When the Belgian cartoonist known as Hergé died in March 1983, not even Fanny, his widow, thought the extraordinary success of Tintin would live on.
She was wrong. The intrepid cub reporter and his faithful canine companion keep attracting new readers. On Tuesday, comic strip lovers around the world will mark the centennial of Hergé, nom de plume of Georges Remi (the French pronunciation of his reversed initials is "Hergé"), a native of Brussels.
Hergé's ligne claire style of drawing, French for "clear line," has influenced generations of cartoonists.
And people of all ages are devoted fans of Hergé's boy hero Tintin, his clever white terrier Snowy (Milou in French), curse-happy Captain Haddock ("ten thousand thundering typhoons!"), the half-deaf Professor Calculus and bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson.
The Tintin booklets, translated into 70 languages, sell about three million copies each year. More than 120 million copies have been sold to date.
Even Hollywood has taken an interest in Tintin and Snowy. The administrators of Hergé's estate announced recently that American director Steven Spielberg would shoot a series of Tintin movies.
The first, presumably Destination Moon, is scheduled for release by 2010. Whether it will be animated is unclear.
British author Michael Farr, an ex-reporter and well-known "Tintinologist," attributes Tintin's timeless popularity to Hergé's simple, inimitable drawing style as well as to his stories' humour and multiple layers of appeal.
Children are excited by the adventures, Farr has noted, while adults appreciate the political satire and wordplays. "Readers can easily identify with Tintin no matter where they're from and which language they speak," Farr said.
Tintin is not sharply defined, in contrast with characters like Captain Haddock. His precise age, his family, and whether he has a girlfriend are mysteries.
"Tintin, that's me!" Hergé once declared. "Hergé would have liked to have been a journalist - he was fascinated by news," remarked Farr, who said Hergé had assiduously collected newspaper articles and written his stories based on international events.
From the Japanese invasion of China in The Blue Lotus (1936) to Tintin's flight to the moon in Destination Moon (1953) - 16 years before the American landing - "the comic books chronicle the 20th century, which makes them interesting to more mature readers too," Farr said.
The adventures of Tintin elevated the comic book to an art form. Hergé's admirers have included Andy Warhol and the Dalai Lama, who honoured the cartoonist last year for Tintin in Tibet.
Hergé seems to have "arrived" in the world of high art just in time for his centennial.
The current exhibition of Hergé's work at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is its most successful exhibition ever, Farr said, adding that the museum for contemporary arts had even decided to include several pieces in its permanent collection.
"Hergé has long been seen as a father figure in the comics world. If he's now recognised as a modern artist, that's very important," Farr said.
Tintin first appeared January 10, 1929 in Le Petit Vingtieme, the youth supplement to the Brussels newspaper Le Vingtieme Siècle.
His earliest adventures took him to the Soviet Union and Belgian Congo. Reflecting the Zeitgeist of that era, both stories were full of anti-communist and racist prejudices that Hergé later called "youthful folly" and partially revised.
During the course of his career, Hergé's obsession with accuracy and detailed research grew.
"He was a perfectionist," recalled Farr, who interviewed Hergé in the swank Brussels restaurant Comme Chez Soi in the late 1970s.
The cartoonist's modesty and curiosity turned the tables on Farr. Instead of letting himself be interviewed during their three-hour lunch, Hergé peppered the Briton with questions about Pink Floyd, the Beatles and art.
"Hergé was a charming person who sparkled with humour, but he didn't like talking about himself," Farr said.