As a journalist, Tintin is spectacularly unproductive, even by the idle standards of his trade. In all 24 albums he pauses perhaps twice to jot down a note. He happily gives rival reporters the details of his latest scoop. Only once is he seen with a completed article, on his inaugural 1929 trip to the Soviet Union. He briefly ponders how to get the manuscript to his office, before yawning and heading for bed, declaring: “Oh well, we’ll think about that tomorrow.” Four frames later, secret policemen are climbing the stairs to arrest him, and the article is never mentioned again.
Unlike another fictional adolescent with a media job—the American comic character Spiderman (portrayed as a freelance photographer in civilian life)—Tintin is not an outsider, or a rebel against the established order. He defends monarchs against revolutionaries (earning a knighthood in one book). His first instinct on catching a villain is to hand him over to the nearest police chief. He does not carry his own gun, though he shoots like an ace. Though slight, he has a very gentlemanly set of fighting skills: he knows how to box, how to sail, to drive racing cars, pilot planes and ride horses. He has few chances to rescue girls or women, moving in an almost entirely male, sexless world, but is quick to defend small boys from unearned beatings. His quick wits compensate for his lack of brawn. André Malraux, a French writer and politician, claimed that General de Gaulle called Tintin his “only international rival”, because both were famous for standing up to bullies.
Tintin is grandly uninterested in money. He is indifferent when—on occasion—he is offered large sums for accounts of catching some villain. Hergé’s disdain for transatlantic capitalism is portrayed in the 1931 “Tintin in America”, in which businessmen bid each other up to offer Tintin $100,000 for an oil well. When the young reporter explains the well is on Blackfoot Indian land, the businessmen steal the land from the Indians.
European snobbery about money permeates the books. Villains are frequently showy arrivistes. Old money is good. A gift (as opposed to gainful employment) allows his best friend, Captain Haddock, to buy back his family’s ancestral mansion. The captain takes to castle life with relish. Enriched by a treasure find, he swaps his seaman’s uniform for an increasingly Wodehousian wardrobe involving cravats, tweeds and at one point a monocle.
July 5, 2009