Julien Boisvert

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The fourth and last Julien Boisvert story, Charles, was originally published with a ten-page insert of sketches by Plessix, showing the development of several pages. The most interesting part of this supplement is the final drawing, in which Julien Boisvert and his dog Gilbert do an imitation of Tintin and Snowy.

This presence of this drawing is not trivial. It is not simply a postmodern historical I-was-there joke, like a snapshot of tourists in front of a monument. No ! It is there because the Dieter/Plessix stories are a subtle re-reading of Tintin and of the life of Hergé, and an attempt to answer some of the questions they raise.

Take Neêkibo, for example. This first Julien Boisvert adventure takes place in Africa, just like the first Tintin adventure in the standard Casterman color collection (not counting Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, which was not reprinted until collectors and bootleg editions forced the issue). Hergé has been criticised for the way he depicted Africans and glorified colonialism ; in response, Dieter and Plessix show the horrors of the post-colonial period, as Tintin and Hergé might have experienced and narrated it.

As for the question of Tintin’s place in the real world — with his eternal youth, his lack of family or ordinary work, and other such familiar points — Dieter and Plessix imagine a Tintin/Boisvert clearly anchored in the 1960s and ’70s, who has a personal and emotional history, and who will one day start a family and grow old. And while Tintin travels effortlessly with Snowy through England (in The Black Island — yes, it really is England, as Hergé confirmed in 1966), Dieter and Plessix show in Grisnoir how Tintin/Boisvert on vacation in a British island would have to keep his dog out of sight.[1]

If you accept that Tintin equals Boisvert, then Jikuri would be the equivalent of Prisoners of the Sun (as Grisnoir = The Black Island, and Neêkibo = Tintin in the Congo). But Hergé, following Flaubert, said “Tintin, c’est moi !” Dieter and Plessix are obviously aware of this, and in Jikuri Boisvert is not just Tintin but Hergé.

If Jikuri must be compared to a particular Tintin book, it should be Tintin in Tibet. This book was a form of therapy for Hergé, who was facing a choice between two women. In Jikuri, Boisvert is in the same situation : his heart is torn between Elena and Molly (having lived with the latter and had a child with her).[2] Both books are concerned with the importance of dreams, but also the desert, the mountains, caves, statues, religion, Indians, spices, color, ritual, and so on …

With Charles, Dieter and Plessix explore the the father-son or creator-creature relationship.[3] Thus, we see Boisvert discovering a father who seems to be involved with a far-right, KKK-like group — almost as if Tintin had encountered Hergé after the war, when he was (unjustly) accused of being a fascist collaborator.

Boisvert/Tintin learns (and we learn) quickly that Charles/Hergé is just the opposite. In any case, had Hergé been a racist or a fascist, he could never have written The Blue Lotus or King Ottokar’s Sceptre (in which Tintin saves the land of Syldavia — a parliamentary monarchy like Belgium — from an attempted Anschluss by a certain “Mâsstler”). Hergé’s early stories are simply the work of a young man of the 1930s, intellectually immature and impressionable, whose native Belgium (and indeed Europe) had a colonialist mindset.

The constant allusions (conscious or unconscious) of Dieter and Plessix to the work of Hergé are reinforced by their style. Dieter’s writing is suggestive, leaving much unsaid, letting us lose ourselves in speculation about the unfolding plot. Plessix constructs a framework of narrow, crowded spaces, side by side with wide-open panoramas.

This brief analysis is certainly far from perfect, and lacks a firm foundation (possibly owing something to the allusive style of these two creators). My purpose is simply to entice you to read the Julien Boisvert stories, which have finally been collected in a single volume.


  1. Gilbert has a human name, but doesn’t speak, doesn’t think, and doesn’t drink Loch Lomond whiskey like a human … or like Snowy (who has a dog’s name). Gilbert is a dog who doesn’t obey very well — clumsy, shifty, gluttonous, and not immune to the seasonal call of hormones … thus, all in all, more human than Snowy.
  2. Note that Julien Boisvert, unlike Hergé, returns to his wife ; this marks the point where Dieter and Plessix begin to analyze more consciously the question of the comics hero vis-à-vis reality in the French-Belgian tradition that Tintin represents.
  3. This is a recurring theme in Hergé’s work. For example, see the 1930s story A Serious Affair (Archives d’Hergé vol.2, p.146) — a gag in which Hergé himself is kidnapped by the two young delinquents, Quick and Flupke, who want to convince the world that they’re really nice guys.
    In paraphrasing Flaubert near the end of his life, Hergé only confirmed the importance of his own history in the adventures of Tintin (particularly his relationship with Chang), reinforcing the link between the creator and his creation, or really father and son — father being a role he never experienced in his life, to his great regret (see interviews with Numa Sadoul).
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Chroniqué par in October 1998