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Tintin and Alph-Art is the uncompleted final Tintin book that Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé was working on when he died in 1983. He left about 150 pages of pencil sketches and script notes but the story had yet to be drawn properly or given an ending. It was suggested at the time that Tintin and Alph-Art should be completed by one of Hergé's assistants but his widow eventually decided against this and instead released it in 1986 in the bare bones form of his sketches and lay-outs with the script notes. So, although Tintin and Alph-Art is not a proper Tintin book it is a fascinating look at the way Hergé worked and planned and provides an interesting glimpse of the very different direction he had decided to take with what would have been the twenty-fourth book in the series if it had been completed. You get about 42 pages of material here with Hergé's sketches and lay-outs on the right and then the script notes alongside on the left.
It is often said that the series probably peaked with Tintin in Tibet - which was in many ways the ultimate Tintin adventure - and that thereafter Hergé tried to deconstruct his fictional world with the satirical The Castafiore Emerald taking place entirely at Marlinspike Hall and Tintin and the Picaros displaying a certain weariness and pessimism on the part of the author that fed into the story and even the character of Tintin. In the late seventies Hergé had toyed with the idea of setting an entire Tintin book in an airport, which would have been quite amusing given Tintin's globetrotting adventures and outer space escapades, but his growing interest in modern art eventually led him to drop this idea and start work on a new story that would take place in the art world.
Tintin and Alph-Art begins with Captain Haddock at Marlinspike Hall having a surreal nightmare about Bianca Castafiore - the flamboyant opera diva who never gets his name right and is the general bane of his life along with the irritating insurance salesman Joylon Wagg. He wakes up and learns from Tintin that Castafiore is on the telephone and will be arriving in town in a few days. Castafiore explains that she has a new spiritual guru named Endaddine Akass and she intends to stay at his villa in Ischia, an island near Naples. While in town later on, Haddock spots Castafiore and ducks into an art gallery to avoid her but she was going in there herself and the Captain is now trapped in the Fourcart Gallery where an exhibition of Jamaican avant-garde artist Ramo Nash's Alph-art is being held.
'Alph-art' is basically giant letters made up of different materials and Haddock, having been discovered, is persuaded by Castafiore to buy a big plexiglass letter H. He is also told by the gallery owner Mr Fourcart that he wishes to see Tintin about an urgent matter. On the news later that night though, Tintin and Haddock hear that art expert Jacques Monastir has apparently drowned and the next morning they learn that Mr Fourcart has been killed in a car accident. Tintin believes something rather fishy is going on and begins an investigation. The mystery involves art forgers and a phoney cult group and our hero soon faces attempts on his life - in addition to the prospect of being turned into an abstract statue himself with liquid polyester if the villains have their way. 'Get moving! It's time for you to be turned into a César... '
It's a shame that Tintin and Alph-Art was never completed as this had all the makings of an interesting and slightly unusual Tintin adventure that would have brought the series back into the smaller-scale, down to earth atmosphere of The Castafiore Emerald. Placing the characters in the world of modern art was a relatively radical idea for what is generally seen as a period strip and would have continued Hergé's attempts to make Tintin more contemporary. In the previous book Tintin and the Picaros, Tintin was seen, amongst other things, to be wearing bell bottom jeans instead of his usual white socks and short trousers, practicing yoga and sporting a CND badge on his motorcycle crash helmet. Tintin and Alph-Art would have continued the more contemporary flavour that had - for better or for worse - entered the series.
Interestingly, it was later discovered through a missing page that cult leader Endaddine Akass was going to be revealed as Tintin's old nemesis Rastapopulos in disguise. A number of old characters were slated for an appearance in Tintin and Alph-Art including Mr Gibbons (from The Blue Lotus), Mr Trickler (from The Broken Ear) and Emir Ben Kalish Ezab (from Land of Black Gold). The accident prone detectives Thomson and Thompson and Mr Sakharine from The Secret of the Unicorn were also to be included on the story. Although this is a very rough outline of Tintin and Alph-Art taken from Hergé's notes and doodles you get a sense of where he was going and it's always interesting to see first hand how the books were created with a look at this early stage/draft. There have been a couple of famous 'pirate' versions of Tintin and Alph-Art where artists have completed the book themselves but Hergé, of course, left no ending and would doubtless have made many changes and revisions if he had lived to finish it himself.
This is really one for Tintin fans who wish to see what there is of Tintin and Alph-Art for themselves. It's unavoidably a little frustrating that only rough sketches remain and we don't get to find out how Hergé planned to end it either so this is by no means a proper Tintin book or entry in the series. It would have been a striking tonal departure for the series though and even this rough glimpse is therefore of great value to Tintin completists - if only to muse on what might have been.