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Oct 09, 2006

Produced By Télé Hachette & Belvision

Pretentious music accompanied by incomprehensible montage of artsy background images by Barry Newbury and Ian Scoones. Diamond-shaped title reads 'Late ReWho'. Cut to studio.

Kirsty Wirrn (for it is she): Good evening and Daleks. Tonight on Late ReWho, noted art crtic Brian Sutekh, feminist author Germaine Greendeath and foodie columnist Nigella Nimon will be throwing open a discussion on the influence of Quantel Paintbox on late twentieth-century art, and throwing punches at each other once the cameras stop rolling. But first, we contiune our retrospective look at European graphic literature with one of the most enduring icons to emerge from the genre in the last fifty years.

Herge's Adventures Of Tomtom

Tintin_1 The first sketches of the boy reporter that would later be christened Tomtom were drafted by Herge for a local Bedford newspaper in 1946. Even at this early it clear that Tomtom was destined for bigger things. The character would change and evolve over the course of twenty years until he ready for national print exposure, but would never lose his distinctive boyish face and blond cowlick.

By 1979, our coiffeured hero was romping across the funny pages in his first major role as the larger-than-life boy adventurer we would remember him as, accompanying Captain Pillock and his crew to the Antarctic to defuse an atomic bomb in the book 'Tomtom And The Red Wire-Blue Wire Sequence'. Tomtom's own future had never looked more secure. In fact barely six months passed until the next instalment saw print, hurriedly written in order to take advantage of the previous graphic novel's success, one which would bring him closer to home in the springtime Parisian streets. This book was 'Tomtom And The Gamble With Time'.

Comics historians and Tomtom fans alike are unanimously agreed that Tomtom And The Gamble With Time represents the definitive chapter in Herge's career, one which would seal forever Tomtom's status as one of the most popular comic characters in the world. Certainly it shares many characteristics with Herge's other celebrated works; the sparkling dialogue and character interplay, the balance between serious narrative and wit, the playfully humanist touch and the exquisite European landscapes rendered in lovingly picturesque detail. But Tomtom And The Gamble With Time has a special uniqueness to it, as Herge confounds readers' expectations with radically altered character dynamics which nevertheless work extremely well.

Thomson The main paradox present in this volume is that the blond detective, Tomtom himself, never gets to do any actual detecting. Instead, this function is performed by the normally hapless Timelord Twins, the lovable bumbling idiots who talk inconsequental nonsense to each other. Similarly, since Captain Pillock had at the end of the previous book sailed away to search for the Lost Colony of Starwun, it falls to Tomtom to provide the action-hero muscle, a role which Herge has him take on with great gusto.

Calculus Another return alumni for Tomtom And The Gamble With Time, and which would prove to be his final appearance in the series, is the madcap scientist Professor Parkerlus, replete with more typically zany futuristic inventions and the complete misinterpretation of everything said to him. Parkerlus is deftly written out in a blaze of glory, indeed he surpasses himself in this book with a device that (a) is capable of breaking the barriers of time itself and (b) almost works. It was therefore something of a shock at the time to see Parkerlus fall victim to his own contraption and age to death, given the number of mishaps with previous inventions that had yet to prove fatal, though in hindsight, this time is heavily signposted from the start of the book. Whether Herge had decided that Parkerlus as a character had reached his limit, or that he had finally tired of writing far-fetched characters with outrageous accents is unclear, but the brushing-off of Parkerlus' death by the remaining cast mere pages later strongly suggests the latter.

Rastapopoulos Every good Tomtom adventure needs a colourful central villain, and Herge duly provides with the return of Tomtom's arch-nemesis, the tycoon and smuggler Aristotle Kristatopulos, this time masquerading for the majority of the book as a French aristocrat. However, in another twist for which this particular volume is so highly acclaimed, Kristatopulos himself is merely the front for an even darker secret; the man is in reality the secret Gestapo war criminal Oberleutnant Jeagerotz, whose wealth, power and trophy wife disguise a maniacal obsession to reinstate the former glory of the Master Race. Ironically for Herge himself, by depicting Jaegerotz as so utterly ruthless, yet sophisticated and in his own way almost likeable, the book would add further fuel to the speculation of Herge's own alleged Nazi sympathies that would dominate his later published career, and Jaegarotz would never be used again.

It may be churlish to point the inadequacies of such a beloved book, but otherwise the viewing public wouldn't be subjected to poncey art programmes like this. It's a pity that the faithful dog, Leesonowy, makes no more than a token appearance as Herge had not yet decided how best to resolve his previous writing-out from a bout of canine laryngitis. Also, the fact that Herge was never blessed with children himself serves to underline the glossing-over of certain marital nuptials between Jaegerotz and his consort. Most disappointing though is that Herge's famous eye for scenery detail does not extend to other areas of the book; considering that so much of the plot deals with the smuggling of priceless long-lost art trasures, Herge's own research into this field turns out to be thinner and less accurate than David Howe's rejected book 'Doctor Who: The Nineties'. The resolution to this subplot with nothing more than a marker pen has also raised many an eyebrow, but is still no less imaginative or believable than the myriad of mystic artifacts from lost civilizations found in Herge's other works. None of this, however, detracts from a volume that ultimately offers all manner of insightful observations on life, humanity and the nature of incongruous objects as abstract art, as well as being a rollicking good satisfying read.

Unfortunately, by the time Tomtom And The Gamble With Time reached publication, it was already clear that Herge's talent had peaked with this particular book, and that Tomtom's subsequent adventures would never quite rise to the same heights again. Indeed, it would be another another seven years before the character would return to the fore in another book of his own, the less distinguished 'Tomtom And The Deeply Boring Underground Station'.

Next week we cast a critical single eye over Russel T. Davies' signiature series, 'Arsetricks The Gall'.

The Bumper Book Of Made-Up Doctor Who Facts has this to say about City Of Death: Micheal Hayes' direction to Lalla Ward, once The Creature From The Pit was in the can, was "actually love, don't play it like Mary Tamm."

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