Twisted Tintin: Iconoclasm and the Belgian Boy Wonder

As another revisionist take on TinTin is pulled from the shelves, James wonders whether it's right to oppose the creative reimagining of such icons...

Fans of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin can rest easy now that another revisionist take on the character has been pulled from the shelves. Having re-imagined the story of The Blue Lotus as ‘The Pink Lotus’, Spanish author Antonio Altarriba has been forced to pull his pastiche of the graphic novel from shelves after pressure from Hergé’s estate. The estate representing late artist – real name Georges Remi – cited Altarriba’s work as offensive and argued that it “perverted the essence of the personality” of Tintin by turning the ever-youthful babyfaced adventurer into a jaded tabloid journalist in his 30s who’s going through something of a midlife crisis.

Old-age, unenthusiastic Tintin is hard enough to bear, but the fact Altarriba envisioned the treasured comic book character as a voracious lover is what really riled the Hergé estate. Tintin – an image of innocence idealised by generations of children (and adults) the world over – given an erotic drive? Say it ain’t so! Readers of The Pink Lotus are presented with graphic sex scenes and the gimmick that the eponymous hero of the series was actually a bit of a ladies’ man lusting after different female partners.

It’s not the first time that someone who was not Hergé has taken ink to insidiously undermine the good clean image espoused by the intrepid Belgian boy-wonder. Political parodies, such as the working-class anarchist adventure Breaking Free, are most likely not as upsetting as the other major form of pirate Tintin pieces: pornography. Whereas Hergé’s original comic adventures were totally free of romance, many of the unofficial pastiches place the emphasis on erotica. Tintin in Thailand, for example, sends the titular hero and his companions to the Far East for a spot of sex tourism. Could you imagine if Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus had stopped off for a quick one with a couple of foreign prostitutes in The Seven Crystal Balls? That’s the sort of stuff that goes down in Tintin in Thailand, whilst the eponymous icon, of course, gets friendly with a fellow young male.

For purist devotees of the quiffed Belgian boy reporter, it’s hard enough to imagine the resolutely asexual adventurer kissing a girl, never mind engaging in same-sex relations, but the speculation often suggests that that is indeed Tintin’s orientation. Considering the fact that he operates in an all-male world and shares a home and a close-relationship with an older man (a sailor as well, if we’re really drawing on homosexual stereotypes) such a theory is convincingly credible.

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Poor Hergé, eh? He just wanted to give the world a great graphic novel led by a likeable character whose capers take him around the world in cross-cultural imaginatively-captivating adventures. What do you get though for creating an accessible product that’s not addled by such confusing adult concerns as sex? You get a range of writers ripping up the legacy and salubriously sexing-up our squeaky-clean hero. Not content with obsessing about his hidden passions or giving him a Geordie accent and profane-dialogue in YouTube video re-edits, the assaulters also argue that Tintin is out of date, behind the times and not relevant anymore with his plus-fours and little pet dog. Is that a real hero for the post 9/11 world? The zeitgeist says no.

By 1976’s Tintin and the Picaros, it seems even Hergé had realised that his protagonist’s quaint nature had become cliché as he gave his hero a sheepskin jacket, skintight jeans and a bike helmet signed with a CND sticker for a kick of contemporary coolness. The next work, the unfinished Tintin and Alph-Art project, indicated that perhaps the artist was now totally resigned to the adventurer’s obsolescence in the near future. Tintin’s sketchy final sojourn is played out in an avant-garde world of modern art as Hergé himself took an anarchic attitude to his own creation.

Should we begrudge the creative reimagining of cultural icons for present day contexts? Whatever revered text you tamper with, people are going to get the most upset about erotic adaptations, but you can’t punish people for wanting to express their emotional desires and – particularly with regard to non-mainstream sexuality – celebrate and empower their alternative, most-likely under-represented identity. If devout Tintinologists can’t face the iconoclastic re-interpretations of Tintin – and to be honest I can’t – they don’t have to go and actively search for them and ingest them. Let the people who want lewd and crude Tintin have it if they want it, and the same goes for political Tintin, post-9/11 Tintin, post-thirty Tintin and so on. Fan-fiction and things like The Pink Lotus are no threat to the personality of the original idea and if anything simply feed back and provide testimony to the resonating power and legacy of Hergé’s masterworks. Is all the angst and energy required to oppose the non-official spin-off and spoofs worth it? The censorship of freewill and imagination: now that’s something that’s against the essence and personality of Tintin…