Created by Georges Remi (Hergé), Tintin is one of the French speaking world’s best-loved comic-strip characters. Find out everything you have ever wanted to know about this extraordinary cartoon character and where to find him in France [Above image credit: Moulinsart Dessin Gnusam]
Unequivocally Belgian, both Hergé and the character he once described as ‘me: my eyes, my feelings, my lungs, my guts!’ were absorbed so swiftly into French culture that it’s hard to imagine a France without the comic-strip adventures of Tintin and his dog Snowy – or Milou as the terrier was known in the original French. Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise such quintessentially French items as Citrôen cars, La Vache Qui Rit cheese and even brioches.
Hergé is considered a major author and artist, with 250 million books sold in more than 100 languages since the first Tintin adventure was published in 1930. By the time of his death on 3 March 1983, more than 70 million copies of The Adventures of Tintin had been sold in French alone. In 2016, Le Lombard and Les Éditions Moulinsart published a book celebrating the 70th anniversary of Tintin Magazine, complete with 600 pages of comic strips.
Conceived as a young journalist, the character of Tintin was given access to a variety of exotic locations and global situations, despite never actually sending in any features. The device allowed Hergé to indulge in his own brand of political commentary, a common conceit in the world of comic strips and cartoons, or bandes dessinées, and one that has contributed to their important place in contemporary culture.
In France, the comic strip is treated as an art form in its own right, and is known as the ‘Ninth Art’ – on a par with New Wave cinema. Often considered as the founder of European comic strips, Hergé was one of the first French-language writers to make regular use of the speech bubble, popularised in US comic-strip art. The influence of his style, especially the use of clear, strong lines and bold colours, spread beyond the world of comic books, with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol taking inspiration from his work.
Tintin’s travels took him to Tibet, Russia, America, Egypt, Latin America, Africa and even the Moon (more than a decade before the Americans). Hergé’s exploration of worlds very different to that of Tintin’s northern European homeland made him a French cultural icon, as well as beloved in Belgium.
However, Hergé and his fictional progeny were often criticised for some of the opinions expressed, with accusations of anti-Semitism, racism and cruelty to animals among those levelled against the books. In February 1999, MPs in the French National Assembly used parliamentary time to hold a serious debate about whether Tintin was left-wing or right-wing, without coming to a decision.
Ultimately, his appeal is universal, very much ‘The Journal of Youth from 7 to 77’ claimed on the covers: the books have enough intelligence and satire to please older readers, and engaging characters and a high adventure quotient to keep children entertained.
Such is that mainstream appeal that in 2011, film-maker Steven Spielberg gambled £85million on his first Tintin movie, which took almost 30 years to bring to the big screen. Despite a mixed critical reaction, the film recouped three times its original cost within the first few months, and a sequel is now in the pipeline.
Perhaps former French President Charles de Gaulle summed it all up when he claimed: “My only international rival is Tintin. We are the small ones, who do not let themselves be had by the great ones.”
There is no sign of Tintin’s popularity and importance in French culture diminishing any time soon, that’s for sure.
THINGS TO SEE
Espace Tintin, Toulouse
This boutique is almost a retail shrine to Tintin and his creator Hergé, with everything from lead, plastic and resin figurines to vehicles, books, calendars, jigsaw puzzles and many other collectable items with wildly varying prices. While Tintin features most prominently, other popular cartoon and comic strip characters can also be seen peeking from the shelves. There are similar shops in Brest and Montpellier, and mail order is available. espace-tintin-toulouse.fr
The Alpine town of Vargèse, mentioned in Tintin in Tibet in 1958 is fictional, but it is described as being a small town in the Savoy region ‘with a lake and a casino’, and located close to Mont Blanc. Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus holidayed there at the Hôtel des Sommets. Although it’s not possible to visit Varg?se itself, the towns of Aix-les-Bains, Annecy and Évian-les-Bains all answer the description and are certainly worth a visit. savoie-mont-blanc.com
Château de Cheverny, Loir-et-Cher
Hergé drew his inspiration for Marlinspike Hall, the home of Captain Haddock, from this château in the Loire Valley. The grand house is still owned and lived in by the same family who built it around six centuries ago – the Huraults. The gardens and grounds make a glorious location for a walk, while Tintin enthusiasts will want to check out the permanent exhibition ‘The Secrets of Marlinspike Hall’. chateau-cheverny.fr
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