Tintin and the Ligne Claire Style

On the eve of the release of the first big-screen Tintin movie, I have just one thing to say to those unacquainted with the intrepid young reporter and his faithful dog, Snowy: buy one or two The Adventures of Tintin books and start reading. Get the original, large-format paperbacks. If you have children, especially around the ages of 8-10, now is also the perfect time to introduce them to this wondrous world of high adventure in exotic lands.

The Adventures of Tintin has been translated into over 50 languages and is loved the world over but mostly unknown here in the U.S. It remains to be seen if the new Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film will capture the hearts of an American audience in the same way the comic novels have for the rest of the world for the past 75 years.

The new film is rendered with the latest 3-D, motion-capture technology of current animated movies, but the original comics on which the film is based was rendered in a style of drawing called Ligne Claire. French for “clear line,” the style was pioneered in the 1930s by Tintin creator Hergé. It uses clear strong lines of uniform weight and importance, paying equal attention to every element depicted. Contrast is downplayed and the artist does not use shading or crosshatching. The style features strong colors and a combination of cartoonish characters against very realistic backgrounds. This combination allows readers to more easily identify themselves with the characters: one set of lines to see, another set of lines to be. Cartoon characters are universal because the more cartoony a character is, the more people it could be said to describe. Tintin represents the everyman.

In Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, he explains cartooning as a form of Amplification through Simplification. “When we abstract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” In the same way that the design principle of less is more emphasizes the simplicity of a design’s intent more powerfully than complexity, so too does the Ligne Claire style of cartooning emphasize the ideas behind the forms. Read the related article on Less is More.

If you don’t know where to begin in the world of Tintin, here is a quick reference guide of a few of over 20 titles:

If you like Morocco, you’ll love The Crab with the Golden Claws
If you like Peru, you’ll love The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun
If you like Scotland, you’ll love The Black Island
If you like Eastern Europe, you’ll love King Ottokar’s Sceptre
If you like Egypt, you’ll love Cigars of the Pharaoh
If you like the Middle East, you’ll love Land of Black Gold
If you like Indonesia, you’ll love Flight 714
If you like the Himalayas, you’ll love Tintin in Tibet

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