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K-State Today

June 11, 2012

Famed cartoonist's work sends faculty member to Belgium, Luxembourg as Fulbright scholar

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Joe Sutliff Sanders and a statue of Tintin

A Fulbright award will help a Kansas State University faculty member further his research on one of the world's most famous cartoonists, Belgium's Hergé, the author of the "Tintin" series.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Joe Sutliff Sanders, assistant professor of English, will spend the spring 2013 semester in Luxembourg and Belgium. Sanders will teach at the University of Luxembourg and spend some of his time at the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels, home to an exclusive microfilm collection of comics by Hergé.

Hergé was the pen name of Belgian writer and artist Georges Remi. His best known creation, "Tintin," first appeared in 1929 and went on to become one of the most popular in Europe. "Tintin" is about the adventures of Belgian investigative reporter Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy. It was made into a film, "The Adventures of Tintin," in 2011.

Sanders will be looking at the "Tintin" comics published during the Nazi occupation and how Hergé revised those comics after liberation.

"It's a pretty big deal. When the Nazis took over, the newspaper in which Hergé published his comic folded rather than run what the Nazis told them to," Sanders said. "When Hergé started publishing again during the occupation, he ran 'Tintin' in a newspaper that was widely regarded as a mouthpiece for the Nazi propaganda ministry."

The sales of the first issue featuring Hergé's work soared, Sanders said.

"There's no question that the presence of 'Tintin' in that newspaper helped the Nazis sell copies. But Hergé had no love for the Nazis. After the war, he said that what he did was no different from what a baker would have done by continuing to make money during the occupation using his trade," Sanders said.

But the work raised questions about Hergé's wartime behavior and led to an investigation where the only outcomes were that he could be found incivique -- a noncitizen -- or a good citizen.

After the war, Hergé revised the strips that ran in the newspaper into book-length comics.

"What I want to know is what changes he made to the wartime content when he knew he was under close investigation," said Sanders, whose focus will be on how such dichotomies -- collaborator/subversive during the war, incivique/good citizen in the years that followed -- shaped Hergé's production and revisions of "Tintin."

Hergé's newspaper serials before and during the occupation were done in black-and-white. But for the book publisher Casterman, Hergé revised his stories in format, pacing, length, color and even content, Sanders said.

Sanders plans to publish his results when he is through with his study, and he has already involved his students in the work. He went to Belgium on a university research grant in January 2011 to start his research.

"I got enough done on one of the stories that I'm researching to realize that there were some really interesting comparisons to be made between the original versions of the stories and the revised versions," Sanders said. "In a course I taught on children's comics and picture books last fall, I showed the students the originals I had photocopied while in Brussels, and the students compared those originals to the first revision."

While still not sure on what the revisions the cartoonist made from one version to the next mean, Sanders said it has been interesting to get the students' interpretations.

This is Sanders' first selection as a Fulbright scholar, although he had applied before. He said he wanted to apply because he enjoys international travel.

"I love being in other places, soaking up alternate ways of viewing the world, and being forced to speak and think in the language of the place where I am," Sanders said. "I love the challenge and the rewards, especially the rewards of the people I become friends with. I love being in a way that is framed differently than the way I grew up being."

Sanders is among the approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the core Fulbright Scholar Program annually. The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.