Tintin Pages

The Hergé Foundation: Copyright or Wrong? - by Rob Godfrey

In February 2001, Belgian police seized a cache of forgeries of a Tintin adventure book depicting the cartoon hero and his dog Snowy on a "sex holiday" in Bangkok. The police confiscated some 650 copies of a comic book entitled Tintin in Thailand. The book depicts Herge's boy hero Tintin, generally a model of propriety, engaged in homosexual acts in a bar. Snowy, a fox terrier, is depicted performing similar acts with a Siamese cat. Other scenes show reporter Tintin and his friends, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, on a pub crawl in Bangkok's notorious Pat Pong district.
The Tintin in Thailand incident is just one example - a hilarious one perhaps - of just how difficult it is to maintain copyright control over Tintin. The organisation which holds most of the copyright is the Hergé Foundation. It was Hergé's desire that Tintin would die with him, and so in 1987, Fanny Remi, Hergé's second spouse and sole heiress, replaced the Hergé Studios with the Hergé Foundation, which describes itself thus: "the Hergé Foundation is a not-for-profit association based in Brussels, where the "father" of Tintin was born. Its mission is to protect Hergé's work and develop its popularity. Protecting Hergé's works consists in ensuring that it is respected, in its content as well as its spirit. In light of this, the Hergé Foundation regularly grants authorizations for the reproduction of abstracts of Hergé's albums for non-commercial purposes. Further, the Foundation often lends its support to initiatives it considers to be both faithful to the works of Hergé's and worthy of interest." Well, Tintin in Thailand obviously didn't meet this remit!
There are actually a number of parties, officially allied to each other, which exercise varying degrees of control over the body of Hergé's work. First there is the Fanny Remi – Nick Rodwell grouping, which holds the rights over the Tintin characters (Fanny and Nick are now married). Then there are the various publishers worldwide: Casterman, long-term guardian of Tintin's dignity and holders of the copyright on the books, together with all the owners of Tintin translations across the globe. Lastly there is Leblanc's Editions du Lombard, which owns the material from Tintin Magazine and all the animated cartoons, as well as holding a stake in the rights. It would be an optimist indeed who might think that the corporate in-fighting between the parties that characterised the period following Hergé's death is now finished.
However, those who have control over Hergé's work are real fans, some of whom have been associated with Hergé for many years, and despite the muddy waters of commercialism they mostly have the best interests of Tintin at heart. For instance, Casterman negotiated a lucrative deal to bring the adventures of the quiffed boy journalist to China for the first time (although rough pirate copies of the Tintin adventures have been knocking about in China for two decades). The Chinese authorities are allowing all the Tintin books to be published, except for Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets, which they have deemed as being too anti-communist. Tintin's Chinese name is 'Ding Ding' (Thomson and Thompson have become 'Dubang and Dubang' and Snowy is 'Baixue'). A month before the Casterman Tintin launch, The New Adventures Of Ding Ding published by Haitun (a Chinese publisher) began to appear on the bookstands and a lot of complicated negotiations ensued with the Chinese copyright authorities before Casterman could retain the name.
Then, when the first edition of the official Tintin books came out (in May 2001), Casterman discovered to their horror that their Chinese partner, China Children Publishing House, had changed the title of Tintin In Tibet to Tintin In Chinese Tibet, to reflect Beijing's claim that Tibet is part of China. Hergé's widow, who's a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, refused to attend the launch ceremony in Beijing, and after a hastily convened meeting between Casterman's legal representatives and China Children Publishing House it was agreed that the title would be changed back to the original in the next edition. The furore had political aspects of course, but Casterman claimed they had to defend the authenticity of Hergé's work; and they did so at the risk of losing a lucrative contract.
Within a week of the official launch of the Chinese editions of the Tintin adventures, 220,000 books had sold out. China Children Publishing House is rushing out new editions as fast as it can. The Chinese love Tintin. The quiffed one is starting to appear everywhere, from T-shirts to cups to clocks to key rings. Hergé would have loved it, and of course it's all so wonderfully appropriate, since Chang Chong-chen, the young Chinese student in Belgium all those years ago, had such a huge influence on the Tintin books.

Note: the photo on the left shows Hergé's emotional reunion with Chang in 1981 in Brussels. It was their first meeting in fifty years.

China is a huge market, and there's tons of money to be made there. Thus far, under the guidance of the Hergé Foundation, the marketing of Tintin has been 'tasteful'. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in China, and whether Tintin will become crass, in much the same way that a certain mouse, who resembles a radioactive mutant, has become crass. Any divergence between what Hergé intended Tintin to represent, and what he might now represent in commercial terms, would indeed be regrettable. Perhaps that's a naďve thing to say; but then, Tintin managed to be naďve and get away with it.

La Fondation Hergé

Avenue Louise 162 (5th. Floor)
1050 Bruxelles
Tel. +32 (2) 62.62.421 - Fax. +32 (2) 640.41.20

Hergé Foundation website

Back to Tintin Pages

Commuter - An Installation by Rob Godfrey     The 2CV Alaska Challenge     Books by Rob Godfrey

Local Radio France     The Burgundy Blog     Poems     About/Contact