EST. 2009

September 16, 2013

That Boy from Brussels

WEEKS SINCE RETURNING FROM BELGIUM, I continue to get acquainted with its culture, gaining particular interest, this time, in its well-loved comic strip export. The Adventures of Tintin was born in Brussels, first appearing in Catholic youth publication Le Petit Vingtième in 1929. Under German occupation in the 40s, the series moved to a new daily paper Le Soir, and after the war, to its own publication Le Journal de Tintin. Since then, the comics have been translated to over 70 languages, and been adapted to radio, television and feature film, among an array of other media.

A boy essentially from Brussels, Tintin owes his existence to yet another boy from Brussels: Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi. Better known for the phonetic transcription of his reverse initials R.G. or Hergé, the illustrator first worked as a clerk in the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siecle, before he was made editor of its youth supplement Le Petit Vingtème.

As editor of the weekly, Hergé was unimpressed with the comics he illustrated. It was then that he decided to create his own series, the protagonist of which was inspired partly by adventurous boy scout Totor, whom he previously created for a magazine, Danish boy scout Paulle Huld, who at 15 wrote a book about his travels, as well as Hergé's own brother Paul Remi, who was a career soldier. Inspiration and imagination combined and gave rise to Tintin: the red-haired, button-nosed reporter in plus-fours, with whom years of thrilling escapades would be had.

Said to be in his mid to late teens and of European ethnicity, Tintin's age and nationality has been kept vague, with but a few visual and verbal hints to Brussels being his hometown. Ever-accompanied by his trusty dog Milou in French, or Snowy in English, Tintin traveled a well-researched world of distinct cultures and characters, fictionalizing in ligne claire such personalities as the inventor August Picard or soprano Maria Callas, and such locations as Machu Picchu, Château de Cheverny and Petra.

Over the years, elements of Tintin's adventures fell too politically incorrect for the times. Portrayals of Jews and the Congolese in particular, as well as depictions of cruelty to animals, needed re-writing, re-drawing or even re-coloring, to erase prejudice from eras past. In spite of necessary changes, the series continues to provide a glimpse into real-world milestones of the 20th century, while delighting audiences even after three decades since its last publication.

For Tintin and Hergé fans in Barcelona, the Museu d'Història de Catalunya is currently exhibiting the 24 adventure editions, along with the postcards, photographs, magazines and advertising materials Hergé meticulously based their drawings on. For non-fans, the exhibit is a great primer into Tintin's world, and a good place to embark on a twentieth-century, or vintième siècle, adventure.

Le Petit Vingtième covers from