Tintin and his dog, Snowy. Artist: Herge.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published in: Belgium
First Appeared: 1929
Creator: Hergé (Georges Remi)
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Tho not as big a part of American toondom as Japanese properties (e.g., Speed Racer, Astro Boy), cartoons originating in Belgium, as prominent as Smurfs or as little-remembered as Marsupilami, have a significant presence in America. Foofur, Lucky Luke, Snorks … all from Belgium. The first of these Belgian …

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… imports — comic book characters originating in Belgium and achieving international success, reaching even as far as America — was Tintin.

From the moment the paper began in 1928, 21-year-old Georges Remi was editor of the newspaper Le Petit Vingtième, a supplement of Le XXe Siècle aimed at younger readers. Under the pseudonym Hergé, he drew The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poiusette & Cochonnet, an illustrated story written by a staff member. But he found this work unsatisfying, especially in light of his recent discovery of Bringing Up Father, Krazy Kat, The Katzenjammer Kids and other American comics, where the art was essential to telling the story, rather than just illustration of what was already in the words. This made him want to create comics of his own.

On January 10, 1929, his first comics story began in Le Petit Vingtième: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the first of almost two dozen adventures of his intrepid reporter hero. Hergé chose a newspaper man as his hero, because that occupation offered great scope for adventure. He chose the setting of his first story as a way to warn his young readers about the dangers of succumbing to the blandishments of the Bolsheviks, the revolutionary Communists who were running Russia at the time.

Hergé had no idea how popular his story was until it ended, and as a promotional stunt, he staged Tintin's "arrival home" in Brussels, with an actor playing the part of the character. He expected a quiet arrival, to be written up in the occasional news article, mostly as a friendly gesture to a colleague. But he was greeted by a cheering crowd of well-wishers, including many children, hoping for a glimpse of the famous hero. The experience convinced Hergé more Tintin adventures were in order. Later that year, Tintin embarked on an adventure in The Congo, then a colony of Belgium but now the long-independent nation of Zaire. In 1931, he had another "homecoming".

By then, Tintin was also being published in France, the first of many countries where the character was promoted. Despite the political content of the first story — and that "read into" the second by many people, internationally, taking what we now call a "politically correct" point of view about its depiction of African natives — the Tintin stories tended not to concern themselves a great deal with politics — especially considering the political turmoil rampant throughout Europe during the 1930s and '40s.

After Le Petit Vingtième succumbed to the social and business changes brought about by the looming war, Hergé relocated to Paris, for health reasons. Tintin continued, at first published in a juvenile supplement of the French paper, Le Soir, but avoiding "sensitive" topics during the German occupation of France. Ironically, it was after the liberation of Western Europe that his political troubles really began. Since Le Soir had survived with the tolerance of the Nazi authorities, its staff was accused of having collaborated with them, and barred from working in the publishing industry. Hergé was arrested four times during this period.

In 1946, with World War II finally behind him, Hergé launched Tintin magazine, continuing the story that had been in progress during the war, while starting a new one. Within a couple of years, it was being published in several places around the world. Within ten years, its circulation topped a million. By this time, the album editions, reprinting Tintin's adventures in graphic novel form, were being published in a uniform 62 pages of content, in full color. By the 1970s, earlier works, including the controversial "Congo" and "Soviets" titles, had been adapted into this format, and purged of embarrassing content.

Georges Remi died in 1983, leaving behind 20 completed volumes of Tintin work, and one uncompleted story, Tintin & Alpha-Art.


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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hergé.