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Sunday, 19 June 2016

'The Rainbow Orchid' by Garen Ewing

Any fan of Tintin will remember the childhood thrill of sitting down to read one of Hergé’s comic books for the first time, and I felt something of this when I saw Garen Ewing’s new series ‘The Rainbow Orchid’ in Waterstones.

Every Tintin fan will have been disappointed to discover Hergé only completed 22 colour albums, which is far too few. Although the poor quality of the Asterix books produced after the death of Gosciny, bear out Hergé’s wisdom to not allow new Tintin stories to appear after his death - and we must applaud Hergé’s wife, as the guardian of the Hergé Estate, for honouring Hergé's wish.

But now Hergé has an heir who is producing new, swashbuckling adventures, that we can freshly devour!

The mark of Tintin is all over these books: the boyish hero, Julius Chancer, the motley cast of characters, the 1920s’ setting, the villains, the exotic backdrop, the fast pace of the story, the A4 portrait format, with Hergé’s strict grid of four rows of pictures, and of course the ligne claire style, synonymous with the master!

Looking at the first pages of book 1, I am reminded of Hergé’s opening pages in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – although Garen Ewing’s style is not as immature as the pages of this first Tintin adventure, there is an awkwardness in the pictures, which definitely improves as the book moves on. I also found the colouring crude in places, and not a patch on Tintin – look at some of Hergé’s moody evening illustrations, in The Black Island, for example, as Tintin arrives in Kiltoch. Such subtlety! The colour seems to be translucent layers, rather than one flat colour. I wonder if the advent of photoshop caused the art of colouring to be lost. Once it was a skill in itself, done with colour inks, using glazes and washes. Ewing’s colour can seem quite dead and flat, in comparison, but I imagine Garen does not have the luxury of a studio of young and beautiful colourists to work on his cartoons (including one Fanny Vlamynck, who later became Mrs Hergé), and probably has to do it himself!

In fact the great Hergé had script writers, gag writers, research assistants, artists to help with drawing and inking, and towards the end of his career he managed a large studio, rather like a film director, without actually doing too much himself.

Times have changed! Cartoons were once big business and did not need merchandising and films to give them a raison d’etre!

I particularly don’t like Ewing’s clouds – they almost look like a different style. I also did not like the way some lines were coloured, and felt it would have been better to stick with black, rather than introduce a technique that is more Disney than Hergé. However, while comparisons with Hergé will inevitably be unfavourable, and the fact is that the best of Ewing’s drawings do come close – the station at Karachi and the truck driving down the street on page 7, both in volume 2, are both excellent examples of Ewing’s work, with attention to detail, great research and beautiful colour.

Ewings’ story writing and dialogue is certainly adequate, although the characters don’t seem to be very rounded, and you have little impression of their personalities, and therefore little emotional involvement with them. I wonder if this is because the plot is over complicated, and a lot of explanation is required, leaving less room for character development.

Despite my criticism, I salute Ewing’s attempt to bring a new series into being. He has set himself the highest challenge, and made an excellent start and am already looking forward to reading the third volume of this adventure.

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