Nicholas Lezard: Comic-book joy for less than €1.3m

In the republic of letters, this is the ultimate democratic object

Share

There are at least three ironies at work in the news during the weekend that a piece of Tintin artwork has been sold at auction for a "record" €1.3m. The first is that it is from a work – Tintin in America – which belongs to his creator Hergé's earlier, cruder (or, to put it more politely, naive) period.

The first three Tintin albums – which take the heroic reporter to, respectively, Soviet Russia, the Belgian Congo, and the United States – are a hodgepodge of clumsy stereotypes and chaotic plotting. The accusations of racism that the more easily-offended have hurled at the artist stem, most justifiably, from these books. (Hergé went out of his way pretty soon after to be more respectful when portraying other races.) Not even the drawings are that good, when they are compared with the meticulous elegance of the later works.

Perhaps the drawing commanded such a high price because it is one of the surviving artworks that we know for certain was drawn by Hergé himself and not his studio – which is the second irony, for as anyone who has read Tom McCarthy's wonderful book Tintin and the Secret of Literature now knows, almost the whole Tintin canon revolves around issues of authenticity; of rightful claims, legitimacy, and inheritance, whether of tribal diamonds, Inca treasure, family mansions or forged currency, and so on. (This all stems from Hergé's plausible belief that his father was an illegitimate son of the Belgian King; alas, I do not have the space to elaborate. Read McCarthy's book.)

But the third irony is, quite simply, the absurd price commanded by the work. This would appear to be the apex of a thriving trade in Tintinian tchotchkes, which virtually has its own Parisian quartier (in and around the Rue Dante, should you be inclined to amble down there); not only can sums charged be mind-boggling, quite a few of the items displayed are beyond even pecuniary reach: they're simply not for sale.

For the thing about the comic book is that it is the ultimately democratic object in the republic of letters: easy to read from childhood on, swiftly appreciated and available to everyone. You will also find that Tintin's adventures, over and above all others' in the comic strip field, sustain countless rereadings and interpretations. (One of Tintin's publishers coined the slogan "for young people from seven to 77", and this is by no means vapid huckstering.)

So, should you find yourself wandering with a bored child this Bank Holiday weekend, duck into the nearest open bookshop and get them started on Tintin. You, and the child, will get more out of his adventures for a tenner than the anonymous bidder will get for his millions.

Twitter: @Nicklezard

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Supply Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply TeachersWould you l...

Job opportunities for SEN teachers and support staff in Essex

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently looking for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice