December 15, 2011 | News
He’s the star of a book series that has sold more than 230 million copies and his globe-hopping adventures, translated into 80 languages, have made him one of the most recognizable comic characters in the world.
Yet somehow Tintin has always managed to elude a widespread audience in English-speaking North America. Until now.
Thanks to some Hollywood heavyweights, Tintin, who first appeared back in 1929 and has gone on to be featured in 24 wildly popular books by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, may finally be on the verge of a breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic.
The Adventures of Tintin, which opens wide in Canada and the U.S. on Dec. 21, is directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and stars (at least in a motion-capture way) Daniel Craig, with Jamie Bell playing the title adventurer.
The film has already grossed more than $233 million in international release and some Tintin fans believe it will lure even more readers to this bestselling book series.
In Canada alone, “We have brought in 100,000-plus copies just to meet current demands,” says Jennifer Lynch of Tintin distributor Publishers Group Canada in an email, adding that “the spike in sales since the beginning of 2011 has been huge.” She credits the film buzz for the boost in sales.
“It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people,” says Michael Farr, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost “Tintinologists” and author of four books on the character and its creator, whose given name is Georges Remi.
The fantastical life of the intrepid young reporter with the upturned hair, the knickerbockers and his little white dog named Snowy hooked Farr at a young age.
“It was the first book I read, as a 4-year-old,” he admits. “I remember sitting down and reading it after dinner with my mother and loving it from the first page onwards.”
The lure of the character, Farr says, comes in no small part from how broad his adventures are.
“Hergé, himself, would have liked to have been a reporter, but since he couldn’t be, he created a character, Tintin, who was going to be a great foreign correspondent that he was going to send out into the world to discover what was happening,” Farr says. “Over 50 years we had 23 adventures completed (and one unfinished) and they are, in effect, a mirror of what was happening in the world in the 20th century — with Tintin always in the thick of things.”
There are plenty of reasons why so many people enjoy these books, not the least of which is the art, inspiring the look of the digitally rendered film.
“It’s a beautiful set of stories in the context of their day, and many are timeless,” says Leslie McGrath, head of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books at the Toronto Public Library. “Those are clear, bright drawings that instrantly engage you in each story and tell it clearly.”
The elegant look of the books also lured in 41-year-old Edouard Biot, an Ottawa resident who emigrated from Belgium 20 years ago.
“Tintin is definitely a classic,” he says. “As a book and game publisher, I keep saying to my illustrators and graphic designers to keep ‘la ligne claire’; in English ‘clear lines.’ I’m still trying to keep our designs as simple and clear as the ones Hergé did a long time ago.”
Biot says he loves the idea that the film will create a new audience for the books in North America.
“I wish this movie brings Americans and English Canadians to reading those comic books,” he says. “That would be a great moment in the history of comic books.”
Having already seen the film, which he describes as “riveting and packed with adventure,” Farr says it is sure to capture plenty of new fans.
“It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people, so those who are not familiar with Tintin will now discover him, go out and buy the books and that’s where they’ll find the enduring pleasure which certainly I’ve had,” he says.
The feature film adaptation of Tintin is a long time coming, with plenty of parties over the years vying for the chance to bring his adventures to life.
“We tried desperately at the time to get the feature rights, but of course Spielberg bought them back (in the ’80s),” says Patrick Loubert, co-founder of Nelvana Limited, the iconic Canadian animation company that produced the highly successful cartoon versions of Tintin’s adventures.
“We spent a lot of time trying to make it look exactly like the comic book,” Loubert says. “We were really happy with it. We really liked the books. To get an opportunity to do it was a real treat.”
The animation mogul agrees that The Adventures of Tintin has all the ingredients to be a blockbuster.
“The stories are very interesting, the characters are unusual, it’s action-adventure with comedy and it should work even if you didn’t know the property at all — even if you didn’t know it was a famous French (language) classic.”
The French connection is a strong one, Loubert says, noting the animated version sold like hotcakes “en Francais.”
“Every country that had French as a second language, or even a third language, seemed to know the property,” he says.
Those language ties extend to Canada, Farr notes.
“Because of the French-Canadian connection, Canadians were always more familiar with Tintin than those south of the parallel,” he says. “Now, with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s film, I think this gap will finally be closed.”
Farr says one of the best reasons for hope of a landmark Tintin picture comes from the series’ creator.
“When I was writing Hergé’s biography, I discovered a note among his papers which was dated January 1983,” Farr explains. “In it, he said, ‘If there’s one person who can bring Tintin successfully to the screen, it’s this young American director.’
“Now he didn’t name Spielberg, but we know it’s Spielberg because in his diary he (wrote he) was due to meet him at the end of March. Spielberg wanted to discuss the possibility of film rights with him already back then. Unfortunately, Hergé died at the beginning of March, so that meeting never happened.
“So, in a sense, one can say that this film has the official seal of approval from Hergé himself.”
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)