The Real Herge by Sian Lye | TheBookBuff Review

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The Real Herge | Book Review | TheBookBuff

The creator of Tintin, Herge a.k.a Georges Prosper Remi hated Tintin. Blistering barnacles!

A complex individual, Herge battled depression, ill health and even accusations of working for the Nazi! He was quite a baffling character; unlike his carefree Belgian reporter/detective, Tintin.

Herge’s curious life and genius drew me into this book. However, before you select this book, let us dig a little deeper.

The Real Herge – The Inspiration Behind Tintin
Author: Sian Lye
Publish date: Nov 30, 2020
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books (Imprint: White Owl)
Category: Non-Fiction (Adult)  | Biography

Book Review

Rating: 3/5


If you are looking to understand a bit more about the circumstances that inspired the Adventures of Tintin – this book will provide a good snapshot. 

This is a biography of Herge and largely focuses on his childhood and how he developed from an amateur to an icon.

Herge was an impressionable man. A lot of the world politics including biases prevalent in those times are reflected in his work. This book aptly captures the controversy behind his work.

It does not, however, necessarily go into detail of the actual world history. To understand the prejudice that colored Herge, and the general population at the time, you’ll likely need a world history book.


Herge was greatly influenced by Abbot Norbert Wallez – a Belgian priest and journalist. As the editor of the newspaper where Herge worked, Wallez came to be the young boy’s mentor. Unfortunately, Wallez was also at the time fascinated with Fascism and Mussolini. His hatred of anything Soviet was impressed upon Herge’s young mind. Hence, the first few ‘Adventures of Tintin’ conveyed these ideas at the behest of his mentor cum editor.

Interestingly, Herge later on went on to hate his own iconic creation – Tintin. He was embarrassed by it! The fame and success that came with Tintin also brought with it accusations of racism, anti-semitism and even wilful collaboration with the Nazi!

The artist was fraught with depression and wished to escape from his own success. 

The book delves further into his later life, his apparent Casanova like attitude and his turbulent relationships – professionally and personally. 

My Opinion:

After reading The Real Herge, I will never look at cartoon strips the same way again! Cartoons can and, most likely, do reflect the biases of the creator. They are often used to educate but also, at times, to spread propaganda. Using cartoons in this manner can prejudice young minds.

I firmly believe that we become what we read. Hence, what we select to read to our children must be debated. (Sidebar: This reminds me of how young girls have been brought up on a diet of the ‘damsel in distress’ stories such as Cinderella or Snow White. We need to change the narrative now to reflect more empowered girls. The animated cartoon, Moana, did a good job of that!)

Personally, I think I would have liked the book to  have had a broader scope. If the author, who is also a journalist, could have discussed a bit more in depth the world affairs and its subsequent reflection in the cartoon strips of those times – for me at least – it would have been a big win! 

Yet, as a biography of Herge, there is enough material to get one interested. It is interesting to learn of what went behind the scenes to create the storylines and colorful panels of every Tintin comic.

How To Buy The Book:

The Real Herge will be available Nov 30, 2020 onwards in physical and online. bookstores 

Click here if you’re interested in reading the Adventures of Tintin

More Information about using Cartoons for Propaganda:

Cartoons have over the decades been used to both promote and lampoon ideas. 

During the World War 2 effort, we had a poster of Rosie the Riveter by artist J Howard Miller (below) released by the Americans. It was at that time intended to promote women to join ranks and help in the war effort. Today, it is an accepted symbol of feminism.

Walt Disney company made lots of animation videos, including with Daffy Duck, to support the WW2 effort. Der Fuehrer’s Face had Daffy having a nightmare about being in Nazi Germany, and then waking up thankful to be in America. The cartoon was a huge success.

In fact, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese found themselves part of umpteen cartoon strips depicted as apes, rats, etc! 

One famous cartoon is of popular animated characters – Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd – asking the general public to invest in war bonds (below)

Germany too often lampooned America and its political leaders especially, Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, Hitler later appointed a Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbles, whose job was to spread rumours. He commissioned the movie, The Eternal Jew, to inflame ordinary citizens against Jews. The Minister had posters plastered all over the country with anti-Semitic messages.

Every country has used comics, music and films to further their bias. The recent controversy has been around how, now defunct firm, Cambridge Analytica created prejudicial videos and propaganda slogans and targeted it to a select audience via Facebook. 

There are umpteen examples in the past and recent times to show how art has been manipulated. 

You can read here more about some serious controversies that involved cartoons here:

The Jyllands-Posten Prophet Mohammad controversy:

Je suis Charlie controversy:

Questions for the Book Club 

IMP: SPOILER ALERT, visit this section only after you’ve read the book:

  1. Herge during his younger days worked with a newspaper that had Nazi affiliations. He justified it saying he was working to earn a living. Do you agree that sometimes circumstances can lead you to side with the wrong party? Should we pardon such lack of discretion? 
  1. Herge believed that democracy had been proven deceptive. He, amongst many others, thought the New Order was needed to bring hope to the chaotic world. Do you believe this disenchantment was seeded by the Nazi Party? Is there a parallel you can draw in today’s times?
  1. Herge’s cartoon strip was used to spread propaganda. Some of these messages were anti-communist and racist in nature. They left an indelible mark on young minds. Can you point out how politicians today, across the world, are using similar propaganda products? Are we aware of the influence pop culture and memes have on us?
  1. “Not everyone can be an orphan,” said Jules Renard. Herge often felt that Tintin was lucky to be an orphan as he is free. Why do you think the cartoonist felt restricted by his family? Is this a comment that applies to most adolescent years?
  1. Children who grew up reading about exploits of the Belgian detective would be surprised that Herge considered children a distraction. He didn’t want a family as he didn’t want to be disturbed while working. Do you think this was a comment on his own unhappy childhood or more so a ruse he used because he was sterile?
  1. Do you think the choice of becoming an artist/ cartoonist in the 1900s would place Herge in the category of an iconoclast? How would you define him?
  1. Herge apparently hated the Resistance movement. He also did little to support the anti-semetic sentiment that was prevalent in his cartoon strips. Do you think his work should remain untouched as an example of history?
  1. Herge supported a lot of his friends after they’d completed their jail terms with jobs, money etc. Do you think Herge felt guilty for escaping from justice?

Disclaimer: Thanks to #NetGalley for #TheRealHerge – an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Akansha is a former business journalist and a seasoned communications professional. She is the founder of TheBookBuff, an avid storyteller, and a lifelong biblophile! Check out her profile page to know more about Akansha.

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