Happy 90th birth­day, Tintin

Hergé’s re­source­ful hero has been en­ter­tain­ing us with his ad­ven­tures for nine whole decades! COM­PILED BY KIM ABRAHAMS

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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.


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.


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.


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.

Cap­tain Had­dock

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”.

Pro­fes­sor Cal­cu­lus

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.

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