Tintin, the ageless boy reporter, turns 80
Tintin, the ageless boy reporter, whose adventures have delighted children and adults all over the world, celebrated his 80th birthday on Saturday.books Updated: Jan 11, 2009 14:21 IST
Tintin, the ageless boy reporter, began life 80 years ago at the age of 15, and when his career ended nearly 50 years later, his creator said he was just shy of his 18th birthday.
Tintin, whose adventures have delighted children and adults all over the world, celebrated his 80th birthday on Saturday, and the globetrotting teenager with the remarkable blonde forelock has never been more popular.
Since a 21-year-old Belgian graphic artist named Georges Remi published the first comic strip featuring Tintin in the children's supplement of the Belgian daily Le Vingtieme Siecle on Jan 10, 1929, more than 200 million books depicting his adventures have been sold in more than 50 languages.
And now Tintin's popularity is likely to reach even greater heights. Director Steven Spielberg is teaming up with New Zealander Peter Jackson, of “Lord of the Rings” fame, to make at least one motion-capture 3D film about Tintin, to be released in 2010.
"Spielberg's film will close the only significant blind spot in the world to Tintin's fame, that in the United States," said Michael Farr, acclaimed Tintinologist and the author of Tintin: The Complete Companion.
According to Farr, Remi was actually inspired by American comic strips.
"Cartoon strips were not known in Europe at the time, and Herge got the idea from the American newspapers he saw," Farr said. "Tintin was the first European cartoon strip."
The first adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was a smashing success from the beginning, with both children and adults.
"Long queues waited in front of kiosks for the newspaper every Thursday, when the strip appeared," Farr said.
The adventures were serialized over about one year and then, because of their immense popularity, made into books, which proved just as popular.
A total of 23 Tintin books were published during Herge's lifetime, and another one was published after he passed away in 1983. Some four million Tintin books are sold every year worldwide.
Farr attributes Tintin's enduring popularity primarily to the excellence of the drawing and the story-telling.
"Herge was a great stickler for detail," Farr said. "And the stories are compelling stuff."
The clear lines of the drawing in the strip inspired such artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. "Herge has influenced my work in the same way as Walt Disney did," Warhol once said. "For me, Herge was more than a comic strip artist."
In addition, from the beginning Herge sought to reflect the reality of the world.
In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, he described a land of Potemkin villages, with fake factories that produced nothing at all. In the tale, Tintin protects farmers from soldiers who come to steal their wheat, and later finds that wheat is used for export with the profits paying for Soviet propaganda.
Although the depiction was harshly criticized by the Left, it turned out to be prophetic.
Even more prophetic was the 1954 book Explorers on the Moon, in which Tintin and his dog Snowy travel to the moon on a rocket constructed by his friend Professor Cuthbert Calculus. This was a good 15 years before US astronaut Neil Armstrong took that "giant step for mankind".
"Herge was so concerned with being realistic that he consulted with scientists before he wrote the strip," Farr said.
According to the review New Scientist, "The considerable research undertaken by Herge enabled him to come very close to the type of space suit that would be used in future moon exploration."
Another reason for Tintin's popularity is the uncharacteristic vagueness of the hero's face, Farr said.
"All the other characters are drawn in great detail, but Tintin's face is very simple and has this blank, puzzled look. I think Herge did that intentionally, so that every reader could identify with the anonymity and innocence of the face," he said.
However, over the years Tintin has also been dogged by criticism from various sides, particularly over the depiction of black Africans in Tintin in the Congo.
But the controversies did nothing to dilute Tintin's popularity. He became so popular in France that the French have adopted him as their own (as they did with another popular Belgian export, the singer/composer Jacques Brel).
The 20th century's most famous Frenchman, the late Charles de Gaulle, felt the sting of the boy reporter's irresistible appeal. "Deep down," de Gaulle once complained, "my only international rival is Tintin."