Devotion and Debate : Tintin’s legacy 90 years on

Posters advertising the Hergé exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris September 2016 - January 2017.
Posters advertising the Hergé exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris September 2016 - January 2017. RFI / Tiếng Việt

The blond, globetrotting reporter Tintin, created by cartoonist Hergé, was first published on 10 January 1929. Readers of Le Petit Vingtième a supplement of a Belgian Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle discovered Tintin and his faithful sidekick Snowy the dog for the first time in a black and white strip called “Tintin, Reporter, in the Land of The Soviets”. Who could have predicted such longevity in the world of comics and beyond?


Through his 24 adventures,Tintin has found himself traipsing across the globe from Congo, to the Americas, Tibet and even the moon.

Loved by young and old, his adventures cover many of the major political themes of the era in which they were published and continue to shine a light on today’s complex world.

His creator, Georges Remi, born in 1907, was taken on as the editor in chief of the the children’s supplement in 1928 and what started as a bit of light reading became something much more – and the pseudonyme Hergé was born.

Casterman Publishing House, based in Tournai, Belgium, became the publisher of the Adventures of Tintin in 1934.

Since then, 250 million copies have been sold across the world and Tintin’s adventures have been translated from French into hundreds of languages.

Tintin in the Congo still top of the pops

To coincide with the 90th anniversary, Moulinsart, the Belgian company which manages the Hergé legacy, has issued a remastered colour version of the original black and white Tintin in the Congo in digital format.

Yves Février, the digital communications manager for Moulinsart says the company started digital remastering of black and white drawings in 2017 and intends to do so every two years.

One of the reasons Tintin is still so popular is that he has “a strong digital footprint” he told RFI.

Février established the current version of the Tintin website in 2000 which is host to a Tintin “newspaper”, a TV channel with documentaries and short cartoons and stories available in app form.

Tintin in the Congo, the second adventure, published in 1931, is the one that has, over the years attracted fascination and controversy.

It depicts the reporter travelling through the former Belgian colony and includes encounters with diamond smugglers, big game hunters and wild animals.

It was first serialised from 1930-31 and was then reissued in 1946.

Moulinsart felt it important to organise a round table discussion on Thursday at the town hall in Brussels featuring several people such as Hergé’s biographer Philippe Goddin, which in part aimed to address the controversy surrounding the book.

In 2007, Congolese campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo launched legal proceedings to get the book banned, saying its portrayal of Africans was racist.

However in 2012, the Belgian court ruled that the book did not intentionally incite racism and that it was a product of its colonial times.

Février says it’s important to have an open dialogue about the controversy and it shows that Tintin can still be at the heart of current affairs.

“It was definitely proselytism on behalf of the Catholic Church,” acknowledges Février, who says Hergé was openly encouraged to write the Congo storyline by his boss, the editor of the Catholic Vingtième newspaper, the priest, Norbert Wallez.

Hergé would have visited Belgium's Museum of African art founded by King Leopold II at the time and based some of his research on that, says Février.

Artworks he would have seen at the time have since come into the spotlight amid a demand by African countries to return artefacts to their original countries of origin.

Février says the Tintin website aims to provide a link between the past and present and explain the historical connection to the debates surrounding the book today.

Hugues Dayez, Belgian journalist and author of a book on the legacy and the management of the Tintin brand (Tintin Et Les Heritiers - Chronique De L'après-Hergé) also refers to the ongoing curiosity Tintin in the Congo provokes.

Although Tintin in the Congo is “full of clichés” and “simplistic”, it remains to this day a bestseller. “A real commercial hit” he told RFI.

What is behind Tintin's long-lasting appeal

Hergé’s drawings are graphically simplistic and this is part of his universal appeal, says Février. The faces remind us of the smiley face, which is the simplest version of a human face.

In terms of legacy, “Tintin is more alive than ever,” claims the Tintin website designer.

Dayez concurs that “it’s a miracle that Tintin has become such a big part of European patrimony”.

“The genius of Hergé was he was the first in Belgium to have an ambition for comics which had a real point of view,” he goes on to say.

However, Dayez expresses concern when it comes to Tintin’s legacy moving forward.

The last publication was an unfinished edition Tintin et l'Alph-Art, was published in 1986, three years after the author’s death.

Hergé made it very clear while he was alive that he did not want any other cartoonist taking over once he died.

Hugues Dayez says this is perhaps the empire’s weak point.

“There are no mobile phones, it’s very historical, not direct to young people.”

Hugues Dayez says unless a modern image of Tintin appears on the big screen or in television series, propelling it into the hands of the next generation may prove to be tricky.

In Dayez’s book, published in 2000, he asked several questions about how Tintin’s legacy would play out.

One of them is whether Tintin would have a museum?

The answer is yes.

The Hergé museum was opened in 2009, in Louvain-la-Neuve, in the French speaking Brabant-Wallon province (30kms southeast of Brussels). It was funded by Fanny Rodwell-Vlamynck, Hergé’s second wife. It holds more than 80 original drawings (plates), hundreds of photos, documents and objects.

“We have 85 percent of Hergé’s original material at the museum” says Yves Février, and they are very well preserved, “which is not always the case for other artists”. The museum is holding a series of events over the weekend in connection with the anniversary.

When it comes to the Hergé museum, Dayez says it’s a tribute more to Hergé than Tintin himself. It elevates him to the level of a contemporary artist, and the museum has a very intellectual approach.

“It is quite far from the comic strip’s original intent, more for the older generation of fans."

"Today’s children will only discover Tintin through their parents who loved the character".

In terms of its location, Dayez regrets that the Hergé museum is not easily accessible by tourists and he regrets that there is not a museum dedicated to Tintin in the centre of Brussels.

Another question Dayez poses was whether Tintin would make it to Hollywood, which he did in 2011 in Steven Spielberg’s Tintin: and the secret of the Unicorn, which had its première in Brussels.

Since then, director Peter Jackson has put forward a proposition for Prisoners of the Sun which has yet to be backed by big studio funding, something Dayez says will be important if Tintin is to appeal to future generations.

Being in the right place at the right time

Interestingly enough, Hergé did more of his travels later in life. So how did he get the information and the inspiration for his globetrotting lead character?

Février says Hergé, being employed at the Vingtieme Siècle newspaper, was in the right place at the right time and had access to the news of the day in the form of reports and photographs. This would have inspired him for his stories, which over time became more mature.

One turning point was perhaps the The Blue Lotus, in which Hergé writes his real life Chinese friend Chang into the story.

Février notes that Hergé did a lot more research and preparation before embarking on the the creative aspect of this story and Chang helped him get the right tone to present the Chinese culture.

Tintin in Tibet one of Dayez’s personal favourites was also a sign of depth and maturity because he “dared to put emotion in comics”.

“It was the first time we see Tintin’s tears – so powerful and moving.”

In terms of universal appeal, Tintin goes from regional dialects to the other side of the globe.

Belgian press RTBF reports that Tintin has also been translated into some 40 regional dialects. The Castafiore Emerald was translated into several Belgian dialects, while The Calculus Affair much of which takes place in Switzerland was translated into local a dialect.

Meanwhile, an exhibition has just opened in South Korea for the first time, which will be on until late 2019.

And for those who love comics, “BD” as they’re known in France, you can see behind the scenes in the cartooning world at the 46th Festival international de la bande dessinée in Angoulême 24-27 January, 2019.

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