"The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh." (Hergé / Moulinsart) Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy. (WETA Digital Ltd.) An illustration from the original book "The Adventures of Tintin."(Casterman) Tintin (played by Jamie Bell), Haddock (played by Andy Serkis) and Snowy await rescue. (WETA Digital Ltd.) Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.) Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.) Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "TThe Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.) Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Snowy, and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.) Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi aka Hergé, father of the Tintin comics. (AFP/Getty Images) "The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon" by Hergé. (Hergé / Little, Brown)
"The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh." (Hergé / Moulinsart)Link
Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy. (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
An illustration from the original book "The Adventures of Tintin."(Casterman)Link
Tintin (played by Jamie Bell), Haddock (played by Andy Serkis) and Snowy await rescue. (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Snowy in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "TThe Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Snowy, and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)Link
Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi aka Hergé, father of the Tintin comics. (AFP/Getty Images)Link
"The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon" by Hergé. (Hergé / Little, Brown)Link
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 post has been corrected, as detailed below.
Tintin is a comic-strip/comic-book character — a young Belgian reporter, nominally, but a reporter who has rarely done any reporting — and by extension the name for all the characters and things that fall within his world, as laid out in the 23 books (and an incomplete 24th, eventually published in sketchbook form) that comprise “The Adventures of Tintin.” Unlike Superman or Mickey Mouse, who have outlived their creators to be re-imagined to whatever purpose the current age or copyright-holder demands, Tintin’s adventures, which began in 1929 with “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,” came to a close with the 1983 death of the man who invented him, George Rémi, pen name Hergé. To the extent that the characters have been marketed since — a remarkably limited extent, given the series’ global reach and the products typically wrung out of an American franchise — it is only in ways that refer to the original works.
“Tintin” is the soccer of the comics world, a global phenomenon the United States has been slow to appreciate. (The books have been translated into 100 languages, including Basque, Welsh and Yiddish.) That will change, to some unforeseeable extent, for better or worse, with the Dec. 21 arrival of “The Adventures of Tintin,” a motion-capture, computer-animated film based on the books “The Crab with the Golden Claws” (1941), “The Secret of the Unicorn” (1943) and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” (1944), directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and written by current “Doctor Who” show-runner Steven Moffat as well as Edgar Wright (the writer-director of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and the upcoming Ant-Man movie) and Joe Cornish (writer-director of “Attack the Block“).
As a fan of the comic, I’m both interested in this film and fearful; the extrusion into an illusionistic third-dimension is actually something of a comedown for these beautifully drawn comics, and it pains me to think of those kids new to Tintin who might regard the original books, if they ever see them, as an inferior version of the film they saw first. In any case, this seems like a good moment to speak of the original, to provide some background and context to the new film, which seems destined, from early notices, for a Spielberg-sized success. (It has already opened in much of Europe.)
This is not the characters’ first adaptation to the screen. In the 1990s, nearly all the stories were animated for television as “The Adventures of Tintin” (a French and Canadian co-production that aired domestically on HBO and whose first season was recently released on DVD by Shout Factory); there were also, during Hergé’s lifetime, an original animated feature, a pair of live-action films (also with new stories), and a stop-motion version of “The Crab with the Golden Claws.” But until now, Tintin has avoided the big-budget American treatment. (I say “American,” aware of the fact that Jackson is from New Zealand and Moffat is Scottish.) I have some hope that Moffat’s customary cerebral coolness, which suits the comic’s clean-lined aesthetic, will act as a corrective to Spielberg’s epic sentimentality. (“Tintin” is rarely sentimental.) As the steward of “Doctor Who,” Moffat also has some sense of what it means to take charge of a work whose fans go back generations.
First published in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s supplement to the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle, and eventually in the weekly “Tintin” magazine, each story was subsequently published as a hardbound book, all of them 62 pages long. They begin with a trip to Moscow and end (if you include the unfinished “Tintin and Alph-Art”) with our hero about to be integrated bodily into a piece of modern art. In between, Tintin, accompanied by his faithful and mostly dependable fox terrier Snowy — Milou in the original French — travel the world and beyond, to Africa, the Arctic, gangland Chicago, the Wild West, Latin America, Scotland, the Alps, the South Pacific, China, Tibet, Eastern Europe and the moon. They encounter smugglers, revolutionaries, counterfeiters, kidnappers, thieves, saboteurs, kings, cowboys, Indians and a yeti. The earliest stories, although they are full of car chases and daring escapes, are episodic and gag-based, timed to the rhythms of a newspaper strip; as the series go on, they become increasingly intricate, thoughtful and character-driven — in the screwball whodunit “The Castafiore Emerald” (1963), the adventurers never even leave home.
Tintin and Snowy are eventually joined by a pair of unrelated lookalike inept detectives, Thompson and Thomson (Dupont and Dupond, in the French original), who specialize in slapstick comedy; a bibulous old salt, Captain Haddock, who becomes the series’ co-star; and a hard-of-hearing scientist, Professor Calculus (Tournesol, in French, which translates as “sunflower”). (Calculus first appears in “Red Rackham’s Treasure” but reportedly did not make the cut for the Spielberg film.) Recurring players include the opera singer Bianca Castafiore, the butler Nestor, and a few favorite villains. Like most comic characters, they do not age, even as the world ages around them.
Next: Who Is Tintin?
[For the record, 9:05 a.m., Nov. 17: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Steven Moffat as the lone writer of “The Adventures of Tintin.” Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish share the screenplay credit.]
– Robert Lloyd
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