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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions