The History of the Tintin Comics & Film

If you haven’t already heard through the thousands of ads being seen at this very moment, the Tintin movie opens today. For the handful of Americans who are actually fans of the Belgian hero, this is big news. But since Tintin never caught on in America like he did throughout the rest of the world, many  people are purely interested to see if a Peter Jackson/Steven Spielberg crossover could possibly be as epic as the big names on the marquee would suggest.

That’s why we here at Neatorama wanted to share a little bit of history and trivia about the world-famous character. Even if you are already a fan of Tintin though, read on because there might just be a few tidbits you didn’t know about.

The History of A Hero

Image Via Dylan Parker [Flickr]

Tintin was created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi, who wrote under the pen name Herge. He was largely based on one of the author’s earlier characters, a chubby boy scout named Totor. While he was thinner and better dressed than Totor, Tintin maintained the earlier character’s high ideals and kindness, as well as his knack for getting into sticky situations.

The first Tintin strip was printed in the Belgian right wing newspaper, Le XXe Siècle (The 20th Century), on January 10, 1929. Going along with the paper’s right wing beliefs, the character’s first adventure, titled Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, featured him fighting against socialist leaders in the Soviet Union. After the comic proved to be a success, Herge went on to send Tintin on adventures throughout the world, both in real and imaginary locales.

While Herge started out with a right wing mindset, his opinion quickly changed as Hitler’s legions began to ramp up their occupation of other European countries. By 1939, Tintin began to fight off authority figures from the far right, even battling Musstler, the leader of the imaginary fascist state Borduria, in King Ottokar’s Sceptre. If you couldn’t tell by the name and the time period, Musstler was Herge’s take on a combination of Hitler and Mussolini.

Later that very year, Belgium was invaded by the Nazis, who quickly closed down the majority of the newspapers in the country. They did leave open the leading paper, Le Soir, under the condition that it be put under German management. After Le XXe Siècle, was closed, Herge was briefly unemployed, but soon was hired to work as an illustrator for Le Soir. Soon enough he started printing new Tintin stories in the paper’s children section, but under the repressive political atmosphere, he was forced to strip the comic of its political affiliations. In an effort to get around these limitations, Herge changed Tintin’s occupation from that of a reporter to an explorer, which allowed him a much more politically-neutral world in which to operate.

By 1949, Herge’s character was so popular that he was offered the opportunity to publish his own magazine exclusively dedicated to Tintin. He immediately left Le Soir and go to working on Le journal de Tintin. The character became a massive success and was adored in countries throughout the world, eventually having his adventures translated into more than 50 languages.

As for Herge, he continued working on new stories for the character all the way up until his death in 1983.

The Enigmatic Tintin

Image Via CoffeeGeek [Flickr]

At first glance, Tintin seems like a pretty straightforward guy. In fact, fans of the series often praise how uncomplicated the character is, as it makes him entirely relatable even when confronted by an array of bizarre and eccentric characters in fantastical cities. But when you look a little deeper, you soon realize that Tintin’s lack of complexities make him quite enigmatic.

For example, how old is Tintin? No one really knows. He’s old enough to not be concerned with school or family, to go to a pub and drink, to hold down a job and to live alone, but everyone still calls him a young boy. In 1979, Herges said that when he first started the comic, he thought of Tintin as being about 14 or 15, but by that point, he considered the character to be 17.

But shouldn’t even a 17 year old have some kind of family connections? Tintin’s family is never mentioned in the series, but he is also never called an orphan. In fact, it seems that he seems to have no actual back story before the series starts. Whereas other characters reveal tales from their past, Tintin never does, nor does he ever run into someone that he knew before the storyline started.

It seems particularly strange that he never mentions his family given the fact that they must have given him quite an impressive education. After all, Tintin knows multiple languages, can drive cars, ride horses, fly airplanes, climb massive mountains, do yoga and more. These aren’t just skills you pick up while sitting back in Belgium or even after a few reporting assignments.

Additionally, Tintin must earn money to be able to live on his own without family assistance, but while Tintin is supposed to be a reporter in the early parts of the series, he never is seen actually writing or turning in a story. He never goes into the office, nor does he ever meet any coworkers or even get in touch with his employer.

Even his name is a mystery. Is it a first name or a last name? No one knows. Maybe it’s a nickname or maybe he’s like Madonna and that’s his only name. Some speculate that it’s a pseudonym he uses for his journalism career, but that it doesn’t do a reporter much good to go by a pseudonym if that’s the only name he goes by.

With Friends Like These…

Image Via sinanyuzakli [Flickr]

Of course, with all the vagueness in Tintin’s life, his friends are complex and help provide the character development and back story that the main character is lacking. While there are tons of recurring characters in the stories, two of the most popular are the two that also happen to be featured in the upcoming film (no surprise there). Those two characters are, of course, Snowy (known as Milou in the original and French versions) and Captain Haddock.

Snowy is Tintin’s longest-lasting friend, the only character who stays with him throughout the series. Originally Snowy is there to provide a cynical contrast to Tintin’s constant positivity, his thoughts portrayed in speech bubbles that cannot be understood by the humans around him, but once Captain Haddock steps in, Snowy is relieved of this duty and he becomes much more light-hearted. Unfortunately, while the pup is incredibly loyal, he also has some serious weaknesses. Like all dogs, he can easily be distracted by a bone, but more problematic are his clumsiness and his affinity for Scotch. Additionally, he is terrified of spiders, which makes him less than heroic in certain situations.

As for Captain Haddock, he is also a bit clumsy and quite enamored with Scotch. While he starts out as an alcoholic, he eventually becomes a rather respectable and heroic character. Haddock is quite sarcastic, providing a good balance to Tintin’s optimism. Up until the last story, his first name remains unknown, but at long last, it is revealed to be Archibald.

The Many Roadblocks of the Movie

Image Via Georges Biard [Wikipedia]

You know the movie was successfully created, but at many points, the thing almost fell through. In fact, Spielberg was planning to work on the movie from all the way back in 1983. The director was a huge fan of Tintin after discovering the series after someone compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to a Tintin story. At the same time, Herge was quite a fan of Spielberg and the two were quite excited to work together, Herge even noting that he thought Spielberg was “the only person who could ever do Tintin justice.” Unfortunately, the same week the two planned to meet in 1983, the illustrator passed away. Herge’s widow still agreed to give the rights to the movie to Spielberg because she knew how much her husband was looking forward to working with him.

Spielberg hired one of the screenwriters from E.T. to write a film version of Tintin, but he was disappointed with what she came up with. Unfortunately, he was too busy to work on it any more at the time, since he was starting production on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Eventually, the rights returned to the Herge Foundation and Roman Polanski started trying to work with the group to secure the rights to the film. The foundation felt he would be unable to provide the creative integrity Spielberg promised though, so they declined to issue him the rights. Eventually, in 2001, Spielberg got back in touch with the foundation.

When the rights were secured, Spielberg had intended to make a live-action adaptation of the film, but he wanted Peter Jackson’s company, Weta Digital to create a computer-generated Snowy. If you love or hate the motion capture that was used in the film, you should know that you have Jackson to thank, as he was the one who suggested live actors would not do justice to the style of the comic books.

Unfortunately, only a month before the duo was slated to start principal photography for the film, Universal backed down on financing the film, citing the low box office tallies of other motion capture movies like Beowulf. After some frantic searching, the team finally secured a contract with Sony, who has agreed to make two Tintin films with Jackson and Spielberg.

Yes, that’s right, there will almost certainly be a sequel to the first film, although no one is sure which Tintin stories the next one will be based on. The second film is expected to be released in late 2014 or mid-2015.

Image Via Gregory Bellemont [Flickr]

In fact, if all goes well, Jackson and Spielberg actually want to make another sequel after that, but we’ll just have to see how well the film does before we get too excited. If the box office grosses from the countries it has already been released in are any indication, we will very likely get to see a third film.

The movie was already released throughout most of the rest of the world and as of December 11, it already made $233 million. In fact, it’s already the highest grossing animated film ever released in India.

What do you guys think? Are you excited for the new film or could you care less? Also, were you already a Tintin fan or is the movie your first real exposure to the adventurer?

Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3

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ha, that is what I get for only reading half the article I linked to, "Laws and administrative measures against comics were passed between 1949 and 1955 in several countries, from Belgium to Korea, and the anti-American theme was strong even among such prominent American allies as the United Kingdom and Canada[2]" the [2] is For comparative perspectives, see John A. Lent (ed.), Pulp Demons: International Dimensions of the Postwar Anti-Comics Campaign, Madison Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, and London: Associated University Presses, 1999.
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Thanks for this in-depth intro to Tintin and the movie. For those who are interested in the impact the film has had in Belgium:
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@wgh: The first Tintin was published 1929, Timley Comics (later Marvel) has been founded in 1939, and DC Comics was founded in 1934...
I dont know anything about "banned" US comics in Europe. As long a i can think this Superman and DonaldDuck stuff was available.
It would be rather interessing since when Marvel/DC first considered translating comics for export.
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