Entries in Hergé (1)

Thursday
Jan202011

X'ed Out: Tintin for Adults?

Charles Burns's new SFnal graphic novel X'ed Out is an unabashed paean to Hergé's Adventures of Tintin; the cover refers to Tintin's Shooting Star, and there are visual quotes and cues to other Tintin volumes on practically every page. The drawing style is reminiscent of woodcut or Hergé's limpid ligne claire as well.

There are significant differences, though. Perhaps most critically, Burns's pacing is deliberate, lacking the strong narrative drive one finds in Hergé. Pages don't end with cliffhangers, and there are a lot of quiet or empty frames that Burns uses to shade atmosphere or psychology in ways Hergé probably could not have afforded to do. There are also more adult themes, blood and nudity -- even young women -- that one would never expect to find in Tintin. This is clearly not intended to be a children's book, though it celebrates them.

The story, of a man named Doug who seems to have lost his memory in some kind of accident, pulls you in at the beginning. An intriguing vignette of a story involving Doug and two of his girlfriends makes up its heart, bookended by dreamlike sequences in a SFnal world filled with strange aliens.

As to its length: this is perhaps the book's greatest flaw. It appears to have been designed to look on the shelf like Tintin in more than its cover art. The book's size and page length also resembles Tintin. However the story develops slowly and confusedly enough that one is left feeling a bit abandoned at its end. This is less the first book of a series than the first chapter of a book, and that's a problem. While beautifully drawn and presented, and clearly promising, it's a work of dream and atmosphere that gives little hint as to what it will become. One is left less with a feeling of narrative drive at its end, less with a need to pick up the next volume, than with a feeling of confusion and uncertainty as to what this all is and where it's going.

Is it a book about Doug's relationships and his odd dreamworld? Or is something deeper going on? Then there are other threads that are barely suggestions, such as Doug's odd relationship with his parents. It's a book thick with suggestion and lacking in clear resolve. One expects further volumes will clarify and deepen. Given that the back cover promises this as "the first volume of an epic masterpiece" that we are looking at something more than a two or three book series. If so, any review this early in the game may well miss forest for trees.