Culture


Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

 

TINTIN Remembered
by Ginger Danto

Tintin. An improbable matinee idol, with his round head, balding but for a shock of carrot hair, his dated collegiate garb of baggy brown knickers, polo and trailing trench, and his almost indulgent mien of innocence – disconcerting in a detective hero. At times it seemed his canine sidekick Milou (Snowy in English) was sexier and smarter! But nonetheless, around the age of ten, I fell in love.

It was an uncomplicated love for a character from a comic strip that came alive full blown to my child’s imagination, and provided me with the all the vicarious adventure my own life apparently lacked. And it has lasted until this day.

Unlike my first Beatles album, Something New, or my first Barbie (a silken blond with stiff limbs), or other material landmarks of my youth, I do not recall, sadly, my first Tintin album.  I know that it was purchased for me one summer in Paris. I can even still visualize the bookstore, the maze of stacked titles, “but which one?” Perhaps Tintin en Amerique, which offered a somewhat familiar theme. Or Les Sept Boules de Crystal, which spoke to me for its professor protagonist, given that we owed our summers in France to my father’s academic schedule. But I do know that as soon as I discovered Tintin, he stole my heart from my previous hero, Sempé’s awkward but well-intended schoolboy, Le Petit Nicolas. Created by René Goscinny, of Asterix fame, Nicolas was a kind of cross between a Gallic Charlie Brown and Dennis the Menace - short and stout , with a sprout of hair and heavy schoolbag, adrift in a world of eccentric adults and variously sympathetic children – his ‘copains.’
Whereas, Nicolas had a predilection for mischief, often suffering the consequences – such as being deprived of his beloved desert - Tintin conquered the world, without ever taking on the malice or deviant nature of his enemies. Both were original, oddball types, but it was as if Nicolas grew gamely into his invincible alter ego, and set about the sort of life he might only have dreamed at his lone school desk, while his teacher droned about something useless. For me it was a good but not guiltless exchange, as I owe to Nicolas my love of the genre of French comic strip. Tintin essentially took up the slack.

From then on I remember what a treat it was to go with my parents to the bookstore and come away with a brand new Tintin, its spine cracking on opening, its crisp pages smelling of starch, their colors bright. And I would settle in as if among old friends, on some corner of the couch, finding my hero in some new predicament, in some corner of the world, with yet the same parade of familiar screwball characters he seemed preternaturally to attract. It was delicious.

Here was the perennially enraged Capitaine Haddock, swearing up a storm, or the idiot swat team of Dupont and Dupond, dispensing mock authority, or the cluelessly vain soprano Bianca Castafiore, breaking out into her shrill rendition from Gounod’s Faust at the slightest provocation, sending the world around her atremble. Then of course the Professeur Tournesol, preoccupied, even demure, but given to outbursts of expletives (suggested by many punctuation marks) when a project goes awry. And hundreds in a supporting cast of every origin and walk of life, with Tintin at its epicenter, ever polite and often subtly showing sympathy for the underdog, the Indians or the gypsies, those who along their way in history lost their voice.

As a result some morality emerged from these highly entertaining pages, where good ultimately prevailed, mysteries were solved, and the world – even the moon – was a better place for Tintin’s having been on it. The ultimate bedtime story.

Eighty years old and forever young (Tintin first made his appearance in a Belgian newspaper supplement), with no discernable past or future, Tintin and Milou coexist in a kind of existential limbo that makes for their eternal appeal. To the point that, as with the millions of followers across the globe, Tintin remains more real to me than many veritable people who have passed through my life.

And while I outgrew my teenage ardor for Tintin, I have always maintained an especial love for Milou. Scrappy, quick-witted, with a weakness for whisky, the four-legged sleuth to whom his creator, Hergé, ascribed what we perhaps might to all dogs – intelligent, independent thought- Milou is given to articulating in a cartoon bubble for our reading pleasure. Meanwhile, with their years of close collaboration, Tintin mystically gets his companion’s often invaluable message.

A child’s life in France is peppered with references to Tintin, so ubiquitous is its modest hero, like Superman, perhaps, in America, equally eager for ‘justice for all’ with but, in Tintin’s case, mere mortal powers to engage them. There are shops with Tintin paraphernalia – and at one point I succumbed to asking for a doll, a nylon mesh and pliable boy doll, with signature clothes and button nose and perhaps some reporter’s accessory, a pen – uncharacteristic for the mostly unencumbered Tintin.

And to this day my father and I will say  ‘Je dirais meme plus’ by way of agreement. It is a reference to the Dupont and Dupond duo, where one will make an observation and the other will announce the above (“I would say even more”) only to quote his colleague verbatim. It is perpetually hysterical in the copy and it still makes us both smile in conversation.

Now, revisiting them all, Tintin’s hapless entourage and far-flung cohorts, confronting the echoes of history as distilled by the genius Hergé, they have returned into my life, old friends who with age become even more who they are.

Ginger Danto is a writer living in St. Augustine, Florida. She previously worked as a journalist in France for many years.

 

*****

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