PARIS (AFP) - A huge new exhibition about Tintin creator Herge does not shy away from showing how the cartoonist pined to be taken seriously as an artist nor his shame at his passivity during the Nazi occupation of Belgium.
"Herge", which opens Wednesday at the Grand Palais in Paris, aims to lift some of the mystery that surrounds the enigmatic Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, who lived in the shadow of his boy hero.
It shows how the runaway success of the adventures of the young reporter became both a blessing and a curse for Herge, frustrating his hopes of being seen as an abstract painter.
Nor does the exhibition, which claims to be the biggest retrospective of the artist ever assembled, try to gloss over his wartime work for a collaborationist Belgian newspaper.
Curator Jerome Neutres said that although a section of the show was dedicated to his work during the war, "an art exhibition is not a court of history".
"The period was a great source of pain for Herge," he said. "He himself greatly regretted his cowardice."
Like very many others, Neutres argued, the cartoonist slipped into a kind of "passivity and neutrality" after the German army occupied Belgium in 1940.
"He felt very guilty although he did not collaborate actively," Neutres added. "There is an interview in the show where he is clearly marked by this and it remains a stain on his career."
Nevertheless, the "war was a hugely rich creative period for him", the curator added.
Neutres said the main aim of the show, which runs till Jan 15, was to show the breadth of Herge's talent, not just as a great storyteller and artist but a brilliant graphic designer.
"We believe that from the beginning Herge positioned himself as an artist with a capital 'A'," who sought inspiration from painters as diverse as Holbein, Miro and Rembrandt.
"When you see what work he collected - and we have some of it in the show - it is of incredibly contemporary artists such as the minimalist Lucio Fontana and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein." Herge, who died aged 75 in 1983, drew 24 Tintin books in all, which have sold more than 250 million copies.
Neutres insisted that Tintin was a modern "masterpiece because it has been so universal, it has been translated into 100 languages and is still being translated today."
The exhibition also documents his often pained private life and shows how his friendship with a young Chinese art student Zhang Chongren helped him deepen the storylines of his books.
Tintin first appeared in the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle (The 20th Century) in 1929, and the first book "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" a year later.
A new edition of the book will published for the first time in colour in January in time for the centenary of the Russian revolution.