The Tin-Tin series by Belgium writer Herge (made into a cartoon series by the same name, and also a relatively recent film) was (and still is!) a love of mine. I distinctly remember reading them in the library at lunch time while the people next to me raced each other in “Where’s Wally?” and “I Spy” competitions.
They are a collection of 24 comic books about the adventures of Tin-Tin, a Belgium reporter and his dog Snowy. The history of their conception and publication is an intriguing read in itself, worth the google 😉
What I love
The characters! They are utterly hilarious. Captain Haddock with his “billions of blue blistering barnacles” and fiery temper always makes me laugh – as do Thomson and Thompson, the luckless and idiotic detectives, and oblivious Professor Calculus with his perchance for mis-hearing information.
The plots! They are my favourite type: realistic-fantasy, and for the most part, have the heroes falling into entirely unexpected adventures, meeting some larger than life characters, and making momentous discoveries that change their world. They go to the moon, the former Soviet Empire, under the sea, Tibet, Egypt and of course Belgium. They encounter guerrilla fighters, pirates, aliens, opera singers and a Yeti.
Why I love it
I think what I find so tantalizing is that the predictability of the characters adds tension rather than taking it away. In any given story, I “know” the Thompsons will fall into trouble, Professor Calculus will make a discovery, but as a result of his deafness get into a predicament, Captain Haddock’s temper and weakness for alcohol will cause havoc, Snowy will uncover a clue and Tin-Tin will save the day – but I don’t know “how”.
And so I read and sit on edge, afraid at each turn and twist that the Captain will lose his temper once and for all, or Calculus will fall into the hands of the villains.
Because the characters are so extreme, and their situations so unique, there is really no limits to the direction the story could go – and so it remains exciting and unpredictable.
My favourite story is Destination Moon, and its sequel Explorers on the Moon. For me it is unrivaled in its inventiveness, plot twists, humour and also villainy. When they run out of air as a result of the trespasses of a scientist, and he in order to save the others and atone for his sins, casts himself out into cold space, I was moved to tears (in my school library).
That is good story telling.
Issues and complexities
There have been many claims of racism and sexism in regard to the Tin-Tin adventures, and to the large part it is true. They are products of their times, and in one or two stories are rather overtly Cold-War propaganda. They are also products of a certain style – comics thrive on stereotypes, and Tin-Tin, as realistic as it is, is no exception. Yet while their portrayal of Africans, Jews, Germans and Russians is wrong and unhelpful, a more subtle issue is, I believe, the fact that all the “evil” people look “evil”. That is as wrong and unhelpful as racist stereotypes – because not all ugly people are villains and not all fresh-faced young reporters are blameless.
//Images property of Herge estate//