Saturday, December 3, 2011

Me and Hergé

This is the story of my childhood correspondence with Hergé, the author of the Tintin books. It appeared (print only) in the London Financial Times Weekend Magazine October 22-23, 2011; and yesterday (December 3) print and online in both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald:

Note a caption error (as of this writing) pops up in the online version: the caption seems to say the image is a panel from King Ottakre's Sceptre but it is in fact a section of one of the Christmas cards Hergé sent me. Also, near the end, a sub-edition error has cartoonist David Messer giving the letters to the daughter of the woman I stayed with. This doesn't make sense: it was in fact the unnamed later Honi Soit editor who held onto them and gave them to her years later.

I've been deeply moved by the outpouring of love I've received in Facebook comments etc about this article, and am happy it struck such a chord. Hence my linking to it here - for those of you who missed it.


Totem said...

PS After the piece appeared in the SMH yesterday I received this comment on an older post from David Messer, one of the characters mentioned in the story. I'll re-post his comment here so that it's current with the relevant post:
Dear Luke,
I really enjoyed your piece in the SMH today. It conveyed the almost religious devotion some people have to Herge and Tintin. Although I never corresponded with Herge, Tintin has been a great influence on my life. In a way people like you and I were lucky to grow up when we did. So many things were so difficult to get a hold of. My collection of Tintin books was built up slowly, mainly through birthdays and Christmases. The tantalising back covers of the books would be pored over endlessly. A friend and I would spend hours drawing every day, fantasising about one day producing Tintin-like books of our own.
The adolescent parodies in Honi Soit are embarrassing to recall now, but their viciousness never diminished my love of Tintin. I remember being very surprised when you lent me the drawings and letters. In the offhand way of teenagers I put them in one of the newspaper’s filing cabinets and forgot about them.
After we finished our term as editors we just left everything in the filing cabinets. About a week later I remembered your Tintin stuff and went back to retrieve it, only to find that someone had completely emptied the contents of both cabinets. I never found out who that was (although later suspected it was the subsequent editors, with whom we had poor relations) and just assumed that your precious drawings and letters had ended up at the tip.
I have never lost my Tintin obsession. Every few years I have vivid dreams where I suddenly come across hitherto unknown and unpublished Tintin books. I have managed to complete a couple of graphic novels, adaptions of Shakespeare somewhat influenced by Tintin.
The strange thing about your piece in the Herald appearing today was that just a few weeks ago, for reasons I can’t remember, I was telling my wife and two sons (both of whom love Tintin) about the greatest regret in my life, which was, of course, losing your Tintin artifacts. I was telling them how unbelievably stupid I was to have left them there and how sad it was that they had probably long ago been destroyed.
Naturally when I saw the Spectrum cover I went straight to your story and immediately noticed my name. I was alarmed about your recollection of leaving them with me because at first it implied that I might have kept them for myself (making me Rastapopoulos to your Tintin). So I was greatly relieved to continue reading and find out about your amazing reunification with the precious artifacts.
It’s funny how things turn out. If I had returned them to you at the time, who knows what would have happened to them during your using days? Anyway, I’m glad it all worked out for you and that you got them back.

Best regards,

PS There is a mistake in this paragraph:
What had happened was, a couple of years after I'd given the packet to David Messer the cartoonist, a new Honi Soit editor had been clearing out old junk ... some point, when her daughter was eight or nine, Messer had noticed that she liked Tintin and had given her my cards and letters as a gift.
In the last sentence, ‘Messer’ is incorrect. It should read ‘the new Honi Soit editor had noticed’. My explanation for what probably happened was that because the new editors viewed my co-editors and myself with great animosity (mainly because in the election for editor my friend Rex Butler changed his named by deed poll to Tintin and got more votes than they did), the moment our editorship ended they went straight into the office and cleared out all our stuff. Certainly when they found the Tintin stuff they would have assumed it was mine and made a decision not to return it to me.
Also, this may be of interest:

Totem said...

...and here's my reply:
December 2, 2011 4:05 PM
Totem said...

David - what a joy and pleasant surprise you read the SMH piece and left your comment here. Great to hear from you. It's funny, I never thought to ask your own memories of those events: somehow I imagined you wouldn't have remembered my giving you the letters. Can you pinpoint the year? I am curious. I think that's a great point you make - if I had somehow remembered the letters, if they had somehow come back to me, what would have happened to them? I know exactly what would have happened to them: in the middle of addiction, I would have sold them to some bookseller for $100. Maybe $200! What's bizarre is how the giving of the letters to you (I'm guessing mid-to-late 1983?) and the retrieving of them in those extraordinarily coincidental circumstances (late January 1990) defines this very precise period -- I scraped through my BA Hons, finished my thesis end of '83; there were no restraints after that; out-of-control freebasing was making way for the more "narrow" heroin focus that would devour the next 6+ years....It's as if the entire period is one great swathe of memory loss. I guess you could define addiction as a form of forgetting. I must have thought of the letters during those years, but to be honest I have no memory of ever thinking, "damn, where could they be?" The moment of the woman pulling them out of the box was a profound shock. I'm sorry you felt guilty! I don't remember ever thinking, "Damn David Messer and his unreliability/negligence!" Never had anything but the fonndest thoughts of you, and am so glad you found me here. I actually googled you when writing the article, so was made up-to-date and aware of what you're doing. Though in any case, scattered over the 25 years I had always taken pleasure in those times I saw your cartoons appear in various mags etc. I bumped into Cathy Duloy about 4 years ago -- was it her brother that you were friends with/drawing buddies with? I seem to remember he did this kind of fantasy stuff which was almost aspergers-like in its detail and minutiae?? Or maybe that was you!! I'll email this too. But I get few blog comments, and I like the public nature of blog comment discussions. I'd better post the link to the relevant piece up here too....Luke
PS ah -- I'm so annoyed with the edit that changed the meaning. Too late to do anything about it in the print version, but hopefully they'll be able to change it in the online version. In the final edit I was sent for final checks, the paragraph read: "What had happened was, a couple of years after I’d given the packet to David Messer the cartoonist, a new Honi Soit editor had been clearing out old junk from the newspaper offices, and had come across the cards. He thought they were an interesting curio, and held on to them. As it turned out, this fellow was a friend of the woman I stayed with that fateful weekend, and at some point, when her daughter was eight or nine, he’d noticed that she liked Tintin, and had given her my cards and letters as a gift." The only way I can see that being changed is that a subeditor read the par too quickly, and misunderstood. I thought the "this fellow" should have been a clear differentiation from "David Messer the cartoonist." Ah well.