Book Review: Travels with Tintin

By PETER ROFF, United Press International  |  Aug. 19, 2002 at 10:39 AM
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ATHENS, N.Y., Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The book at a glance: "Tintin, The Complete Companion" by Michael Farr. Published by Last Gasp, $29.95, 205 pages.

Though he is comparatively not very well known in the United States, Tintin is an icon the world over.

The product of the fertile mind and the detailed hand of the Belgian Georges Remi -- better known to the world as Hérge -- the adventures of the young reporter called Tintin and his faithful dog companion Snowy, (Milou in French) along with his colorful band of associates are celebrated the world over.

Tintin first appeared in 1929 as a character in a Belgian Catholic newspaper's supplement for children. Over the last 50 or so years, his adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages -- including Latin and Esperanto -- and have sold close to 4 million copies each year.

The canon is complete, Hérge having died in March of 1983. But, like Sherlock Holmes and the other indelible characters of literature, his reputation and following grows year by year. There are no new adventures in the offing; no one could produce a passable pastiche.

What there are, and in increasing number, are analyses of the stories and their origins.

Michael Farr, a British journalist who is one of the English-languages leading experts on the character and its creator, has put together "Tintin: The Complete Companion" (Last Gasp, $29.95, 205 pages), published for the first time in the United States this year -- already having been available in Europe.

It is a treasure trove that no 'Tintinologist' should omit from their library.

All told, there are 20 complete Tintin adventures. The 21st, "Tintin and Alph-Art" was unfinished at the time Hérge died. It is available, however, having been published in 1986 in the state in which he left it.

The Tintin books themselves fall somewhere between an American comic book and a European graphic novel. They are generally unique in the annuals of American literature.

In the Francophone world, which includes Belgium, such books are called 'illustrées," and are quite common. Few if any have, however, achieved the level of international success as Tintin.

Farr's work joins that catalog of analyses of the Tintin phenomena written by such luminaries as Benoit Peters. It is certain a useful addition for anyone whose first language -- like Farr's -- is English.

His narrative follows the adventures, book by book. In addition to the more than helpful information about what was going on in the life and career of the author as each book was written, Farr points out in some detail the origin of so many of the characters, settings and concepts that went into making up each story.

One area in which Farr's book excels is in the effective mining of the archives of the Hérge Studios. One of the great pleasures of the Tintin books is their realism. There is a precision, an attention to detail that is not typically found in American comics or animation.

This was no accident. Hérge was a stickler for detail and Farr helpfully provides many photos from the archive that were the models for things that found their way into Tintin's adventures -- from automobiles to whiskey bottles to a moon rocket.

"Tintin: The Complete Companion" is not a substitute for the adventure stories. It is, indeed, a complement to them and should not be touched until every last adventure is read and savored.

With a successful animated series already completed -- and aired in the United States on HBO and Nickelodeon -- and a musical in the works in Europe, Tintin may finally get the exposure in the United States he so richly deserves. It is odd, however, that in this new age of computer generated animation that no films of a Tintin adventure has appeared on the screen or put into production.

The stories themselves read like old movie serials -- which they were in a sense; each story was told in short segments in different newspapers and magazines before being reformulated and condensed into book form.

The new technology that has produced such cinematic delights as "Toy Story," "Spirit -- Stallion of the Cimarron," and "Monsters, Inc.," is surely tailor made for Tintin.

It is now possible to render the story on the big screen with the appropriate level of detail that Hérge 's demanding eye would no doubt insist, were he still among us. Hopefully, such a film will come to us soon.

Until then, fans must content themselves with the well worn copies of the adventures of Tintin, Snowy, detectives Thompson & Thomson, Captain Haddock and the rest that sit in a place of honor on our bookshelves.

(Peter Roff is a UPI senior political writer and a fan of the Tintin stories since childhood.)

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