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A boy who never grows old gets bigger

The new Herge Museum in Belgium focuses on — who else? — Tintin.


Herge was born into a Brussels family of modest means, and remembered his childhood as uniformly gray. He discovered excitement with the Boy Scouts, on one occasion going on an almost 200-mile trek in the Pyrenees. Tintin, his cypher of a boy hero, was very much the Boy Scout, more globe-trotting justice-seeker than wordsmith (we get to see him writing one article in the whole series). If, in pre-Internet days, his explorations of the globe were an education to his enthusiastic young readers, his enduring appeal resides elsewhere.

A young counterculture artist in the 1970s, Joost Swarte, met Herge and found a very open, intellectually curious man with a keen interest in underground U.S. comics and an analytical approach to his work. “As a child, I discovered other cultures through Tintin,” Swarte said, “but it is with his qualities as a storyteller that he really scores. He used the cinema’s framing techiques and ended every page with a cliff-hanger.” Movement was his mantra.

When Fanny Rodwell asked him to design a “script” for the museum, Swarte was delighted. He worked on it with a small team for two years, deciding what to show and how. After de Portzamparc had designed the museum building, with four spaces standing on end like boxes (inspired by a comic strip) and linked by footbridges within a light-filled atrium, they organized the permanent collection’s chronological presentation into a potpourri of themes. The displays range from cats, fast cars and Scouts — Herge’s passions — to a laboratory showing the character Professor Calculus’ inventions and an ethnographic room with 3D images of the fetish statue and Egyptian mummy Herge had discovered in Brussels’s Museum of Art and History and which he used in his books.

The museum’s curator, Laurent de Froberville, used to run the chateau of Cheverney in the Loire that Herge copied in reduced version for Captain Haddock’s Moulinsart chateau (Marlinspike to English readers). And the daughter of the Chinese boy Chang — a student Herge befriended and turned into a character — also works in the museum. It’s still quite a family affair, even if we know that Steven Spielberg’s so-far very hush-hush film of "The Secret of the Unicorn" will bring the tireless boy reporter into the globalised 21st century.

The Herge Museum opens June 2.

Belgium's other new museum:

This is not a museum: celebrating Rene Magritte

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