I’ve never really wanted a tattoo but I discovered (in vino veritas) that if I were to take the plunge then my design of choice would involve a certain Belgian detective (no, not that other, mustachioed one) and his faithful dog, Snowy.
I’m talking of course about Tintin the Reporter, my lifelong obsession which I have successfully passed on to my eldest son. I had lesser luck passing on my obsession with Richard Scarry’s The Great Steamboat Mystery, which is worthy of a post all of it’s own it was so good.
Happy wedding day to Mr. and Mrs. Pig! They’re celebrating with a big costume party aboard a steamboat. But Mr. Pig worries someone might steal the gifts, so he invites detectives Sam Cat and Dudley Pig (disguised as pirates) to come along. Sure enough, someone soon swipes Mrs. Pig’s new pearls. Abounding with Scarry’s trademark slapstick, pranks, and pratfalls, this fun mystery will delight kids!
What’s not to love?! It did delight me! But I digress.
Tintin the Legend
Much has been written about Tintin, his creator Herge and the sometimes controversial politics surrounding them. When I first discovered him at the age of 8 this was clearly of no interest to me, and although I find it all fascinating now, this blog is about my memories and the personal affect he had on me, not the world at large.
In a nutshell though, according to the official Tintin website:
Tintin is neither a surname nor a first name, it is much more than that Tintin is a totally unique world, a myth or a saga. Tintin is created from Hergé’s subconscious desire to be perfect, to be a hero. The hero who everyone between 7 and 77 years old wants to be, or become while reading the Adventures of Tintin.
I remember exactly when and where it happened. We were on our first ever holiday abroad to visit family who were living in Greece in 1981 – I was 8. We were visiting those very same cousins who used to play Murder in the Dark with us and my Uncle who has since reached the dizzy heights of playing Doug Deeply in our InterActivity ‘An Outstanding Murder’.
My cousins, being slightly older, had already discovered Tintin, and they lent me one of the books which, oddly, wasn’t even a ‘proper’ Tintin book. It was called Tintin and the Lake of Sharks, a poor imitation having been written and illustrated under Herge’s supervision in 1972 by his friend Michel Régnier. However it did do one thing, which was to introduce me to the characters which led me to discover the real thing, and become hooked. 34 years later I can still pick up a copy of one of these classic adventures and read it from cover to cover, thoroughly engrossed.
If I am ever presented with a series of books written in a specific order I simply cannot read them out of sequence; it’s one of my pet hates and just doesn’t sit well with me. I wonder now if this stems from my initial haphazard introduction to Tintin – starting with the wrong book and then reading them in whichever order they happened to appear. Another installment usually appeared annually on 11th March – my sister’s birthday. My parents introduced the brilliant idea of an ‘un-birthday present’, meaning that I would receive a small gift on my sister’s birthday, and vice versa. It was usually a Tintin or Asterix book (more about my other beloved childhood heroes another time) and so over the years we built up the whole collection (which I still possess now, if a bit dog-eared, and which has been passed on to my aforementioned eldest son).
It caused me much confusion for a while; for some reason I hadn’t quite registered that they should be read in order and would be mildly confused as to why Captain Haddock, for example, would appear in one book and then appear not to exist in the next. It took me a rather embarrassingly long time to register that Tintin didn’t meet Captain Haddock until The Crab with the Golden Claws so was understandably absent from any preceding books. Professor Calculus bumbled his way into Red Rackhams Treasure by trying to sell the explorers his shark shaped submarine, and The Thomson Twins met Tintin under the erroneous impression that he was a crook in Cigars of the Pharaoh and subsequently spent most of the book trying to arrest him. This last one really baffled me, I couldn’t understand why Tintin’s great friends would be so set against him until I worked out that this was their first meeting; this was when the lightbulb lit up and it all fell into place! Since then I endeavor to keep them all in the correct order in pride of place on the bookshelf.
The Thomson Twins
Although not necessarily my favourite characters (there’s enough content to discuss there to fill a whole different blog) I find The Thomson Twins interesting in that they are much like PC Goon in the Five Find-Outers & Dog. They differ in that they are genuine friends of Tintin, but they fill the role of the incompetent authority figure (again, how on earth did they ever reach the heights of ‘detective’?) constantly outwitted by our hero. Perhaps they are there for comedy effect or simply to enhance the intrepid antics of Tintin, but whatever the reason, they certainly add an element of comedy with their mispronunciations, inept attempts at divining, recurring strange hair colour/growth following ingestion of some dodgy tablets in The Land of Black Gold and, of course, their inappropriate ‘disguises’ which allow them to stick out like a sore thumb.
Tips and Tricks
Following on from my lesson in detective work with the ‘key under the door’ trick in the Five Find-Outers & Dog I was keen to discover more within the pages of Tintin. One particular gem sticks in my mind (which I plagiarised shamelessly for a story written at school) which finds our hero baffled trying to find out the identity of the dastardly villians who attempt to run him over in The Broken Ear. He manages to make a note of the number plate (169MW) and tracks down the owner as one Eugene Trebblebob. Eugene is clearly not who he is looking for, and on his way home he accidentally drops his note book on which he had written the number. It lands upside down and he realises that the real villains (Ramon and Alonso) must have turned their number plates upside down, and he should be looking for plates bearing the number MW691. Simple, but brilliant!
These books are packed full of clever little tricks like this and there are far too many to mention but other gems include Snowy ploughing through snow and wind to return King Ottakars Sceptre after it falls out of Tintin’s pocket (despite being distracted by a bone on the way), Tintin ‘accidentally’ tripping and clinging onto the beard of his companion Hector Alembick to see if it was real, and of course employing some real sleuthing skills to find the stolen jewel in The Castafiore Emerald.
As it was usually pretty clear who the villains were in these adventures they were less of a whodunnit than a howcaughtit? The only possible exception is the aforementioned Castafiore Emerald in which the delightful Bianca Castafiore descends on Marlinspike for a visit and is the victim of an apparent robbery. It’s a beautifully clever piece crammed full of mysterious strangers tampering with the electrics, mysterious footsteps, jewel theft, gypsies and an accidental proposal. It’s only at the end when the quietly confident Tintin reveals the benign causes of all of the dramatic events that you realise that nothing actually criminal happened at all.
Each book was a roller coaster across continents from peaceful idyllic Marlinspike Hall to the summit of Ben Nevis there was never a dull moment, and I couldn’t get enough of them!
In 2011 the long awaited Tintin film was made, and I approached it with excitement and a mass of trepidation. How on earth could this live up to the books? Having only had the previous experience of the Canadian TV series Herges Adventures of Tintin as a benchmark I was dubious. In reality it was, in my opinion, brilliant. With the main story being taken from one of the great two-parters The Secret of the Unicorn & Red Rackham’s Treasure (the others being Destination Moon & Explorers on the Moon, The Blue Lotus & Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Seven Crystal Balls & Prisoners of the Sun). It inter weaved brilliantly with parts of The Crab with the Golden Claws to introduce Captain Haddock and still remain true to the original books. (although to my mind Captain Haddock does not have a Scottish accent!)
I took my eldest son to see it, who happens to be called Archie. In Tintin and the Picaros we discover that Captain Haddock’s first name is Archibald; a co-incidence but a pleasing serendipity nonetheless.
The Art of Herge
I recently made a trip to London simply to experience a small exhibition called ‘The Art of Herge’. It reminded me how beautifully drawn these books were; simple clean lines pioneered by Herge and known as Ligne Claire (Clear Lines).
It was particularly exciting to see some of the original drawings, so much so that I might even be tempted to go through with that tattoo after all. But with hundreds of beautifully drawn frames and characters, how could I possibly choose?