“Tintin addicts are a mixed bunch,” writes New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, profiling the beloved plus fours-clad, quiff-topped adventurer and thereby revealing himself as one of the afflicted. “Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson [have] a three-picture deal to bring Tintin to the big screen. I once heard Hugh Grant declare on a radio program that if he could take only one book to a desert island it would be King Ottokar’s Sceptre (1939). [ … ] General de Gaulle declared that Tintin was his only international rival — he was envious, perhaps, not just of Tintin’s fame but of the defiantly positive attitude that he came to represent.” Despite coming from America, one of the few countries never to have taken wholeheartedly to the character, I too have read and re-read the 23 full-length comic books (or as we call them nowadays, graphic novels) in which he stars, and I too envy his qualities, especially the useful amorphousness of his identity: neither man nor boy; neither traditional nor modern; presumably Belgian, though for practical purposes stateless and apolitical; ostensibly a reporter, but no apparent need ever to file a story.
The late Harry Thompson surely ranks as a top Tintin addict. A radio and television producer, comedy writer, novelist, and creator of Have I Got News for You, he also greatly advanced the widespread avocation of English-language Tintinology with his book Tintin: Hergé and his Creation, published in 1991. Three years later, he would star in this episode of London Weekend Television’s documentary series Opening Shot on Tintin and his creator (part one at the top, click for two and three). His analysis swiftly assures any adult reader just how and why they should go about picking up and appreciating the truly painstaking craftsmanship of these comics they so relished in their youth. The broadcast also features commentary from Tintin’s English translators and, through archival footage, from Georges “Hergé” Remi himself (seen drawing Tintin just above, and his companion Captain Haddock below). Finally, we hear from more typical Tintin readers in man-on-the-street interviews — or rather, precocious-British-child-in-the-bookstore interviews: “My favorite character is Snowy, because he says really rude things.” “My favorite book is Tintin in America, because I like red Indians.” How many of these kids, nearly two decades on, can have resisted the siren song of Tintinology themselves?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.