Blake and Mortimer, 75 years on from a story that revolutionized comics
Brussels, Oct 17 (EFE).- A new exhibition in Brussels entitled “The Secret of the Swordfish” explores the hidden dimensions of the first publication of the Blake and Mortimer comic 75 years ago.
It was September 1946 when the story by Belgian writer and cartoonist Edgar Jacobs first appeared in the maiden issue of the comic book Tintin under the title “The Secret of the Swordfish”.
But the exhibition, located just a few blocks from the center of Brussels in a building designed by the father of Art Nouveau Victor Horta, does not merely celebrate the 75th anniversary of one of the many comics that turned Belgium into a reference for the medium — it delves into the secrets and curiosities that made Jacobs’ story one of the most famous in history.
An example of this is the space that shows the visitor how the drawings of the protagonists, the eminent British scientist Philip Mortimer, and Captain Francis Blake, are based on two of Jacobs’ close friends, while his main enemy Colonel Olrik, bears a strong resemblance with the author himself, Daniel Couvreur, curator of the exhibition, explains to Efe.
“‘The Secret of the Swordfish’ is related to the author’s personality, with his friends and his first job, which was as an opera singer,” says Couvreur, who stresses that Jacobs’ first job deeply influenced both the form and the substance of his work.
One of the major novelties brought by Blake and Mortimer when he burst onto the comic scene in the 1940s was to make adults the protagonists of the story, rather than teenagers or children as had been the norm until then, as well as to give an active role to the use of color in the narrative.
“He was the first to understand how colors were important in comics, maybe because he came from opera, where there he had experience with light and the importance of color in action and in tragedy and in dramaturgy. And he uses colors to tell more in the story, not just to illustrate it,” reveals Couvreur.
In “The Secret of the Swordfish,” each vignette is bathed in vivid colors that, while far from reality (such as orange skies or yellow explosions), were groundbreaking for the time.
But in the exhibition there is also room for social criticism. In 1946, female characters were forbidden in comics, and in the 144 pages that make up the first story, Jacobs could only sneak in a tiny woman of two or three millimeters.
As a vindication, the exhibition has enlarged the figure of the woman to about 20 centimeters that is now part of the exhibition to make visitors aware of the rigid sexist norms that prevailed at the time.