The rocket at lift off

Dossier ~ Friday 22nd March 2019

The ‘Icons’ Collection

The rocket at lift off

After sending Tintin to the four corners of the planet, Hergé decided to offer him the most extraordinary journey of all, to the Moon.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

Graphically, the rocket is quintessentially the synthesis of spacecraft featured in 1950’s science fiction.

Remember that in 1950, when the first plates of the adventure were published in Tintin magazine, a trip to the Moon was pure science fiction.

For a long time it was thought that the means of propelling man towards the Moon would come from armament techniques. Jules Verne in his novel "From the Earth to the Moon”, (1865), imagines nothing but a huge shell fired by a gigantic gun. The craft is also developed by the members of a gunners club, the "Gun Club". Georges Méliès also took inspiration from it in his 1902 film “Le Voyage dans la lune”.

During the Second World War, a lot of people were talking about the famous V2 rocket. It was the first artificial object to reach an altitude of 100kms.

Always looking for details to add credibility to his stories, this was duly noted by Hergé. In his library, was a 1947 book written by a US Army colonel, titled "German research in World War II". it was the report of an Allied commission charged with studying German scientific research during the war. Hergé has also made a faithful reproduction of the cover on page 23 of The Calculus Affair.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

We are immediately struck by the familiarity of Professor Calculus’ XFLR-6 prototype with the V2 drawn on the cover.

It can be assumed that the use of the checkerboard design had been a source of inspiration. It was also a characteristic of these machines. During the launch, the checkerboard painted on the fuselage made it possible to observe the rotational movements of the rocket relative to the axis of the trajectory (its roll) during the critical phase of takeoff.

Wernher von Braun, the inventor of V2, was also the creator of NASA’S Saturn rocket family, including Saturn V in which Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were sent to the Moon, 16 years after Tintin.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

This rocket is the ultimate icon.

From a design point of view, how can we tackle such an iconic object, which has been seen and reviewed thousands of times? How can we bring something new?

Perhaps in the way cooks sometimes try to "revisit" certain gastronomic classics to present an original version...

To achieve this, we wanted to take the rocket out of its usual function as a decorative object by linking it to the adventure.

Therefore the moment of lift off was naturally chosen. These are the first few seconds of the journey, the precise moment when the rocket is lifted off the ground. This is the most intense moment for the characters who are literally crushed by the acceleration and end up losing consciousness.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

A jet of incandescent gas is propelled out of the nozzle, causing a huge cloud of combustion on the ground.

The rocket is no longer an inert object but a vessel that carries the heroes to the unknown, on a dangerous journey of exploration, the vessel itself being part of the danger.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

Work has also been done on the proportions.

Although it is indeed an "icon" and has been the subject of many by-products, the models of the rocket were made in different ways over the years, and their proportions have varied from one manufacturer to another. In fact, no aesthetic proportions have ever been clearly defined in order to determine its appearance.

Historically, the first models were made of wood and it is the plan on page 35 of Destination Moon, Professor Calculus’ blueprint, which served as the template for turning the pieces.

While the plan is an integral part of Destination Moon, we found that it is often out of step with the rocket's drawings and that it is ultimately not representative of the general perception that we have in the books. It's pretty obvious when we juxtapose it with the cover of Destination Moon, for example.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

In order to help him to identify the volumes of the cockpit, Hergé had a model of the upper floors made, but not a complete rocket. This is reflected in the slight variations in proportions from one drawing to another in the books.

©Moulinsart 2019

Therefore, neither the plan on page 35 nor the partial model can have been used as an absolute reference by Hergé for the external appearance of the rocket.

That's why we chose to focus more on all the drawings. It was therefore necessary to find a visual compromise between all these representations by emphasising the most significant moments, when the rocket is in the foreground. Two features stand out. The fuselage is generally more “belly-shaped" than on a plane and the foot to fuselage ratio is not the same.

We have also reinforced the thickness of the wings for greater strength while maintaining the fineness of the edges.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

A second subject concerned us, the antenna.

It must be admitted, we like this antenna, it's the final touch of the rocket, the icing on the cake. Unfortunately it has always posed major problems in production. Far too thin and breaking at the slightest impact on the models that respect its proportions or reduced to a simple metal rod to avoid breakage and therefore a little rough and unrelated to the original drawing. In short, it is a detail which has never been satisfactorily treated.

So, rather than being satisfied with something that is approximate or too fragile, we preferred not to represent it. It is a small difference to the drawing, a decision probably a little radical but which was dictated by reason.

It also allows us to synthesize the rocket, making it perhaps even more essential, more “iconic".

In short, two important decisions which, we hope, do justice to the drawing.

In recent years, the rocket has been available in different formats in this style. A six metre version is on display in the “Connector” at Zaventem International Airport near Brussels.

Like all pieces in the Icons collection, it has a satin surface finish.

This softens the bodywork effect that is usually associated with the rocket. Hergé having left no indication of reflection, glossis in fact a convention or a habit related to the wood lacquering painting technique of the first models.

Colour is also very important. A very specific red is closely linked to the visual identity of the rocket, although it does not correspond exactly to that of the books. Please note also that this red varies from one book to another. It is slightly purplish in Destination Moon and more orange in Explorers on the Moon.

Yet it is impossible to deviate from it. Variations have been tried in the past to get closer to the books, but none has ever been convincing.

Red must have a specific quality and density that unfortunately cannot be found in any colour chart. Getting the exact colour is not easy and requires many trips to and from the workshop.

© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019

The resin molded assembly has a height of 390mm. Proportionally, it integrates well with other pieces in the collection. The rocket alone measures 220mm, a size not produced before.

The different elements, such as the rocket, the base, the cloud and the incandescent gas jet, are removable.

We are very proud to present it to you today.

It's up to you to decide whether our lunar rocket has reached its objective.
© Hergé-Moulinsart 2019
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