in heightening the mystery and anticipation that's been seeded into the story. The less those subtleties are accessible to us, the more Jorgen's aggression is likely to be exciting in itself.
Anyone who'd want to suggest that that somehow isn't enough, and that Tintin isn't worthy of respect because it's playing on a different field to Ulysses, or The Fountainhead, or Bridget Jones's Diary, or The Daily Mail, is quite evidently living beyond the event horizon of common sense. There was a time in which one of the markers of the difference between Canon and Trash was the presence of story being carried in pictures. But even then, the rule was repeatedly broken when it proved convenient for the literati to do so. Yet for a great many people, it seems that those long liverspotted criteria are still relevant in 2013. As with the other points touched upon in these posts, the evidence of Herge's work can be so easily obscured by the labels of childish and comics.
But then, my wife and I yesterday stood before the magazine rack in Waitrose and saw a father snatch a comicbook from his young daughter's hands with the words, "Why have you got that? Put that back. You don't want Spider-Man, you're a little girl." It was hard to stand there and watch a fledgling life being so crudely and cruelly constrained without saying something. It was certainly far harder than suppressing a retort to the woman who I'd overheard sneering at Tintin. A distaste for comics is hardly the only taken-for-granted stupidity that's managed to survive and prosper, although it may be the least pernicious of all of the many which have. It's become a tiresomely-repeated cliche that the real-world of the 21st century lacks the genre-promised tropes of rocket packs, Moon tourism and all-the-vitamins-you-need food pills. But it's so often the long-expected wisdom and kindness of the future that seems so strangely absent from it. Not so much the hardware then, but the common sense, expertise and decency that was so often presumed to be waiting there for us. Now there has turned to here and tomorrow can often seem indistinguishable from the apparently long-distant past. Next to the sight of an undoubtedly loving and well-meaning father who's unknowingly perpetuating the misogynistic bullshit of the past, what does it matter how a single woman spoke about Tintin?
What does it matter anyway? Tongues can just be bitten, the counting of ten accomplished, and the venting on a blog substituted for an entirely unnecessary squabble.
I'd hoped to see if there was a clear, pithy and inarguable response that I could have fallen back on when Herge's work had been so casually dismissed. Instead, all that's been confirmed is that I could spend a huge percentage of my remaining waking hours on the Earth celebrating Tintin. Faced with that, my arguments have fizzled out into an entirely arbitrary stopping point. It's not an outcome that I find surprising, but I'd had my hopes. Oh well etc etc. Yet, since I started this in search of bullet points, here's three that I'm still entirely confident about;
1. Herge was a genius and Tintin is a masterpiece.
2. Blogging about a disagreement is a far better thing than squabbling about it in public with strangers.
3. Somewhere in the East of England is a young girl who wanted a Spider-Man comic, and she damn well ought to have had it bought for her.
I'm happy to encourage anyone who might stumble upon this post to arrange the above in their own order of preference. The only advice I can give is that the last point is by far - by far - the most important one. Marks will be lost for anybody who doesn't put it first on their list.
A great many marks.
TooBusyThinking will return shortly. Indeed, very shortly ...