Tintin Pages

The Tintin Books - by Rob Godfrey

(see also Hergé and His Creation - by Harry Thompson)

A recent survey of the all-time top Bestselling Children's Authors in the World read as follows:

1) René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
René Goscinny (1926-77) and Albert Uderzo (b. 1927) created the comic strip character Astérix the Gaul in 1959. They produced 30 books with total sales of some 250,000,000 copies.

2) Hergé
Georges Rémi (1907-83), the Tintin books have been translated into about 45 languages and dialects. Total sales are believed to be at least 160,000,000.

3) Enid Blyton
With sales of her Noddy books exceeding 60,000,000 copies, and with more than 700 children's books to her name, total sales of her works are believed to be over 100,000,000, making her the best-selling English-language author of the 20th century.

Dr. Seuss comes in at fourth place, with sales of more than 100,000,000, Beatrix Potter in fifth place, with sales of more than 50,000,000, and Lewis Carroll in sixth place, put there by his two classic children's books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The Tintin books continue to sell more than 4 million copies a year worldwide, and they are bought by as many adults as children. It is perhaps this universal appeal that makes the Tintin books so unique. Hergé detested all the "pseudo-intellectual rubbish" put forth by the Tintin scholars and pundits to explain this universal appeal. He described the Tintin adventures as being like a neopolitan cake: one layer for very young children, one layer for older children and one layer for adults. A good example of this cross-age appeal can be found in The Crab With The Golden Claws (1941). Captain Haddock makes his first appearance in the Tintin adventures in The Crab With The Golden Claws and is a very pitiful character indeed, a manipulated, defeated alcoholic who drew any courage he might have from the bottle. Who can forget the scenes where Tintin and the Captain are stranded in the Sahara Desert, with the Captain going through severe withdrawal symptoms and imagining Tintin to be a bottle of wine. He tries to rip Tintin's head off, thinking it's a cork. The horrors of alcoholism are shown throughout The Crab With The Golden Claws, yet it's done in such a way, and with such humour, that children can read it on a less sophisticated level.

Georges Rémi, aka Hergé

Other examples of this multi-layered approach to storytelling are The Calculus Affair, which is a cold war satire, and Tintin in Tibet, a Freudian exorcism of Hergé's personal demons. The early Tintin adventures, though, lacked this sophistication, and act as markers in Hergé's artistic development, a development that had humble and somewhat dubious origins.

Tintin began life in 1926 in Le Boy Scout magazine as a character called Tutor (the boy scout). At the time, Hergé was an assistant in the photo department of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle, which was published by Abbé Norbert Wallez, a friend of Mussolini who had a photograph of the Duce on his desk, inscribed: "To Norbert Wallez, friend of Italy and of Fascism, with affection and comradeship, 1924".

In 1928, Norbert Wallez offered Hergé the editorship of a new children's supplement called Le Petite Vingtiém (the "Little Twentieth") which Norbert Wallez envisioned as a route towards winning children to the side of Belgian fascism. Norbert Wallace wanted a comic strip in Le Petite Vingtiém, and Hergé would draw it. The early comic strip characters were not a success with the readers, and so at the end of 1928 Hergé announced a new leading character for the children's supplement. This character was to be Tutor, now renamed Tintin.





Tintin was an immediate success with the readers, and his first adventure, Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets (1929), a rambling slapstick comedy in which Tintin took on the evil communists, perfectly fitted Norbert Wallace's fascist ideals. Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets was followed by Tintin In The Congo and Tintin In America. All three adventures were released in book form in 1930, 1931 and 1932 respectively, and they are all largely plot-free, happy-go-lucky adventures; cheap right wing propaganda aimed at children. They have been widely criticised for using crude racial stereotypes, sexism, and promoting animal cruelty. Hergé later described the first two Tintin adventures as a "sin of youth" and said "....I am not trying to excuse myself. I admit that my early books were typical of the Belgian bourgeois mentality of the time."

In 1934, a meeting with a young Chinese student, Chang Chong-Chen, changed Hergé's attitude to his work. Chang taught Hergé about Chinese culture, art, literature, and drawing styles, and this helped Hergé to break away from the rather crude racial stereotypes that were present in his earlier work. The fourth Tintin book, Cigars Of The Pharaoh (1934), was a radical departure from its predecessors. Almost overnight, Tintin had become pacy, witty, stylish and mysterious. The random slapstick of the earlier books had been replaced by beautifully observed character comedy, not least in the newly introduced characters Thompson and Thomson, the two bungling detectives. The next Tintin adventure, The Blue Lotus (1936), followed on with this sophistication and it was also the first Tintin book to be meticulously researched. Every location is scrupulously accurate, every fact verifiable. Chang's influence is obvious. The Blue Lotus is a satire set around real-world events - the actions of the Japanese in China and the International Settlement in Shanghai turning a blind eye to it - and caused such a stir when it was published that the Japanese threatened to take the Belgian government to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, demanding that the book be banned. In direct contrast to the fascism and neocolonialism of the first three books, Tintin had become an international social crusader and chronicler of major world events. The Blue Lotus was also the first Tintin book designed to appeal directly to adults as well as children.





Hergé learnt a lesson from Blue Lotus: he would continue to attack the manipulative, the aggressive and power-hungry of this world, but not directly by name. Instead, he would satirise them through parody. His next book, and sixth Tintin adventure, did just this: The Broken Ear (1937) is set in South America and involves two banana republics, San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico, who were direct parodies of Bolivia and Paraquay, while the story itself is a fierce attack on the international arms dealers who were fuelling their long-running feud, the "War of Gran Chaco", which had ground on senselessly for four years at a cost of 100,000 lives. However, despite all these enticing ingredients The Broken Ear is a somewhat disapointing Tintin adventure because the various elements don't gel together very well.

The Black Island (1938) is a straightforward crime story involving a gang of forgers in Scotland (forgery was a very topical subject in the 1930's). Hergé's somewhat quaint view of Britain can be seen in the context of the Nazi cloud then hanging over Europe, and Britain in the late 1930's being viewed as a tranquil and appealing place. The Black Island, both artistically and as a comedy, outstrips its predecessors and remains one of the best selling Tintin adventures.

Hergé got back on the crusading path with King Ottokar's Sceptre (1939), which was directly inspired by the "Anschluss", Hitler's annexation of Austria in March 1939. Once again we see two fictitious countries, Syldavia and Borduria, this time standing in for Austria and Germany (the Bordurian officers wear SS-style uniforms). The contrast between Borduria's muscular fascism and the quiet rural idyll it threatened was pointed, even poignant. King Ottokar's Sceptre has great excitement value as a children's story and is extremely witty; however, the underlying message it contained was a serious one. Hergé is often portrayed as a collaborator during the war, yet in King Ottokar's Sceptre he was clearly broadcasting his anti-Nazi convictions, and he continued to do so in his next Tintin adventure, even though war with Germany was clearly only weeks away.





Land Of Black Gold was going to be the next Tintin adventure, yet barely had it got under way when war broke out and Hergé was called-up for service in the Belgian army (where he was given "the extremely important mission" of requisitioning bicycles from farms, presumably in case they might be useful when the German panzers rolled into Belgium). The plot of Land Of Black Gold was based around political intrigue and sabotage, with an explosive chemical being inserted into petrol supplies at their Arabian source. The German villain of the story was Dr Muller (who was also the criminal mastermind in The Black Island) leaving little doubt that with Land Of Black Gold Hergé was going to attack the Nazis again. He continued working on Land Of Black Gold while in military service, but then the Germans invaded Belgium and the new Tintin adventure came to a halt on page 27.

In German occupied Belgium it was not a good idea to write anti-Nazi books, and so Land Of Black Gold was never finished in its original concept. After the war, Hergé went back to it, and, casting around for something more relevent to satirise, he recast it against the backdrop of the Jewish-Palestinian struggle in the fledgling state of Israel, and in particular the attacks on the British colonial authorities by the terrorist groups Irgun and Stern. Thus, Land Of Black Gold has a somewhat fragmentary air about it and is out of sync with the rest of the Tintin canon. It was begun in 1939 as the ninth Tintin adventure, but ended-up being published in 1950 as the sixteenth Tintin adventure.

In retrospect it is easy to say that Hergé was a Nazi sympathizer, since he never joined a resistance movement, or fled to Britain in order to fight the Nazis. In the 1940's, Hergé did the same thing as most people in Nazi occupied Europe; ie, he tried to earn a living and stay alive. This meant that the next Tintin adventure would have to drop politics like a hot brick. The Crab With The Golden Claws (1941) is a drug smuggling mystery set in the safely neutral territory of French Morocco. The lack of satire and politics in this new Tintin adventure allowed Hergé to concentrate more on plot and to develop a new style of character comedy. In particular, we see the first appearance of Captain Haddock, a drunken sailor who was to remain Tintin's stalwart companion throughout most of the following adventures. It was with Captain Haddock in mind that Hergé set about his next Tintin book, The Shooting Star.

The Shooting Star (1942) is perhaps the most remarkable of all the wartime Tintin books, and is the first that gives the reader a peek into Hergé's psyche. The plot of The Shooting Star centres around a giant meteorite that is heading directly for earth, about to bring an end to civilisation. Instead, the meteor veers harmlessly away, leaving behind an earth tremor and a slab of meteorite in the Arctic Ocean. The meteorite slab contains a valuable mineral and two rival expeditions set out to find it. Hergé did not usually go in for symbolism, preferring to score points with humour, but wartime was a special case. The sense of doom in the opening pages of The Shooting Star is palpable, with the frames drawn in stark contrasts of light and shade and the style downbeat. The streets of occupied Brussels convey a menace that leaves little doubt what the approaching meteor is supposed to represent; but Hergé is producing the book under the watchful eye of the Gestapo (during the war Hergé was working for Le Soir, a nazi controlled newspaper) and so the race to find the meteorite slab in the Arctic Ocean becomes a rivalry between a European expedition and an American expedition. The Americans are cast in the role of the bad guys. This perceived anti-Americanism (which can also be found to some extent in The Broken Ear) is one reason why The Adventures of Tintin were never widely published in the USA until recent years (by Little Brown). If things had been different, Hergé could have well been the bestselling children's author of all time, instead of being in second place to his old rival, Astérix the Gaul.





The Secret Of The UnicornRed Rackham's Treasure (1943) double length story also avoided politics. It is a good old fashioned treasure hunt, the first book setting the mystery, the second book resolving it. Hergé's treasure hunt sees a transformation in Tintin's life. The boy reporter grows-up somewhat and becomes an adventurer. Tintin's old address at 26 Labrador Road, and his long suffering landlady, Mrs Finch, are left behind for a life of luxury at Captain Haddock's new stately home, Marlinspike. We also see the first appearance of Cuthbert Calculus, Hergé's perfect absent-minded professor. Red Rackham's Treasure was so popular with the readers that almost immediately upon publication it became the best-selling Tintin adventure. In 1952 the two treasure hunt books were chosen by Casterman to become the first Tintin books to be published in England.

Such was the success of the treasure hunt books that Hergé decided to reproduce it in his next Tintin adventure, The Seven Crystal BallsPrisoners Of The Sun. The Seven Crystal Balls is the last of Hergé's wartime stories. It was begun in December 1943, but wasn't completed until 1948. In the meantime there was the allied invasion of Europe, the collapse of Germany, and Hergé being thrown in jail as a collaborator (after the liberation of Belgium in 1944 a newspaper started-up a parody comic strip called The Adventures Of Tintin And Snowy In The Land Of The Nazis). Hergé spent two years unemployed and in disgrace. He passed in and out of police hands four times and was hassled by a number of resistance groups. Hergé was not alone in his suffering: it was the kind of treatment metered out in newly liberated Belgium to all those who were thought to have collaborated with the nazis.

It seemed as though Tintin was finished, unless Hergé could get a "certificate of good citizenship", without which he was barred from working. Help came at the end of 1945 in the form of the publisher Raymond Leblanc. Leblanc was a hero of the resistance, and also a huge Tintin fan. He obtained a "certificate of good citizenship" for Hergé and in 1946 he started-up Tintin magazine, a new weekly in full colour. Hergé's star was on the ascent and he was able to complete the The Seven Crystal Balls (1948) – Prisoners Of The Sun (1949) duology, a mystery in the Tutenkhamun mould that took Tintin & Co to a lost Inca temple in Peru.

The strain of the war years and its aftermath, his mother's nervous breakdown, the break-up of his business partnership with Raymond Leblanc and the continuing disintegration of his marriage all ensured that Hergé would not begin the next Tintin adventure for a number of years. It was to be Hergé's first new Tintin adventure since 1943, when he had begun his abortive attempt at The Seven Crystal Balls, and he wanted it to be another two-parter, following on with the commercial success of the two treasure books and the two Peruvian books. The results were to surpass all Hergé's expectations, becoming in the process the most famous of all the Tintin stories. Destination Moon (1953) – Explorers On The Moon (1954) was a technical masterpiece that came from a fanatical attention to detail that far outstripped any of Hergé's previous efforts. When Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out on to the surface of the moon from their Apollo spacecraft, all the world gasped. All that is, except Tintin readers, who had already known for two decades that the moon looked like that. Hergé's moon adventure is a work of genius, easily on a par with the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.




Hergé's fanatical attention to detail carried through into the next Tintin adventure, The Calculus Affair (1956). With the Soviets' development of the atom bomb in 1953, the nuclear threat dominated the news and The Calculus Affair was Hergé's contribution to the cold war debate. In The Calculus Affair Hergé went back to the single-volume format, and if it is not the most impassioned of his political satires, it is undoubtedly the most witty and sophisticated and the depiction of communist "Borduria" and its pretensions is perfectly observed. The Calculus Affair is often cited as the best Tintin book of all and shows Hergé at the height of his artistic achievement.

The Red Sea Sharks (1958) has something of the flavour of a Tintin family reunion, in that there are so many familiar faces floating around. The story is based entirely on facts, and rather grim ones at that. Hergé had read a newspaper exposé about an arab airline ferrying black African pilgrims to Mecca which was diverting its planes and selling its customers as slaves. Hergé fictionalised the story and it formed the basis of The Red Sea Sharks. The book also shows a hint of the turmoil Hergé was going through in his private life, with a few wry jokes at his own expense here and there, and in the sporadic torture of Captain Haddock by a cast of characters straight out of Hergé's own nightmares. It wasn't until the next Tintin adventure, though, that Hergé's personal life suddenly irrupted into Tintin's with a vengeance.

By the late 1950's, Hergé's marriage was on the rocks. He had a mistress, an attractive girl half his age who shared many of his interests and regarded him as a genius. The tidal wave of guilt this unleashed in the mind of someone brought up in turn-of-the-century catholic Belgium cannot be underestimated. Torn between loyalty to a long-standing relationship, and the potential release offered by a new liason, Hergé began to experience white dreams. These white dreams were not merely troublesome, they were blinding white, screaming nightmares. So troubled was Hergé that he went to see a Swiss psychoanalyst called Ricklin, who had been a pupil of Jung. Ricklin advised Hergé to stop working, which was what Hergé wanted to hear, since he had already considered giving up Tintin for a career in abstract art. In the event, Hergé ignored Ricklin's advice and decided to draw out his troubles through Tintin in Tibet, a book of overwhelming whiteness and purity.

Tintin in Tibet (1960) involves Chang, a friend of Tintin's, supposedly dying in an air crash in the Himalayas. Tintin sheds a tear at the news (Chang is the only character Tintin ever cries for), before suddenly deciding that his friend is not dead after all. Tintin decides to mount an expedition into the inhospitable snows of the Himalayas, to bring their friendship out alive and intact once again. It was the first time since the war that Hergé had drawn out his own thoughts and aspirations through Tintin, although the unwilling Captain Haddock is always on hand, a constant reminder of the other half of Hergé's personality.

Aside from the general whiteness at the heart of the book, there are a number of scenes that are symbolic of breaking ties and letting go. Hergé emerged refreshed from Tintin in Tibet, his guilt and white nightmares banished, determined to settle his emotional dilema at last. He divorced his wife and married his mistress. The effects of this enormous weight lifted from Hergé's shoulders can be seen in his next book, The Castafiore Emerald, which is a model of relaxation.





Technically, at least, The Castafiore Emerald (1963) is Hergé's masterpiece, marking the high tide of his creative abilities. To most critics it is the finest Tintin adventure, if not the finest comic book ever written. It is certainly Hergé's most adult adventure, a relative failure with the public in as far as it puzzled many of his younger readers. Tintin had come so far from the knockabout children's character of the Congo as to be almost unrecognisable.

The subject of the story, in as far as there is one, concerns an unexpected visit to Marlinspike by Bianca Castafiore, her maid Irma and her pianist Wagner, and the disapearance every hour or so of her jewels. Behind this light superstructure, Hergé plays a series of games with his readers – he admits as much by depicting Tintin looking directly out of the front cover illustration, finger to his lips. Structurally, the book is a catalogue of false expectations for the reader. Almost every page ends in a cliffhanger, and the atmosphere of tension never flags, without any definite result. "My ambition", explained Hergé, "was to try and tell a tale in which absolutely nothing happened, simply to see whether I was capable of keeping the reader's attention to the end". The result was wildly successful, "a triumph of repose", as Hergé put it.

When the story reached its close, Hergé had been drawing the adventures of Tintin continuously for thirty-four years. The Castafiore Emerald was the full stop at the end of the list. On the last page of the book the final speech bubble is from Captain Haddock's parrot, and it says: "Blistering barnacles, that's the end!", and sure enough, after completing The Castafiore Emerald Hergé announced that there would be no more Tintin adventures for the time being.

Hergé spent the next four years painting and exploring his love of abstract art. However, the real love of his life remained Tintin, and so he started work on what he thought was going to be the final Tintin adventure. Flight 714 (1968) was artistically one of his greatest achievements, and with more use of long shot and the close-up than ever before Hergé showed the cinematic ingenuity of his compositions. Flight 714 was also a return to thriller mode that delighted Hergé's readers. The story revolves around a millionaire's jet which is hijacked and flown to a small island in the Indian Ocean, controlled by Sondonesian nationalist guerrillas. Hergé had a few surprises up his sleeve, one of which being that the island is also a landing place for extraterrestrials, an extremely fashionable subject in the 1960's, when Eric von Daniken was launching his "Was-God-An-Astronaut?" craze. The final scenes, as the lights of the spaceship appear against the night sky, are extremely reminiscent of the 1977 film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and it is interesting that Stephen Spielburg, who directed that film, should be such a keen Tintin fan.

While working on Flight 714 Hergé developed eczema on his hands, something that had happened in the past whenever he grew tired of drawing Tintin adventures. He confessed, "I've fallen out of love with Tintin. I just can't bear to see him". Hergé had reached his sixtieth birthday while working on Flight 714 and now announced that he was going to enjoy his retirement, Tintin-free. He bought a big house. He made plans to see the world. He announced that he had given up arguements of any description. It was time to relax.
The Castafiore Emerald or Flight 714 would have been high notes to end on, but for some reason, eight years after finishing Flight 714 Hergé came out of retirement to produce one more Tintin book. The result was Tintin And The Picaros (1976), which is based around the Régis Debray affair, when a French writer was imprisoned in Bolivia after being falsely accused of helping the guerrilla leader Che Guevara.

The first thing everyone noticed about Tintin And The Picaros was that after close on fifty years of sterling service, Tintin's famous plus fours had gone. They were replaced by a pair of anodyne brown trousers, which, on the front cover of the book, had flares. Tintin himself had taken to riding a motorbike with a CND symbol on his helmut. Nester the faithful butler listened at doors and was caught drinking his master's whisky. Captain Haddock revealed with embarrassment that his christian name was Archibald, and described Tintin's own name as "grotesque"… Hergé was subverting his characters, apparently bored with them. Hergé had gone through a lot of torment to produce Tintin And The Picaros (he made two visits to a clinic in the USA in an attempt to cure the eczema that accompanied his every attempt to draw Tintin) but the effort was thrown away in a wave of cynicism that pervades the book. There are some great scenes in Tintin And The Picaros, and it is painstakingly researched and historically accurate, yet it lacks the freshness and appeal of the previous Tintin adventures. It wasn't a good note to end on.

Hergé suffered pulmonary failure on 25th February 1983 and fell into a coma. He was rushed to St. Luc University Clinic in Brussels, where he died at 10pm on 3rd March. He was 75 years old. A wave of shock filled the French-speaking world and the death of Hergé filled the front pages of the newspapers. After the initial reaction had subsided there was much speculation about what was going to happen to Hergé's unfinished Tintin adventure, Tintin And Alph-Art.

Many critics like to think that Tintin And Alph-Art was set to be Hergé's last great masterpiece – but that is surely wishful thinking. All there is to show for seven years work are 42 pages of the roughest pencil sketches. The plot of Alph-Art, at least as far as it went, was based on the trial of Fernand Legros, an art dealer charged with forgery. Hergé had started the story Enid Blyton-style, with no idea of how it would end – a bad sign. The assistants in Hergé's studio offered to finish the book, but his family decided that this should not happen, that Alph-Art should be preserved in aspic. Thus, those 42 pages of rough black and white sketches were published in 1986. Tintin And Alph-Art stands as a curiosity in much the same way as Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets does. The first and last Tintin books, separated by more than half a century, have a curious symmetry about them.

Georges Rémi's legacy can be seen in book stores all around the world, in the joy and excitement on the faces of both children and adults as they go to buy one of "Hergé's Adventures Of Tintin".

(see also Hergé and His Creation - by Harry Thompson)

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e-mail: rob@spiderbomb.com