‘Tintin’: A beginner’s guide to the European classic

Nov. 22, 2011 | 4:09 a.m.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)

Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin" (WETA Digital Ltd.)

Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd is a longtime “Tintin” fan and he will be writing a series of posts on the heritage of the character. This installment explores: Who is Tintin?

Tintin is a young Belgian reporter of somewhat indeterminate age, the central figure in Hergé’s world-beloved comic-strip/comic-book series “The Adventures of Tintin.” I say “reporter,” because he is at times described as one, but apart from asking a lot of questions he is almost never shown at work. (Indeed, in the stories he is more reported upon than reporting.) Nevertheless, the notion of the job gives the character a reason to travel and frames a life of investigation and adventure; it also made him, for a while, a figure both in and of the newspaper that first published “Tintin,” Belgium’s Le Vingtième Siècle, in its children’s supplement, Le Petit Vingtième.

A cousin of such 20th century American young-adult heroes as the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, Tintin is no longer a boy, nor quite yet a man. (“It’s difficult to say,” Hergé once told a teenaged interviewer who asked  the character’s age, and then settled on 17.) But he is manly in a way that boys were once told to strive to be: athletic, brave, loyal, cool-headed, polite. In any case, neither his friends nor foes, all his senior, treat him as a child; practically speaking, he is more adult than any of them. His virtues are, essentially, Boy Scout virtues — Hergé had enthusiastically been a Scout himself  — and in early drawings Tintin markedly resembles his predecessor Totor, the star of a strip Hergé had written for Le Boy-Scout Belge.

His origins are never discussed. He comes into being at the moment we meet him, in 1929, on a railroad platform, bound for Moscow, and dissolves, almost metaphysically, into the series of sketches that make up the last panels of “Tintin and Alph-Art,” unfinished at the time of Hergé’s death in 1983. He does not age, but he does evolve, becoming more and more of a fleshed-out, one might almost say “ordinary” human being as the years go on. In the last books, it has been noted, he is as much acted upon as acting, less keen to go adventuring, but still willing to do what’s necessary.

Visually, too, he becomes more lifelike with time, his at-first spherical head stretching into an oval, his body language and features growing ever more expressive. Some basic elements maintain: the button nose, the dotted eyes, the back-swept quiff Hergé gave his hero to make him easily recognizable from frame to frame, and he wears his increasingly old-fashioned plus-fours almost to the end of the series, when he finally gets a pair of jeans. (One byproduct of the translation of Hergé’s drawings into a  more conventionally realistic “three-dimensional” figure for Steven Spielberg’s computer-animated “The Adventures of Tintin” is that the movie-related merchandise features a Tintin who bears only the faintest trace of his creator’s hand.)

He has no parents, but he is not an orphan, and lives independently with his dog, Snowy. His friends are his family; eventually, he will share a house with some of them. He has no romantic life, real or imagined, but this is true of nearly every character in “The Adventures of Tintin.” His closest relationships are with Snowy, and the irascible, imaginatively profane, whiskey-drinking (later not-drinking) Captain Haddock. And he has a sort of transcendental affinity with Chang Chong-Chen (Tchang Tchong-Jen in the French original), a Chinese boy he saves from drowning in “The Blue Lotus” (1936) and, on the evidence of a dream, goes looking for in the Himalayas in “Tintin in Tibet” (1960).

He is, of course, good — pure of heart, mind and deed, yet neither a prude or a prig. (Offered alcohol, he will politely demur; as a European, he has no issue with drinking, only impatience with drunkenness.) He is comfortable in other cultures and around different ways of thinking. A hero in an age of accelerating travel, he can drive, fly or pilot any machine that comes to hand, but he’s also at home on a horse or a camel. He is slow to anger, but not immune to it, and though he can be too trusting for his own good, he is usually the first to notice the out-of-place thing or strange behavior that signals something wicked his way comes.

Next: Who was Hergé?

– Robert Lloyd


‘Tintin’: Spielberg on the Indiana Jones connection

Lloyd: The hopes (and fears) of a longtime ‘Tintin’ fan

‘Tintin’: Catching up with a globetrotter

Moebius: The Hero Complex interview

‘Tintin’: Spielberg felt ‘more like a painter than ever’

Andy Serkis’ Haddock is ‘shipwreck of a human’

Spielberg touts ‘Tintin’ with Peter Jackson’s help

Pegg and Frost tell tales from Spielberg’s ‘Tintin’ set

Pegg and Frost on droid noises and chest hair

Spielberg wanted a ‘Potter’ animated franchise


9 Responses to ‘Tintin’: A beginner’s guide to the European classic

  1. Valerie says:

    I love that you write this post about Tintin's lack of background and anchor in reality, because to me that is the reason why this classic can't be adapted on screen. In a comic strip, the reader has to fill the holes, to imagine the character's voice, his private life… On the big screen someone (the actors, filmaker, 3D artists) have to find motivation, a voice, way to move which absolutely kill what only existed in the books: the room for projection and fantasy! Thank you

  2. Rossi says:

    @ Valerie

    Herge, the creator of Tintin thought it could be adapted on screen and chose Spielberg to do it more than 2 decades ago. If Herge believes it is possible for his work to be adapted on screen then it is.

  3. Laurent says:

    In fact there were already 2 movies made (in 61 and 64) and a lot of cartoons, so Spielberg isn't the first to put a voice on Tintin

  4. AnthonyZ says:

    I just saw the movie at a premiere last night and I have to say that I loved every minute of it. I read the TinTin books like most people as a child but have not had much interaction with them since then. I thoroughly enjoyed the flim and thought they did a brilliant job with a great representation of the characters all around.

    Fantastic article too there Mr Lloyd, great work.

  5. Jude says:

    I agree with you all, although TinTin remains mysterious to many of us, he surely is a hero. I love the 1990s version. I used to watch TinTin series in Arabic version, and had one of the comic books, until I lost it last year. In the end, Steven Spielberg done a very wonderful work! I'm really sure that many people loved the film!

  6. Guest says:

    I wonder if the technology that exists today exited in the early 80's would Indy be a cartoon?

  7. Gil says:

    Most Americans have never heard of TinTin and Snowy, I was introduced to this amazing character many years ago by a Dutch family who had moved to Texas on a missionary based assignment. The books were fascinating and I spent many days at my friends house just reading book after book. Sadly nobody else I knew ever heard of TinTin and i filed this away in the recesses of my mind.

    Although I may have my doubts, but from what I've seen, the movie could make new fans of the character here in the states. If it succeeds, TinTin will take his place amoungst the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Tom Swift!!!!

  8. trajan says:

    who name's their kid TinTin?

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