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Brussels Sprout

Would Tintin appeal to American taste?

May 18, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 33 • By MICHAEL TAUBE
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Meanwhile, the memorable cast of characters continually plays off Tintin's heroic energy in a near symphonic manner. Farr accurately portrays Captain Haddock as "the exact opposite of Tintin: weak where Tintin was resolute, unreliable instead of dependable, choleric rather than calm." Meanwhile, Professor Calculus fills the role of "an eccentric, absent-minded professor type," complete with regular bouts of deafness and the heart of a hopeless romantic. Even Snowy is recognized as being more than a mere dog, but rather a "canine hero capable of seizing the initiative" to help Tintin survive the twists and turns he always seems to face.

There's also a similar formula in Tintin which was employed in classic Warner Brothers cartoons: The final product was made for children, but with adults in mind. This is especially true in terms of the link between Tintin's adventures and actual historical events. Students of history will appreciate the surprising bits of reality that Hergé regularly tossed in. For instance, Tintin in America led the intrepid reporter to an encounter with Al Capone. Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon enabled Tintin to beat Neil Armstrong by 15 years in the race for space. Even Tintin in Tibet contains references to political and social themes that can still be seen in print today.

The most profound influence on Hergé's work, however, was his friendship in Brussels with fellow art student Chang Chong-chen. He would be the inspiration for Tintin's friend Chang, a popular character in The Blue Lotus and Cigars of the Pharaoh. Farr notes that the friendship created a mutual period of discovery for both men: "Just as Chang remained a Westernized Chinese artist from his Brussels student days, so Hergé was profoundly orientalized by their encounter and drawn to Chinese philosophy and ideas."

Finally, a light political undercurrent in some books should please conservatives and libertarians. As noted by Harry Thompson in Tintin: Hergé and His Creation (1991), "Hergé's own beliefs leaned to the right," but "only in that it seemed more logical and functional to him to improve existing conditions by making them succeed on their own terms."

Tintin perfectly fits this bill: He constantly desires to right a perceived wrong, to help his friends at all costs, and to shift the equilibrium back to its natural order. If a treasure is stolen, a mystery is unsolved, or a criminal is on the loose, Tintin and his friends will be there to fix the problem, improve the situation, and ultimately win the day.

Tintin is one of the giants of European comics. Few comic strips have ever had its brilliant style, wit, personalities, and artistic merits. If The Adventures of Tintin can become the next big thing in America--held in the same breath as Superman, Bugs Bunny, and the whole Peanuts gang--there may be no stopping this juggernaut.

Michael Taube is a political commentator and former speechwriter for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.