I can't imagine a world without Tintin. Period.
That's possibly because ever since I have been conscious of the world, I have been exposed to the brilliance of Herge. My mother probably read out the stories to me when I was 3 years old, and they have been a part of my imagination ever since.
What is it about Tintin that continues to captivate me all these years ? Comic heroes have come and gone. I seem to have outgrown Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and so many others, all of whom I was pretty enamored by at an earlier age. But Tintin continues never to age. His adventures continue to throw up some new meaning, and some new facet which I had not thought of earlier.
I don't know what are the reasons for this. Maybe if I studied literature, I would know how to deconstruct Tintin.
Today, I thought of going through each of the Tintin adventures and take up one frame from every book which I think is a salient point of why Tintin continues to enthrall.1) Tintin In America
For me, Tintin starts with his American adventure, for the simple reason that his Soviet and Congo adventures were unknown to me much till much later in my life.
The American adventure is a fast moving western, with less of a 'story' and more of 'exploits'. Tintin and Snowy are more of the equivalent of modern day swashbucklers than the suave detectives of the later adventures.
The humor is slapstick for the most part, but a frame that always gets me is where Tintin climbs out of the window of a skyscraper and climbs in through the neighboring window. More than anything, this daring and ingenuity is an indication of what our hero is capable of in his later travels around the world.
The frame depicts the sheer drop which Tintin crosses. with a slightly nervous expression on his face. The depiction of perspective, along with the authenticity of architectural elements (which would turn out to be Herge's forte) are so impressive that I can never flip this page by in the book without looking at this frame for a long time. This is probably the one place in all the Tintin adventures where we have a 'never say die' moment.
The boy reporter has burst onto the scene. It's all uphill from here.
2) Cigars of the Pharaoh
This is probably one of Herge's weakest stories, in my opinion.
There are ridiculous plot points and highly un-Herge-esque factual inaccuracies.
India is depicted as a land of snake charmers, maharajas and fakirs, something that matures tremendously by the time Tintin makes his epic adventure to Tibet.
In the story I find this frame memorable - where Tintin, our hero shows his vulnerable side by falling to Senhor Oliviera de Figueira's 'patter'. The sheet absurdity of Tintin buying a top hat, a ski-ing kit, a garden shower and a parrot in the middle of what is probably the Arabian Sea, is hilarious.
I think this vulnerability is one of the reasons why Tintin stands out. he is not a superhero, and he has many of the failings of his readers.
3) The Blue Lotus
Herge's first masterpiece. The Blue Lotus is a standout in many ways. it's the only Tintin comic to make use of real events in it's plot point without disguising them as happening in fictional countries (like Syldavia, Borduria, San Theodoros and Kehmed of future adventures). Japan is the aggressor here, and very evidently so.
I don't know why, but this frame always makes me stop and look. I think it's the sheer detail and authenticity of the drawing. Everything, from the small lights on the 1930 lamp posts to the way the backpack of the man in the foreground is pressed by its weight against the ropes adds to the mood of the frame.
Undoubtedly, the hard work Herge applied to making his depictions of life 'excellent' and not just 'acceptable' is one of the reasons why his fan following only grows 82 years after he wrote his first Tintin adventure.
4) Tintin and the Broken Ear
The Broken Ear kicks off the adventurous run of Tintin in the real sense. Here, Tintin lands up in the thick of a South American revolution. What better adventure than that ?
Most of the gags in this adventure still border on the slapstick, though we can see the plot getting better.
The most recurring point of interest I find myself hung on to, each time I go through this book is where Tintin is listening to a conversation between Dr. Ridgewell and Avakuki (the chief of the Arumbaya tribe). What looks like gibberish is actually immediately comprehensible when we read it aloud. I still remember the first time I discovered this (fortunately no one had told me this before, to spoil the fun), and how absolutely thrilled I was.
To explain, Dr Ridgewell is saying "Now look. Do you remember the brown idol ? Tintin's looking for it. Can you help him ?'. And Avakuki replies "The brown idol ? Yeah ! Yeah ! It's like I told you. The tribe gave the brown idol to Walker. He was a nice guy. But his fellas took our precious jewel. And if the Arumbayas catch him they'll have his guts for gutters. No messin !'.
I don't know about others, but I found this to be insanely clever. Apparently Herge did something similar in French, but whoever translated this to English must have been a genius.
5) The Black Island
With this adventure, Herge officially let's go of the slapstick, and Tintin moves into a whole new era. The redrawn version of the Black Island transports the reader to the Island of Eire. The drawings abound with the minutest of detail.
Nowhere is the sense of adventure more evident than this frame, where Tintin and Snowy are approaching the Black island with a sense of determination to find out its secret. Notice the difference in lighting in the gorge and the sea beyond, along with the eerie effect of the birds circling the tower of the abandoned castle.
6) King Ottokar's Sceptre
This adventure introduces us to the interesting world of Baltic politics, with Syldavia and Borduria as the representatives of warring European nations of the day.
Syldavia is portrayed as a benign monarchy, with a typically East European history, while its neighbor Borduria is clearly a representation of the Italy of Mussolini.
The story, though slightly dated, still is relevant in the present day as long as we have constitutional monarchies in Europe.
The frame that captivates me, is the one where Tintin has messed up by allowing the royal sceptre to drop out of his pocket, and Snowy has to choose between picking up the sceptre or a tasty bone. Snowy enters the scene with the sceptre, clearly not very pleased about having to leave his bone behind.
Again, an example of the real failings of our heroes, along with their determination to choose the right path.
7) The Crab With the Golden Claws
To me, nothing depicts the spirit of Tintin better than this vignette.
Even in the empty desert, with no one to turn to, Tintin, Snowy and the indefatigable Captain Haddock have each other. One of the reasons I was happy with Spielberg's recent film is that he managed to capture this moment perfectly.
This adventure is a particularly crucial one in the Tintin stories, as this is where Tintin meets Haddock, who will remain his lifelong friend. The fact that Herge manages to portray beautifully in this frame is that in the desert of our life's journey, it is important to make and cherish those few friends who will stand by us in times of hardship.
8) The Shooting Star
I am not a particularly big fan of this adventure, but it does have its moments.
I always crack up at this sequence where Herge, in a typical Tintin-deprecating moment, shows our hero in a confident moment breathing in the sea air (and advising Snowy to do the same), and a moment later getting drenched by the sea.
9) The Secret of the Unicorn
If there was any adventure of Tintin's that could be filmed, this is it. This is an adventure par excellence, which throws the reader between the middle ages and the present time. Between the villainy of pirates and of present day hoodlums. Between the swashbuckling heroism of Sir Francis Haddock and the steadfast friendship of his descendant Archibald.
The drawing above is an unusual Tintin frame. For one thing, it happens in flashback. For another it shows a fair amount of death and carnage. Both not depicted so starkly in any other story.
Somewhere, deep within us, we all yearn to be heroes like Sir Francis, with a cutlass in one hand and a pistol in the other, saving His Majesty's treasure.
10) Red Rackham's Treasure
Another crucial adventure, where we are introduced to Professor Cuthbert Calculus, who will remain an integral part of most future stories. Much as the wholeof this story is filled with superb depictions of Carribean Islands, underwater wrecks and old manors, my favorite vignette remains the one below.
Calculus is clearly the inspiration of Lalmohan Ganguly (Jatayu) in Satyajit Ray's Feluda series. Here we see that many of Jatayu's traits are also those shown by Calculus. In this frame we see Calculus instantly offering to help Haddock buy back his family home with the money that the government has given him. The surprise and shock on Haddock's (and Tintin's) face is evident, as they considered Calculus to be a rather eccentric scientist for most of the story.
This incident turns our adventurers into an inseperable trio.