Tintin turns 80

Dossier ~ Thursday 15th January 2009
The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941) - Page 13]

Last Saturday, January 10, was Tintin's 80th birthday. Who could forget his very first appearance, boarding a train to Berlin on his way to the Soviet Union?

Reporter of the Petit Vingtième

It took only two pages, 12 plates in all, to win over the readers of the Petit "Vingtième", the children’s supplement to the ultra-Catholic daily Le Vingtième Siècle. The reporter was endowed with a scout’s key virtues: pluck, unflagging energy, resourcefulness, courage, idealism, a taste for adventure and a love of the outdoors (expressed through his fascination for the lives of American Indians), loyalty to friends, decisiveness and, when the occasion called for it, a spirit of self-sacrifice.

Boy journalist

The boy journalist began his career in a world very different from our own. Belgium in the 1920s was a much admired country. Having already set a boy scout on the road to adventure (Totor, from July 1926 to June 1929), Hergé, himself a scoutmaster with the moniker "Curious Fox", made his next protagonist a journalist. Tintin’s public debut, in 1929, was in the pages of Le Petit "Vingtième", of which Hergé was then the chief editor. The Frenchman Albert Londres, who crisscrossed the globe in his quest for novelty, the sensational and the unknown, dedicated himself to last-mentioned challenge. His accidental death in the shipwreck of the Georges Philippar off the Gulf of Aden on May 16, 1932, fired imaginations and bestowed an aura of glamour to the profession of journalism. Back then, reporters elicited neither suspicion nor outrage – quite the opposite.

Tintin’s Danish forebear

In 1928, the Danish daily Politiken had propelled a young actor, Palle Huld, out into the wide world on his own. Today, Huld’s adventure – he travelled around the world in 44 days – has vanished from memory, but back in 1928 it made headlines and was the subject of illustrated books for young people. Huld received a hero’s welcome on his return to Copenhagen and, as the Roaring Twenties drew to a close, he inspired countless teenagers. A 1928 photo of the young Dane shows him standing in Red Square wearing a cap, big overcoat and plus-fours: he’s a dead ringer for Tintin, who would turn up in the same place the following year. was not to appear in the pages of the Petit "Vingtième" for another year. On his "return" from the Soviet Union in 1930, Tintin (played by a boy scout in disguise) was similarly fêted at Brussels’ North Station.

The decade of the Adventures

In 1935 Palle Huld and Elith Fors drove 18,000 km approximately around the Mediterranean on a Nimbus motorcycle. Although there were a lot similarities between Tintin and his live model, Hergé never mentioned Palle Huld as a source of inspiration.The 1920's was, for 8 years and 3/4 of 1929, a very happy decade and was the decade of the adventures and new inventions. So much happened in the 1920's, among other things the creation of Tintin and these years bring back Tintin to his roots.

Double-edged naivety

From the very outset, Tintin was positioned as the product of a triumphant, naïve and carefree Belgium. His homeland was at the heart of a loosely knit Europe giddy with half-serious, half-gratuitous feats and exploits enacted by the likes of Albert Londres, Henri Béraud, Lawrence of Arabia, Henri de Monfreid and Auguste Piccard. Each in his own way was to cross paths with Tintin in the course of his future adventures. Reading Hergé’s oeuvre today, especially the early volumes, one discovers a lost world of strong convictions, double-edged naivety and old-fashioned attitudes. Moral values were dictated by a powerful church; human relationships organised into a strict class system; righteous and paternalistic colonial attitudes prevailed.


Paul Cardinal, a Belgian astrologist, finds in Tintin a real Capricorn ("born" in January 1929). Not knowing he was dealing with the Tintin character, Cardinal answered : "A boy, born on January 10th, 1929 had to be courageous, friendly, aware of friends, sensitivity, sense of self sacrifice" ! For those who believe in astrology…

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