The hero of the series is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter. He is aided in his adventures from the beginning by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in French). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash, cynical and grumpy Captain Haddock, the bright but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol) and other colourful supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupond et Dupont).
The success of the series saw the serialised strips collected into a series of albums (24 in all), spun into a successful magazine and adapted for film and theatre. The series is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, with translations published in over 50 languages and more than 200 million copies of the books sold to date.
The comic strip series has long been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé's signature ligne claire style. Engaging, well-researched plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories within the Tintin series always feature slapstick humour, offset in later albums by sophisticated satire, and political and cultural commentary.
Tintin is a reporter, and Hergé uses this to present the character in a number of adventures which were contemporaneous to the period in which he was working (most notably, the Bolshevik uprising in Russia and the Second World War) and sometimes even prescient (as in the case of the moon landings). Hergé also created a world for Tintin which managed to reduce detail to a simplified but recognisable and realistic representation, an effect Hergé was able to achieve with reference to a well-maintained archive of images.
Though Tintin's adventures are formulaic—presenting a mystery which is then solved logically—Hergé infused the strip with his own sense of humour, and created supporting characters who, although predictable, were filled with charm that allowed the reader to engage with them. This formula of comfortable, humorous predictability is similar to the presentation of cast in the Peanuts strip or The Three Stooges. Hergé also had a great understanding of the mechanics of the comic strip, especially pacing, a skill displayed in The Castafiore Emerald, a work he meant to be packed with tension in which nothing actually happens.
Hergé initially improvised the creation of Tintin's adventures, uncertain how Tintin would escape from whatever predicament appeared. Not until after the completion of Cigars of the Pharaoh was Hergé encouraged to research and plan his stories. The impetus came from Zhang Chongren, a Chinese student who, on hearing Hergé was to send Tintin to China in his next adventure, urged him to avoid perpetuating the perceptions Europeans had of China at the time. Hergé and Zhang collaborated on the next serial, The Blue Lotus, which has been cited by critics as Hergé's first masterpiece. Interestingly, The Blue Lotus includes a reference to the European stereotypes associated with China, in a context that causes them to appear ridiculous.
Other changes to the mechanics of creating the strip were forced on Hergé by outside events. The Second World War and the invasion of Belgium by Hitler's armies saw the closure of the newspaper in which Tintin was serialised. Work was halted on Land of Black Gold, and the already published Tintin in America and The Black Island were banned by the Nazi censors, who were concerned at their presentation of America and Britain. However, Hergé was able to continue with Tintin's adventures, publishing four books and serialising two more adventures in a German-licensed newspaper.
During and after the German occupation Hergé was accused of being a collaborator because of the Nazi control of the paper (Le Soir), and he was briefly taken for interrogation after the war. He claimed that he was simply doing a job under the occupation, like a plumber or carpenter. His work of this period, unlike earlier and later work, is politically neutral and resulted in stories such as The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure; but the apocalyptic The Shooting Star reflects the foreboding Hergé felt during this uncertain political period.
A post-war paper shortage forced changes in the format of the books. Hergé had usually allowed the stories to develop to a length that suited the story, but with paper now in short supply, publishers Casterman asked Hergé to consider using smaller panel sizes and adopt an arbitrary length of 62 pages. Hergé took on more staff (the first ten books having been produced by himself and his wife), eventually building a studio system. The adoption of color allowed Hergé to expand the scope of the works. His use of color was more advanced than that of American comics of the time, with better production values allowing a combination of the four printing shades and thus a cinematographic approach to lighting and shading. Hergé and his studio would allow images to fill half pages or more, simply to detail and accentuate the scene, using colour to emphasise important points. Hergé notes this fact, stating "I consider my stories as movies. No narration, no descriptions, emphasis is given to images". Hergé's personal life also affected the series; Tintin in Tibet was heavily influenced by his nervous breakdown. His nightmares, which he reportedly described as being "all white", are reflected in the snowy landscapes. The plot has Tintin set off in search of Chang Chong-Chen, previously seen in The Blue Lotus, and the piece contains no villains and little moral judgement, with Hergé even refusing to confirm the Snowman of the Himalayas as "abominable". The conclusion of Tintin's adventures was untimely. Hergé's death on 3 March 1983 left the twenty-fourth and final adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished. The plot saw Tintin embroiled in the world of modern art, and the story ended as he is about to be killed, encased in perspex and presented as a work of art.
A comic was also released based on the film Tintin et le lac aux requins.
Tintin is a young Belgian reporter who becomes involved in dangerous cases in which he takes heroic action to save the day. Almost every adventure features Tintin hard at work in his investigative journalism, but he is rarely seen actually turning in a story without first getting caught up in some misadventure. He is a young man of more or less neutral attitudes and is less colourful than the supporting cast. In this respect, he represents the everyman.
Snowy, a white Fox terrier, is Tintin's four-legged companion. They regularly save each other from perilous situations. Snowy frequently "speaks" to the reader through his thoughts (often displaying a dry sense of humour), which are supposedly not heard by the human characters in the story except in Tintin in America, wherein he explains to Tintin his absence for a period of time in the book.
Like Captain Haddock, Snowy is fond of the Loch Lomond brand of whisky, and his occasional bouts of drinking tend to get him into trouble, as does his arachnophobia. The French name of Snowy, "Milou," has nothing to do with snow or the color white. It has been widely credited as an oblique reference to a girlfriend from Hergé's youth, Marie-Louise Van Cutsem, whose nickname was "Milou".
Another explanation to the origins of the two characters is possible. The first 3 adventures of Tintin visit places originally visited by photographer-reporter Robert Sexé, recorded in the Belgian press from the mid to late 1920s. At that time Sexé had made numerous trips round the world on a motorcycle, in collaboration with Grand-Prix champion and motorcycle record-holder René Milhoux, and these trips were highly publicized at the time. Sexé has also been noted to have a similar appearance to Tintin, and the Hergé Foundation in Belgium has admitted that it is not too hard to imagine how Hergé could have been influenced by the exploits of Sexé. In 1996, a biography of Robert Sexé by Janpol Schulz was published, titled "Sexé au pays des Soviets" (Sexé in the Land of the Soviets) to mimic the name of the first Tintin Adventure.
Captain Archibald Haddock, a seafaring captain of disputed ancestry (he may be of English, French, or Belgian origin), is Tintin's best friend, and was introduced in The Crab with the Golden Claws. Haddock was initially depicted as a weak and alcoholic character, but later became more respectable. He evolves to become genuinely heroic and even a socialite after he finds a treasure captured by his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock (François de Hadoque in French), in the episode Red Rackham's Treasure. The Captain's coarse humanity and sarcasm act as a counterpoint to Tintin's often implausible heroism; he is always quick with a dry comment whenever the boy reporter seems too idealistic.
Captain Haddock lives in the luxurious mansion Marlinspike Hall ("Moulinsart" in the original French).
Haddock uses a range of colourful insults and curses to express his feelings, such as "billions of blue blistering barnacles," "ten thousand thundering typhoons," "troglodyte," "bashi-bazouk," "kleptomaniac," "ectoplasm," "sea-gherkin," "anacoluthon," and "pockmark," but nothing that is actually considered a swear word. Haddock is a hard drinker, particularly fond of Loch Lomond whiskey, and his bouts of drunkenness are often used for comic effect.
Hergé stated that Haddock's surname was derived from a "sad English fish that drinks a lot." Haddock remained without a first name until the last completed story, Tintin and the Picaros (1976), when the name Archibald was suggested. Tintin and Alph-Art maintained this suggestion by having him introduce himself as such.
Hergé's use of research and photographic reference allowed him to build a realised universe for Tintin, going so far as to create fictionalised countries, dressing them with specific political cultures. These were heavily informed by the cultures evident in Hergé's lifetime. Pierre Skilling has asserted that Hergé saw monarchy as "the legitimate form of government", noting that democratic "values seem underrepresented in [such] a classic Franco-Belgian strip". Syldavia in particular is described in considerable detail, Hergé creating a history, customs, and language. He set the country in the Balkans, and it is, by his own admission, modeled after Albania. The country finds itself threatened by neighbouring Borduria with an attempted annexation appearing in King Ottokar's Sceptre. This situation parallels the Italian conquest of Albania and of Czechoslovakia and Austria by expansionist Nazi Germany prior to World War II.
Hergé's use of research would include months of preparation for Tintin's voyage to the moon in the two-part storyline spread across Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. His research for the storyline was noted in New Scientist: "[T]he considerable research undertaken by Hergé enabled him to come very close to the type of space suit that would be used in future Moon exploration, although his portrayal of the type of rocket that was actually used was a long way off the mark". The moon rocket is based on the German V2 rockets.
During the extensive research Hergé carried out for The Blue Lotus, he became influenced by Chinese and Japanese illustrative styles and woodcuts. This is especially noticeable in the seascapes, which are reminiscent of works by Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Hergé also declared Mark Twain an influence, although this admiration may have led him astray when depicting Incas as having no knowledge of an upcoming solar eclipse in Prisoners of the Sun, an error attributed by T.F. Mills to an attempt to portray "Incas in awe of a latter-day 'Connecticut Yankee'".
In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented without exception as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and authored by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a devout Catholic nation, "Anything Bolshevik was atheist". In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated only by personal greed and by a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, "the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people". Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as "a transgression of my youth". By 1999, some part of this presentation was being noted as far more reasonable, The Economist declaring: "In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate".
Tintin in the Congo has been criticised as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. "Mes chers amis," he says, "je vais vous parler aujourd'hui de votre patrie: La Belgique" ("My dear friends, I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium"). Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it by noting: "I portrayed these Africans according to ... this purely paternalistic spirit of the time". The perceived problems with this book were summarised by Sue Buswell in 1988 as being "all to do with rubbery lips and heaps of dead animals" although Thompson noted this quote may have been "taken out of context". "Dead animals" refers to the fashion for big game hunting at the time of work's original publication. Drawing on André Maurois' Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, bagging 15 antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals did lead the Scandinavian publishers of Tintin's adventures to request changes. A page which presented Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in the animal's back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive, and Hergé substituted a page which saw the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin's rifle whilst the erstwhile hunter snoozes under a tree. In 2007 the UK's Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from the shelves after a complaint, stating that "it beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display 'Tintin In The Congo'. In August 2007, a complaint was filed in Brussels, Belgium, by a Congolese student, claiming the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors are investigating, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism warned against political over-correctness.
Some of the early albums were altered by Hergé in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his American publishers, many of the black characters in Tintin in America were re-coloured to make their race white or ambiguous. The Shooting Star album originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of "Blumenstein". This proved to be controversial, as the character looked very stereotypically Jewish. "Blumenstein" was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country - São Rico. Hergé later discovered that 'Bohlwinkel' was also a Jewish name.
Steven Spielberg bought an option on the Tintin characters shortly before Hergé's death in 1983. However, at that point Spielberg was not confirmed to be directing and hence Hergé refused to sign the contract. In November 2002, Dreamworks bought the film rights to the Tintin series. Spielberg is collaborating with Peter Jackson for a motion capture film trilogy, starring Thomas Sangster and Andy Serkis. Spielberg and Jackson said a live action adaptation would not do justice to the comic books.
Steven Moffat is writing the screenplay. The story will be taken from among the twenty-three Tintin books published between 1929 and 1976.
The first was Hergé's Adventures of Tintin, produced by Belvision. The series aired from 1958 to 1962, with 104 five-minute episodes produced. It was adapted by Charles Shows and then translated into French by Greg (Michel Regnier), then editor-in-chief of Tintin magazine. This series has been criticised for differing too greatly from the original books and for its poor animation.
The second series was The Adventures of Tintin, featuring 21 of the stories. It ran for three seasons (from 1991 to 1992), was co-directed by Stéphane Bernasconi and Peter Hudecki, and was produced by Ellipse (France), and Nelvana (Canada), on behalf of La Fondation Hergé. Traditional animation techniques were used on the series, adhering closely to the books. Some frames from the original albums were transposed directly to screen. The series has aired in over 50 countries.
A musical based on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun premièred on 15 September 2001 at the Stadsschouwburg (city theatre) in Antwerp, Belgium. It was entitled Kuifje - De Zonnetempel (De Musical) and was broadcast on Canal Plus, before moving on to Charleroi in 2002 as Tintin — Le Temple du Soleil. The Young Vic theatre company ran a musical version of Tintin in Tibet at the Barbican Arts Centre in London from December 2005 to January 2006. The production was directed by Rufus Norris, and was adapted by Norris and David Greig. The Hergé Foundation organised the return of this show to the West End theatre in December 2006 and January 2007 in order to celebrate the Hergé centenary (2007).
Various unofficial comics have also been released, ranging from illegal pirated versions of original albums to pastiches and parodies, including the anarchist Breaking Free and the pornographic Tintin in Thailand, which reportedly circulated from December 1999 onwards.
Yves Rodier has produced a number of Tintin works, none authorised by the Hergé Foundation, including a 1986 "completion" of the unfinished Tintin and Alph-art.
Hergé's work on Tintin has formed the basis of many exhibitions, with the Hergé Foundation creating a mobile exhibition in 1991. "The World of Hergé" is described by the Foundation as being "an excellent introduction to Hergé's work". Materials from this exhibition have also formed the basis for larger shows, namely "Hergé the Draughtsman", an exhibition to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Tintin's creation, and the more recent "In Tibet With Tintin". In 2001 the Musée de la Marine staged an exhibition of items related to the sea which had inspired Hergé. In 2002 the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Japan staged an exhibition of original drawings, as well as of the submarine and rocket ship invented in the strips by Professor Calculus. Barcelona has also hosted an exhibition on Tintin and the sea, "llamp de rellamp" at the Maritime Museum in 2003.
2004 saw exhibitions in Holland, "Tintin and the Incas" at the Royal Museum of Ethnology; the "Tintin in the City" exhibition in the Halles Saint Géry in Brussels; and an exhibition focusing on Tintin's exploits at sea at the National Maritime Museum in London. The latter exhibition was in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Tintin's first adventure, and was organised in partnership with the Hergé Foundation. 2004 also saw the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art add an area dedicated to Hergé.
The 100th anniversary of Hergé's birth is commemorated with a large exhibition at the Paris museum for contemporary arts, Centre Georges Pompidou, from 20 December 2006 until 19 February 2007, featuring all 120 original pages of The Blue Lotus.
Images from the series have long been licensed for use on merchandise; the success of the Tintin magazine helping to create a market for such items. Tintin's image has been used to sell a wide variety of products, from alarm clocks to underpants. There are now estimated to be over 250 separate items related to the character available, with some becoming collectors items in their own right.
Since Hergé's death, the Hergé Foundation have maintained control of the licenses, through Moulinsart, the commercial wing of the foundation. Speaking in 2002, Peter Horemans, the then director general at Moulinsart, noted this control: "We have to be very protective of the property. We don’t take lightly any potential partners and we have to be very selective ... for him to continue to be as popular as he is, great care needs to be taken of his use. However, the Foundation has been criticised by scholars as "trivialising the work of Hergé by concentrating on the more lucrative merchandising" in the wake of a move in the late nineties to charge them for using relevant images to illustrate their papers on the series.
NBC Universal acquired the rights to all of The Adventures of Tintin merchandise in North America.
Tintin memorabilia and merchandise has allowed a chain of stores based solely on the character to become viable. The first shop was launched by Jane Taylor in 1984, located in Covent Garden, London, and there are now branches worldwide, including two in Belgium, located in Brussels and Bruges. The British bookstore chain, Ottakars was named after King Ottokar, from the Tintin book King Ottokar's Sceptre, and their shops stock a large amount of Tintin merchandise. There are also a number of Tintin themed cafés located around the world.
Tintin's image has been used on postage stamps on numerous occasions, the first issued by the Belgian Post in 1979 to celebrate the day of youth philately. This was the first in a series of stamps with the images of Belgian comic heroes, and was the first stamp in the world to feature a comic hero.
In 1999, the Royal Dutch Post released two stamps on 8 October 1999, based upon the Destination Moon adventure, with the stamps selling out within hours of release. The French post office, Poste Française, then issued a stamp of Tintin and Snowy in 2001. To mark the end of the Belgian Franc, and also to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the publication of Tintin in the Congo, two more stamps were issued by the Belgian Post on 31 December 2001. The stamps were also issued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the same time. 2002 saw the French Post issue stamped envelopes featuring Tintin, whilst in 2004 the Belgian post-office celebrated its own seventy-fifth anniversary, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Explorers on the Moon and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the moon landings with a series of stamps based upon the Explorers on the Moon adventure. In 2007, to celebrate Hergé's centennial, Belgium, France and Switzerland all plan to issue special stamps in commemoration.
A large number of books have been published about Tintin.
Due in part to the large amount of language-specific wordplay (such as punning) in the series, especially the jokes which played on Professor Calculus' partial deafness, it was always the intention not to translate literally, instead striving to sculpt a work whose idioms and jokes would be meritorious in their own right; however, in spite of the free hand Hergé afforded the two, they worked closely with the original text, asking for regular assistance to understand Hergé's intentions. The English translators displayed a touch of genius in their rendering of the language spoken by the Arumbaya tribe (and that of their sworn enemies, the Rumbabas) in The Broken Ear by substituting an accurate transcription of Cockney turned into an Indian-looking vernacular for the original French version, which employed the Marollien (Marols in Flemish) dialect of Brussels.
More than simple translations, however, the English versions were anglicised to appeal to British customs and values. Milou, for example, was renamed Snowy at the translators' discretion. Moreover, the translation process served to colour the imagery within the book; the opportunity was taken to make scenes set in Britain more true-to-life, such as ensuring that the British police were free from firearms, and ensuring scenes of the British countryside were more accurate for discerning British readers. Because the translated text was placed into the original speech balloons without alteration to their original dimensions, the linguistic differences between the two languages (meaning that certain phrases were either significantly shorter or longer in the English language) led to the unexpectedly empty or full balloons which can often be seen in the English versions of the books.
Tintin's legacy includes the establishment of a market for comic strip collections; the serialisation followed by collection model has been adopted by creators and publishers in France and Belgium. This system allows for greater financial stability, as creators receive money whilst working. This rivals the American and British model of work for hire. Roger Sabin has argued that this model allowed for "in theory ... a better quality product". Paul Gravett has also noted that the use of detailed reference material and a picture archive, which Hergé implemented from The Blue Lotus onwards, was "a turning point ... in the maturing of the medium as a whole".
In the wider art world, both Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein have claimed Hergé as one of their most important influences. Lichtenstein made paintings based on fragments from Tintin's comics, whilst Warhol utilised the ligne claire and even made a series of paintings with Hergé as subject. He declared: "Hergé has influenced my work in the same way as Walt Disney. For me, Hergé was more than a comic strip artist".
In music, Tintin has been the inspiration to a number of bands and musicians. A British technopop band of the 1980s took the name The Thompson Twins after the Tintin characters. Stephen Duffy, a former member of Duran Duran, performed the minor hit single "Kiss Me" under the name "Tintin"; he had to drop the name under pressure of a copyright infringement suit. An Australian psychedelic rock band and an American independent progressive rock band have used the name "Tin Tin", and British electronic dance music duo Tin Tin Out was similarly inspired by the character. South African singer/songwriter Gert Vlok Nel compares Tintin to God in his Afrikaans song "Waarom ek roep na jou vanaand", presumably because Tintin is a morally pure character. Australian cartoonist Bill Leak often portrays the bespectacled neophyte Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd as Tintin.
Hergé has been lauded as "creating in art a powerful graphic record of the 20th century's tortured history" through his work on Tintin. whilst Maurice Horn's Encyclopaedia of World Comics declares him to have "spear-headed the post World War II renaissance of European comic art". French philosopher Michel Serres noted that the 23 Tintin albums constituted a "chef-d'oeuvre" to which "the work of no French novelist is comparable in importance or greatness".
On 1 June 2006, the Dalai Lama bestowed the International Campaign for Tibet's Light of Truth award upon the character of Tintin, along with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The award was in recognition of Hergé's book Tintin in Tibet, which the Executive Director of ICT Europe Tsering Jampa noted was "(f)or many ... their introduction to the awe-inspiring landscape and culture of Tibet". In 2001 the Hergé Foundation demanded the recall of the Chinese translation of the work, which had been released with the title Tintin in China's Tibet. The work was subsequently published with the correct translation of the title. Accepting on behalf of the Hergé Foundation, Hergé's widow Fanny Rodwell declared: "We never thought that this story of friendship would have a resonance more than 40 years later".