Unless you live under a rock, you have read, watched or at least heard about Tintin, the young fearless traveler who goes on a myriad of adventures across the world accompanied by his loyal terrier Snowy putting bad guys behind bars. Arguably the first mainstream comic hero since 1929, the character carries immense historical significance. In fact, by the year 2007, the original French comic had been translated in 70 languages, with over 230 million copies sold worldwide.
In 1929, the first volume of the Adventures of Tintin was published in the children’s weekly Le Petit Vingtième titled, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Beginning his journey from the former Soviet Union, the character’s inherent curiosity and knack for justice propelled him into a travel frenzy which took him around the world – from the United States, China, India and ultimately to the Moon!
Tintin was created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, commonly known by his pen name Hergé. An orphan and a native of Brussels, fifteen-year-old Tintin was driven by his bravery and instincts. According to Herge, he came up with the idea in under 5 minutes, completely oblivious to the fact that he was scripting history! “The idea for the character of Tintin and the sort of adventures that would befall him came to me, I believe, in five minutes, the moment I first made a sketch of the figure of this hero: that is to say, he had not haunted my youth nor even my dreams. Although it’s possible that as a child I imagined myself in the role of a sort of Tintin,” he said. However, Tintin did resemble Hergé’s earlier work, the Totor series, and was believed to be the younger brother of Totor.
The comics became an instant hit in 20th century Europe, primarily because Tintin was utterly relatable. He looked like a quintessential Boy Scout, and his now iconic tuft of spiked up, unbudging hair was unforgettable. Unlike the larger than life superheroes who prevented nuclear wars and fought monsters with their supernatural powers, Tintin had a unique set of skills. His powers were logic, strategy and winning at the race against time. Instead of killing off the antagonists in the end, they were usually handed over to the police, following the rule of law and justice.
The stories were set as close to reality as possible, and the themes were drawn from current affairs, politics, history and technology, sprinkled with slapstick comedy. His friends, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, detectives Thomson and Thompson, and opera singer Bianca Castafiore, who helped him forage through seemingly unsolvable mysteries, also became iconic characters in and of themselves.
Tintin comics were first translated in the weekly British children’s comic Eagle in 1951. By 1958, official translators were commissioned, jointly working with Herge, Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner of Methuen Publishing. Herge’s original work was characterized by the frequent use of puns and word play, which is why the translations were not literal, retaining only the true essence and intentions of the dialogues. The names, too, were changed in accordance with British readership. For instance, Milou, Tintin’s dog, was renamed Snowy. In the same decade, the comic was picked up in America, and to date, Tintin books are also published there.
Believed to have pioneered the use of thought bubbles and movement lines, Herge’s creations were truly original and innovative. Even today, his works are known for their factual and research-based information, especially those produced after World War 2. Since Tintin loved to travel across the world, Herge also included specific geographical and cultural titbits in his work. His two-part series titled Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, were backed by extensive scientific research. The space suit created by him bore stark resemblance to the suits worn by the Apollo 11 crew years later. Perhaps it is this amalgamation of entertainment and information that made him stand out. The Adventures of Tintin had a laudable capacity of entertaining adults and children alike, and it continues to do so even today, nearly a century of its first publication.
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