Long before Cameron Diaz scooped up a bit of Ben Stiller’s gunk in There’s Something About Mary, there was another fictional character with a famously upswept do – Tintin the investigative boy reporter. His Belgian creator, Herge a.k.a. Georges Prosper Remi, just received a posthumous 100th birthday gift: Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson with one other yet-to-be-announced director will film a trilogy based on The Adventures of Tintin.
As a longtime Tintin fan, I couldn’t be happier. First published in 1929, Tintin the character is a somewhat colorless young idealist who found himself embroiled in most of 20th century’s significant events. In his lighter moments, he rescued a friend from the Yeti, searched for pirate treasure, was kidnapped by aliens and rescued a diva’s priceless jewels from a larcenous magpie. At other times, he took part in the troubles besetting a banana republic, observed the results of the Bolshevik uprising, thrust a spoke in the wheels of the international drug trade and took a trip to the moon.
But Tintin’s real charm lies in the bizarre group of characters surrounding him. There’s the short-tempered, expletive-ridden alcoholic Captain Haddock; his nervous Nellie butler Nestor; the bane of the Captain’s existence, the buxom opera singer Bianca Castafiore; the bumbling P.I. twins in bowler hats, Thompson (“with a p”) and Thomson; the impossible pile-on Jolyon Wagg with his collection of brats; and of course, the eccentric genius, Professor Cuthbert Calculus who got Tintin to the moon a nearly 20 years before Neil Armstrong.
In a departure from the usual structure of comics, an interesting fact about this ensemble cast is their connection to the Captain. While it is almost always Tintin who first meets these people during the course of his many adventures, it is the Captain who acts as a lodestone – he employs Nestor after Tintin weans him from evil company; the Professor has his lab (somebody please correct me if I’m wrong) on the grounds of the Captain’s ancestral property (Marlinspike Hall); the twins always drop by the Hall to visit; and Castafiore with her penchant for distorting the names of people she considers inferior is primarily an irritant under Captain
Paddock’s Haddock’s skin.
In fact, the Captain is one of the more intriguing characters ever to have been sketched as a sidekick. For one thing he is never servile or in awe of Tintin. In a stroke of brilliance spurred on by necessity, Herges also made him an inventive cusser. Instead of four letter words, this sailor uses words and phrases such as “Ectoplasm!”, “Vegetarian!”, “Troglodyte!”, “Ten thousand thundering typhoons!”, “Billions of blue blistering barnacles!”, etc when in a foul temper. He is also quite a dedicated alcoholic.
Hardly a wholesome sort of person for a young man to be hanging out with, much less young fans to read about – and yet, he and his mannerisms are such an integral part of the Tintin universe that you can’t imagine the series without him.
Another character integral to the series is Snowy, a cynical white wire terrier who accompanies Tintin wherever he goes, including the moon in a fetching little dogsuit complete with bubble helmet.
Snowy was the original foil to Tintin’s open-faced idealism. Although pushed to the background by the Captain’s arrival, Snowy was always a dog who knew his own mind and snarky with it. He’s helped save Tintin’s life a number of times but you know he’d laugh himself silly if you showed him Lassie. He’s just not that kind of dog.
The 70-odd years of Tintin’s life has been marked by a number of milestones – some good, some controversial. While Herge’s work was acclaimed for its trendsetting “clear line” technique as well the impeccable production values of what he liked to call his albums, he was also accused of being a Nazi collaborator in Belgium during the war. Then there were assorted charges of racism, which, incidentally, didn’t stop the series from attracting a large following around in the world including Africa and, of course, India. Herge also developed what is called the “serialization followed by collection model” of cartooning, which allows artists a more steady source of income.
Here, Shashidhar Kondareddy gives his top ten reasons as to why so many of us love Tintin so much.
Now, I have to admit my Luddite tendencies come to the fore when I hear the phrase “adapted to film” (nine times out of ten, this is filmmaking code for “worthless trash”). And the prospect of seeing Tintin come to life as a CGI marvel leaves me distinctly cold – except for two things:
One is the presence of Steven Spielberg. Not only is he a fan of the series, he is also an avowed Luddite by his own admission when it comes to digital cinema (if I correctly remember an article published in The Economist a number of years ago). Also according to reports, Tintin was one of the inspirations for his Indiana Jones movies. It’s hard to imagine him screw this up.
The other thing (person?) that reassures me is Peter Jackson: the man whose astonishing work prompted that very article. His Lord of the Rings not only made me do a rethink on the ability of filmmakers to adapt stories but his subsequent work on King Kong convinced me that he and his team are beyond masterful when it comes to weaving special effects onto film.
This fan is excited.