"Our approach to promoting Hergé's work"
Robert Vangénéberg, administrator of the Fondation Hergé and Tintinimaginatio, recently took part in a question and answer session with tintin.com. The interview lifts the veil on the future of Hergé's pictorial heritage.
The Fondation Hergé, Tintinimaginatio (formerly Moulinsart), Les Studios Hergé, La Croix de l'Aigle and Le Musée Hergé form a group of companies whose aim is to preserve and promote Hergé's work. Could you explain the philosophy behind these organisations?
Robert Vangénéberg (RV): First and foremost, it's important to remember that Hergé fully embodied what he created. That's why it's fundamental to take an interest in the man. To understand exactly who he was, but also what he set out to do and, of course, why and how he achieved it.
After his death in 1983, Madame Fanny Vlamynck (universal legatee) asked herself how this impressive pictorial heritage could be kept alive. And it wasn't long before a "very clear" line - if I may use the expression - emerged in her mind. In fact, she was keen to show what Hergé had created as characters and as a universe, because he had put into it all his values, his soul, his strength and his "guts" - to use his own words. A very personal work, in short, in which each element was an intimate part of himself.
For Fanny, it seemed obvious to keep Hergé alive through his work. But as this artistic heritage was not limited to The Adventures of Tintin, she wanted to find a way to showcase all this composite and multiple material.
She already had in mind the idea of creating a structure that could showcase all the facets of his creation. In 2009, her ideas led to the creation of the Hergé Museum, which - let me remind you - is not the museum about a character, but of a comic book artist and a creator in general, since it offers a glimpse of his work as an illustrator, publicist and painter.
At the turn of the 1990’s, she met Nick Rodwell, whom she later married. From then on, the two of them ran their companies together. And it was again the two of them who reoriented the business, reversing the trend of exploiting the work's potential through licensing.
In other words, they did everything in their power to ensure that the work would no longer be exploited from a purely financial point of view. They, on the contrary, were keen to enhance the value of the creation and the man behind it. It's a mission that still guides the actions and achievements of all the companies today.
What makes Tintinimaginatio so special?
RV: Tintinimaginatio is not quite like any other company, because it has never been a purely commercial enterprise. Nor does it have the same operating mechanisms as a classic structure whose primary aim is to maximise profit.
Why is this?
RV: Quite simply because at the heart of its reactor are artistic, cultural and heritage concerns. Not the financial windfall represented by the work.
Today, we're preparing for the future so that this work of preservation and enhancement can continue. That's why we've decided to set up a multi-faceted organisation made up of several distinct entities (Tintinimaginatio, Studios Hergé, Fondation Hergé, Croix de l'Aigle), all of which share a common goal: to ensure that this work lives and endures, and that it remains part of a dynamic.
Which makes this adventure a fantastic experience. But you have to keep your feet on the ground, otherwise you'll be distorting the work and the man. Even if this means fighting against all odds, because our choices and decisions are often misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Do you think a new Tintin adventure would ever be possible?
RV: Creating a new adventure is an easy solution. And you know, Hergé himself wasn't keen on having a third party take over from him. He made this clear in a series of interviews conducted by Numa Sadoul.
He was so committed to his work that it had become very personal, not to say intimate. And that's precisely what makes it so unique, so charming and so interesting. Tintin's soul is a reflection of his own, if you like. That's why it was inconceivable to him that anyone else could take over from him.
Imagine for a moment another writer doing Harry Potter instead of J.K. Rowling, and well, it wouldn't be Harry Potter at all, but a copy, an imitation - however noble and respectful it might be, by the way - because factually speaking, this proposal would not be the fruit of its original creator. Every artist has his or her own creative power, which is why it's so important to respect the artist's choices, rights and therefore, his work.
To return to Hergé, he never envisaged a continuation for his character, unlike the authors of Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Luke or Alix, to name but a few. But in this case, the approach is very different from ours, because it's of a different order, especially as these heroes sell lots of Comic Strip books. Our approach, on the other hand, is patrimonial, aimed solely at highlighting Hergé's work and bringing it to life.
And how do you go about promoting his work?
RV: Our fundamental base is the books. Then come modern means of expression like film and cartoons. During his lifetime, Hergé had personally invested in these other forms of artistic expression, because he could use them to serve his universe. And finally, the derivative products he had created, for which he also produced numerous original compositions.
In a word, it's up to us not to betray what's been done. That's why Hergé's Rights are so strictly managed. It's thanks to this rigorous protection that we can ensure the full integrity of his work. In this way, nothing and no-one is able to distort it. But in practical terms, this also means that we must have all the necessary resources to be able to make this choice. That's why our teams include a wide range of expertise (graphic artists, 3D designers, editors, scenographers, archivists, and so on). As a result, each new project we undertake is guaranteed to be as accurate and qualitative as possible.
Can you give a concrete example?
RV: One of the most remarkable achievements – and the result of the professionalism of our teams that I just mentioned – is The Chronology of a Work. This fabulous project aimed to exhaustively and chronologically reproduce all of Hergé's artistic production. It is a retrospective inventory that is intended to be exhaustive. It's almost "a paper museum," so to speak. It is this meticulous work of documentation and census that served as the basis for the creation of the Hergé Museum.
This wonderful showcase, which has been open to the general public since 2009, was conceived from an original scenario devised by Philippe Goddin, Thierry Groensteen and Joost Swarte. Their proposal is a different but complementary interpretation of the work. It's another dimension, another way of looking at it. Architecturally, the building is also unique. It has been created with the greatest care and respect, so that Hergé's soul does not disappear behind the aesthetics, but is, on the contrary, at the very heart of the building.
But your work in highlighting Hergé's work goes far beyond the Museum?
RV: At the same time, we've always been keen to take the work on the road in the form of temporary exhibitions organised all over the world (Paris, Quebec, Barcelona, Seoul, to name but a few) - which, by the way, directly echoes its universal and international character. A characteristic it acquired early on, since the very first volumes of The Adventures of Tintin were translated into numerous languages and dialects. Surprisingly, Hergé was not a great traveller at the time. On the other hand, that didn't stop him from making generations of readers travel. Proof of his extraordinary creative genius. It must also be said that he was an artist who was very much in touch with the realities of his time.
We also continue to publish new reference works every year. And we're also very pleased with our partnership with Géo magazine, which - I should add - specifically sought out the character to talk about topical issues. Today, Tintin, c'est l'aventure ! is a title that works very well in the press.
In fact, all our projects are part of a dynamic initiated by Hergé himself. It's up to us to discover new avenues of enrichment to perpetuate this work of preservation and transmission. Especially since his work is universal. And thanks to this, Tintin can be everywhere and about every subject. As proof of this, every year countless theses and university dissertations link his adventures to themes as diverse as history, geography, science, technology and so on. And you know, I'm also convinced that Hergé would have embraced both the digital and social networking worlds.
The work stopped in 1983, with the death of Hergé. It is therefore frozen in a certain temporality. Don't you think that over time, it ends up losing its interest?
RV: As I explained earlier, Fanny (the Rights holder) has always ensured that Hergé's pictorial heritage is not overexploited or misused. Because if it had been associated with universes or plastered on objects without connection or meaning, it would have lost its interest.
Today, we're preparing for the future in such a way as to stay on course. It's important that we do.
And how do you see the future?
RV: To do this, we are setting up an environment that will allow us to continue this work of preserving and highlighting Hergé's work. It is no coincidence that we have decided to change the name of the company. On the one hand, it shows that we are still part of a dynamic. On the other hand, it directly repositions Tintin at the heart of our approach. That way, we know exactly what we're talking about! The term "imaginatio", meanwhile, refers to Hergé's creative genius but also to the notion of the future.
The future we're building every day with new projects, each one more exciting than the last, including the future video game Tintin Reporter - Cigars of the Pharaoh, the digital experience Tintin, the immersive adventure and publishing, which continues to offer high-quality publications.
Since Hergé's death in 1983, Tintin has lived on for 40 years, and we're convinced that there are still avenues to be explored to keep his adventures alive. The books and the characters are strong emblems. So strong that today, they are even popular icons. Tintin magazine, with its famous slogan "for ages 7 to 77", has also contributed in its own way to this tremendous success. The latter will soon be reissued. Proof that Hergé still inspires creation.
Tintin is anchored in its time, but it remains contemporary. And surprisingly, it hasn't aged a bit. Although frozen between the years 1929 and 1983, his adventures are not yet a thing of the past, and they're far from outdated, even if Tintin doesn't have a mobile phone or today's technological tools to conduct his investigations. Hergé was sensitive to his environment, so he perceived many things and gave his work an incredible modernity that still works today.
I would also say that the strength and modernity of the work lies in its humour. Hergé knew how to provide fabulous comic relief in the midst of drama. He could make people laugh at anything, in any situation. He never mocked, but he knew how to finely translate all the little laughs of everyday life to hit the nail on the head every time.
In Tintin in Tibet, for example, there's this fabulous after-dinner scene at the hotel. It's an extraordinarily fresh piece of life and bravery. The details, the attitudes, the reactions of the characters. Nothing is drawn at random.
Any final words?
RV: I'd like to conclude by saying that Hergé's genius lay in the power of his creativity. His power was so incredible that it allowed thousands of readers to dream, to travel and to find themselves in endearing, colourful characters. You can see why it's so important to preserve the integrity of this treasure, whatever the cost.