Intrepidity personified

Detail from front cover design

The Black Island by Hergé (Georges Remi).
L’île noire (1956) translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner (1966). 
Egmont 2009

Young reporter Tintin doesn’t find trouble, trouble finds him. Like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot he just happens to be on hand when dastardly deeds are being committed; yet despite setback after setback he remains intrepidity personified.

This is no more evident than when his efforts to help those in a stricken aircraft during a casual stroll in the Belgian countryside are viciously rebuffed, leading in time to an impromptu cross-channel trip to Sussex followed by a flight to Scotland.

And all the while we are left to wonder how a teenage newspaper reporter somehow always seems to be the subject of press reports but never the writer of them, and how the long arm of the law seems to always be grasping the wrong end of the stick.

This version of the graphic novel, the last of several revisions, first appeared in 1956 and the English translation (by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner) ten years later. Our hero and his wire fox terrier Snowy feature from the start, of course, soon joined by the two identikit English detectives Thomson and Thompson. Ranged against them are an assortment of villains, Dr J W Müller, his chauffeur Ivan, the counterfeiter Puschov and other ne’er-do-wells. As all readers of Tintin’s adventures will surmise the story proceeds through Tintin and his friends somehow surviving a series of hazardous though usually comic situations, picking up clues along the way and ending with the reporter’s triumphant defeat and capture of the criminals.

Hergé exhibits all his well-worn but satisfying tricks here. Tintin is frequently concussed but avoids lasting brain damage; Snowy expresses himself in canine language though, luckily, translations are always provided; the villains are completely unscrupulous, but their bad deeds are always found out; the English detectives are comically incompetent but always close on the tail of any action. Oh, and look out for Ranko!

A principal delight of the comics is of course the artwork, visually very clear and precise, with a deliberate absence of shadows or indeed shading. Storytelling is of the essence, and that’s what is delivered. The author apparently drew all the characters himself, but in this particular strip cartoon the Anglophile writer had a team of artists who researched scenes and features of British life and drew the technical aspects of motor vehicles, planes and so on. In fact, Tintin’s journey from continental Europe to the top of the British Isles is a succession of journeys by train, plane, boat and foot, and so it must have been important to Hergé that all the details were as authentic as possible.

My last comments must rest with the translation, which seems to me quite seamless even if the language is quite stilted for 21st-century tastes. Why names in the Tintin series are changed from the French I don’t know (Snowy was originally Milou, for instance, Puschov was Wronzoff) but presumably what now appears arbitrary may be perfectly well justified somewhere, somehow. However, Muller’s characteristic imprecation — Kruzitürcken! — is curiously misspelled (there should be no intrusive ‘c’) and I understand that in the original he swears … in French.

16 thoughts on “Intrepidity personified

  1. So thrilled to see a post on Tintin–he used to be such a favourite when I was a child (also continues to be one now). I love the stories and like you the artwork–one of my favourites was King Ottokar’s Sceptre for the sheer amount of detail he put in–even the little brochure on Syldavia–just perfect! I don’t recall Black Island too clearly but it was fun.

    Have you read the Quick and Flupke ones, and the ones with the two kids and the monkey? our library used to have those back then and I read all they had–also good fun.


    1. In the cold light of this morning I’ve reread my crit and realised how anodyne it is! Nothing overly enthusiastic nor dismissive — I suppose that’s how I must feel about the series, faintly admirable for the clean lines and action-packed storylines but ultimately unengaging, for me at any rate.

      I should check that instinct with the other two stories we have here, Mallika, but I much preferred the Asterix series: the humour was different, the wit was sharper, and somehow it appealed more to me. I’ve never comes across Quick and Flupke, though I quite enjoyed the cowboy Lucky Luke comics whenever I stayed with a French family in the 60s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I probably wouldn’t have had it not been for the Library either. I did read Asterix but perhaps not as much back then since I have fonder memories of these. But I can understand you not finding Tintin so engaging–the stories themselves are may be a little stereotypical, but I still enjoy the settings and adventure, and the characters too, since I’ve grown up with them!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not denying that they’re fun, and as an artist manqué I appreciate the skill in draughtsmanship, characterisation and composition. And I do admit a lingering fondness for the nostalgia they provide!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This made me feel quite nostalgic. As I child I didn’t read the books but have fond memories of the TV series, possibly a teatime special. My elder son loved the books and our weekly visits to the library always included the selection of at least one Tintin book. He spent hours poring over them. They continue to be popular in the school library too, their appeal is fascinating. Your description of Tintin’s skills is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our kids enjoyed the TV cartoon series too, which I remember chiefly for the portentous intoning of “Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin!” and for its seemingly interminable series of escapades and escapes!

      I think there were live action French films too in the late 20th century, and I quite enjoyed the more recent Spielberg computer animated feature film, though it somehow felt to have lost something in the technical translation.

      But, as you suggest, it’s really the appeal to a younger audience that matters, Anne, not some pernickity fuddy duddy like me! Glad you liked my description of Tintin’s abilities, though. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah Tintin! I must confess I was never too big a fan; I preferred Asterix and other comics as Tintin’s precociousness and the unending streak of good luck always grated on me 😉 still, glad to see you enjoyed it (mildly), Chris!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Mild”, heh heh! Tintin’s adventures were part and parcel of mid-20C popular culture storytelling, typified by Saturday morning cinema fare for kids, half-hour television series about cowboys and superheroes and, indeed, small screen adventure serials: the perpetual good vs evil set-up — a sequence of jeopardies and setbacks — then the happy ending with the goodies in a group having a final forced laugh. ‘Confection for the masses’ was the commercial impulse and, like candyfloss or marshmallows, not very nourishing.

      So, Tintin follows a well-worn path, except it could be under the sea, in different countries, or even on the moon! Asterix at least had wit and jokes and knowing winks!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. And his imprecations? Blistering blue barnacles! — Bashi bazouk! — Thundering typhoons! — Ectoplasm!

      I have to admit, Snowy (with his WAAaaah!!!!) has oodles more character than his near contemporary Timmy of the Famous Five, and is a whole lot less irritating than Scrappy-Doo and his bile-inducing uncle… 😁

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have a nine year old boy in my life and at this point he prefers TinTin to Asterix. As for myself, at a long awaited (post lockdown) visit to the hairdresser, I have just had all my hair cut off and look not unlike TinTin .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always wonder if there’s something liberating for women to go for a short hair cut, despite the old canard about their long locks being their glory, pride and joy — my better half has sported the gamine look for some time now. Luckily I just have to go over all my head with an electric razor once a week to achieve the ready-to-rumble look!

      Tintin is unabashed adventuring, quite suitable for 9yo boys (and many girls). But having a spot of schoolboy Latin under my belt meant I could enjoy Asterix from my teens, which I found much more satisfying; also Asterix is more cartoony, meaning no one’s in danger of suffering longterm brain damage — I do worry for Tintin becoming permanently punch drunk by middle age…


  5. I grew up on both Tintin and Asterix and love them both. True, Tintin is suited for a little bit younger age group! The question of Tintin’s age has long been a serious topic of discussion in our home — how old IS a cub reporter supposed to be? He looks 14 and acts 24.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And the other mystery is how he never ages, of course! I looked at his Wikipedia entry the other day and there’s a lot of discussion about who Georges Remi may have modelled Tintin on — he may well be a composite figure, looking at the possibilities — and it’s clear he has as nerdy a fan following as Sherlock Holmes or Maigret!


Do leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.