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K-State Today

November 17, 2016

Joe Sutliff Sanders edits book on 'Tintin' creator Hergé

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

book cover

An intrepid boy reporter travels the world seeking truth, fighting injustice and sporting a trademark hairstyle. Sound familiar?

Even if you aren't an avid reader of comics, you may have heard of Tintin. Created in 1929, Tintin is one of the most popular comics characters in the world, and bound editions of the story arcs are widely carried in American libraries. Tintin's creator was Georges Remi, who adopted the pen name Hergé. His drawing style was highly influential in European comics, and his artistic control and merchandising model demonstrate his business acumen.

A new book edited by Joe Sutliff Sanders, associate professor of English, examines Hergé's legacy. "The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines are Not So Clear" was published earlier this fall by the University Press of Mississippi. The book contains chapters written by a diverse group of scholars from around the world working in fields such as literature, languages, history, art history and communication studies. Topics include how Hergé used aviation in Tintin's adventures, the musical structure of the most critically acclaimed Tintin story, how the series was pirated in Turkey, Hergé's evolution as a cartoonist and the artists who display his influence.

Sanders said Hergé is important because he broke new ground in Europe by writing his comics in ways that meant they could take on a life outside the newspaper when bound together into books. He also defined the "clear line" drawing style, and he formed a studio with a staff of writers and artists whom he taught so they could produce merchandise adorned with Tintin, his dog, Snowy, and other characters, thus leaving Hergé to do more creative work.

"Hergé taught the people in his studio fundamental principles of cartooning — what happens across a page, when you turn a page, principles of color and line and so on. He taught these people who went on to become influential themselves. He's the stone dropped in the pool of European comics, and the ripples continue today," Sanders said.

Sanders received internal grant support that made the project possible. During his first year at K-State, 2010-2011, Sanders applied for a Faculty Development Award from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs to attend a conference in Belgium and visit a Brussels archive. While in Belgium, he made appointments with people who were significant to comic studies. He used the information he found to polish a Fulbright proposal. He was awarded the Fulbright, and just before he left for Belgium, the University Press of Mississippi asked him to edit a book on Hergé.

Sanders said the Faculty Development Award helped him do initial research and meet people he otherwise wouldn't have encountered. That start led to the Fulbright, which led to the book opportunity.

"Each one built on the other. I made the most of it, got the next thing, made the most of it, and so on, but the first step on this whole path was getting the Faculty Development Award," Sanders said.

Karin Westman, head of the English department, said scholarship and creative activity in English and the humanities thrives, thanks to these small internal grants.

"Even in the digital age, conversations with colleagues here and abroad are incredibly beneficial for advancing work in the field of English. Financial support from the Office of Research gave Professor Sanders the opportunity have those conversations and then secure extramural funding. The resulting book advances both scholarship in comics and the mission of the English department at Kansas State," Westman said.

Sanders said he is grateful for the chance to bring Hergé's work into the limelight in America.

"'Tintin's' cartooning and storytelling is amazing. Some of the comics were written before the second World War, and they're still funny," he said.

Because of his work on Hergé, Sanders has been invited to write a chapter in the forthcoming "Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel." Sanders will focus on Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics. Sanders also has a monograph about children's nonfiction slated for release in fall 2017.

The English department is in the College of Arts and Sciences.