As a child, after the illustrators of 2000AD, my favourite cartoon strip artist was Hergé, the creator of Tintin.
There was something about his clean lines and his eye for fine detail that rewarded repeated readings – there was always something new to be seen, if you looked hard enough.
When I think about that now, it’s not surprising that “Nighthawks” ranks highly amongst my favourite artworks, as there is more than a hint of Hergé in Hopper’s style to be found in this 1942 masterpiece.
As with Hergé, the image instantly informs the viewer by presenting a clear, vibrant and colourful tableau – four people are shown in a brightly-lit diner at night in an urban setting, seen from outside through an enormous curved glass window.
Nothing is happening, so the eye rests in turn upon each of the four figures – and the questions begin.
Is the Man in the steel-grey hat really with the Woman in Red?
Their hands are close to each other and they appear to be together – a hint of a smile is playing on the woman’s lips, while the man has an aura of calm confidence in her company.
But there is a tired vacancy in the expressions of both, as well as on the face of the server behind the counter.
No-one is actually looking at anyone else – their gazes are wistful and undirected. No connections are being made.
In the dead of night, in the Big City, this is urban alienation.
Then there is The Man By Himself.
He is the only figure without a face, somehow less illuminated too, adding a sense of foreboding to his presence and his agency in the image.
Nighthawks looks as if it might have been ripped from a reel of “The Maltese Falcon”, with the jaded private investigator following the red-haired femme fatale to a late-night assignation with her lover, only to find that there is no joy to be found in their deception.
What happens next?
Unlike a Hergé story, there is no next page to turn to, just a space in the imagination to fill with potential plot, possible outcomes and next moves.
A cup of coffee, perhaps.