So the new Tintin movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, opened in Australia on Boxing Day. As a die-hard fan of Tintin, the creation of Georges Remi known as Hergé (1907-1983), I will have to see it, though I have serious doubts that the movie can remotely match my expectations given it originates from books that are amongst the most favorite in my life. This Guardian review doesn't fill me with hope either, though David and Margaret are more positive.
Like most Tintinophiles, I have read all of the books over and over – even the unfinished last book consisting only of scrubby drawings,Tintin and Alph-Art, and the earliest book available only in black and white one, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (though I confess that I have only just heard of an abandoned Tintin book from the late 1950s,Le Thermozéro). As a kid, I remember fondly the delight of finding, in Collins bookstore in Woden Plaza in Canberra, a new Tintin book. The first one I owned was The Red Sea Sharks (or maybe it belonged to my older brother), and it sat by itself on the shelf for a few years. Then, around the age of 8 or 9, I rediscovered it. It is one of the classic Tintins, a rollicking adventure riffing on the themes of arms trading, coups d' etat, and the slave trade, which includes almost all of the classic characters: Tintin and his white terrier Snowy (of course), the bad tempered but brave Captain Haddock, the absent-minded but brilliant Professor Calculus, the incompetent but self confident Thomson and Thompson, Nestor the butler, the irritating Jolyon Wagg, the evil but bumbling Rastapopoulos, his sinister second in command Allan, the overbearing but indefatigable Bianca Castafiore, cameos by villains Dr Müller and Dawson, memorable minor characters like Captain Skut, Cutts the butcher and Senhor Oliviera da Figueira, and even Tintin's questionable dictator mates, General Alcazar, Emir Ben Kalish Ezab and his exasperating spoilt brat of a son Abdullah.
My second book was an odd one, The Castafiore Emerald, one for the aficionados, and probably adult ones at that. I was confused by it as a kid, as not a lot happens in it: it's not very "adventurous". It is instead a perceptive and clever satire on celebrity, the media, and the ridiculousness of human nature.
But I persisted, and of course most Tintin books followed the adventurous line, with Tintin, a resident of Belgium (though he lives in "Europe" in the English translated versions), charging around the world to the Middle East, Scotland, the US, the USSR, the Congo, Tibet, China, Nepal, Peru, Jakarta, the South Pacific, Geneva (where I have stayed in the real Cornavin hotel where Tintin, Snowy and Haddock stayed in The Calculus Affair), the fictional Syldavia and its fascist enemy Borduria (somewhere in the Balkans), the fictional San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico (somewhere in the Amazon), and of course the moon (over a decade before human beings actually got there).
Tintin v Asterix
I had the majority of Tintins before I got my first Asterix book, Asterix in Britain. It took me a while to warm to Asterix after the raw and relatively realistic adventure of Tintin (no magic potion in Tintin). Furthermore, I have always loved the art and detail of Tintin – the clean lines and Herge's clear love of modern art, design and architecture, and realism (eg the perfect depiction of the Hotel Cornavin in Geneva). Asterix is rougher in style and line, though there are some marvelous caricatures (eg a young Jacques Chirac, the Beatles) and brilliant tributes to famous artists (compare this pane lwith Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa) from the illustrator Albert Uderzo. Furthermore, Asterix, at least when written by Rene Goscinny before his untimely death in 1977, is clearly more politically astute and clever than Tintin (eg. check out the critique of capitalism in Obelix and Co). There are more jokes for adults in Asterix, but, regardless, Tintin remains my favorite, probably just because he came first in my life.
Tintin is normally fighting crime, for example in the form of the international drug trade (Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Blue Lotus, The Crab with the Golden Claws), forgers (The Black Island), gangsters (Tintin in America, Tintin in the Congo), murderous thieves (The Broken Ear, TheSecret of the Unicorn), kidnappers (Flight 714, The Calculus Affair), revenge seekers (Tintin and the Picaros), greedy industrialists (The Shooting Star) and saboteurs from hostile foreign powers (Land of Black Gold, Destination Moon, Explorers on the Moon). Sometimes Tintin battles circumstance rather than a particular "bad guy", such as frustration (Red Rackham's Treasure, The Castafiore Emerald), the Incas (The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun), and the yeti in Tintin in Tibet.
Some of the themes of Tintin also resonate with human rights (see also here). For example, The Red Sea Sharks draws attention to the arms trade and the modern day slave trade, while Tintin battles fascists in King Ottakar's Sceptre, the imperialistic Japanese in The Blue Lotus, and the evils of Soviet communism in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (though the latter is in fact pretty lame anti-Soviet propaganda, dismissed by Herge as a transgression of his youth). Tintin helps his friend Alcazar regain power in Tintin and the Picaros on the strict condition that Alcazar refrain from reprisal killings, much to Alcazar's chagrin. Herge also mocks the contemporary murderous practice of lynching in Tintin in America.
Tintin and the Nazis
Infamously however, there are some negative human rights connotations in Tintin. Under Nazi occupation Tintin was published in a pro-Nazi paper, Le Soir. The Shooting Star, first published during the occupation of Belgium, has a Jewish villain, a wealthy industrialist called Blumenstein. All of the "good guys" come from Nazi-occupied countries while the villains apparently come from Allied powers. In the initial publication (which I have never seen), one panel depicts two Jews welcoming the end of the world (caused by an asteroid smashing into the earth) because they will not have to pay off their creditors. They were removed from the later edition, while Blumenstein was renamed Bohlwinkel from the fictional state of Sao Rico.
Beyond The Shooting Star, politics did not otherwise intrude into the wartime Tintin books, such as The Crab with the Golden Claws. It may also be noted that the first version of Land of Black Gold takes place in the British Mandate of Palestine, depicting conflicts between Jews, Arabs and British troops. The portrayal of Jews is not apparently anti-Semitic (though I confess that I have never been able to get my hands on one of these early serialized editions to see for myself). That storyline ceased in 1940, and was not included when the book was rewritten and finalized in 1950.