Tintin in Tibet
Written By Hergé
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
I don’t think kids should be allowed to read Tintin. It’s far too good for them and it’s enough to damage you in terms of reading comics for the rest of your life. I mean – I should know (full disclosure) – yep: I was a Tintin kid.
(My party trick was someone reading a single line from The Black Island and I could tell you who said it, in what context and what the next line was. Yeah – I know. I know).
First of all there’s the way it feels in your hand. Especially if you’ve got a hardback version. It’s larger than most other comic books and it feels – I don’t know – luxurious. It’s not too fat but too thin (52 pages exactly). It’s all kinda weighted just right and then you open it and – wow. The care and detail that’s administered to every panel is just completely stupefying. I mean as a kid you don’t even register it – it’s almost as if you’re looking through a pane of glass into the world that’s underneath. It’s almost as if you’re taking part in an unconscious process. Unlike “proper” books which you have to read and do the mental work to make the letters come alive and unlike the majority of comics out there which tend to go for somekind of stylistic art which tends to knock against the sides of eyes as you try to swallow it down Tintin is like drinking pure water. The background is utterly realistic but existing without any real light or shadow so that it’s all as direct as possible and the characters are all given clear and distinct personalities and faces which hover almost at the edge of abstraction. I mean hell – have you ever looked at Tintin’s face? It’s just a few dots and some lines contained in a circle. If you coloured him yellow and dropped some blood on him you could put him in Watchmen you know?
As a Tintin kid yeah I’m obvious biased and it makes sense that as the first comic I ever really got into it would in some sense set the standard of how I see everything that came after it – but rereading Tintin in Tibet this week in preparation for this I was stunned at just how elegantly designed the whole thing was and ever so slightly indignant that it’s so often overlooked. I mean – it’s basically like giving kids champagne while you make do with cola.
I’ll admit that there are some things that hit different reading it as an adult tho – mostly Captain Haddock and the almost non-stop jokes being made around the fact that he’s basically a raging alcoholic who will stop at nothing for a touch of the hard stuff. I mean – I know that I’m supposed to condemn it and make tut tutting noises about addiction and how good it is that society has developed to the point that making “alcoholic” as a funny character trait is no longer socially or morally acceptable but I’ve gotta say (I’m sorry) – but this shit is hilarious.
Am trying to think of proper words that can do justice to just how excellent this is in terms of comics and the potential of the medium and all of that shit but all I can really do is point and laugh with that giddy feeling you get when something is just so perfectly perfect. The way he gasps “EMPTY” and then the panel where his word balloon turns red (!!) and he’s literally hovering in the air with rage and screaming out words that aren’t even words – just a bunch of random ALL CAPS letters is just something that I find incredibly beautiful and I love it.
Why Tintin in Tibet? Well – I’ve been asking myself the same question. I did a google and apparently it’s the Tintin book that’s the most acclaimed (“a degree of perfection, both in its story and in its stunning art, that has rarely been equaled, before or since” and “arguably the best book in the series”) and I think I read something somewhere that said that it’s Hergé’s most personal work or something? Altho for me it feels a little lopsided in the way that it keeps building and building and building until you feel like it’s going to do something really crazy and then it just kinda… stops. But maybe that’s because I’ve been spoiled by things that have come since.
I think my personal favourite is Flight 714 to Sydney just because it’s so fucking cool and weird and it’s basically Tintin meets Lost with exactly the kind of climax that I love (altho it’s been many years since I’ve read it so maybe I’m mixing it up with my dreams of what I think it’s like…). Also the whole double parts are like epic movies in my head – The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure; The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun and – of course – Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon (which also has a really really cool ending that makes me hear Hans Zimmer music in my head when I think of it). And man – just listing them makes me want to go off and reread them. Also I think I read a thing once that said that The Castafiore Emerald is the best story ever written where nothing actually happens.
So yeah I don’t know – maybe we can just use this as a way to talk about all the Tintin books at once (what’s your favourite and why?) or maybe if it goes really well we can even come back to him at some point in the future?
Also – we all agree that this stuff is way superior to Asterix right? Cool.
Here’s a question: How did they colour those panels? Remember most of these were done pre-digital. The best answer I’ve found is ‘with gouache’, but I use gouache regularly, and I can’t even imagine getting colour that smoooooooth. And then did they ink over the top? It’s something I’ve been trying to copy for ages, with not much success.
I am a massive fan of the Ligne Claire (it is french for ‘clean line’ and that makes it sound more important) style herge and moebius use, it really pings a happy button deep in my brain. Everything’s so crisp and clean-cut and precise, which you can do fun things with by contrasting it with shades-of-grey storis and characters.
I was disappointed to find out that Herge (sorry, I’m too lazy to find the accent combo :P) actually only drew the characters for most of the strips, using the manga trick of getting some intern to do the fancy time-gobbling backgrounds.
But whatever, the art is great. Look at that Haddock scene – the way he cradles that bottle like it’s truly precious to him, then explodes with rage afterwards. While it might do fun things with text, you don’t even need it for that scene! The body language throughout Tintin is glorious. It’s not quite Moebius (obviously), but it’s not a million miles off.
Weekend at Arnie’s
I am nodding in agreement at what you have both said about the extremely pleasing physical qualities of the books – the feel of it in your hands, the clean lines. Those bright, detailed, naturalistic backgrounds appealed to the same part of my childhood that loved dinosaur books, children’s encyclopaedias, and endless exploded diagrams of Mediaeval castles and big machines; the sense of adventure, of travelling to other lands that never quite existed outside the European imagination, hit the same buttons as Indiana Jones. Often I think Tintin is a bit like what would happen if one of those children’s encyclopaedias sprang to life. On the small island where I grew up the library was just a single room in the village hall (the cinema was next door; the projector broke down during a showing of Fantasia 2000, and never worked again). Among their surprisingly good children’s collection was the entire Tintin series, and I on Saturday mornings I would spend what felt like hours there lost in the world of Studios Hergé while my mum did the shopping. It’s as deeply embedded in my childhood as the smell of cut grass. The version I have from Brighton’s better stocked library is paperback, which is very disappointing.
Anyway – I’m a little surprised that Tintin in Tibet is considered the best of the series. Not that I don’t like it, but it would never come up if I had to list my favourites; the depiction of Nepal and Tibet is very beautiful, but neither particularly deep nor varied, and although Captain Haddock is always the best part of these books, Tintin and Chang are hardly dynamite. When I was a kid I would probably have gravitated to the middle books like The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun, part of the fantasy image I had then of South America as a semi-mythical land of infinite adventure. The first part is an effective little thriller, part two is a great romp through the Andes with a lot more stuff going on than Tintin in Tibet. Or The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, which I always loved for how they mix the more straightforward adventure stuff (the shark submarine, buried treasure, deserted islands) with these more modern aspects (the criminal conspiracy, the disappointment of the expedition). Now, as an adult, I think I’m most drawn to some of the later ones, especially The Calculus Affair and Tintin and the Picaros (though I share Joel’s love for Flight 714).
Both, of course, share a lot of the same characters: in both Tintin, Haddock, and Calculus are hunted by the villainous Colonel Sponsz, and prominently feature the opera singer Bianca Castafiore; in both Tintin and Haddock end up knowingly jumping head first into the lion’s den to rescue their most annoying friends. And both, I think, are an interesting reflection of Hergé’s increasing pacifism and what some have called pessismism, but which I think is more like acceptance. Tintin is never going to overthrow the magnificently named General Kurvi-Tasch, or change the fortunes of San Theodoros, with just his big Boy Scout heart – but he can still do good, and at least do no harm.
Per Wikipedia Tintin and the Picaros is apparently one of the least acclaimed books, in part because it does that big fandom no-no of (gasp) deconstructing its own characters. Visigoths! Kleptomaniacs! Bashi-bazouks!
Tintin and the Picaros manages to be one of the best adventures in the series – the bugged hotel, the escape from the pyramid, the helicopter pursuit through the jungle swamps, infiltrating the palace via a parade at the end – and explore its characters as they grow and change at the end of their lives. Haddock is cured (quite involuntarily) of his taste for Loch Lomond. Tintin does yoga and wears a peace sign on his moped helmet, sure, but he’s also more committed to non-violence than the roving reporter of the early series in a way that looks almost naive next to the rotating tyrants Tapioca and Alcazar. It’s in many ways an ambiguous work – nothing is really resolved by the end, the final shot the same soldiers as the beginning, just in new uniforms, the town with a new name. In one sense, you could see that as political cynicism, and a particularly lazy breed considering the long history of Europeans conflating hard-right military strongmen with even mildly authoritarian leftists in Latin America. But it’s a long way from Tintin as the Invincible Boy Scout and A Good Example For The Kids, and it’s interesting as (more or less) the final word on the character. You could read it as “here comes the new boss, same as the old boss”. You could also read it as bittersweet.
I’m curious if anyone prefers the earlier work. I like a lot of those volumes but to me Tintin only really begins when the gang gets together in The Secret of the Unicorn: Tintin is nothing without Haddock, and both are improved by Calculus. Tintin himself is something of a cipher, a bit too vague, a bit too clean-cut, such that I probably wouldn’t even have noticed much change as a kid between the Tintin of Tintin in America and the Tintin of Picaros. I mean, if you were up for those roles in a movie, there’d be no question: who in their right mind would play Tintin over Haddock? That raging drunk is the best part.
Someone help me. I’ve got Tintin fever.
It started off quite slow – I read Tintin in Tibet and was like oh yeah ho hum I guess that’s good. A few nice moments now and then but I don’t think I need to go away and read the whole Tintin back catalogue and so then of course (of course) I went back and started reading the whole Tintin back catalogue (like I said I got the fever).
And yeah gosh now I’m fully submerged I’m actually pretty convinced that Tintin in Tibet is probably the least interesting Tintn book out of them of them to talk about (oh well – you live and learn).
But it has been interesting going back and reading them all out of order (I started with late Tintin and then kinda slowly worked my way back which is a trip and a half. Like watching a dear friend slowly devolve) but let me share with you the things that I’ve managed to find so far… (And as to Alister’s query of “I’m curious if anyone prefers the earlier work” the answer is “yes!” although it depends how early you’re talking about.
Anyway – here’s the periods / stages of Tintin I’ve kinda built in my head:
Stage 1 / Pre-historic / Dream State Tintin
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets
Tintin in the Congo
Tintin in America
Cigars of the Pharaoh
The Blue Lotus
So I haven’t read the Land of the Soviets because the one time I did it gave me a headache and I’ve also avoided Tintin in the Congo because altho it’s interesting and stuff – it’s also not that much fun to read. (Is it racist is certainly a good question to ask about it although the bit that really sticks in my head is when he goes around and tries to straight up murder an elephant which seeing how Tintin is basically the character that’s the paragon of virtue inside my head is as wild as discovering a porn film starring a young Mother Teresa you know? It just doesn’t fit inside my brain right).
But I did read Tintin in America which is a book I had as a kid and wow – what can I say? Reading it as an adult is fucking strange because as a collected book that you read from beginning to end it really makes no sense at all. Like an idiot it’s only now I realise that Tintin used to be published in papers one page at a time and Tintin in America is where that comes across most obviously because it’s basically like reading someone else’s dream. It opens with Tintin getting into a cab and then a steel shutters coming down and trapping him inside – but then he manages to escape by cutting a hole to escape because of his handy saw that he always brings with him (??!!!) and it just keeps going on like that – he gets gassed and thrown into the river but then it turns out that the baddies used the wrong gas and throwing him into the river just woke him up, he gets dropped into a meat making machine but then it turns out that the workers are on strike (lol),
And then right at the end he gets tied to dumbells and dropped into the river (again) but don’t worry – it turns out the dumbbells are made of wood (!!) and etc and then it just ends and he gets a parade and roll credits.
It’s crazy. I love it.
Stage 2 / Classic Rock / First Album / No Frills Tintin (Served Neat)
The Black Island
King Ottokar’s Sceptre
The Crab with the Golden Claws
The Shooting Star
The Black Island is the Definitely Maybe of the Tintin universe. It’s A New Hope. It’s the first episode of Lost. In terms of sheer craftsmanship it’s probably the most impressive comic I’ve read in the past few years. I mean – it’s the same thing as Tintin in America where it’s basically just one thing after another – but it’s a book that works from beginning to end that just keeps uping itself with every page. It’s mesmerizing. Like if stage 1 Tintin basically feels like it was directed by David Lynch then the Black Island is pure Spielberg. The whole thing just moves to the point that once you start reading it there’s no way you can put the bastard thing down until you get to the end. Yeah it’s simple and with no much more on it’s mind than jumping around from one set piece to the next but it’s just so good. Even in terms of how it uses space – there’s a bit when he gets to The Black Island and walks around and goes up some stairs and then comes back down again and there was a door that was open that’s now been mysteriously closed (and locked!) and the way it hits you just feels really strong you know?. There’s very few comics I’ve read that spring to mind that really go to such lengths to make you feel properly aware of the physical space that they’re set in (the only one I can actually think of is Watchmen actually – which should give you some indication of just what kind of level this thing is hitting you know?)
(Those are the doors that end up being shut above – and well yeah: just from those 12 panels I feel like I could actually draw a map of The Black Island which just makes me go wow – seeing how most of the time comics kinda take place in a suspended space where the background is something that maybe fills out the panel a little but doesn’t actually feel like it’s own proper solid thing. Normally it’s only the characters that get that kind of care and attention).
And well yeah – everything about that page is a work of art. The way that your eye bounces from panel to panel. Each of them capturing a single movement but suggesting the ones that come next. The body language. Tintin’s blue sweater (distant cousin to the one that Captain Haddock ends up wearing?) and red kilt meaning that your eye is immediately drawn to him in every panel. Even the way that Snowy suspiciously sniffs that rock. It’s all genius.
And well yeah as for the others (King Ottokar’s Sceptre;The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Shooting Star) they’re all cool too. But the Black Island gets most of my love. Altho shout out to The Shooting Star being so deliriously weird especially at the start when it’s all end of the world and giant spiders and stuff.
Oh and the Crab with the Golden Claws in when Captain Haddock first gets introduced of course but I haven’t reread that one yet.
Can’t help but post the panels that Alister missed out from before tho:
I mean – you can’t argue with this stuff. It’s just pure genius.
Stage 3 / Imperial Phase Tintin
The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackham’s Treasure
The Seven Crystal Balls / Prisoners of the Sun
Land of Black Gold
Destination Moon / Explorers on the Moon
These are the middle books where the ambitions get a little bit bigger (all of these with the exception of Land of Black Gold are two-parters). And yeah like Alister has already pointed out it’s actually pretty deadly in how effectively they mix the more straightforward adventure stuff with these more modern aspects. It’s like a proto-James Bond but with all the safety features left on and a belief that you can save the day by finding things out instead of shooting them (which is nice). The only books of this set that I’ve reread so far is Land of Black Gold which I’ve gotta admit I found kinda weird in the way that mixes up all sorts of slapstick hi-jinks (shout out to my boys Thomson and Thompson!) with this high-level international conspiracy about (literally) the price of oil which I kinda tuned out when I was reading it as a kid and I’ll admit I also kinda tuned out when I reread it now lol.
(This makes more sense in context lol)
Also you’ve gotta love Abdullah who is probably the best secondary Tintin character of all time and the only one I can think of that actually causes Tintin to lose his cool.
I’m saving Destination Moon / Explorers on the Moon til last because they’re the most epic and the ones I remember most fondly because – well yeah – they’re the ones WHERE TINTIN BECOMES THE FIRST MAN ON THE MOON.
(Fuck you Asterix).
Stage 4 / The Bloat / The Hangover Years / Tintin Spins His Wheels
The Calculus Affair
The Red Sea Sharks
Tintin in Tibet
I mean – what are you supposed to do for an encore after you’ve been to the frigging moon?
These books are kinda the day after the big night before. Walking through the bottles and cleaning up the cigarette butts. The Calculus Affair is alright but it never really takes off in the way that you’d think. The Red Sea Sharks is – well – it’s kinda a weird book actually. It’s always had a place of distinction in my mind as the very last Tintin book I ever read (damn you local libraries) just kinda feels like… ersatz Tintin. All the elements are there but it just feels fake. Like everyone is a cardboard cut-out. And every character is someone you’ve already met which just makes everything feel really small (like a new Star Wars film or something). Oh: and it’s about slave trafficking which I don’t know – feels like a little bit too much for a Tintin book to take – you know?
And Tintin in Tibet is… alright I guess? LOL
Stage 5 / The Experimental Phase / Tintin Gets Freaky
The Castafiore Emerald
Tintin and the Picaros
And this is the bit where Hergé was just like “fuck it” and where Tintin goes gloriously off the rails. (By a strange coincidence – these were also the Tintin books that I first decided to get when I started doing my little reread – so you know: make of that what you will).
The best of these is most probably The Castafiore Emerald which is the book without a story and just one of the coolest / strangest Tintin books out there in that it’s basically a meticulously constructed story about nothing at all happening. Everything is a red herring and it keeps looking like something is happening only for it then to be revealed that nothing actually happened at all. It’s totally fucking brilliant. It’s like the opposite of The Black Island where instead of trying to keep you constantly excited by having crazy and cool things happens – it’s trying to keep you just away from being bored by having – nothing happening at all (I wonder if Seinfeld is a fan?)
Then there’s Flight 714 where Tintin meets ancient aliens who save the day and then wipe his mind.
Of course I love this book. How can I not?
And then there’s Tintin and the Picaros which Alister already got into and stole loads of the things that I wanted to say.
Would like to point out tho that the thing about Tintin having a CND sticker on his helmet and driving all the Tintinologists crazy and complaining that it’s political correctness gone mad and all the rest of is basically all down to this one tiny panel:
And it’s nowhere near as much fun as the one panel where Tintin is nonchalantly doing yoga which is probably the best single Tintin panel of all time because it’s the one that makes him most feel like a real person. The type of person that just kinda nonchalantly does some yoga when he’s chatting to people and omg yes that’s exactly what Tintin would be like.
As much as I agree with Alister and do think that it’s cool that Tintin and the Picaros is where Hergé tried to mess with the formula as much as possible – I’ve gotta admit that it’s nowhere near the best Tintin book because well – it’s like eating popcorn that keeps telling you how much popcorn sucks (in fact: in that respect it’s very similar to The Last Jedi lol). I mean an adventure that tells you that the whole adventure is meaningless and that maybe Captain Haddock would have a better time if he stopped drinking and a violent revolution that has to make a pinky swear not to have any real violence is all very moral and upstanding but well – I like it when the drunk man likes to get drunk by drinking the drinks.
And when you mess with that – it doesn’t really taste like the real proper thing anymore.
But anyway. That’s far too many words about Tintin.
You really should give them a try if you haven’t already tho. Just make sure you pick the right book from the right stage. In fact – oooh – that’s a good question: which book would you give someone who’d never read a Tintin book before?
Weekend at Arnie’s
Now I want to read them all again. Apart from Tibet I don’t think I’ve seen any of them in years, so everything I say is going to be filtered through the distorting lens of nostalgia…
I would say the point with stuff like Tintin and the Picaros (I’m not touching Star Wars, you can’t fool me that easily) is that, yeah, maybe it would suck if stories were constantly deconstructing everything, but I also love to see art dissect itself (I don’t think Picaros is actually all that deconstructive in the end, or that it concludes in pointlessness, but for the sake of argument). The alcohol-free pills only work because we like seeing the drunk drink the drinks, just like The Castafiore Emerald works so well because we think we know how the story should go and Rastapopoulos has stolen the emeralds to sell drugs to good Catholic kids. I don’t see it as either/or, more like a natural part of a life cycle, for better or worse(and besides, Haddock is a mess without the hooch as well). Things get weird when nothing changes – just ask the Simpsons.
Anyway, “Which book would you give someone to start them off?” is a really good question. Maybe it depends how old they are. It feels kind of right to me to start with something like The Black Island or The Shooting Star, but I really like the characters of Tintin, so I’d probably be inclined to go for The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, which aren’t too heavy on the mythology but still have plenty of fun character stuff. Also, I just love the whole pirate story Haddock tells.
Literally all I know about Tintin in the Congo is that Tintin DRILLS INTO A RHINO’S BACK TO BLOW IT UP WITH A STICK OF DYNAMITE (I may have that wrong). It amuses me that Hergé makes fun of American racism in Tintin and America, where the Americans chase some Indians off their land at bayonet-point to get at their sweet sweet oil (more or less what actually happened to the Osage nation, albeit not in that order). Say, Belgium, what’s that you’ve been doing in the Congo? Oh nothing much? All good there is it? I think the best you can say about Hergé and race is that he really does mean well, but he’s an old school Orientalist; he has a genuine curiosity about other cultures, but he tends to depict them both in art and in writing in the broadest racial stereotypes, dated even for his time. His European characters are hardly deep and complex individuals, but they aren’t required to be load-bearing representatives of [insert exotic land here] in quite the same way.
Great summary, Joel. I have just moved from to Tintin’s home town. I realised after reading your words that it’s been many years since I last picked up any of his adventures from my shelves, and I had the urge to read a couple, but they’re still in London for now, and I’ll have to wait.
I first encountered the boy reporter as a thirteen-year-old on my first trip abroad, in the house of a girl I’d been paired with on the outskirts of Paris for a language exchange. The week (and her week back staying with our family) was largely a disaster, mainly because, though chronologically only a year older than me, she was physiologically and culturally a decade ahead. But I came out of it with Tintin, so that was enough. I loved the ligne clairedepiction of the world, as others have said. I was exposed to Asterix around the same time but it didn’t appeal – the art felt scratchy and insubstantial, too cartoony. (I realised only in adulthood that it’s a work of a separate kind of genius). But I think another reason I preferred Tintin was that it was more obviously dealing with the real world. I still prefer the realist end of the comics spectrum (particularly documentary, historical and biographical) to the fantastic end.
I should mention Hergé’s translators into British English, Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, the people who came up with Thundering Typhoons and Blistering Barnacles. Their translation is so good that for a long time as a kid I found it difficult to believe that Tintin wasn’t an anglophone production.
Interesting, Joel, that The Black Island was completely redrawn for its British edition, and that’s the version that’s become standard:
Note also this interesting interview with them from 2004, where they lament computerisation and praise the original letterer in English, Neil Hyslop
In Belgium Tintin plenty of memes, not least outside the office a couple of doors down from my new one:
I realise that this is probably pretty obvious at this point – but I would vote for The Black Island for the ideal first starting place for someone that hasn’t experienced Tintin before and wants to know what all the fuss is about. Just because – as I’ve already said – it feels like the most elegantly designed (altho special shout out to the magnifier glass / bone scene in The Crab with the Golden Claws which is a mini-masterpeice all of it’s very own).
Thinking about how it would be possible for anyone to have objections to this perfect work of art I realise that of course the obvious wrinkle is that Tintin is basically the blankest character to have ever existed in the history of western civilization. In fact I used to have a big theory about how computer games influenced Harry Potter to the point where Harry Potter himself was basically a complete blank with no real personality and seemingly no interior life to speak of – just like an avatar in a computer game (well – the ones I used to play anyway). But now I realise that Tintin stole this move all the way at the start of the century. It’s actually almost grotesque I mean – who is this freak?
What are his drives? What are his political views? Does he fuck? Does he dream? Does he have any family Was he ever a child or did he pop out fully formed wearing that blue jumper and silly little sticking out hair bit at the top of his head?
Although – wait! Forget it. He’s having another adventure! There’s no time to internalize stuff – let’s just do things.
The word you are looking for is ‘quiff’. 😉
Tintin’s name in the other language of his native city/country – Dutch – is Kuifje, which means ‘little quiff’.
Best. Tintin. Fact. Ever. Thank you 🙂
Well Joel basically took the jist of my point but i’m not clever enough to have another one –
Why do I always forget how funny Tintin comics are?
It’s got this weird spot in my brain, this serious-goody-two-shoes-broccoli spot, where I feel I should read it, rather than actively wanting to. Then every time I pick it up I get lost in the perfect farce and the gorgeous art and the oh-so-witty dialogue… *swoon*
I guess – Tintin as a character is a bit of serious-goody-two-shoes-broccoli of a person. If I was in a pub, trying to describe my friend Tintin to someone else it’d go badly:
“Tintin is this international adventurer/journalist with a heart of gold. And he’s always pretty serious. And he’s always pointing at things before he loudly runs at it and demands I go with him. And he never wants to drink, or smoke or dance or go to a McDonalds at 4 in the morning or binge Netflix. …I really just hang out with him because Haddock is a right laugh and the Thompson twins are ridiculous.”
Look at Secret of the Unicorn, that first scene has Tintin throughout, but he’s a background character so the interesting people like the Thompson twins or the baddie can churn through exposition in a witty way. Tintin just does the right thing, refuses to sell the bottle ship to the baddie, which causes the baddie to escalate his efforts to get the bottle ship – an lo we have a story. When I think about Tintin all I think about is it’s titular straight man and suddenly my brain has the entire thing down as “boring Indiana Jones”.
But in saying that, the titular broccoli is admittedly necessary for it all to hang together. Without him, the whole comic would just be chocolate and crisps (or Haddocks) and we’d all come away feeling bloated and exhausted. Keeping the broccoli around makes the chocolate all the sweeter. Without the constant of a good guy doing good things and outright telling us in exclamation marks what we should do, we wouldn’t have something for malcontents that most Tintin comics are primarily comprised of, to bounce off of.
Looking to the discussion about Tintin thus far – there’s not much that’s been said about the titular character himself, tellingly. There’s focus on the humour of Haddock (and the ethics) of joking about alcoholism. There’s the brilliant technical chat about the colouring process that elegantly outdoes its contemporaries. There’s also the inevitable discussion about the racism in the books/Herge’s attempts to make not racist books. But Tintin himself doesn’t really get a look in. (Apart from Joel – BOOO. BOOO for having ideas similar to mine.)
And that’s because he’s kind of boring and not fun. He speaks in big broad, declaratory statements. And admittedly there are moments of humour to be had with him, like in Tibet, when Snowy gets hammered off of Haddock’s leaking booze and nearly drowns and Tintin is furious at him for getting drunk. But I mean, if he’s only interesting in his reactions to his dog getting drunk – really it’s his dog’s new found drinking problem that’s the interesting thing about him and not so much Tintin. (And if it is – it’s funny because he’s so boring and straight that he can’t see the hilarity of his dog’s burgeoning alcohol problem).
But this is a visual medium too and I find myself thinking back to that Hitchcock (I think it’s Hitchcock) quote about memorable characters – the idea that all iconic characters have an instantly recognizable silhouette.
And Tintin does kind of nail that test. Anyone in Europe sees that, they know who it is. It’s Tintin, star of the beloved Herge comic series, brilliant adventuring journalist with a heart of gold and all that.
Look at the hilarious “Tintin in Dublin” parody Paul posted – the gag is predicated on goody two shoes Tintin suddenly drinking, smoking and taking an aggressive, anti-social stance the second he steps foot in Dublin. We see Tintin comics not as the brilliantly witty, incredibly drawn adventures that they are – but as old capers with a lovely sweet boy adventurer doing noble things. Yaaaaawn.
I guess in a way, it’s a little like Jesus? Sure we all know the core ideas about Jesus and his story and when he threw out the money lenders and all the rest of it. But it’s not like you could ask someone about what he was like as an actual person (okay fair – he was nice). You can build a sense of character about alot of his apostles, the kind of person they were when Jesus met them and indoctrinated them, who they became, how they handled his death and all of this. But Jesus? Not so much. (Like – how many people do you know who’ve sat and read the damned thing? And I mean Old Testament is significantly more fucked up anyway…). Jesus did good deeds and so did Tintin – but outside of that, who knows, or is interested in their character beyond that?
Tintin is iconic and important and all of this – but I’m yet to be persuaded that he’s little more than a blandly noble cipher into a brilliantly chaotic world of nit wits and gloriously mad cap adventure fun. The chocolate, the crisps and all the terrible treats follow him around because they know he makes them look good.
I’d rather read a Snowy & Haddock comic.
Oh yeah – they should just do a comic with Snowy & Haddock.
Also people keep mentioning Indiana Jones so thought I’d share this little story that Spielberg told when he was promoting his Tintin movie:
“Kathy and I have been trying to make this movie since 1983. In 1981, when ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ came out, I was reading a review in a magazine. The review compared the story of ‘Raiders’ to ‘Tintin.’ I never heard of ‘Tintin.’ I asked my assistant to go find out what this is all about. What is Tintin? My assistant came back with five ‘Tintin’ books and they were all in French. But I didn’t need to read the captions. I could understand the entire story by looking at the pictures. I thought the artwork of Herge was brilliant. I called Kathy and sent her some of the books. Kathy said, ‘Let’s go talk to Herge himself.’ We were shooting ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ in London at the time. Kathy arranged for us to fly to Belgium on a weekend to meet the great Herge. Sadly, he passed away that week. But a week after his funeral, his widow, Fanny, said, ‘Please come. I’d like to talk to you about your interest in Herge—the work of his life, the love of his life.’ So Kathy and I went to Belgium and met with the widow. We made a deal with her to make the Tintin movies.”
So you know – there you go. Altho to be fair Indiana Jones does full like a lot more of a fuller character… He has a surname for starters. (Or wait – is Tintin his last name??)
Oh yes, Tintin himself is properly dull. All the other characters are so vividly created that Hergé must have known what he was doing.
If any of you are tempted to make the pilgrimage to the home country for the Hergé museum (about 80 minutes outside Brussels), let me know and I may come along, as I’ve never been:
On the same trip you can take in the brilliant Comic Art Museum/Comic Strip Center [sic] in Brussels city centre:
And a walking tour of comics murals around Brussels centre (very franco-belge):
Yeah but Snowy & Haddock by Herge and adapted by Phil Lord and Chris Miller would be so good – it’d be an origin story of how they both met and hide their drinking problem from an upstart journalist who thinks he’s being helpful but is oblivious to the fact that he’s Belgium’s most successful cultural imperialist.
Weekend at Arnie’s
No, no, they’re all wrong for Tintin. They’re zany, Tintin is more, I dunno, slapstick. Very different vibe.
As I mentioned on WhatsApp, when I was a kid I was really into Asterix. The only reason we compare such polarized kind of comics is that they are put alongside on the bookstore’s shelves. Let’s say that my mom wasn’t into Tintim and she bought us (my siblings and I) quite a lot of Asterix books, which I still love. Humor appealed a lot more to me than adventure at the time, and I love Asterix because each panel is packed with expression and jokes. I loved the way the Roman soldiers almost shat themselves with fear before a fight, for instance. I still giggle remembering some panels.
So Tintim was really not on my radar, and to be honest I don’t even remember reading a full album until, well, now. Something never really appealed to me, maybe the text with its weird handwritten text, and how ‘perfect’ Tintim was. I mean, he can do everything, and I never understtod how he had so much cash to travel everywhere, and if he is a reporter he’s never, uh, reporting anything. So you can say I was a little biased.
I liked the animation series, though. I used to watch it everyday after school, and the theme song was super catchy. However, as a kid, it was a bit hard to me to get into the story and to fully understand what was happening. I preferred more visual punchy stuff, and if it was funny that was a plus.
So, I read Tintim in Tibet thinking that it’s a shame it took me so long to appreciate the whole craft and the care put on these pages. My first contact with the clear line style was with Daniel Torres’s Triton and Opium, but I was a teenager at the time.
I’m not sure if this kind of style is really popular. Maybe that was what pushed me away from Tintim as a kid (I like line variation and etc).
Now I’m reading all Tintim stories (my girlfriend has the whole collection, ow yeah- her mother was into Tintim), and I’m enjoying them a lot. Some jokes don’t really land sometimes, but it’s fine (I liked when Milou got pissed, haha). The whole thing about Tintim believing in his vision to save his friend, even after a Lama telling him to give up (he was a bit of a dick, and Chang would be dead if it was for him) was really touching.
So I’m a newbie converted to Tintimverse, thank you all for the great articles you shared.
This has all been a fab read.
When I was a kid – to paraphrase Mia Wallace from a deleted scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’ : : “…there are only two kinds of people in the world, TinTin people and Asterix people. Now TinTin people can like Asterix and Asterix people can like TinTin, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice, tells you who you are.”
I was a TinTin kid. I enjoyed them for all the reasons you all highlighted. The exciting adventure stories, the colourful characters, the next level art – man, the cartooning was so clever – but I’d be a liar if I said that my love for them, even at 9 years old, wasn’t complicated.
As a black Muslim kid who spent is first five years in United Arab Emirates then moved to a bengali district of East End London – I could see the echoes of the crude racist caricatures some of the white kids in my school in the depictions of Arabs and blacks in Herge’s art.
Did it ruin the book? Hell no – for the books that they were in, it was like drinking a bottle of water with a tiny hint of lemon in it. It was there enough to register but not to ruin. But when I was a kid there still were Gollywogs on jam jars and Jim Davidson on the TV, so I was definitely desensitised a bit (a lot? lol) maybe a kid today would feel differently.
I do think the race debate in these works is an interesting one to have. We did an Asterix book at the GOSH! Reading Group and there was a French reader who talked about how much racism was taken out in the translation of them – a character in the book we were reading had a very punny, very racist name for example.
So – I’ve been slowly working my way through all the Tintin books over the past few weeks. Like I said – I’ve got Tintin fever. I started with the last ones (The Experimental Phase / Tintin Gets Freaky) and then did the ones before that (The Bloat / The Hangover Years / Tintin Spins His Wheels) and then went all the way back to the start (Pre-historic / Dream State Tintin and then Classic Rock / First Album / No Frills Tintin (Served Neat)) and then the past few days I’ve been doing Imperial Phase Tintin which well yeah – is actually probably the best of the bunch. The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackham’s Treasure is very cool and has lots of nice touches but still feels like it’s just a thing that’s designed for kids even if it is nice how it wrong foots you at certain points (again like Alister said the disappointment of the expedition thing is pretty cool and well done). And then yeah The Seven Crystal Balls / Prisoners of the Sun is probably the best in terms of actual rollicking adventure stuff. The middle bit of Prisoners of the Sun especially is pretty epic as they make their way through all these different types of terrain and all of these crazy things keep happening. It’s the one that feels most Indiana Jones – while Seven Crystal Balls in the one that – as strange as this might sound – feels like the most like Hitchcock. It’s especially good at keeping lots of details just outside the panel so this kinda mysterious air builds and builds. Are the bad guys real or supernatural? It’s hard to tell because they’re always just out of sight and one step ahead. Plus special mention for the most scary fucking thing I’ve ever seen in a comic ever ever ever:
Holy fucking jesus christ.
Made all the more terrifying especially because this kind of stuff is not supposed to happen in a Tintin comic. It’s like a category error. Like you’re watching Sesame Street or Pingu or Thomas the Tank Engine and then all of sudden – well: a mummified Inca skeleton creeps through the window and smashes an evil crystal ball on the floor.
But anyway – that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
No. What I wanted to talk about was this:
I don’t think I really realised it but Destination Moon / Explorers on the Moon are the ones I’ve been saving til last because there was a part of my head that kinda thought of them as the pinnacle of the series. I mean – they’re the most epic and stuff and the most sci-fi (and I do like sci-fi) and I think they’re the ones that took up the most space in head when I read them as a kid (I still remember the end of Explorers on the Moon being the most exciting thing I’ve ever read: one of those things where you can hear the soundtrack being generated in your head as you read it).
And well yeah – of all the Tintin books these were the ones I was most nervous about reading I guess? Back when I was a kid these were the Tintin books that seemed the most grown-up, the most sophisticated, the most advanced. And I was scared that going back it would be like discovering that Thomas the Tank Engine wasn’t the brilliant depiction of repressive and authoritarian Capitalism I remember it being but was instead just about a bunch of trains with faces or whatever.
(Actually this is a bad joke because it turns out that Thomas the Tank Engine is about repressive and authoritarian Capitalism but all I really remember is that it has a bunch of trains with faces and a naughty engine that doesn’t do what he’s told so he gets bricked up alive inside a tunnel – but that’s a whole other story lol).
So yeah – I was expecting Destination Moon to just be a foolish little romp with stupid pratfalls and dumb childish nonsense and instead what I got was well – almost actually the opposite. In fact if you wanted to sum up my experience of reading it last night it went exactly like this:
I can not recommend this book enough (especially with Cosmos by Murcof playing on your headphones as the perfect accompaniment). I mean: I was going to say something along the lines of how it’s strange how it aligns so well with the type of story I love the most (basically: boring sci-fi where not much happens – it’s just scientists standing around and talking about stuff in detail: see – The Andromeda Strain, Phase IV, Cube, Colossus: The Forbin Project in terms of films and Annihilation, Fiasco, Solaris, The Forever War in terms of books) but then of course I realised – holy shit – Destination Moon is why I’m into that type of thing. This book is basically where my brain first got tuned into that type of thing. It’s like first girlfriend or something you know? The one that basically warped my expectations and desires for everything else that’s come since (lol).
And again holy shit – there’s still bits of it that I don’t get now. Namely when good old Professor Calculus who we last saw making submarines that look like sharks and being kidnapped by Incas not to mention all the jokes where he can’t hear what anyone is saying starts getting into the finer details of (checks notes) ah yes – nuclear fucking physics.
Did I mention that this was written in 1950? That means that the actual moon landing was still 19 years away. THAT’S CRAZY.
It’s also the point where Hergé finally works out how panels work. Up until this point reading Tintin is basically like reading Watchmen only more so: everything is always in a grid like casing with each panel pretty much the same size. Which yeah – means you get more story for your buck but also means that you don’t get much in the way of release and not much in terms of dynamics. But Destination Moon pulls out this full page / half page spreads like a motherfucker. Like the one above and this one below:
Damn. I love that picture. Think just because it’s such a break from what Tintin normally depicts and it always makes it feel really real and also – ha – well – I just love pictures of the Earth from space and just trying to wrap my head around that sense of scale. (I think scale is where Tintin often falls flat – all of those tiny panels – and it’s just very satisfying that the adventure that needs that epic sense the most in the one that gets it).
Also yeah – I can’t say enough words in favour of how dour the whole book is. Everything is all flat and grey and subdued. The book opens where it’s Tintin and Haddock going through a series of checkpoints and what can I say? I fucking love that. Some people might say it doesn’t have enough story and it’s just people standing around talking but for me – I don’t know: it gives the whole thing a sense of realism and believably that lifts the whole book to the point where yeah it just makes it feel really grown-up and impressive but also oppressive in a way that tickles something all the way deep at the back of my brain.
Even the Thompson Twins messing around has this slight twinge of… death.
Hopefully Explorers on the Moon will be as good…
…ah boo. I’m sad to report that Explorers on the Moon doesn’t quite manage to hit that same sweet spot as Destination Moon. I mean yeah there are good bits and the whole shocking twist betrayal as some of the Tintinologists have said feels like something out of a “John le Carré novel” (which is cool) and at the end there is almost a sense that maybe they’re all going to die and there’s an actual real sense that Tintin is really struggling to keep them alive (although not as gripping now as when I read it as a kid – but still more serious feeling than anything else I’ve seen in a Tintin book).
But yeah – all in all I guess there’s too much adventure and things happening (which makes sense – it is for kids after all). But I prefer the Destination Moon stuff where it was a lot of walking around corridors in jumpsuits and discussing rockets and nuclear physics.
Altho – I’ve got a give a special shout out for the moment where Tintin finally finally snaps over Captain Haddock’s drinking which was actually work the price of admission alone.
(To be fair – Captain Haddock got so drunk that he decided to get into a spacesuit and float back to Earth because he was fed up with all the going to the Moon business and pretty much almost got everyone killed. Which seems funny when you’re a kid but as an adult is – well – much less so).
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