Saturday, 7 November 2009

Josette Baujot RIP

Phil Davison, Thursday 5 November 2009 18.42 GMT

When the comics artist Hergé (aka Georges Rémi) created his most famous character, Tintin, in the late 1920s, he drew the tuft-haired young reporter in black and white. His fellow Belgian Josette Baujot, who has died aged 88, was responsible for colouring Hergé's Tintin albums for more than a quarter of a century during the peak years of his popularity, and established the "colour code" that helped take Tintin far beyond Belgium and France to an international audience.

Baujot's colouring, pencilled in by hand before the age of digital enhancement, is still revered by cartoonists worldwide and is said to have strongly influenced Walt Disney. The film-makers Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, currently at work on a trilogy of Tintin movies, due to start with The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn in 2011, are reported to have told their team to reflect the original colouring as much as possible.

In 1950 Hergé, overwhelmed by his growing success, had set up studios in Brussels with the aim of building a team to help him cope with the demand for his work. Edgar Pierre Jacobs was his first colourist. Baujot joined Hergé Studios in 1953, while Hergé was completing the Tintin album Destination Moon (Objectif Lune) and already planning the follow-up, Explorers On the Moon (On A Marché Sur la Lune, 1954), in which Tintin would become the first man on the moon, 15 years before Neil Armstrong.

"Hergé himself had the idea of a red-and-white chequered rocket," Baujot said, "but he asked me to add a little green in the red so that it did not appear too violent. And he was insistent on orange spacesuits for Tintin, Captain Haddock and Milou [Snowy, Tintin's fox terrier]. For the surface of the moon, he gave me carte blanche but, as it turned out, I opted for yellow, with the craters more emphasised. In those days, we didn't know what the surface of the moon looked like." Hergé was said to have been delighted with her yellowish, light-mustard colouring of the moon's surface.

Baujot had learned the art of evoking moods by creating colours through mixing, rather than sticking to the primary shades used by most of her contemporaries. She emphasised her style in the album Cigars of the Pharaoh (Les Cigares du Pharaon, 1955), the first colour reproduction of a book that Hergé had created in black and white 20 years earlier.Herge and Baujot

Although Hergé insisted on drawing the main characters himself, he relied on Baujot and his right-hand men, Jacques Martin and Bob de Moor, to draw and colour the backgrounds for the young reporter's adventures, from Tibet and the Soviet Union to Scotland and South America.

Hergé famously walked a tightrope between perfectionism and depression – perhaps, for him, they were the same thing – and Baujot became known for her straight-talking in the studios. She was said to have been the only member of the team to stand up to the maestro, notably when her boss, married and pushing 50, had an affair with a young member of her colouring team, Fanny Vlaminck. Baujot disapproved strongly and told him so. He eventually married Vlaminck and they remained together until his death in 1983.

Despite their altercations, Hergé admired and respected Baujot, and most of their disagreements would be resolved over afternoon tea with the entire team in what one of Tintin's English translators, Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, has described as the "friendly, kibbutz-like atmosphere" of the studios. In his last, unfinished work, Tintin et l'Alph-art, Hergé drew a new character called Josette Laijot, a gallery owner, and he often referred to her real-life model as La Révérende Mère du Très Saint Coloriage – "the Reverend Mother of the Most Holy Colouring".

Born Josette Marie Louise Nondonfaz in the Belgian town of Spa, she studied drawing, particularly portraiture, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Liège, and in 1944 married Joseph Baujot. Amid the confusion and mutual mistrust among Belgians after the allied liberation, the Baujots moved to Argentina, where they bought a vineyard and had a son.

In 1953, Joseph was shot dead while out hunting. There were reports that he had been shot by members of the French or Belgian resistance who had tracked him down, but he lived long enough to tell police that he had been hit accidentally by a friend. After his death, Josette returned to Brussels, immediately finding a job in the Hergé Studios. There she met Joseph Loeckx – at 17, he was half her age – who would become her lifelong companion, and a hugely successful cartoonist in his own right, now better known by his nom de plume Jo-El Azara, creator of the myopic, pacifist Japanese serviceman Taka Takata. He survives her, along with her son Michel.

Josette Marie Louise Baujot, artist, born 17 August 1920; died 13 August 2009 © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

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