Rare Tintin drawing sells for $1.7 million at Hong Kong auction

HONG KONG (AFP) - A rare drawing of comic book hero Tintin by Belgian cartoonist Hergé fetched over a million dollars at auction in Hong Kong on Monday (Oct 5), as experts say comic art is becoming as collectible as paintings.

The artwork is an illustration from the cartoonist's "The Blue Lotus" book, published in 1936, which sees Tintin and sidekick Snowy the dog on an adventure in Shanghai.

It sold for HK$9.6 million (S$1.7 million) and French auction house Artcurial said it had been bought by an Asian collector.

Drawn in monochrome, it shows Tintin being pulled along a street in a rickshaw with a policeman looking on.

The drawing is the only original from the book to remain in private hands - the rest are in museums - according to leading French auction house Artcurial, which is holding the sale.

"'The Blue Lotus' is considered by specialists as the masterpiece album of Hergé," said Mr Eric Leroy, Artcurial's expert in comic strips.

"The design and drawing of Hergé had become mature... It was also unusual to talk about China in the 30s in Europe."

The piece had been predicted to sell at between HK$8.6 million and HK$13 million.

The record for a Tintin piece was set by a 1937 comic strip sold at an Artcurial auction in Paris in May for US$3.4 million (S$4.87 million). It was bought by an American collector.

Despite a downturn in the Chinese economy, which some fear will dent the region's burgeoning art market, auction houses in Hong Kong say they are still optimistic that rare pieces will sell.

It is the first time that Artcurial has held an auction in the southern Chinese city, which has become an art hub for Asia.

It will hold two evenings of auctions Monday and Tuesday, featuring everything from paintings by Picasso and Renoir to bags by Hermès and a Mercedes Benz 300 SL Roadster.

Alongside the Hergé drawing there will be contemporary European pieces from leading comic artists Enki Bilal, Moebius and Nicolas de Crécy.

"Modern comics are like a painting - it's like modern art," says Mr Leroy.

Mr Leroy says institutions, comic collectors and modern art fans would be looking to snap up the Hergé work.

"It's such a masterpiece - this drawing could go in any collection in the world."

Two of the comic artworks broke records for sales by the artist on Monday, with a Bilal piece fetching HK$2.3 million and a Moebius going for HK$2.4 million.