Tintin and I

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

Filmmaker Interview

POV: What is Tintin and I about?

Anders Østergaard: Tintin and I is a posthumous autobiography of Hergé. Back in 1971, he gave an interview to a young student in which he quite spontaneously decided to open his soul and to explain about all the relations between his own life and his very famous cartoons. This student was wise enough to record this on cassettes, and those cassettes have been locked up in a safe for years. Tintin and I gives us the chance to listen to those tapes and investigate the incredible cartoons of Hergé, as well as all the events of the 20th century which have been reflected in this piece of children's entertainment.

On another level, I think this film is also about growing up, because Hergé took a long time to grow up. As a young man he thought he had struck a deal with the world that if he just kept on drawing, and if he just stuck to his Catholic, right-wing environment, then everybody would leave him alone and he could just stay in his imaginary worlds. But eventually the world crept in on him. Reality forced its way into his life, first in terms of the Second World War, then in terms of love, because he fell in love with the wrong woman. So "Tintin and I," in which he talks about his life, is a very long story about growing up and facing the music, facing the choices you have to make in life in order to become yourself.

POV: Tell us more about Hergé as a character, and about Tintin the comic strip.

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Anders: Hergé was the creator of The Adventures of Tintin, which to all Europeans is an icon of their childhood, a formative comic strip in which you learned about the world, about adventure, and even about a kind of a morality, about how to deal with other people from other parts of the world. It was also a very humorous comic strip, mostly because of Tintin's close friend, Captain Haddock, who unlike Tintin, is very human and vulnerable and temperamental. Hergé sat in Brussels and drew these cartoons during his entire life. He hardly ever left Belgium, but he nevertheless embarked on journeys all over the world.

The interesting thing about Hergé is that he was able to capture the imagination of millions of European kids. On the surface he was quite a controlled, reserved man. He looked more like an office clerk than a very exciting artist. He was elegant, smart, handsome, but not somebody you would expect to delve into surrealist sequences or create all the fantastical things that happen in Tintin. I think that's the intriguing thing about him, that he keeps a facade which is quite controlled, but you sense his nervousness and his artistic-ness behind it all, all the time.

POV: The Tintin comic strip is a place where politics and art really collide. Tell us about Hergé's relationship with politics.

Anders: I think the truth about Hergé is that he was a bit of a sponge, and he described himself that way as well. He would sort of soak up all the vibrations of the society around him. And he couldn't help but have that reflected in what he was doing, even if he was not supposed to give political content to these stories for kids.

So the cartoons did have political content, because he was so influenced by what was going on at the time, whether it was the political crisis of the 30s, World War II in the 40s, the Cold War in the 50s — all of those things filtered into what he was doing in the Tintin comics. So in that way, the cartoons became — without him planning it that way — a chronicle of the 20th century, where you have most of the major events covered, be it the war or traveling to the moon. It's all there.

POV: What inspired you to make this film?

Anders: Well, I suppose that I was quite a fan of these comics, and they always left a big question inside me because I always sensed that there was more going on than met the eye. On the surface, these comics were innocent entertainment for kids, but there was a certain vibration about them, a kind of nervous energy, which made me very curious who was the guy who made this, and how did the cartoon strips end up the way they did? So I started off this whole project with those particular questions.

I read books about Hergé, and most importantly, I came across an article describing how one of his greatest books, Tintin In Tibet, coincided with a deep personal crisis for him. After reading that article, it dawned on me that this is a powerful story about a guy with all the sensitivities of an artist trying to express himself through this small, narrow, letterbox format. It was a comic strip that was supposed to be entertainment for kids, yet Hergé put his entire soul into it, and he was able to make a very deep emotional impact.