Tintin and I

PBS Premiere: July 11, 2006Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Statement

Dear Viewer,

It is exciting to know that you have watched, or will be watching, my film Tintin and I. Most probably, you will discover new aspects of the story that I am not even aware of myself. And it would be unwise of me to supply you with a fact sheet on how the film should be understood. But you may appreciate knowing a bit about why I was driven to make this film in the first place.

On the surface, Tintin and I is about the art of comics and about modern European history -- and how the two, in this case, are tangled together. But on a deeper level, Hergé's life story also has an existential note which may have been the real reason why I got involved in it. To me, it is the story of a dreamer, who wants to turn his back on the boredom of his upbringing and look for mystery and adventure in his imaginary world. At a young age, he struck a deal with the devil, so to speak. His editor allowed him to keep on dreaming on a monthly salary if he stayed within a strictly Catholic set of values. This pact became a great vehicle for Hergé's creativity, but it also led him into personal disaster at the end of the war. From then on -- with his innocence lost forever -- everything was about growing up and facing the music even if it meant that he had to leave his wife.

This film took me four years to make, but my idea of how I wanted it to be came in an instant. It was one of those rare moments when a drama presents itself within a clear visual framework -- the perfect DNA for a film.

Being an average Tintin fan, like so many Europeans of my generation, I was skimming through the official Tintin website when I came across an article about one of my favorite books in the series -- Tintin in Tibet. It revealed Hergé's first few sketches and notes as he approached the story, and they seemed to directly reflect his stream of consciousness: "They find themselves in Tibet. What are they doing there? There has to be a motive." And then -- with an abrupt leap beyond the usual limits of children's entertainment -- "A search for eternal wisdom . . . Buddha!" In these first notes, Hergé seemed to be sending his impeccable Boy Scout hero out on a quest for spiritual enlightenment -- nothing less. The author of the article then went on to point out how these disturbing lines coincided with a major emotional crisis in Hergé's life. This was the fall of 1957, when Hergé, a married man, was drifting into deep depression because he had fallen in love with another woman and he didn't know how to handle the guilt.

A panel from Tintin in Tibet, a work regarded by many to be Hergé's masterpiece

A panel from Tintin in Tibet, a work regarded by many to be Hergé's masterpiece

There it was. Suddenly there seemed to be an answer to a hunch I had always had through all my years as a Tintin reader. A hunch that something was going on behind the scenes. That a lot of nervous energy and personal experience was embedded in these apparently innocent stories. And that this was why they kept on being such a rich and stimulating read. It was obvious to me that Tintin in Tibet had to be the climax of an intense personal drama -- played out so movingly by Hergé in the snowy and desolate plains of Himalaya. All I had to do was unearth the story that was bound to lie behind this crucial moment in his life and his art.

Then came the tapes. Quite miraculously, the Hergé Foundation was able to offer me 14 cassettes: the result of Hergé's marathon testimony about his life and work, which until then had been thoroughly censored. Their technical state was generally miserable -- but Hergé's serene and spirited voice filtered through the distortion and convinced me that it was possible to turn the film into an intimate autobiography that would truly move its audience, 20 years after the artist's death.

The rest was hard work, never-ending negotiations and a sheer battle to keep everybody else's opinions about Tintin and Hergé out of what I wanted to do. But throughout the entire production it was such a delight to have the privilege of working with the colors, the graphics, the humor and the mystery in those immortal stories called The Adventures of Tintin.

-- Anders Østergaard