Most comic book heroes sport fancy costumes and supernatural abilities, but one of the most beloved characters to be put to ink and paper is best known for his hairstyle: close-cropped red hair, worn in a quiff that miraculously never sags.

That, of course, is Tintin.

Created almost a century ago by the Belgian artist George Remi, better known as “Hergé,” Tintin’s adventures have taken the intrepid boy reporter and his companions from the jungles of South America to the surface of the moon and back — all without ever appearing to be on deadline or even file a story. But these comics are more than just children’s stories: for many Europeans, where comics have long been considered fine art, Hergé’s work is foundational to the medium. Now, a pair of his original pages are on display at Danese-Corey gallery in Manhattan, the first time they have been shown in the U.S.

“It's perfect,” said curator Phillippe Labaune. “Its color is perfect, the rhythm is perfect, it's perfectly executed.”

Hergé, The Castafiore Emerald, 1961(full sketch)

Hergé, The Castafiore Emerald, 1961

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Hergé, The Castafiore Emerald, 1961
Courtesy of A. Querton

Hergé worked in a style now known as “ligna claire,” or “clear line,” which was characterized by simplistic, cartoony characters juxtaposed with exquisitely detailed backgrounds, all drawn with precise lines and no shading. The two pages on display at “Line and Frame: A Survey of European Comic Art” were drawn for the 1961 story, “The Castafiore Emerald” — one, a rough layout sketch called a crayonné, and the other the final inked page before it was sent to be colored and printed. Shown side-by-side, they give a rare look at Hergé’s process.

“Sometimes when we look at a published comics page, it can be almost difficult to imagine how a person made it,” said comics curator Bill Kartalopoulos, who consulted on the exhibition. “Because already the black line is mechanically reproduced, the color is mechanically reproduced, any sign of labor is erased.”

In this case, this pair of drawings show the hard work that Hergé put into his deceptively simple style.

“You can see entire panels, figures, characters in the sketch version that aren’t present in the finished page,” said Kartalopoulos. “And it’s really fascinating because the very first panel and the very last panel are almost exactly the same as the sketch version, but a lot of things changed in between.”

But the clarity of Hergé's final artwork belies a problematic past. The first place to publish the Tintin comics in 1929 was a right-wing Belgian newspaper that collaborated with the Nazis, and one of the earliest collections, “Tintin in the Congo,” was little more than a pro-colonialist screed that trafficked in the worst racist stereotypes of African people. Hergé also frequented in bigoted depictions of other people from around the world, including Native Americans and Jewish and Chinese people.

“When I read those comics as a child, all of those things washed over me,” said Krishnadev Calamur, who wrote about his experience as a longtime fan grappling with the comic’s racist history in a 2016 essay for The Atlantic. “You don't really pay attention to portrayal and depiction, it's about the hero solving crimes, having adventures.”

When he was growing up in India, the Tintin comics were a big part of Calamur’s life. His father and uncle first introduced him to the swashbuckling comics as a kid, and Calamur believes that early influence may have had something to do with his choice to become a journalist. But as he got older, he came to understand more about the darker aspects of Hergé’s books.

“Actually, talking about it right now, it fills me with dread,” said Calamur. “Because it's awful.”

Tintin in the Congo was unavailable in English until the mid-1990s because of the explicit racism, and critics continue to debate over Hergé’s politics and art. But Tintin’s legacy is also complicated by the artist: over the years, Hergé expressed some regret for his earlier works and eventually replaced some of his racist and bigoted drawings in later editions. In the later Tintin stories, the title character opposes dictators and stands up for the oppressed. In fact, “The Castafiore Emerald” centers on the boy reporter befriending and defending a group of Roma–who are still marginalized across Europe–from accusations of theft.

“Hergé, like all of us, was a product of his time,” said Calamur. “And I think it's important to separate what a person thinks from the body of their work.”

"Line and Frame: A Survey of European Comic Art" is on display at Danese-Corey through March 14th.