The Adventures of Tintin in the 21st Century

X-FLR6If you really want to see graphic communication — the artful combination of images and words put in service to narrative — at its most powerful, then have a look at this picture of my nephew reading a copy of “Explorers on the Moon,” the seventeenth in master draughtsman and storyteller Hergé’s long line of Tintin comic albums, which he acquired last week during our trip to visit my dad, his grandfather, in Paris.

Justin Reading Tintin
Above: Justintin. My nephew Justin discovers the world of Hergé.

“Explorers on the Moon” is actually only the English translation of the title. This particular episode in the adventures of boy reporter Tintin and his comrades was originally published in French as “On a marché sur la Lune,” way back in 1954, when my father was in his teens and living in France. He was a Tintin fan then, and read most all of the twenty-four or so installments. A few decades later, he introduced me to the English translations of Tintin’s adventures when I was growing up in the States, and I devoured them all, becoming a lifelong fan myself.

So here’s my 11-year old nephew, discovering them for the first time thanks to my dad, who bought him this copy and a copy of its immediate predecessor, “Destination Moon,” (the titles together form a two-part story) for the plane ride back to the States. The characters and the franchise were essentially new to my nephew; he’d heard the name Tintin before but had never read the books, and he certainly knew nothing of the franchise’s legacy or formidably devoted worldwide following. (Or even of the forthcoming movie adaptation from Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.)

Still, he became engrossed by the cast and story immediately, burying himself in the books without hesitation. Before we’d even crossed the Atlantic, he’d finished both, laughing at the comic hijinks, connecting effortlessly with the characters, and marveling at Hergés pristine, still amazing ligne claire drawing style.

Just think about that: a simple comic book, originally intended for children (or the young at heart), that’s captured the imagination of three generations of my family, and has probably done the same for countless other multi-generational families, too. That’s powerful.

  1. So true, Khoi. One of the reasons I was drawn to do some work in comics is because, when done well, they can communicate in a completely unique — and uniquely effective — way. This post is one of the best examples I’ve seen of that.

  2. My 10 year old daughter has recently become a fan of both Asterix and Tintin. I think it’s great that she’s finding these classics so engrossing. Now, if I can just turn her on to Pogo….

  3. Belgium and France have an amazing variety of comics for all audiences. Japan has more output, but the francophone quality is higher in my opinion, certainly on the drawing side of things. There is also a wide variety of comics for grown-ups, many of them with stunning illustrations that long ago left behind the “Ligne Claire” espoused by Hergж.

    One of my favorite series is “Les Citжs Obscures” by architects Schuiten and Peeters, which are set in the major cities of a parallel universe.

  4. We introduced the boys next door – who are 5 and 7 years old – to Tintin at Christmas, and they’re devoted fans now. I imagine a fair bit of it goes over their heads, but some of sinks in… I watched Rome recently, and was amazed at how much of the politics I’d picked up from reading Asterix all those years ago.

  5. I’ve always loved the Tintin books, fantastically fun adventures and something about the Linge Claire style has always appealed to me, which is probably why I draw in that style today.

    I high recommend having a look at E.P Jacob’s Blake and Mortimer, another strip from Tintin magazine, art publisher Cinebook are in the process of translating the albums.

  6. Blistering barnacles, I miss those books. All I have to remind me of them now is a French poster of “L’Etoile Mysterieuse” in my hallway.

  7. Yeah, my home country (Belgium) brought forth a great deal of classic comics. Tintin (or ‘Kuifje’ in Dutch) was part of my youth as well.

    But as Fazal Majid suggested above, Khoi, “Les Citжs Obscures” take you on an extraordinary trip through comics, architecture, mysticism and top shelf storytelling. I’m not sure if they have ever been translated in English though. Check the Wikipedia page for more info. Recommended!

  8. As a child I remember in the first week of every school holiday my mum would take my sister and I to the town library. Without fail I would head over to the shelf with the Tintin and Asterix books, in the hope that I would find ones I had not read before. Wonderful times…

  9. i’ve been a huge fan of tintin since my childhood. one amazing thing about herge’s Tin Tin is that, the precision in details, starting with Blue Lotus. The amount of effort he tries to get everything as accurate as possible is painstaking. He often traveled to, or used photographs as reference in his drawings depicting a foreign land. that’s the type of craftsman not seen often these days.

    a really good reference site for Tin Tin fans is”>”>

  10. I remember reading these books at the public library as a kid. I ended up buying the entire hardbound collection last year. It was a great excuse to regress a bit and enjoy a piece of my childhood all over again. 🙂

  11. I have been a huge fan of the Tintin books for years since I grew up in Europe and devoured the books at a young age. I recently pulled them back out of storage and immediately read through them all again (I’m 30 now). What amazed me was the difference between my interpretation of the stories as a kid and now as an adult. I’m picking up a lot more in the dialog and story and it amazes me how detailed the stories are. I’m looking forward to passing these on to my kids and I’m especially excited about the movies that will be coming out.

  12. there two pages are kind of info-loads to READ.

    I am always thrilled by the different sentence or word lengths of languages. For example German synchronisations of American TV shows have to speak much faster than the original. And it must be even faster when it’s French, cause compared to German, French sentences are even longer (take a look at any book in this three languages)

  13. In addition to Beano (UK), Tintin and Asterix/Obelix were my first real comics/graphic novels. I loved them dearly. The girl got me the compendium books for my birthday last year – not their original full size counterparts but a nice collection nonetheless. I still love the gang — Captain Haddock has always been a favourite.

  14. Put me down as a fan of Asterix as well. I would read the German version with my Langenscheidt’s on my lap looking up every word I didn’t know. I learned a lot of German this way.

  15. I loved that the gunshot sfx was “pan” instead of “bang.” As an adult, I’d later recognize this technique in indie and foreign films, which stressed normalized sfx over Hollywood’s explosive sounds. As always, it’s the attention to detail that matters. And, in Herge’s case, using those details to ground the material so that the fantastic seems even more plausible.

  16. I grew up in Mexico as a huge Asterix fan. I’m amazed at how well they did at translating it into Spanish and into English, how the characters names are just as funny and insightful in both languages. I just recently discovered Tin Tin with my 12-year old son. He’s now a devoted Asterix and Tin Tin fan. Our new puppy is named Asterix.

  17. Great stories and drawings, but beware of some possibly offensive language and racism in the early stories (e.g. Tintin in the Congo). In the time that they were published it was probably quite normal, but nowadays they’re a bit controversial. Otherwise just great comics.

  18. When I was a kid in India, I loved reading Tintin when I was a kid. I spent hours and hours over any of them that I could find/borrow/buy. I came to the States when I was 9 and it never occurred to me that the comic would be here. I never heard from it again (sigh) until I heard a few weeks ago that Tintin will be created into a movie. Ah what a great turn of events!!!

  19. I grew up reading Tintin serialized in Children’s Digest magazine in the early 60s. (Humpty Dumpty magazine was for little kids, and then at a certain age, you graduated to Children’s Digest.) Serialization was a terrific way to read Tintin, spacing out the adventures of a single book over several months. Later, reading an entire book in a single day or two seemed positively immoral.

  20. I named my homegrown blog system (Mylos) after one of Schuiten & Peeters’ Obscure Cities…

    As for un-PC aspects in the early Tintins (Tintin in Congo, Tintin in America and the original Tintin, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), they are simultaneously quite right-wing and unabashedly eurocentric. Tintin in Africa is quite racist, in a small-minded and ignorant way, not in the malevolent way of Leopold’s near-genocidal colonial regime in Congo. Tintin in America is absolutely hilarious in its complete cluelessness about American society.

    The big change happened with Tintin and the Blue Lotus. Belgian Jesuits learned Hergж was working on a project based on China, and feared it would be as crude as Tintin in Congo. They arranged to introduce Hergж to a Chinese student, Zhang Chongren (Chang Chong-Jen), who became a friend of Hergж and the model for the character Chang in the comic.

    The end result was markedly different from previous episodes, and remarkable for its cultural sensitivity (although there was some crude anti-Japanese prejudice, not entirely unwarranted). The Blue Lotus also marks a maturing of the drawing style. Chang features also in Tintin in Tibet, which is considered by many as the peak in the series.

  21. I’m curious to know how all Haddock’s swearwords are translated into english. Things like “bachi-bouzouk”, “zouaves”, “galopin”, “ours mal lжchж”, “pignouf” or “vaurien” ;}
    If someone may let me know.

  22. In India Tintin is really popular. The books have even been translated into Bengali. Though Asterix is popular too, it has never found the same acclaim here (except among the literati); probably because a lot of the humour is pun-based, which is difficult to understand if english is your second language.
    @f: bachi-bouzouk (i’m guessing) is bashi bazook. the others i’m not so sure.

  23. You site is just awesome, and your design is also mind boggling… just great.

    btw, did Tinting in the 21st century come to visit Nepal? lol

  24. Tintin and Asterix were almost required reading material at the lunch table when I grew up! 🙂 (Those, of course, with the more contemporary of my time: Calvin and Hobbes, though they are a strip)

    I’m sure my vocab and reading comprehension (and history knowledge) went up significantly because of those two collections.

    Your nephew is reading in English? When I first started learning French, I would occasionally challenge myself by finding a French version of Tintin. Especially once you know the books well, it makes it easier to understand the second language!

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