Eighty years ago today, Tintin made his first appearance in Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century) newspaper. He was headed to Russia to help the children of Belgium understand what was happening there. I wrote a lot of his history on the birthday of his creator, Hergé. You can read that if you click here.
Tintin is a very pure kind of hero. While his initial stories had plenty of racial stereotypes, the character himself has always been straight laced and hard to complain about. I read in the Economist recently that this helped him become popular in post-war Europe. France banned the publication of any children’s heroes who showed cowardice. The same went for laziness, lying, crime, theft, hatred, debauchery and acts “liable to undermine morality” among the young. So Tintin fit the requirements.
The same article says that Tintin is clearly the product of a small country. He is the “the clever little guy who outsmarts big bullies”. He always stood up for kids being bullied in the books. However, he is often powerless to stop large scale problems, the same as the little countries.
I can see these two reasons being key to why I fell in love with the Tintin books as a child (and teen). Australia is definitely a small country, despite its geographical size. Nothing gives Australian sports fans more pleasure than beating the US or Britain with our “hitting above our weight” theories. Maybe this is the reason I am drawn to the heroes doing massive work for others by sheer will. One person spearheading the building of schools in the wilds of northern Pakistan, or one person risking their life daily to rescue kids from the Nazi war machine.
So, it will be interesting, as the Economist article points out, to see if Americans will warm to Tintin in the upcoming movies. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are betting they will, but it remains to be seen. I wonder how much of Tintin wil be changed to appeal to this new audience. Regardless, one of my most anticipated moments of 2009 will be seeing the first photos to come out of the production of the first movie. Not quite as exciting as greeting our child into the world, but up there.