88th anniversary of Tintin’s first adventure

Tintin had such a great success that he is even better known than his creator, Hergé. Born Georges Remi (1907-1983), Hergé was his pen name, based on his reversed initials, as pronounced in French. The only rival to Tintin’s fame in Franco-Belgian comics is Asterix, created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo in 1959. Tintin and Snowy (Milou, in French), his faithfull dog, share adventures with distinctive characters well known by every generation, such as: captain Haddock, detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupond and Dupont) and Professor Calculus (Tournesol).

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Tintin au pays des Soviets, 2017 (new colour edition).

January 2017 marked the 88th anniversary of Tintin’s first story: Tintin au pays des Soviets (C200.a.4909). It was published in the children’s supplement of the Belgian conservative newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, called Le Petit Vingtième. This anti-Bolshevik sketch was later considered by Hergé a “sin of his youth”. His knowledge of Russia was limited, and unlike his following stories, this book is almost plotless. The original was published in black and white and has been recently released for the first time in colour. In his second adventure, Tintin visits the Belgian Congo. On the one hand Tintin au Congo has been considered racist by some, because of its naïve portrait of native Congolese peoples; on the other hand, others think is shows a benevolently paternalist vision of colonialism. Despite the books’s old-fashioned vision –a result of the time it was written and Hergé’s ignorance about the Congo, which he recognised– the book was a great success. Interestingly P. Delisle wonders if Tintin au Congo is, in fact, antislavery literature.

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Tintin au Congo, 1947 edition (Waddleton.b.6.107).

Tintin has a precedent, Totor, Chief Scout of the Cockshafers (see photo), with whom he shares obvious similarities. Hergé was once a boy scout himself and loved hiking in the countryside. Curiously, he did not travel abroad until much later in life. It is thought that the Danish teenager Palle Huld, a 15-year old globetrotter, whose adventures were published in 1928 (Le tour du monde en 44 jours), inspired Hergé. In addition, Hergé’s wife confirmed the influence of Norbert Wallez, director of Le Vingtième Siècle, who travelled widely as journalist. According to Michael Farr, Hergé imbued Tintin’s character with he and his brother’s aspirations and eagerness for adventure. Benoît Peeters thinks that Tintin’s ambiguity is a key element to the success of his stories, with no specific age, background or personal characteristics. He is not a common reporter and is a neutral hero, unlike other comic heroes. In the opinion of Peeters this allows the character to appeal to many different types of reader.

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Les aventures de Totor in Le Boy-scout belge

Hergé was one of the first European illustrators to include the characteristic speech bubbles that first appeared in early 20th century comics in the USA, abandoning the traditional captions. The style of Hergé evolved with the publication of the adventures of Tintin. He is depicted in a different way in the early books. Hergé is considered a pioneer in the style “ligne claire” represented by several Franco-Belgian cartoonists, that uses clear strong lines which clearly separate the colours and avoids hatching.

Apart from Tintin’s adventures, mainly in English and French, the University Library holds a wide selection of works about Hergé and his creation. His biographer Pierre Assouline wrote Hergé: biographie (9006.c.8328) and Herge: the man who created Tintin (C204.c.4223); Jean-Marie Apostolidès published, Dans la peau de Tintin (738:47.c.201.95) and The methamorphoses of Tintin, or, Tintin for adults (738:47.c.201.7); Benoît Peeters has published several books as a result of his research on Tintin and his creator: Tintin and the world of Hergé (9000.b.7847), Hergé, son of Tintin (C210.c.3831) and Lire Tintin. Les bijoux ravis (C211.c.7841). It is worth mentioning another expert on the topic, Michael Farr whose works are also amongst our holdings: Tintin: the complete companion (C200.b.2816) and The adventures of Hergé, creator of Tintin (C200.b.8474).

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Detail of Tintin au pays des Soviets.

Hergé was also an art collector, and collected all kind of documents and items that may have inspired his work. Tintin’s universe has also inspired a number of books analysing different aspects of the stories: Les arts et les sciences dans l’œuvre d’Hergé (C211.c.4618), Tintin: les arts et les civilisations vus par le héros d’Hergé (200.a.4626) and Les moyens de transport et de communication dans l’œuvre d’Hergé (2017.9.914). It is well known that Hergé was a fan of cars and speed, something that is reflected in many of his comics. Interestingly, he placed Tintin on the moon sixteen years before Neil Armstrong landed on it.

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Hergé with his rocket model. Studios Hergé, Brussels (from S950.d.201.45).

Tintin was a success from the start, and Hergé was soon received like a hero in his home country. Tintin is a world phenomenon and his 24 adventures have been translated into more than seventy languages. In addition, since 2009 Hergé has had his own museum near Brussels, which gathers eighty original plates, a collection of documents and items related to the artist, as well as his archive (S950.d.201.45).

Manuel del Campo

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