Who is Tintin?
The Adventures of Tintin: Secrets of the Unicorn will be released into theaters just in time for the Christmas holidays. It’s one of those motion capture films that delighted audiences (and creeped out me) when they did Polar Express a few years ago, but this time as a 3D movie. Both Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson are involved in directing and producing what is hoped to be a trilogy of films based on the popular series of comic books created by Belgian artist Hergé (Georges Remi).
Spielberg’s involvement in the franchise is no real surprise, he’s said in several interviews that one of the inspirations for the Indiana Jones series of films, and more than once he’s described The Adventures of Tintin series of books as Indiana Jones for kids.
So who is Tintin and what’s the story behind this character who’s series is one of the most popular European comics of all time, as well as an upcoming movie franchise certain to delight millions more.
The Beginnings of Tintin In 1929 a Belgian Catholic newspaper, Le Vingtième Siècle, began printing dispatches of a new cub reporter named Tintin in a special children’s section every Thursday. Presented as a weekly comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, created by famed Belgian artist Georges Rémi who’s also known by the pen name Hergé, soon drove the newspaper’s sales. Traveling the world with his perpetual pal, a fox terrier named Snowy, Tintin may actually be the most famous reporter ever to come out of Belgium.
Compilations of the adventures into albums each year soon brought an international following. Tintin survived not only the paper’s 1940 demise with Nazi occupation of Belgium, but World War II and the decades following it as only a fictional character can. He brought his author more acclaim, controversy, and ultimately influence than most reporters receive in their lives.
Tintin’s Early Controversy
Even Tintin’s first “dispatches” proved so popular that when Tintin and Snowy returned from “The Land of the Soviets” Le Vingtième Siècle staged a grand reception for his arrival at Brussels, with an actor representing Tintin. This tradition continued as Hergé led Tintin readers to the Congo the following year and to America the year after that. Visiting America during the Great Depression, Tintin showed Belgian readers the failures of Capitalism as unflinchingly as visiting the Soviet Union had shown the pitfalls of Communism.
That intermediate trip to the Congo proved even more controversial with time. While reflecting common European perceptions of the day, Tintin in the Congo perpetuated racial stereotypes of Africans. That slow developing controversy, similar to those regarding Little Black Sambo, and Disney’s Song of the South, was a mere nuisance compared to one that nearly cost Hergé his life. It should be noted that the controversy regarding Tintin in the Congo continues to this day.
World War II Occupation
Throughout the 1930’s Tintin had visited Egypt, China, South America, and Germany. Then Hergé needed to find a new publisher. This one supported the Nazis, so Tintin lost his focus on social issues, focusing more on adventure. After Belgiums’ liberation by the Allies, Hergé was arrested as a suspected collaborator, and restricted from publishing at all.
Ironically the toned-down stories published during World War II became some of the most enduring and popular for movies. This includes the new Tintin movie that brings Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg together for <a href=” http://www.us.movie.tintin.com/”>The Adventures of Tintin </a>. These stories introduced new and enduring characters that lend the stories lasting charm.
Tintin’s Supporting Cast
This grisly old salt commands a ship when Tintin meets him. In later episodes he seems retired from the sea, joining Tintin on adventures far from any oceans. As the series progresses, Captain Haddock grows from a heavy drinking buddy to a respectable mentor.
Only deafness frustrates this genius. He has three Ph.D.s and a wealth of experience. He knows something about everything, but can’t hear what people want him to do with it, providing amusing plot twists.
Thomson and Thompson
These nearly identical Scotland Yard detectives may just offer comic relief, but likely some critics consider their role as social commentary. Despite erring often they seem to show up in ever more responsible positions of authority. They can’t even get their words straight, often spoonerizing sentences. They symbolize authority as needed, sometimes helpful, and deserving of respect when well-meaning, even if completely clueless.
Tintin’s Triumphant Return
When Hergé was freed to publish again, Tintin no longer also became unrestricted by the limitations of a newspaper. Now Tintin had his own magazine, and the adventures became longer and more artistically detailed. By 1953 Tintin set out for the Moon, and in 1954 he reached it.
By the 1960s Hergé became even more experimental, demonstrating that stories could be compelling without villains, and even without much happening at all. By the 1970s, and Tintin’s final adventures, he investigated psychic phenomena, extraterrestrials, and a Latin American coup de etat. A final adventure in the 1980s intended to look at occult sects, but turned into an artistic study. Hergé died of Leukemia in 1983, at the age of 76, before completing it.
Final Acclaim for Hergé
Hergé’s final years brought international acclaim. Tintin had filled movie and home screens, in both animation and live action. In addition to perennial international book sales, his syndicated adventures drew audiences to children’s publications around the globe. On the 50th anniversary of Tintin’s first adventure Walt Disney studios presented Hergé with a Mickey statuette, and in 1982 the Belgian Society of Astronomy named a star after him.
More important, in 1978, 32 years after he almost lost his life for suspected Nazi collaboration, he received an officer rank with Belgium’s Order of the Crown. Nearly thirty years after his passing the legacies of Tintin and Hergé endure, continuing to influence ever larger audiences. The Hergé Museum in Brussels is dedicated to his work, and many Belgians consider Tintin and Hergé the embodiment of their ideals.
In 2011, we will be treated to the release of Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secrets of the Unicorn. Early peeks have shown it to be adventure packed and lot of fun. Hopefully it turns a whole new generation of fans onto the adventures of Tintin.