|The cast of The Castafiore Emerald. Tintin is front and center.|
In 1929, Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by the pen name Hergé, developed the character of the boy journalist Tintin for a conservative Catholic newspaper in Brussels, Belgium. What started as a black-and-white propaganda series blossomed into a meticulously researched, wildly popular, full color comic strip. Thriving throughout the artist's life, The Adventures of Tintin spawned a celebrated animated television series, plus a highly successful feature film (both of the same name) directed by Steve Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson. Beginning with Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and ending with Tintin and the Picaros (the last volume, Tintin and the Alph-Art, remains unfinished following Herge's death, as per his will), this series ran for 47 years, has been translated into some 70 languages, and over 200 million copies have been sold.
The Adventures of Tintin follows the adventures of an absurdly young "journalist" (we only see him covering a story once, in the first volume) known only as Tintin, his faithful dog Snowy, and later the cantankerous, hard drinking sailor, Captain Haddock (Tintin mentions in Tintin and the Picaros that he thinks Haddock's first name is "Archibald") and the eccentric Professor Cuthbert Calculus. Together, they go on incredible adventures around the world, from Scotland to America to Shanghai. These adventures involve unforgettable characters, both lifelong friends and diabolical villains, filled with fun, excitement, danger, humor, and all sorts of daring do. Anything but romance, really, unless you count Bianca Castafiore's cartoonish (really, what do you expect from a cartoon?) crush on him. One of the things about Tintin is that romance isn't really possible, in that one of the two protagonists is kind of a blank slate and that aside from the aforementioned Bianca Castafiore, there are no major female characters. But moving on...
This Belgian comic series is utterly awesome because of its attention to detail, clever plots, tongue-in-cheek humor, and audacity to just be as fun and cool as possible. Not fun in an overtly wacky way, though some plot lines do stretch the imagination, such as the Incas of the hidden Inca village in Prisoners of the Sun (it's a long story) speaking French (The Adventures of Tintin, being a Belgian publication, was originally published in French), but fun in a cool, adventurous way. Fun like Tintin going to a pun laden Middle Eastern country to fight terrorists who are funneling explosive oil to European countries (Land of Black Gold). Or another, earlier one, where Tintin goes to China, befriends a Chinese boy named Chang, and witnesses an act obviously inspired by the Mukden Incident, among other things (The Blue Lotus). There are literally dozens more such stories, which whisk the reader away on thrilling, joyous, and often humorous misadventures with Tintin, his dog, and friends.
Like I said, Tintin himself is kind of a blank slate. He has three defining traits; idealism, persistence, and nosiness. The latter two traits are less predominant in the adventures taking place after he meets Captain Haddock, where adventure (or trouble, as Captain Haddock would put it) tends to find him rather than the other way around. However, the first trait, idealism just short of naivete, is basically his whole personality. Let's face it; Tintin is a Mary Sue. For the uninitiated, the short answer to what a "Mary Sue" is (if you want the long answer, go to tvtropes.org and type "Mary Sue" into the search bar) is a character who is virtually perfect, ideal, with no real flaws. I myself have ran aground on this deadly reef in my own writing (just ask my creative writing teacher), but Hergé scuba dives in this reef. Tintin's only instance of messing up anything is when in Tintin and the Picaros he at first refuses to go to a hostile country where friends of his are being held captive, knowing that an invitation to go there is a trap. Even then, he soon changes his mind and goes anyway, after Haddock and Calculus have already gone.
Does being a Mary Sue make Tintin a bad character? Maybe. On the one hand, Tintin defies traditional definitions of a "good character." On the other hand, Tintin's aforementioned blank slate is what makes him so likeable, in that readers can simply project their own traits and selves onto him, painting their own picture with just enough of a prompt from Tintin's idealism to not realize that they're doing this. In some weird way, that's kind of how Jean-Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael, my favorite comic book superhero, kind of works. Maybe it's my own liking for Tintin that influenced by liking of good ol' Jean-Paul. I've actually read way more Tintin stuff than I have Azrael stuff, so maybe that is why I like Jean-Paul so much, even though they're completely different characters. Tintin is outgoing, adventurous, and emotionally stable. Jean-Paul is passive, directionless, and mentally ill, ironically relying on that same mental illness to barely function as a superhero. But that's another post.
I've come to know Tintin through my reading of the Tintin comics and my watching of the Tintin animated series, the Canadian one. The others were, as far as I know, short lived pieces of garbage which didn't deserve half a minute of air time, let alone half an hour. The animated series was, in a few words, a wholly excellent adaption, the voice acting in particular influencing how I viewed the characters in the comics. This series itself was my measuring stick in evaluating the 2011 film The Adventures of Tintin, but I'll get to that in due time. This animated series is available for instant streaming on Netflix and you should readily check it out. The comics themselves are nothing short of perfect. Hergé's attention to detail and research is an inspiration to my own efforts at research, showing my work, as it were. For without research, what foundation does an earnest writer have to build on? The art makes you admire it, the plots make you obsessed with it, the characters make you love it, and the gags make you want to clear out a wide swath on your bookshelf for it. Not that I'm suggesting you should go out and do that...
On the whole, I wholeheartedly recommend this series to any comic book fan, and any adventure fan. If you like Indiana Jones, you'll love Tintin. As Captain Haddock would say, "Blistering barnacles! Go buy our books, landlubbers!"
Fun fact: The script for what eventually became Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was born out of what was meant to be the script for a Tintin adaptation, written by, you guessed it, Steven Spielberg! Spielberg went on to direct the 2011 film adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, titled The Adventures of Tintin.
Image courtesy of wikipedia.org