Happy 90th birthday, Tintin
Hergé’s resourceful hero has been entertaining us with his adventures for nine whole decades! COMPILED BY KIM ABRAHAMS
BLISTERING barnacles! Ten thousand thundering typhoons! Can it be possible? The boy wonder with the sticky-up hair and ubiquitous blue jumper who galloped across the globe in a quest to unravel mysteries and bring baddies to book is a staggering 90 years old.
It may be three decades since Tintin’s adventures were last published in comic book form but thanks to numerous publications and spin-offs dedicated to the intrepid reporter, the Belgian hero lives on in the hearts of many readers.
Tintin has been published in more than 70 languages, and comic books dedicated to his travels have sold about 230 million copies.
He’s spawned TV shows, stage productions, video games and big-screen adaptations – not to mention a mountain of merchandise in the form of toys, clothing, linen, posters and stationery.
“[Tintin creator] Hergé was the first artist to treat the comic trade like a proper art form,” BBC writer William Cook says. “Before him no cartoonist had created such complex characters. No cartoonist had lavished such attention on every frame.”
To honour Tintin’s milestone birthday, here’s a look at the humble beginnings and meteoric rise of a boy who continues to fuel imaginations and ignite the love of reading in millions.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
It all started in 1928, when George Remi, a photographer and cartoonist who went by the pseudonym Hergé – the French pronunciation of his reversed initials, RG – was appointed editor of the new youth supplement, Le Petit Vingtième (“The Little Twentieth”), of a conservative Belgian newspaper.
It gave Hergé – who’d previously authored a strip called The Adventures of Totor for a Belgian Boy Scout newspaper – the perfect platform for a brand-new character.
“The idea of Tintin and the sort of adventures that would befall him came to me in five minutes, the moment I first made a sketch of the figure of this hero,” Hergé once said. And so Tintin set off on his first adventure in 10 January 1929, to the land of the Soviets.
TINTIN GOES GLOBAL
A comic strip of Tintin’s adventures was serialised in Le Petit Vingtième and later in newspaper Le Soir (“The Evening”).
Hergé’s work caught the eye of Casterman, a Belgian publishing company, which proposed compiling The Adventures of Tintin series in book form.
The books flew off the shelves and opened many more doors. In 1936 the production of Tintin merchandise began and five years later two Tintin plays were performed in Brussels.
A magazine, Le Journal de Tintin, followed, which was described as “the publication for the youth from seven to 77”.
The first issue hit shelves on 26 September 1946 and reached its commercial peak 12 years later, selling more than half a million copies each week.
But Hergé became frustrated working under the thumb of commercial publishers and started poaching Tintin magazine staff to set up Studio Hergé in 1950.
With artists, colourists and even an illustrator who could imitate his style, Hergé managed to turn what was a oneman job into a team effort.
Tintin was now created in “a veritable production line, the artwork passing from person to person, everyone knowing their part, like an artistic orchestra with Hergé conducting”, according to biographer Harry Thompson.
Hergé died in 1983 aged 76, and three years later the Tintin magazine was discontinued.
TINTIN’S GANG Snowy
He has a serious case of arachnophobia but other than that the tough little terrier is a fearless protector. Snowy often saves Tintin from danger – unless he’s distracted by a bone or has had one too many gulps of his favourite Loch Lomond Scotch Whisky.
Readers were first introduced to the hottempered sea captain in 1941’s The Crab with the Golden Claws. Captain Archibald Haddock, Tintin’s best human friend, is the exclaimer of many an expressive curse synonymous with the Tintin books – including the fabulous “billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles”.
Cuthbert Calculus is the absent-minded and partially deaf physicist readers meet in 1943’s Red Rackham’s Treasure.
The professor, usually mild-mannered and dignified, occasionally loses his temper, especially when Captain Haddock belittles his work or accuses him of “acting the goat” (being an idiot, basically).
Thomson and Thompson
These two bumbling detectives provide much comic relief. They may look like identical twins – apart from the shape of their moustaches – but aren’t related.
Despite not being the brightest, they somehow manage to find themselves entrusted with difficult missions.
Hergé’s work is closely guarded by The Hergé Foundation, an organisation founded by his widow, Fanny Rodwell (84), in 1987. The foundation runs Hergé’s estate, the official Tintin website and the Hergé museum.
Tintin’s most recent appearance was in 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin, a 3D motion-capture animated movie directed by Peter Jackson and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film, starring Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell as Tintin and Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, won a Golden Globe for best animated picture.
Over the years Tintin’s second adventure, Tintin in the Congo, has become increasingly controversial for its perceived racism.
In 2007, Congolese campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo tried to have it banned, claiming the comic incited racial hatred due to its portrayal of African people. The comic book details Tintin’s adventures in the former Belgian colony and includes his interactions with diamond smugglers, big-game hunters and wild animals.
A Belgian court rejected Mondondo’s application. “It’s clear that neither the story, nor the fact that it’s been put on sale, has a goal to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment,” the court ruled.
S Tintin was inspired by Hergé’s previous character, Totor. He later described Tintin as being like Totor’s younger brother.
S Tintin started out as antisocialist propaganda. Hergé wanted to send Tintin to America on his first adventure, but his editor ordered him to be sent to the Soviet Union to take on the “villainous Soviets”.
S Until the first Tintin comic strip was published, speech bubbles had never been used in a Belgian cartoon. S
The Adventures of Tintin series has sold about 230 million copies worldwide.
Tintin’s creator George “Hergé” Remi. After his death 150 pages of unfinished sketches and notes were used as the basis for the final book, Tintin and Alph-Art.
The 24 books, originally penned in French, have been translated into 70 languages including Afrikaans.