Tintin in Tibet (1958), page 2 panel 7. Herge.
Though cartooning is basically a long, regimented series of simplifications, it can't quite be fully characterized as a minimalistic art form. Part of that is sheer semantics -- you can't say a medium (or hell, a language) is anything without some contradictory tidbit jumping out to spite you. From comics to cave paintings to runes to Renaissance underdrawings, cartooning encompasses multitudes. For every Charles Schulz there's a Hal Foster, and vice versa. But more than that obvious quibble, in cartooning the simplifications are so often also exaggerations. When so much of the real world's minutiae is taken out of the drawings, something has to step up to fill that void, and in practice the important parts that stay in the picture become ever more dramatic and engorged. Even when they don't though, staying in relative proportion a la Jaime Hernandez or Winsor McCay, that subtraction of extraneous detail still amplifies the elements remaining in the picture because they're the only things there.
So cartooning: an art of simple maximalism? Or maybe of massive minimalism? As ever, you just can't make it that clear cut either way. Especially when the great cartoonists -- the real great ones, like the kind that get museums made of them -- have a way of gumming up the issue with gorgeously unclassifiable panels like the one above. There's really not much of a case for this picture as minimalist, despite the undiluted cartoon purity of it. Setting aside the fact that's it's been absolutely set ablaze with visual information, Herge's drawing is, as almost always, perfectly crowded. Though he whittled his figures and faces down to the simplest collections of line and shape, the onetime Georges Remi never let them stand alone that way. Peruse the crowd swamping this panel and you'll notice how draped they are in the proliferation of wrinkles in their clothes, jewelry on their bodies, and loose hairs poking from their heads. Of course, all those extra bits (extra bits, keep in mind, tacked onto extra bits) are laid down with the same confident simplicity as the figures themselves -- a wavery line rather than a straight one for a wrinkle, a quick little pen stroke for a hair out of place, the same circles for pearl necklaces and watch faces and any number of kinds of earrings. None of it's given any undue attention, any visual identity that will confuse the focus of the picture, but at the same time it's all undeniably there, evoked, made real. In this way Herge might be said to be comics' cartooniest of realists; while he'd simplify until he hit the bone, he didn't leave much behind.
It's important to note that truism of Herge's work before scaling our focus outward to take in the panel as a whole. Because it's the same thing from a distance as it is on the precisely-lined soles of that little jumping boy on the right's shoe, filled to completion and not a drop further -- even where the scalloped edges of that word-balloon burst cut across the panel border, it's all for one effect, all pointing the reader right into the miniature explosion of sound at the center and the tumultuous effect it has on a hotel full of guests. Yes, this panel is crammed enough with bodies and faces and clothes and furniture to put George Perez to shame, but let's actually take a second and look at as many of them as we possibly can, down to the scattered playing cards and the spilled coffee and the blotted ink. How many pictorial elements can you count as incidental, as not bound into the panel by their reaction to its subject? I've got four: two windows and two plants, and that's it.
This panel is nothing less than a titanic display of sheer visual imagination, a downright symphonic set of responses to a single action. It's like an index, as though Herge sat down at the drawing table and decided to create a comprehensive catalogue of the different ways objects both animate and inanimate could overreact to hearing somebody sneeze. Displays of virtuosity for its own sake in comics tend to take the route of that picture linked above, but everything here is just so damn effectual that you've got to forgive Herge for blowing a small moment completely out of proportion. That's especially true when you take into account the fact that Tintin, despite being a more rousing adventure comic than pretty much anything before or since, is also dyed-in-the-wool humor. When the point is making people laugh comics' key tenets of efficiency and directness can be set aside a little, and the incidental detail laid down here, while it breaks a lot of typically-sensible rules, is simply funny enough to justify itself and more. The flabbergasted look on the knitting old lady's face, the man hiding behind the table, the stray pair of legs diving for cover, the mom getting a faceful of scalding hot coffee... it all adds to the point of the panel, and when that point is overstatement there's hardly much of an argument against overstating things. In the end maybe cartooning is just chasing purity, and this panel's blaring, focused delivery of one thing via many things fits that bill perfectly.