Why Tintin fascinates us?

Sayoni Sinha
Yahoo! India Movies

When Steven Spielberg handed the Academy award for best picture for the ‘Return of the King’ to Peter Jackson, little did he know that they would end up collaborating for ‘The Secret of The Unicorn’ which is set to release on November 11, 2011. Two very unlikely people, each with a plethora of films to boast off in their resume, have come together to produce a comic strip hero film.

So what makes this boy hero, so irresistible and fascinating? The legend of Tintin doesn’t simply exist in the conventional storybooks. The young reporter, traveling all over the world to unravel mysteries and crack crimes continues to live even after 75 years. For the uninitiated, Tintin is the creation of an extremely talented employee of the ‘Le Vingtieme Siecle’ newspaper, Georges Remi and is aptly known as the father of the modern European comics. His popular name comes by reversing the initials of his name.R.G –Herge (French name)

Many Tintinologists have labeled Herge as a social commentator and that is partly true.  The cartoon journalist’s first assignment saw Tintin venturing overland to the USSR, in a story that reflected western criticism of recently established soviet regime. So the fascist and stalinist plots of the thirties, the race to the moon, fascination with the snowman and much more caught his imagination as well. Herge was also inspired from America where cartoon strips were in rage, and thus used a new technique in which the character’s words came directly out of their mouths.

Herge has also been criticized for continuing to draw cartoons for the newspapers controlled by the Nazi occupiers during World War II, and it has been said that his cartoons encouraged people to buy newspapers, and that he changed his subject matter to suit Nazi agenda. The extent of Herge’s culpability is open to debate, though it is clear that it would have taken a lot of courage to refuse to work for the Nazi invaders. Hergé had ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’ withdrawn from circulation in the 1930s, and had requested that ieven after his death, the book must be kept out of circulation as much as possible. Consequently, not only the number of Tintin's first adventure is kept down to a minimum, even Tintin merchandise has always been deliberately produced in limited quantities only.

Herge wrote ‘Destination Moon’ and ‘Explorers on the moon’ in 1953, 14 years before man actually landed on the moon. Niel Armstrong words ‘…that’s one step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind’. Armstrong’s words are like an echo from those of Tintin who said ‘this is it...I’ve walked a few steps! For the first time in the history of mankind there is an explorer on the moon’. In the political arena, they trace Europe's awakening from colonialism and the rise of the right in the 1930's, through to the cold war and beyond. At times they even managed to ripple the waters of international politics.

Where, then, did Hergé's genius lie? Undoubtedly, in the field of humour; he was a comic genius. It was Hergé's sense of humour that made the appeal of Tintin truly international. Without Tintin, Hergé's life would have been a lot simpler, but a lot less rich. He could have avoided being variously reviled and claimed as their own by the political right and left wing, not to mention manipulation by businessmen, long periods of depression, painful soul-searching and psychosomatic illness.Yet given the chance to lead his life all over again without Tintin, Hergé would almost certainly have refused.

Behind his anger and frustration at being unable to escape his protégé lay a deep, almost paternal affection for him. A few years before his death, he sent a drawing to Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper with the revealing dedication, "To Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, who did so much for my little son". He and Tintin truly had a love-hate relationship.

The secret of Tintin's success, though, is that each story, whatever its significance at the time of writing, transcends the boundaries of its setting today. To Hergé, the universality of Tintin's appeal was of far more importance than his worth as a social commentator. By turns, Tintin was innocent, politically crusading, escapist and finally cynical. Hergé's principles were constant and generally admirable throughout, but a degree of life-preserving expediency ensured that Tintin was not always able to follow suit. Hergé was a powerful social and political commentator, but events dictated that he would never mature into a commentator. Once he said, “I consider my stories as movies-No narration, no description and the emphasis is given to images”. Perhaps Spielberg understood what he actually meant.