21 April 2009
The 80th Anniversary of Hergé's
Adventures of Tintin
by Donny Jacobs
The Seven Crystal Balls
(Les Sept Boules de Cristal)
originally published in 1943, revised in color in 1946
With the end of World War II came the closing down of France's Le Soir newspaper. As a result, this story of a mystery illness afflicting the members of an Andean expedition was interrupted for several years while Hergé sought out a new publisher. Professor Calculus is kidnapped (not for the last time) and Tintin, Snowy and Haddock set off for Peru to rescue him. General Alcazar (deposed and now working in Europe as a knife-thrower) and a brunette Bianca Castafiore make cameo appearances.
Prisoners Of The Sun
(Le Temple du Soleil)
originally published in 1946
This continuation of The Seven Crystal Balls was the first Tintin story to be serialized in the character's own magazine, and published in color only. Tintin, Snowy and Haddock find Professor Calculus prisoner inside an ancient Inca temple, and the whole main cast faces execution by burning at the stake. A boy guide named Zorrino, a cavern hidden behind a waterfall, priceless Incan treasures, and a solar eclipse figure into this most colorful of all Tintin adventures. It includes a phallic symbol dream sequence with sharp double entendre that's almost too suggestive to believe! Prisoners Of The Sun, the basis for a 1969 Belgian animated film called Temple Of The Sun, is also notable for Captain Haddock's hilarious encounters with Peruvian llamas; these are some of the best comedy scenes Hergé ever conceived.
Land Of Black Gold
(Tintin au Pays de L'Or Noir)
originally published in 1948
Begun in 1939 as a serialized strip for Le Petit Vingtième, this story was abandoned when Germany annexed Belgium; Hergé feared its political content would bring reprisal from the new Nazi régime. After the war, he revised and colorized the tale for publication in Tintin Magazine. Land Of Black Gold takes the Belgian boy hero and The Thom(p)sons to Palestine, where they pursue fuel supply saboteurs led by Dr. Müller. They also meet the Emir Ben Kalish and his impish son, Prince Abdullah. Abdullah is a brat supreme who quickly becomes Hergé's greatest slapstick vehicle, but for good measure, the author also afflicts The Thom(p)sons with an outrageous recurring malady in this adventure. Captain Haddock appears late in the narrative to rescue Tintin; his strong but unarticulated feelings for the young man are a subtle subtext of the story.
originally published in 1950
Hergé anticipates space flight and sends Tintin, Snowy, Haddock and The Thom(p)sons on an exciting voyage to the moon. Professor Calculus heads the expedition and designs a gear-looking checkerboard rocket for the trip. The gadgetry-filled story has a nail-biter of a cliffhanger ending whose resolution fans had to wait two years for. In the opening sequence, it's made known that Tintin and Snowy have now taken up residence at Marlinspike Hall with their friends Haddock and Calculus.
Explorers On The Moon
(On A Marché sur La Lune)
originally published in 1952
Captain Haddock executes a drunken spacewalk, and a romantic ballet in zero gravity sheds new light on the Thom(p)sons' relationship. Meanwhile, Tintin makes history as the first man to set foot on the Moon. This is a superb story filled with fantasy, danger, sabotage, suicide, repentance, heroism and tenderness as well as the usual slapstick touches. Explorers On The Moon was easily Hergé's best Tintin strip to date.
The Calculus Affair
originally published in 1956
Tintin, Snowy and Haddock once again fly to Professor Calculus's rescue when he's kidnapped by Bordurian agents eager to steal his latest invention. Insufferable insurance salesman Joylon Wagg and comic relief character Cutts The Butcher make their début in this story. Bianca Castafiore also appears in a brief but pivotal sequence that anticipates Hergé using her more prominently in future adventures.
The Red Sea Sharks
(Coke en Stock)
originally published in 1958
Tintin, Snowy and Haddock return to Palestine to aid the Emir Ben Kalish, who has been overthrown. Along the way, they tangle with modern slave traders allied to the evil Dr. Müller, encounter La Castafiore partying with a disguised Rastapopoulos on his yacht, and find a new ally in Piotr Skut, a fighter pilot who almost guns them down. Meanwhile back at Marlinspike Hall, Prince Abdullah has cruel fun with Professor Calculus and the housekeeping staff; the Emir has shipped his prankster son off to Haddock's home to keep him out of harm's way. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you enjoy Three Stooges-style humor), nobody can keep Abdullah's victims out of harm's way!
Tintin In Tibet
(Tintin au Tibet)
originally published in 1960
Peril crossing the Tibetan mountains takes a backseat to a three-way unrequited love story in this, Hergé's most daring and sophisticated Tintin tale. The (again, unrequited) love triangle involves Tintin, Haddock, and Tintin's long-absent friend Chang. In addition, the fearsome Abominable Snowman of legend plays a peripheral (and perhaps metaphorical) role. Yet another dream sequence loaded with phallic symbols hints at Haddock's hidden feelings for Tintin, but a climactic accident which nearly costs him his life reveals a loving bond between them that is mutual, if unexpressed. With its provocative subtext and unmistakeable poignancy, Tintin In Tibet raised the strip to the level of serious literature; when you consider the time it was published, the story seems more amazing each time you read it. The author camouflaged the homoerotic nuances so successfully, most Tintin fans still don't recognize their meaning.
The Castafiore Emerald
(Les Bijoux de La Castafiore)
originally published in 1963
Bianca Castafiore finally takes center stage in a comedic adventure about a romance that never was and a jewel robbery that never happened. Professor Calculus's crush on La Castafiore is revealed in this story, which takes place almost entirely at Marlinspike Hall. Gypsies, capricious birds, French tabloid reporters, a TV crew, and Joylon Wagg's smarmy comment that he was "almost fooled" about Captain Haddock's affectional preference (blink, and you'll miss the insinuation) adorn this charming diversion from the strip's usual derring-do. This is also the story where Captain Haddock dreams of attending an opera performance in the nude, surrounded by hundreds of angry parrots! The use of bird beaks as phallic symbols alone proved that, by the early '60s, Hergé was getting more "out there" all the time.
Flight 714 To Sydney
(Vol 714 pour Sydney)
originally published in 1968
Beginning and ending in an airport(the flight referenced in the title never actually occurs), this bizarre story involves UFOs, mental telepathy and a Rastapopoulous plot to control the mind of a Howard Hughes-inspired billionaire recluse. Tintin, Haddock, Snowy and Piotr Skut escape from a diabolical island trap with help from outer space aliens! After the adventure has concluded, only Snowy can recall what happened. Hergé's satirical pen takes deadly aim at the ruling classes in the exchange between Rastapopoulous and the eccentric billionaire.
Tintin and The Picaros
(Tintin et Les Picaros)
originally published in 1976
This was the final completed adventure. An old enemy lures Tintin back to South America by imprisoning Bianca Castafiore and condemning to death her new security detail, the Thom(p)sons. Oddly enough, it's Haddock and Calculus who are champing at the bit for action instead of the Quiffed One, who initially shows little concern for his friends' misfortune. In the story's riotous climax, Tintin, Snowy and Haddock rescue the Thom(p)sons in the nick of time and simultaneously help General Alcazar foment a peaceful revolution disguised in Mardi Gras costumes. Further livening up the proceedings is La Castafiore in grand diva mode, and a new female character, the General's domineering wife Peggy. Growing ever more daring in his old age, Hergé definitively "outs" the Thom(p)sons as a Gay couple (you heard it here!), and Professor Calculus invents an antidote for alcoholism, much to Captain Haddock's disdain. Where the strip would have gone in light of these developments is anybody's guess.
The final Tintin story was to be called L'Alph-Art, and would have had the European modern art scene as its backdrop. It was aborted by Hergé's death in March of 1983. Preserved in rough draft form, the unfinished strip was published three years later; devoid of color and Hergé's trademark ligne claire drawing style, it's strictly for Tintin completists. As a wrap-up to the series, Tintin and The Picaros seems far more fitting; its celebration and liberation themes, along with the reunion of old friends, sound an appropriate note to end on.
If L'Alph-Art isn't an essential addition to the Tintin narrative, the same is doubly true of certain ill-conceived productions that have hit the market since Georges Remi’s death. The bootleg comic Tintin In Thailand is deliberately obscene and disgraceful. The “legitimate” text novel Tintin In Love takes liberties with Remi’s characters that are equally objectionable. These books aren't legitimate additions to the Tintin saga, but shameful attempts to sexualize the Belgian boy hero in ways his creator didn’t intend. Let's hope Stephen Spielberg's forthcoming Tintin movie, slated for release in 2011, will steer clear of explicit sexuality. The emphasis should be kept on the strip's trademark action and slapstick elements.
Spielberg's interest reflects the high level of popularity The Adventures Of Tintin still enjoy. First translated into English in 1958, by then the Tintin books had already been made available in dozens of languages. The list of countries the Quiffed One has traveled to is dwarfed by the host of countries his strip has become popular in: China, Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Jerusalem, Sweden, Korea, Japan, Greece and various African territories, just to name a few! At last count, over 200 million books had been sold internationally.
Spielberg won't be the first to film Hergé's characters; since the 1940s, they’ve appeared in both animated and live action features. There was also a Canadian TV series produced in both English and French. During his lifetime, Hergé co-wrote two Tintin stage plays: Tintin in India and The Disappearance of Boullock. Stage works are still being commissioned; several years ago, a Tintin musical toured Belgium and France, and last year, a new production was mounted in London.
Since January 2009, birthday celebrations have been going full-force across the globe, but here at the Pop Culture Cantina, they've just begun. Alors, allons-y! Belly up to the bar and raise a glass of Captain Haddock's favorite whisky, Loch Lomond. Let’s toast the past, present and future of Tintin, Belgium's most celebrated international export.
Regardless of whether you consider the boy hero an icon of commercial art, children's literature or Gay history, no matter if you live in Europe, Africa, Asia or the United States, the pleasure you derive from reading a vintage Tintin adventure will always be the same. It's nearly impossible to get people of diverse backgrounds and opinions to agree on anything anymore, but every now and then, a point of universal agreement is found. The indisputable coolness of Tintin and Snowy is one of those points. Or as Snowy would say: Wooah!
All Tintin images are copyright © Hergé/Moulinsart S.A. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the copyright owner.