Some people are always up to something silly!

Dossier ~ Tuesday 26th July 2011
The Secret of the Unicorn page 29

Many of you are on school holidays in July. Perhaps some of you know the following cheeky school song that has been around for ages: ?Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the teacher on the top, etc.? You should be careful whom you sing this song to: there could be someone around who will actually take it literally! Read on for some funny stories about people who just can't help but make a spectacle out of themselves.

Tintin in the land of slapstick

The Adventures of Tintin are packed full of slapstick humour. Thomson and Thompson never miss an opportunity to fall over or blow themselves up. Just look through The Crab with the Golden Claws or Red Rackham's Treasure: as soon as the Thom(p)sons enter the scene, The Adventures of Tintin become The Misadventures of Tintin!

The Crab with the Golden Claws page 59

Apparently some aspects of the two detectives were inspired by the antics of Edgar-Pierre Jacobs, one of Hergé's assistants at the beginning of the 1940s. You could always count on Jacobs to knock over a saucepan! An opera singer turned comic strip artist, Jacobs expressed himself with grand theatrical gestures. This could prove to be a dangerous habit when dining in a restaurant: woe betide any waiter who happened to be passing by at the wrong moment! Was Hergé thinking of Jacobs when he created the scene (from The Calculus Affair) below?

The Calculus Affair page 16

The science of cock up

Professor Calculus can certainly hold his own when it comes to funny accidents, although his preferred gaff is usually scientific in nature.

Red Rackham's Treasure page 08

The mad scientists we come across in science fiction literature and films normally have bad intentions. They want to rule the world using any fiendish crackpot invention they can think of. But things are different when it comes to Professor Calculus. Here is an eccentric scientist who only works for the good of humanity, even if others are keen to hijack his ideas for nefarious purposes.

The Academy Awards of Slapstick

The American journalist Wendy Northcutt created the Darwin awards (Darwin Prize) in 1933. Charles Darwin (1802-1882) was the author of the theory of evolution, which incorporates the theory of natural selection: the idea of the survival of the fittest. It was while considering this theory that Mrs Northcutt came up with the idea for the Darwin Awards, a kind of Oscar for fools, idiots and blunderers who do their best to "improve the human gene pool by removing themselves from it." Most of these prizes are awarded posthumously, as the recipients have usually been killed by their own stupidity.

Flight 714 to Sydney page 31

A rare double-award was given out in 2009, to two men who died when they miscalculated the amount of dynamite needed to blow up a cash machine in Dinant, Belgium...and were buried when the entire bank collapsed. There is also the 1996 case of the man demonstrating the strength of a window in a Toronto building. He charged with his shoulder and went straight through the window, falling 24 floors to his death.

Be careful with dynamite!

The next anecdote recounts an incident that took place in Kentucky, USA. One Friday evening a group of miners got together at a local bar and set about drinking. One of them suggested going fishing in a local lake. There was only one problem: the lake was frozen over. But the miners had dynamite at their disposal. From the edge of the lake, one of the enterprising miners lit a stick of the explosive and tossed it out to blow a hole in the ice. At that moment one of their dogs ran out, under the impression that it was a game of "fetch"! The proud pooch returned with the explosive, wagging its tail, just in time to blow up the group of drunk miners, one of whom lived to tell the tale!

The Broken Ear page 36

In 2001, in Croatia, a future circus artist was amusing himself by juggling grenades. You can guess what happened next: suffice to say that the would-be performer had an extremely short career. To wind up this section there is the story of the man who opened a letter bomb...that he had posted himself. The boob-trapped parcel had been returned by the post office because the man hadn't put enough stamps on it.

Did you know?

With the arrival of the holidays some children risk finding themselves in danger, even if they don't know it. On the coast of Belgium and France, as well as along the Channel Islands, there still exist bunkers dating from World War II (1939-1945). Unless it is clearly indicated that visitors are welcome, you should never go inside these buildings as there may be some unexploded munitions lying around, that might go off if played with.

The Black Island page 55

In adventure playgrounds and amusement parks you should always be careful to follow the rules. It may seem annoying and unnecessary, but there are many children who have been handicapped for life because they thought that they would not bother strapping themselves in to a ride properly.

If you are a fan of wrestling, it is worth remembering that all these fights are choreographed. The punches and violent moves are not real (if they were, the fighters would end up covered in blood). The participants carefully practise the moves so that they don't cause any pain. Don't be fooled into thinking that you won't be hurt if you organise a wrestling match with your friends!

Surprises in store

Not all mistakes end in tragedy. There is the case of the Swiss woman who called the fire brigade, terrified that her television was on fire and about to explode. Fireman rushed to the scene. When they arrived, it quickly became apparent that the fire was nothing more than a documentary. "All we had to do was to turn it off," remarked one fireman. London resident Joanna Kirchmeier arrived at Heathrow Airport to pick up her husband. She found him standing immobile in front of a mirror. Mr Kirchmeier, a professional hypnotist, had been trying out a new hypnotic technique on himself. It worked so well that he had not noticed that someone had stolen his wallet, keys, handkerchief and even his crocodile skin belt!

Cigars of the Pharaoh page 41

In Shelbyville (Tennessee, USA) a driver had his iPod stolen when he left his car parked in the road. The police report stated that, "The driver wound up his windows, set the alarm and locked his car. But he forgot to put up the roof of the car, a convertible."

Bungling thieves

We have lost count of the number of thieves who have been caught by their own stupidity. A would-be bank robber from Michigan (USA) carefully prepared himself. He cut two holes in a large paper bag, which he would be able to see through once he covered his head with it. When he arrived at the bank, the thief put the paper bag over his head. The only problem was that he put it on back to front. He still managed to get some money but when he fled, with the police in hot pursuit, his efforts were obviously hampered by the fact that he couldn't see where he was going. He ended up at the police station. It is not that rare for robbers to leave clues to their identity at a crime scene. In one case a thief handed a cashier an envelope with the words "This is a hold up. Give me all the money in the till or I shoot," written on it.

Land of Black Gold page 41

This was a ruse to avoid having to speak, so that nobody would be able to identify him by his voice. The bank worker did what he was told and the robber escaped, but not for long. The envelope that he left behind in the bank had his name and address on the other side.

Comic strip gaff-artists

Clumsy characters are essential to comic strips. The most famous Belgian oaf is Gaston Lagaffe, created in 1957 by André Franquin (1924-1997).

Gaston Lagaffe

The same author also created the character Zorglub from Spirou, another manifestation of the archetypal depraved scientist.


Professor Calculus is not the only eccentric scientist in The Adventures of Tintin: there is Professor Phostle from The Shooting Star, a precursor to Professor Calculus.

Les Cigares du Pharaon page 3

Both of these scientists are descendents in a lineage stretching back to some of the first modern comic strips such as the series La Famille Fenouillard. These stories were created in 1889 by Marie-Louis-George Colomb (1856-1945), known by his pen name Christophe.

La Famille Fenouillard

Colomb also created the series Le Savant Cosinus (1883), about an absent-minded scientist to whom Professor Calculus owes a lot!

Le savant Cosinus

The eccentric scientists we meet in comics also have their real-life counterparts. There once lived a French mathematician called Michel Chasles (1793-1880), whose name is listed on the side of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. As a hobby he collected the autographs of famous people. Keen to exploit Chasles' obsession, a conman named Vrain-Denis Lucas (1818-1882) supplied the hapless maths boffin with authentic letters written by, among others, Cleopatra, Julius Cesar, Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Joan of Arc, Pontius Pilate, Judas and even Jesus himself. The scam fell apart when Chasles presented false letters from Blaise Pascal and Isaac Newton to the French Académie des Sciences. It was not hard to tell that the letters were fake. The poor mathematician never lived the embarrassment down! Sometimes it is difficult to decide what is more funny: fact or fiction?

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