The cult of Tintin: 80 years of comic-book adventure

The intrepid cub reporter from Belgium is the star of 3-D adaptation by Steven Spielberg

Published: March 29, 2009 2:09 pm

The intrepid cub reporter from Belgium is the star of 3-D adaptation by Steven Spielberg
He turns 80 this year but still looks 18,with the same fair-haired quiff. Like Madonna and Sting,two other famous blonds,he goes by one name. Mention him and a European is likely to cheer,while an American is more apt to go,“Huh?” But that’s destined to change now that Steven Spielberg is making a movie based on his life.

He is Tintin,intrepid cub reporter and nemesis of evildoers,whose long career in numerous cartoon strips and comic books,with faithful dog Snowy at his side,has made him one of Belgium’s most celebrated exports (up there with chocolate and waffles).
His slightly nondescript but instantly recognisable face is everywhere in Brussels these days,stamped on magnets,posters,key rings and other souvenirs to commemorate the 80th anniversary of his creation. Academics comb the cartoons for clues to Tintin’s ontological meaning and his sexuality. A $20 million museum devoted to his creator is set to open in June outside the Belgian capital.

And amplifying all the buzz is a big-budget 3-D adaptation (using a high-tech motion-capture process) from Spielberg,who bought the movie rights to Tintin’s adventures more than 25 years ago. Joining Spielberg on the project,envisioned as a trilogy of films,is director Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings fame. The first part of filming just wrapped in Los Angeles.
The origins of the illustrated,French-speaking eternal boy scout can be traced to a conservative Roman Catholic magazine in Belgium between the world wars. “Tintin is a pure Belgian product,with a universal impact,” said Claude Javeau,professor emeritus at the Free University of Brussels.

The character’s action-packed international romps gave Belgians a window on the wider world from their small country,while fans across the globe,especially fellow Europeans,embraced his unassuming,kindhearted and resourceful personality. It also helped that Snowy was adorable.

Tintin sprang from the brain and pen of a young man named Georges Remi,who drew under the name Herge (his initials transposed and pronounced in French). The budding artist worked for the 20th Century,a newspaper run by a right-wing priest who sought to promulgate Catholic values. At the time,that meant anti-communism,and so Tintin’s debut in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was a breathless thriller set in a Soviet Union full of boorish apparatchiks and “poor idiots who still believe in a ‘Red Paradise’ “.

Herge would later regret those depictions,as well as less-than-flattering portrayals of Africans and Jews in subsequent tales. But his hero’s first outing was a hit,and Herge went on to rework the formula in 23 more adventures over the next 50 years,in books that have been translated into dozens of languages.

His knickerbockers-clad protagonist gets whisked around the world,from China to Egypt to Australia,and even into outer space to foil the nefarious schemes of crooks,coup plotters and master criminals. Threats and bribes do not deter him; neither do a pair of bumbling,bushy-mustached cops called Thomson and Thompson. In every adventure,Tintin lands in hot water—”This time I’m done for!” is a frequent refrain—but a combination of quick thinking,luck and help from Snowy enables him to outfox his enemies.

“When I was a young child,I read Tintin and loved it. When I was older,I continued to read it. And now I am much older,and I continue to enjoy them,” said Benoit Peeters,a Belgian cartoonist who knew Herge well. “This is very rare. You have some comics for children,others for adults. This is for everyone. You can say Peanuts by Charles Schulz has the same quality. Not many have.”

Tintin’s relative obscurity in the United States and his huge reputation in Europe will pose a double challenge to Spielberg and his Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn,which stars two British actors,Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig,as Tintin and the villain,respectively.
_Henry Chu,LATWP

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