September 24, 2020
Tintin Artwork to Fetch 2.5 Million Euros; Belated Bonanza for Belgian
by Mike Lindgren
The original cover for The Blue Lotus, a novel in cartoons by the Belgian artist Hergé, has re-surfaced and will be going to auction in November.
Hergé, whose real name was Georges Rami, submitted the drawing, executed in India ink, watercolor, and gouache, for the cover of his fifth book, published in 1936. Hergé’s books all told have sold more than 8 million copies worldwide, and he is considered not only an icon of Belgian culture but the inspiration for what would become the graphic novel.
According to The Guardian, the illustration was rejected because its color palette would have necessitated four-color printing, which at the time was more expensive. (This was a thing, children. Gather round and the managing editor will tell you this and more spellbinding tales of yore.)
Hergé gave the rejected drawing to the young son of his editor, who folded it up (argh!) and put in a drawer, where it remained for decades. (Authors: we urge you to make note of this as an example of the correct treatment of editors, although we also suggest omitting the young child part of the equation.)
The Blue Lotus is especially important to scholars and fans of the Belgian artist’s career. According to the scholar Vanessa Joosen:
[Hergé’s] early books have often been criticized for their caricatural depiction of other cultures, especially of Soviet, African, and Native American characters. A change in Hergé’s attitude became obvious in 1936 … he had become friends with the Chinese artist Chang Chong-Jen, who warned him to avoid racial stereotypes.
Hergé met Chang in 1935 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where both men where studying, and he went on to be the model for the character of the same name in Hergé’s book. So in a sense, the unused Blue Lotus cover stands as testament to the idea that contact with others can … or might … or at least, used to be able to … change a person’s perspective. We are guessing that the auction house is more interested in the lucre.
Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.