When you enter the ornate Paris apartment of French illustrator Jean Michel Tixier , the first thing you notice are the wordless red and yellow spines lining his book shelves like a silent sunrise. Ask about them, and he excitedly begins to pull out the comics to show you covers, which all depict an adventuring hero and his pure white dog marching through deserts or across snowy peaks. This is Tixier’s extensive and beloved collection of The Adventures of Tintin comics, which he has savoured and treasured ever since he first laid eyes on them as a kid.
“I have had a passion for Hergé since my childhood when I started copying his drawings. I could spend hours looking at a Tintin comic, analyzing each box and all its details,” says Tixier (by this point he has laid out his favorite books on the wooden floor of his sunny living room). The established illustrator has now made his career from adopting Hergé’s pioneering style of ligne claire (French for “clear line”), an aesthetic of strong lines of the same width, no hatching, a downplay of contrast, and of cartoonish characters amongst realistic backdrops.
In a country where much of the population grew up on Hergé’s stories and illustrations, it’s no wonder that Tixier is such a popular image-maker amongst commissioning editors. Hergé is in their blood. So Tixier’s characters, which look like they’ve spilled from the red and yellow spines of Tintin books into contemporary clothes, feature regularly in the pages of Le Monde or across Paris on city festival posters.
“The clear line is a movement that has always fascinated me and I first realized that I could express myself with the style when I made a 300 meter wall around La Maison de la Radio in Paris,” says Tixier, who created this black and white mural back in 2012.
Since the light-bulb switched on and he started embracing ligne claire, Tixier has never gone back. This summer, his Hergé-inspired figures of the 21st century were put up in the windows of Paris’ trendy Colette. Bearded, red flat-cap clad, bespectacled hipsters and girls dressed in thrift-store finds adorn the window—the very real background blending with the cartoon like a Hergé panel.
“You can draw a character with retro clothes and make it modern through their accessories or a modern attitude,” says Tixier, determining that his style is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. “I prefer modernity.”
For Hollywood-based luxury goods brand Jaques Marie Mage, Tixier created a series of contemporary characters to embody their different collections. “The elegance of the clear line is interesting in the world of fashion,” he muses. “I wouldn’t say that I love drawing all kinds of clothes—rather the timeless things that have stayed around for 50 years, and also more modern and a little crazy high-couture.”
To create his modern characters, Tixier blends ligne claire with his own artful observations. He takes notes and pictures when he sees “atypical” passers-by on the street, in magazines, or on the internet. “I also take a lot of pictures. My memory does the rest,” he explains. “When I receive a brief, I ask them to give me a few key words. That’s enough for me to organize my ideas.”
Often illustrators retain a deep-felt connection with the picture-books and storytellers that first drew them to the medium as a child, but none do so with such obvious, obsessive commitment and flair as Tixier.
“The first Tintin book I read was Explorers on the Moon,” he says excitably as he tidies the red spines back onto the shelf. “I was blown away by its mastery. The apparent accessibility of the line in deceiving—it hides a multitude of complex information. Read a Titin book when you’re 10 and then 30 years later, and you’ll see the experiences are very different. You must try it.”