Wednesday 24 March 2010

Tintin and Me (or should that be Tintin et moi?)

I recently posted an interview that graphic novel author and fellow Tintin fan Garen Ewing kindly did for my blog. In this interview he mentions that The Black Island is his favourite in the Tintin series. Coincidentally, The Black Island is the first Tintin book I can remember reading as a child, and it remains my favourite to this day. I can picture the bookshelves it was kept in and the school classroom those bookshelves were in, and a quick calculation would put me at either seven or eight years old at the time. I also remember how desperately I then searched through the rest of the books on those shelves, and the school's meagre library, looking for more of these fantastic comic books. I managed to find Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Secret of the Unicorn, though sadly not Red Rackham's Treasure, the second in this two-part story.

It is amazing how that one comment by Garen brought all of these memories flooding back, and I guess that is one of the reasons why the Tintin books mean so much to me - I can associate so much of my childhood years with them. When I was a kid, things were tight in our household and going to jumble sales with mum were occasional Saturday activities. I remember how excited I was one day, walking out of one of these events with a somewhat battered hardback edition of a Tintin book with a big red and white space rocket on the front, not realising until I got home that the book's title was Objectif Lune and there was me not understanding a word of french. It didn't stop me from trying to follow the story using only the pictures though. By the time I did start studying french at school I had managed to get my hands on an english version of the book, and the other one languished for years unread on a book shelf. Sadly I think it eventually went the way of a lot of things - back to a jumble sale or charity shop (along with a few toys that might be worth quite a lot these days).

At the time I did not realise how much my mind was being opened to issues that were not even hinted at by the other books I was reading at the time such as Enid Blyton and the Three Investigators books. These did not have plots relating to drug smuggling in the way that Cigars of the Pharoah and The Blue Lotus do; neither do they touch on political issues such as the way the US Government treated native Americans over land-rights, as seen in Tintin in America. Admittedly, Hergé had his own political views and his earlier books are in many ways a product of the society in which he had been brought up up - Tintin In The Congo especially has been criticised by many for being racist, but this tells us even more about the colonial attitudes in Belgium at the time. Hergé's writing these issues into his stories encouraged my hungry mind to find out more about these topics and many more. My interest in world geography was also fed tasty morsels through the many exotic locations in which the stories were set. Hergé did not travel to the majority of these, but in a desire for authenticity he became an obsessive collector of photographs from newspapers and publications such as National Geographic. A number of years ago, following a visit to see the exhibition of Hergé's work at the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels my wife bought the wonderful Tintin - A Complete Companion by Michael Farr. This book is an essential read for any Tintin fan, and there are many examples of the actual news photos that Hergé used to aid him in drawing his strips.

Since starting to teach Design Technology my collection of Tintin books has come in handy for another reason as they also have quite a lot to teach us about the time when they were drawn, and more specifically design. There is a wonderful scene in The Calculus Affair (page 13 to be precise) where a large crowd has gathered outside the gates of Marlinspike. There is a carnival atmosphere depicted in this one particular panel, and I have often used it with students as an exercise in the differences in design between now and then (The Calculus Affair was originally written in the mid-1950s). A prize goes to the group of students that can come up with the most differences in both the designs of the time and society in general, just from that one comic strip drawing. Looking beyond the fantastic stories, these strips can tell us a great deal about the times in which they were written. Again, Herge's quest for authenticity pays off - they are rich in historically accurate images of all kinds of modes of transport, products, interiors and architecture and are a great way of promoting discussion about these everyday subjects. I do this with sixth formers, but parents could do this with children of any age.

Tintin has always been popular but it is likely that this popularity could soar to an all-time high next year when Steven Spielberg finally releases his big budget version of The Secret of the Unicorn. I can't help but feel excited, especially when I look at the cast (Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thompson and Thomson), however like all long-term Tintin fans I am also a little concerned that some of the magic may be lost. It won't stop me queuing up to see it on release day though, and it will certainly not stop me from enjoying these books for the rest of my life. Thank you Georges Remi for giving me a lifetime of thoroughly enjoyable reading.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad you mentioned Tintin and Enid Blyton in the same thread since some of us read both, the Herge Tintin and Enid Blyton series such as The Famous Five and The Secret Seven at the same time during our childhood. Thus, my profound memory of those childhood reading habits led me to write and publish a book on Enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
    Stephen Isabirye