Blistering barnacles, Belgium’s quiff-toting adventurer Tintin has just turned 85 years old. Yet the iconic cartoon character’s lifetime of controversy is showing no sign of letting up.
Calls for the books to be banned are as vocal as ever, despite (or maybe even because of) more than 2million new copies being sold each year. And the legend continues to grow.
Steven Spielberg gambled £85million on his 2011 Tintin movie. After almost 30 years in the making, critics panned it. But fans loved it and the film earned three times that amount at the box office alone in the first few months after its release.
Now Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is taking up the baton with a soon-to-be-released sequel that will doubtless divide opinions as bitterly as everything that has gone before.
Tintin’s creator Georges Remi, better known by his pen-name Hergé, frequently wove politics into his stories, taking barely-concealed digs at world leaders and casting Americans as the bad guys.
Hergé also revelled in frequent digs at big business, drawing attention to their unethical exploitation of ethnic minorities and meddling in international politics.
He had to deal with accusations of animal cruelty, sexism, racism and antisemitism in the books right up to his death in 1983. An event that sparked a period of mourning in his native Belgium, summed up by the headline “Tintin est mort” in Liberation.
After the war Hergé was even branded a Nazi collaborator. His cause was not helped by working for Le Soir newspaper – which acted as an apologist for the German occupiers.
He was interrogated and barred from working until his friend, the publisher and former resistance fighter, Raymond Leblanc helped to clear his name.
Hergé summed up his regrets in a 1973 interview: “I myself believed that the future of the West could depend on the New Order…In light of everything which has happened, it is of course a huge error to have believed for an instant in the New Order.”
Tintin first appeared in a kids’ supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Petit Vingtième and was so successful that it spawned a series of books published in 70 languages and selling more than 200million copies.
Studios Hergé was set up in 1950, to produce twenty-four Tintin albums, his stories have been adapted for radio, TV, theatre and major Hollywood blockbusters.
The characters who share the globe-trotting reporter’s adventures, including his faithful fox terrier Snowy, the boozy Captain Haddock and hapless detectives Thomson and Thompson are almost as iconic as Tintin himself.
They are all immortalised in the £16million Hergé Museum in the provincial Belgian town of Louvain-la-Neuve. Exhibits include tributes paid to Hergé by Andy Warhol, who viewed him as a peer.
The pop art superstar praised Tintin’s “great political and satirical dimensions”, adding: “Hergé has influenced my work in the same way as Walt Disney. For me, Hergé was more than a comic strip artist.”
Philosopher Michel Serres declared Tintin a masterpiece to which “the work of no French novelist is comparable in importance or greatness”.
And French President Charles de Gaulle said: “My only international rival is Tintin. We are the small ones, who do not let themselves be had by the great ones.” Seems the debate over Tintin’s legacy will rage for another 85 years.
All images © Hergé-Moulinsart 2014