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Amazing Adventures of Tintin- The Genius of Hergé

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

The Original Boy Adventurer


Long before Indiana Jones walked into my life with his fedora and his whip, long before Harry Potter burst across the skies on his Nimbus 2000 chasing the snitch, there was a boy who took me away from the dreary backstreets of Madras on his globetrotting adventures.


I followed him to the ends of the earth, across continents, breathless with anticipation of what happens next. I laughed at the antics and pratfalls, I chewed my cuticles at the insane tension of the set pieces- be it a wild chase in the desert, an avalanche in Tibet, a row across the Amazon, an encounter with a lost tribe of Incas or a shoot out in the suburbs of America.


The School was pretty boring with its large class sizes and teachers more dictatorial than an unholy combination of Hitlers, Mussolinis and Stalins. Where they failed to ignite a passion for knowledge in geography, history, language and science, reading the adventures of this boy helped me explore the world beyond and taught me curiosity, imagination and creativity.

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Just like I did all those years ago, every year another generation of young minds discover the pleasures and the wide eyed wonders of this boy reporter. It is no wonder those creative geniuses behind Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings -  Messrs. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, are currently filming the adventures in eye popping 3D using up to date technology that will bring to life Hergé’s drawings.


Welcome to the amazing adventures of Tintin, and the genius of the man who created them - Georges Prosper Rémi (1907 – 1983) or Hergé as he is known worldwide.

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The Amazing Adventures of Tintin


The adventures of Tintin is the most popular European comic book series of the 20th century with over 350 million copies sold and has been translated into 80 languages. It has inspired many young minds. The comic books (or albums as the French call them) are adventure/thrillers set in the 20th century spanning the globe and transcend culture and ethnicity. They are meticulously researched, authentic in a lot of realistic detail and drawn with such clarity and vividness, the images burst from the pages like a motion picture. They are unique in their dedication to detail as every panel is meticulously rendered with the artistic eye of a filmmaker.


They follow the adventures of a boy reporter (of indeterminate age!) Tintin and his faithful companion , the fox terrier Snowy ( Milou in French). Originally composed for a childrens supplement, they soon were published as complete graphic albums, moved from black and white to colour and became popular with adults and children alike.


The plots straddle so many genres: nautical adventures, cold war thrillers, quest, archaeological wonders, science fiction, journey across ravaged landscapes and many more.They reference history as it happens- be it the Bolshevik uprising, The cold war, the unsettled revolutions in South America, the race for moon landing – Tintin is always there at the midst of it all.

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Herge - Georges Prosper Remi ( 1907- 1983)

Herge - Georges Prosper Remi ( 1907- 1983)

Herge  at Le XXe Sicle

Herge at Le XXe Sicle

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The Origins


Georges Prosper Remi ( his pen name is the French pronunciation of his reversed initials RG – Hergé) was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1907 and displayed a natural skill at drawing even during school days. He never really had any formal art schooling having only had a few lessons at his school. He first started publishing his cartoons and strips in the School Scout newsletter. He was an ardent Scout and the themes of honour and adventure that weave through Tintin represent the Boy Scout spirit.


After a strict Catholic secondary School education he went to work at the at the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle as a journalist. When his drawing abilities were noticed he was first in charge of illustrating a strip written by another staff member for the weekly children’s supplement called Le Petit Vingtième called The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette, and Cochonnet . This rather insipid series wasn’t very original. It followed the vogue in those days where the dialogue and the story appeared beneath the panels rather than in the panel itself. Dissatisfied with this endeavour Remi strived to create his own series. He had done a previous one involving a boy scout called Tortor- he decided to upgrade and update this strip.


The Editor, Father Norbert Wallez  asked Remi to create an adventure strip with a Good catholic hero who would travel the world and fight evil and Remi was game for this.

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The Inspirations



On 10th of January 1929 , Hergé launched Tintin in the land of the Soviets and history was born. The original strip was in black and white and featured the Bolshevik uprising. There are various apocryphal tales as to what inspired the creation of Tintin. Artistically Remi owed much to the French illustrator Alain Saint-Rogan who first mixed dialogue within panels for his strip The Adventures of Zig and Puce and pioneered the use of speech balloons in European comic strip.



Remi travelled to Paris to meet this artist who was his inspiration and sought advice and counsel. The pair remained good friends throughout their life. Remi had always insisted the adventures of Tintin was for ages 7 to 77. In 1972, at the age of 77, the illustrator Alain cheekily requested the age to be lifted to 88 so he could continue enjoying the adventures!



Herge always looked to America for inspiration and was aided by his fellow reporter Leon Degrelle, who had been dispatched to Mexico by the Le XX siècle editors for reporting about the troubles there. He regularly sent Remi the local American periodicals and Herge devoured the cartoon strips that were going through a Golden age in the US. Strips such as Little Orphan Annie, Bringing up Father and others fed his imagination further.

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#1. In the Land of the Soviets

Billed as the 'reporter for ' Le Petit Vingtième ', Tintin travels with snowy to the Soviet Union via Berlin. He encounters an agent of the OGPU who blows up the train and implicates Tintin. Arriving in Russia, Tintin discovers a Bolshevik conspiracy to 'make him disappear'. After various hair rising adventures including joining the army in disguise, Tintin stumbles on the underground consipracy to deny the 'people of the Soviet' of their wealth and livelihood.

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Palle Huld, The Danish Teen adventurer

Palle Huld, The Danish Teen adventurer

Inspirations


Some say that the character of Tintin was inspired by Herge’s brother Paul Remi who was a soldier in Belgian army. Others point to a Danish Teenager called Palle Huld. In 1928 a Danish newspaper ran a competition to celebrate the spirit of Jules Verne at his centennial. The winner would replicate the voyage of Phileas #Fogg and would be asked to travel around the world in 80 days. It was restricted to only teenage boys.


It was won by a ‘fresh faced, freckled, snub nosed teenager Palle Huld with a shock of red hair and a penchant for plus fours’ and he duly travelled around the world including Manchuria and Russia and returned to a hero’s welcome 44 days later. As this was the year before Tintin ws launched one cannot deny the similarities. Hulld went on to become a famous Danish actor and always claimed he was the real Tintin!

Robert Sexe

Robert Sexe

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Robert Sexe

Tintinologists ( or Tintinophiles- choose whichever) also claim that the wartime journalist Robert Sexe who became famous in Belgium for his exploits in the motorcycle and travelling around the world reporting on adversity and adventure, could also be a strong influence.


It is rather curious that Robert’s first country of travel matches Tintin’s. His first trip was to Russia, and the timing of his next adventures match the Tintin albums.The similarities don’t just stop there, The correspondent's travel companion and close friend on the motorcycle rides was called Rene Milhoux. Tintin’s faithful companion Snowy is called Milou in the original French. Coincidence or Curiosity?

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#2.Tintin in the Congo

Travelling to Congo ( which was then a Belgian Colony) , the intrepid reporter Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy encounter the cheering natives, jealous witchdoctors, wild animals and ultimately learn of a villain only known as A.C who is trying to control the diamond trade. After triumphing through various escapades, Tintin comes to realise A.C is none other than Al Capone.

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Research and Authenticity

Even for his first book Hergé read voraciously ensuring he was basing his observations on meticulous research. His opinion of the Bolshevik uprising reflects the mood around Europe and the ethos of the strict catholic newspaper, which was very anti communist. A view he did regret later.


Hergé used travel books, reportage and photographic archives to draw authentically. The first adventure as one can imagine was in black and white and is a weaker story among all, with none of the fantastic characters’ that emerged later. He benefited but equally suffered due to the various view points and has been accused of colonialism and Nazi sympathies when all he wanted was to tell a good story.


He had to re-edit several panels in Tintin and Congo and also The Shooting star to avoid public retort during later years when political correctness became vogue and the world was a different place of Equality and Diversity. As with many popular authors with a global audience and a career spanning across the wars, it is inevitable as times change the author is accused of biased view points.

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Hergé always strived to maintain authenticity of the local customs and even strived to brush up on the local language to include a few words of the native text- Cyrillic in Tintin and the soviets, Swahili in Congo, Hindi in Tintin and Tibet, Mandarin in Blue Lotus and so on.


Although initially, Hergé, the eternal perfectionist, took the duties of writing drawing colouring and research all by himself, he was soon exhausted by the painstaking process. He would collect archival files full of information about articles, places and also subscribed to the National geographic making him the perfect armchair traveller.


He had catalogue models of pistols, motor cars, aeroplanes making every panel in his albums authentic and painstakingly rendered. Post war, he formed a studio called Herge studios- and employed a collection of talented artists who would further enhance his vision. Each had a strong point providing even more authenticity and colour to the panels. The post war Tintin took on a wider and more colourful canvas, often rendering panels that were full page, inked in with extraordinary details and panoramic set pieces.

He used techniques then that are now used by animators at Pixar- he modelled every nuance, every posture so as to capture the characteristics with such fluid detail that the images feel like they are in constant motion. He even made replicas- like the moon-rocket in Destination Moon- so as to render each panel from a different viewpoint and not lose perspective. He was a master craftsmen where no detail was spared. Success such as his are not happenstance- it is a testament of all the hard work he has put in- a lesson to us all!

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#3.Tintin in America

Tintin is dispatched to Chicago, Illinois and encounters once again the deadly enmity of Al Capone. He pursues another gangster, Bobby smiles across the Mid West only to be captured by the Blackfoot Indian Tribe. After many escapades and a dreaded concrete boot drowning in Lake Michigan, Tintin and snowy escape and capture all the Criminal syndicate and are honoured by a ticker tape parade by the grateful residents of Chicago.

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#4.Cigars of the Pharaoh

Originally published as Tintin in the Orient, this globe trotting tale starts with Tintin in a Mediterranean cruise where he encounters the Egyptologist Prof Sarcophagus who claims to have found the lost tomb of pharaoh Khi -oshk. Tintin follows the trail through Port Said in Egypt, across Arabia and then onto India to track down a drug cartel, mysterious fakirs and encounters with Arab Sheikhs and Indian Princes.

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#5.The Blue Lotus

With a renewed commitment to authenticity, interweaving historical incidents such as the Japanese invasion of China, including the Mukden Incident, occupation of Shanghai, colonial bullying and sympathy with the Chinese- Hergé displays a new found freedom away from his right wing Editor and strives for a balanced view point but never letting go of the rip-roaring adventure. Spanning between India and china- he encounters the drug cartel again, a poison of madness, blowing up of a railway line, opium smuggling and a struggle to save an orphaned Chinese boy.

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#6.The Broken Ear

Following the trail of a stolen Idol leads Tintin and snowy to South America where they encounter lost tribes down Arumbaya river, rival revolutionaries, assassination attempts and oil companies feuding with each other. Here Tintin eludes capture, fights for his life and ultimately saves the day.

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The Storylines and Influences



As an active journalist, Hergé always had his ear to the current news and included period details in his albums. The Bolshevik uprising, the St valentine’s massacre, the Tibetan crisis, South American revolution, Egyptology, Moon landing, Oil crisis all feature in his books and he often anticipated future events with unnerving accuracy.


As he grew more confident, his storylines grew even more ambitious , meticulously plotted and spanning several countries. After the adventures in Soviet, Congo and America where Tintin meets al Capone, his first Indiana Jones style adventure was Cigars of the Pharoah where he meets an Egyptologist Dr Sarcophagus and also features the first appearance of Thomson and Thompson ( Dupont and Dupond in French) the two bumbling detectives that became series regulars.


It was in The Blue Lotus that Hergé hit his stride- featuring meticulously researched Chinese landscapes and historical details, he was aided by a Chinese student Chang- Chong-Jen who was then studying in Brussels. Grateful for the support, Hergé introduced him as a character the Chinese boy Chang chong-Chen who featured in that story and later reappeared in the fantastic Tintin and Tibet.


The onset of war and Nazi occupation of Belgium meant that there were heavy censorship on the subjects. This was perhaps for the best as Hergé was able to tap into swashbuckling boys own adventures and science fiction subjects as in The Shooting Star, Secret of the Unicorn, Seven Crystal Balls etc. His newspaper was Nazi controlled and Hergé was later accused of Nazi sympathies even though he merely continued to work in the newspaper as did many other workers under Nazi occupation.


Blending various sources, Hergé has created a perfect cocktail of imagery, authenticity in his story lines. With superb detail and genre hopping that could have been the precursor of many attempts to mimic him since. While the American comics were going off on a tangent seeking super heroes and mutants, his stories were firmly rooted in reality and history of that era.


Bolshevik uprising ( Land of Soviets), Diamond smuggling Belgian Congo ( Tintin in Congo), Gangsters and bootlegging, St Valentine's day massacre (Tintin in America), Egyptology and curse of the mummies as well as opium trail( Cigars of the pharaoh), Japan- China conflict, opium smuggling ( The Blue Lotus), Rival oil companies funding revolution in South America ( The Broken Ear) , Counterfeiters, strange hauntings on a Scottish island ( The Black Island) , Balkan mischief and rivalry of Eastern European nations ( King Ottokar's sceptre) , Drug smuggling and shipping ( Crab with the Golden claws) Meteorite on a collision course, discovery of a new metal and scientific rivalry ( Shooting Star), A treasure hunt featuring an old pirate map ( Secret of the Unicorn/ Red Rackham's treasure)


The attempt to taint the oil reserves of the world (Land of Black Gold) , the manned mission to moon ( Destination Moon/ Explorers on the Moon) , the discovery of an advanced civilization of ancients who had technology ( Flight 714), Piracy and Slave Trade ( Red Sea Sharks) , Stealing of modern technology for making weapons ( Calculus Affair), A country house mystery ( Castafiore Emerald), Aztec mayhem and an adventure in the Andes( Seven Crystal Balls /Prisoners of the Sun), Himalyan adventure looking for a lost boy from a plane crash, encounter with Yeti ( Tintin in Tibet), a political rivalry in south American Republic ( Tintin and the Picaros)  .


No genre was out of bounds to Hergé. Many have dismissed Tintin as a children's comics - but his books are a testament of never talking down to children and trusting their vivid imagination.That's why his books are loved by all ages.

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#7.The Black Island



A plane crash and subsequent investigation leads Tintin to England and then to a remote and mysterious Scottish island feared by locals. while investigating the local myths and the reason for the plane crash, Tintin and snowy discover the counterfeit money racket run to by two master criminals.


After an encounter with a Gorilla, shadowy dealings off the Scottish coast and daredevilry in a ruined castles Tintin triumphs with a little help from his faithful Snowy.

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A panel from Prisoners of the sun

A panel from Prisoners of the sun

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

Artistic Style




Hergé's ' ligne claire' ( clear line) approach to drawing meant all lines were of equal emphasis with no cross hatching or shadowing. This featured cartoonised versions of characters set against hyper realistic backgrounds giving a strong sense of authenticity. He relied on photographs of places, National Geographic features, models and often sent his studio artists away to research the location to ensure authenticity as he grew more successful. When someone complained that the Black Island featured outdated version of England, he promptly dispatched one of his artists to redraw the locales.


His revisions updated and upgraded the albums and the addition of colour meant a startling sense of realism that is not matched by anyone else. His unique approach to drawing has had many admirers from comics, films and other media. He used storyboarding techniques and painstakingly posed for every posture and expression. He drew all the characters, the story and dialogue and had a batch of assistance- very much like a film director- who filled in bakcgrounds under his guidance. He asked to built live models of objects so he could draw the best perspective for cinematic effect.


He employed long shots, dynamic movement, close-ups, chase sequences and utilised the POV like a movie camera, enriching the experience for the reader.



In many ways he was the precursor of companies such as Pixar who strive for authenticity and research meticulously. The stories are enriched by such attention to detail. Many European comic book artists were influenced by Hergé's art. There is no doubt many film makers did too.



Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein both stated Hergé's artistic style as a major influence to their own.

An intricately designed panel from Tintin's India trip

An intricately designed panel from Tintin's India trip

an encounter with the llama- slapstick, literally!

an encounter with the llama- slapstick, literally!

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the-amazing-adventures-of-tintin

#8. King Ottokar's Sceptre


Cleverly integrating Balkan intrigue, Hergé tells the story of two rival Kingdoms in Eastern Europe, Syldavia and Borduria through this adventure of Tintin. Accompanying a sigilographer, Alembick, Tintin discovers a plot to steal the sceptre of King Ottokar of Syldavia. If the reigning king does not possess the sceptre on a festival he will be forced to abdicate.


Investigating the disappearance, Tintin stumbles upon a nefarious plot to overthrow the King thought to be by the rival nation of Borduria. But all is not as it seems and he encounters many, many adventures while doing so eventually retrieving the stolen heirloom and maintaining peace. He receives the Knight of the Order of the Golden Pelican by the King himself for his help.