Tintin, the intrepid reporter comic-book character created by Hergé in 1929, owes a large part of its iconic standing in popular culture to the work of the Belgian publisher Raymond Leblanc. It was Leblanc who rescued Georges Remi from the opprobrium he suffered at the end of the Second World War after he had continued to write and draw his hero's adventures for Le Soir, the French language daily controlled by the Germans during the occupation.
Leblanc, who had been in the Belgian resistance, understood the rancour Herge's actions provoked. "Hergé had been branded a collaborator but, in my eyes, he never collaborated with the enemy. He didn't inform against anybody, he didn't commit any reprehensible crime apart from drawing a few strip cartoons for Le Soir".
Leblanc was ideally placed to help the ostracised writer and artist, who had been arrested four times following the liberation of Belgium in September 1944:
After the war, only people who had been in the resistance could work in publishing. You needed the appropriate "certificat de civisme". In order to get one, you needed access to the highest authorities, the Prime Minister and the Culture Minister. I happened to know them all. I read Tintin throughout the war and I never
objected to any of the cont ent. Hergé was the target of many false accusations. I interceded so he could obtain the right "certificat de civisme" to enable him to ride a bike, then another one so he could own a dog, and eventually one which allowed him to start drawing and writing again.
In September 1946, Leblanc brought Hergé and Tintin back from the cold and on to the Belgian news stands when he persuaded the author to allow him to simultaneously launch a weekly magazine called Tintin,and Kuifje, its Flemish language edition. The first issue continued the storyline of The Seven Crystal Balls, the 13th instalment of Tintin's adventures, with Prisoners of the Sun, and sold out its 60,000 print run in three days. Editions du Lombard, Leblanc's newly formed publishing house, became a cornerstone of the bande dessinée ("drawn strip") boom that followed the Second World War.
In 1948, Leblanc convinced the young Paris publisher Georges Dargaud to join the venture and distribute the magazine aimed at "young people from the age of 7 to 77" throughout France. In 1962, they rescued Pilote, the weekly launched by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the creators of Astérix.
The enterprising Leblanc further spread the bande dessinée gospel when he set up Belvision studios, producing animated versions of Tintin and the Temple of the Sun (1969) and Tintin and the Lake of Sharks (1972), which he also directed. Belvision also developed cartoon adaptations of comic-book characters created by René Goscinny, including Astérix the Gaul, the laid-back cowboy Lucky Luke, and the irascible vizir Iznogoud, as well as two feature films mixing live action and animation, Les Gaspards (The Holes, 1974) and a version of Gulliver's Travels starring Richard Harris (1977).
Born at Longlier in the Ardennes area of Belgium in 1915, Leblanc excelled at school and became a customs inspector at 17. When the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940, Leblanc joined the resistance. He wrote about his war experiences in a book, Dés pipés – Journal d'un Chasseur Ardennais ("Loaded Dice – Diary of a Soldier in the Ardennes", 1942). "I managed never to get caught, mostly thanks to the fact that I spoke German," he reflected.
At the end of the war, he started Yes Editions and began publishing Collection Coeur, a weekly magazine of love stories aimed at women, as well as the film title Ciné-Sélection. But he was determined to create a magazine for young people and saw the potential of Tintin, the character Hergé had first drawn for Le Petit Vingtième in 1929.
Printed in colour, the weekly Tintin focused on realistic, "clear-line" comics and featured the adventures of many other characters that have become staples of Belgian and French publishing: Blake and M ortimer, the science-fiction detectives drawn by Edgar Pierre Jacobs, Alix, the series set in ancient Egypt, by Jacques Martin, and the racing driver Michel Vaillant by Jean Graton.
Tintin magazine caught the mood of the baby-boomers and was selling over half a million copies by the end of the Sixties. In its heyday, it was also published in Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey and distributed in Switzerland and Canada. Editions Du Lombard rolled out albums collecting many of the stories published in the weekly.
Leblanc also developed the concept of "Tintin stamps", enabling children to obtain gifts after collecting loyalty coupons published on various products and in the Tintin weekly. In 1954, he launched Publiart, an advertising agency specialising in the use of characters from comics to promote products like Coca-Cola and chocolate. The following year, Leblanc started Line, a magazine for girls, which was eventually bought by the French publisher Daniel Filipacchi and relaunched as Mademoiselle Age Tendre in 1963.
Tintin magazine went through many incarnations – at various times it was called Tintin L'Hebdoptimiste, Nouveau Tintin and Tintin Reporter. Following Hergé's death in 1983, the contract with his estate ran out and the last issue of the magazine was published in November 1988. Two years before, Leblanc had sold the Editions du Lombard to the French company Média-Participations but he remained on board as honorary president.
In 2006, 60 years after Tintin magazine was launched, he started the Fondation Raymond Leblanc to document the history of his publishing house and to display the work of many of the artists involved. Every year, the foundation also gives a grant to a young bande dessinée author.
Raymond Leblanc, publisher: born Longlier, Belgium 22 May 1915; married (one son, one daughter); died Longlier 21 March 2008.