Monday, March 30, 2009

Tintin


Given the frequent references I make to classic adventure strips like Terry and the Pirates that served as inspiration for Rob Hanes Adventures, I've been remiss in not mentioning here the iconic adventure series, Tintin.

Though not as well known domestically in the U.S., Tintin is an icon everywhere else in the world. The series is the brainchild of Herge (the pen name of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi) and features the globetrotting adventures of Tintin. (Though identified as a reporter in the series, in a conceit that's typical of many adventure characters, readers rarely ever see the hero actually practicing his chosen trade.) Tintin is usually accompanied on his adventures by his faithful dog Snowy (Milou in the original French) and a hard-drinking seaman, Captain Haddock. Over the years, the series developed a strong, well-defined cast of supporting characters such as the bumbling twin detectives, Thompson and Thomson (Dupont et Dupond). Examples of the high regard in which the series is held can be found in a chain of upscale retail boutiques devoted to Tintin and other European characters that I've blogged about in the past, Karikter, and several fine books and biographies such as Tintin and the World of Herge by Benoit Peeters.

Tintin was created within Europe's rich comics tradition that developed somewhat separate from and parallel to U.S. comics. Debuting in 1929—the same year as Buck Rogers and Tarzan, the two strips that most historians agree signaled the start of the adventure comic strip—Tintin began as a serialized feature in a children's supplement to a Catholic Belgian newspaper based in Brussels. The strip quickly became a European and international sensation, its place in history no doubt secured by the fact that each of the completed stories were regularly collected as complete albums sold throughout the world. As noted in its Wikipedia entry, "the series is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, with translations published in over 50 languages and more than 200 million copies of the books sold to date."

Twenty-four albums were published in all, taking the character to exotic locales and adventures all over the world. The series has had its share of controversies: early stories were written from a European colonial patriarchal perspective that come off as mildly patronizing, with Africans often portrayed using the kind of racial stereotypes that were typical of the early 20th century (some subsequent editions were subsequently subtly altered or have been banned outright in some places); and the artist was accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II because the strip continued to be published throughout the German occupation. The series successfully weathered these controversies, however, to become an internationally loved character well into the 1970s and into the modern day. (A never completed story using Herge's rough pencils for the adventure was published posthumously in 1986. Herge passed away in 1983.)

As one can see from the samples included in this commentary, Herge was a disciple of the ligne claire ("clear line") style of drawing, where the artist drew in a very clean style where everything was very clearly delineated, leaving very little room for the artist to fudge. The series was greatly admired for being well researched and topical, no doubt an outgrowth of this style of cartooning and Herge's own sense of perfection. Always good natured and moral, as well as appropriate for all ages, the series conveys a world of exciting adventure for young readers.

I can't say that Tintin served as an early inspiration for Rob Hanes Adventures. Though I became aware of the character as a child through animated adaptations that found its way to American television during the 1970s (my memory is that they were fairly faithful to the source material), I did not begin really purchasing and reading the books until well into adulthood. But over the years, I have come to very much appreciate the series, partly through the retail store and books mentioned above. I must also admit that, due to the painstaking attention to detail, the books have become a helpful reference!

Now is a good time to mention the series because this year marks the 80th anniversary of the character. Of greater interest, however, is the fact that a $130 million film adaptation of the character is now in production! For those who haven't heard, the film is a unique joint project between directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (a recent Los Angeles Times article about the project is available here).

The films have been projected as a trilogy with Spielberg directing the first film and Jackson directing the second. However, the movies appear to be much more collaborative than that: Spielberg has completed principal photography on the first film using motion capture technology and Jackson will reportedly spend the next 18 months overseeing the CGI phase of the production at his Weta special effects house. Initially, the filmmakers had trouble raising the funds for the film, which was partly a function of the downturn in the economy as well as the concern over whether the film would do well domestically given how little know the series here is in the U.S. But the film, licensed by Spielberg since the '80s, is clearly on track.

Below: I presume the Spielberg/Jackson production won't look like the adaptation below!

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