France Tintin Auction

This 1936 work in Chinese ink, gouache and watercolor by Belgian cartoonist Herge will hit the auction block Thursday in Paris.

PARIS (AP) — Not even the coronavirus can get in the way of intrepid Belgian reporter and comic book legend Tintin.

Comic book lovers and tourists alike can catch a socially distanced glimpse of a Tintin drawing by Herge in Paris before it goes under the hammer Thursday, estimated to sell between $2.6 million and $3.4 million, and possibly break the record for the most expensive comic book art in history.

The 1936 work in Chinese ink, gouache and watercolor, was destined as a cover for “The Blue Lotus,” the fifth volume of the Belgian journalist’s adventures. But it never sat on any book store shelves because it was rejected for being too expensive to reproduce on a wide scale — a victim of its own rare craftsmanship.

“They had to do a four color process printing, with an additional color. [But the publisher] thought that the comic albums were already expensive. Reproducing this cover art would increase the production costs,” said comics expert Eric Leroy at Art Curial auction house by the Champs-Elysees avenue.

As the name “Blue Lotus” suggests, the artwork places Tintin in Asia. A huge red dragon appears on a black background by the Belgian reporter’s petrified face. It is a prized addition to the universe of Tintin.

In “Blue Lotus,” Tintin travels to China during the 1931 Japanese invasion to investigate and expose — along with his dog Snowy — Japanese spy networks, drug-smuggling rings and other crimes.

On Thursday, Herge, whose real name was Georges Remi, could break the record for the most expensive piece of comic book art at $3.16 million that was previously set by himself.

“We set the previous record for the ‘Pages de Garde’ in 2014 ... it would be fair for this piece to break this record. Herge had done only five comic covers using this technique of direct color so it’s very rare,” Leroy said.

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