A-Z insider's guide to Tintin

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Get clued up ahead of the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

It’s a marriage made in Hollywood: movie titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have teamed up as director and producer to make ‘The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’, one of autumn 2011’s most-anticipated movie releases. To celebrate its release in cinemas, we’ve scoured the world of Tintin – the new movie, the original books, the cartoons and the old films – to bring you this definitive A-Z guide to the universe of Tintin.

Scroll through the list or click on a letter below to get started. By Tom Huddleston and Derek Adams

A C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A is for Adventures of Tintin

Belgian-born comic-strip writer and artist Hergé (real name Georges Prosper Remi) published his first Tintin strip, 'Tintin in the Land of the Soviets', in 1929. Based on the investigative adventures of a heroic young news reporter – who oddly was never seen to write a single article during his entire career – and his cute terrier Milou, it set the tone for a series of 24 enormously successful books, a dozen or so film adaptations and a flourishing merchandise industry. Hergé’s engaging globe-trotting stories, appealing illustrations, realistic locations and iconic character creations continue to win new generations of fans. C'est magnifique!

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B is for Belgium

Hergé was born in 1907 in the small town of Etterbeek, near Brussels. In a fitting homage to the legendary comic-strip creator, Paramount and Columbia have elected to hold the world premiere of 'The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn' in the Belgian capital. The screening will take place on Saturday October 22, and there are even rumours that members of the Belgian royal family will attend (don’t all rush at once). An official Hergé Museum opened in 2009 in the nearby university town of Louvain-La-Neuve.

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C is for Collaboration, controversy and the Congo

While Belgium was under Nazi occupation, Hergé worked for French-language newspaper Le Soir. Because all Belgian newspapers were under Nazi control, post-war bulletins surfaced accusing him of fraternising with the enemy. Tintin apologists will counter that the artist was just doing his job. Nevertheless, critics can also point to evidence of anti-Semitism and racial stereotyping in his work, notably 'The Shooting Star' and ‘Tintin in the Congo’, which was later rewritten to cast its fat-lipped native characters in a more sympathetic light. At the close of war, Hergé was barred from publishing his work and spent two years in exile quietly converting his black-and-white pre-war cartoons into the colour strips we know today.

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D is for De Gaulle

By the 1950s, Tintin mania was beginning to spread and even the French president was a fan. ‘My only international rival is Tintin,’ Charles De Gaulle famously confided to his culture minister. ‘We are both little fellows who won't be got at by big fellows.’ Among Tintin’s other notable followers were the artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, whose pop-art style was reminiscent of Hergé’s drawings; Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek, who met Hergé shortly before the politician’s death in 1973; and the filmmakers Wim Wenders, Terry Gilliam and, of course, Steven Spielberg.

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E is for English translation

Were it not for Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, Tintin and his fellow characters might never have ventured beyond the Belgian border. They were commissioned in 1958 with the difficult task of translating the Belgian's works into English. This not only involved squeezing suitable English translations into the confines of small speech bubbles, but also creating new names for some of the characters – most notably Snowy the dog and Professor Calculus – to suit the export market. They were also responsible for inventing Captain Haddock's amusing range of expletives. Yet, despite all this, Tintin has never really captured the imagination of the American public – though that may be about to change.

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F is for Film adaptations

Tintin: Mystery Of The Golden Fleece Tintin: Mystery Of The Golden Fleece

It’s hard to believe that 47 years have elapsed since the first ‘Tintin’ film. Based loosely on Hergé's characters and adapted from original scenarios, 'Tintin and the Golden Fleece' (1961) and 'Tintin and the Blue Oranges' (1964) are quirky, quaint and amateurish, but notable for the uncanny likeness actor Jean-Pierre Talbot bears to the titular character (both films are available on DVD). But perhaps the most famous series of adaptations is the animated TV series the Hergé Foundation presided over in 1991 (also available on DVD and Blu-ray).

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G is for Global popularity

The earliest of Hergé’s cartoons were confined to local Belgian newspapers, and so it might have remained had Hergé not met with ex-resistance fighter Raymond Leblanc, who not only provided him with a financial lifeline but convinced the author and illustrator to publish his stories in periodical magazine form. Once his stories were translated into English and other languages, the Tintin brand snowballed into the empire it is today, with a vast range of merchandise including badges, stationery, figurines, homeware and clothing. You’ll find a veritable assortment of goodies at thetintinshop.uk.com.

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H is for Captain Haddock

It may surprise those with a cursory knowledge of the Tintin universe to discover that the boy reporter’s beloved sidekick, booze-sozzled seaman Captain Haddock, didn’t actually enter the series until the ninth volume, 1941’s ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’. The early Tintin adventures focused almost exclusively on their bequiffed hero, with other characters popping up for an adventure or two. But by the 1950s, no Tintin story was complete without Haddock, the bookish Professor Calculus and bumbling British detectives Thomson and Thompson.

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I is for Indiana Jones

Steven Spielberg’s first contact with Hergé’s work came when a reviewer compared ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to Tintin, following the film’s release in 1981. Spielberg was given French-language copies of all the available books and immediately fell for Hergé’s iconic style. And the feeling was mutual: having seen ‘Raiders…’, Hergé became convinced that Spielberg was the only man capable of transferring his vision to the screen. They were scheduled to meet in 1983, during the filming of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, but Hergé passed away the same week. However, his widow agreed to give Spielberg the rights, and the film’s three-decade pre-production process began.

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J is for Peter Jackson

Having battled through countless rewrites and false starts, the ‘Tintin’ movie finally took flight thanks to the involvement of New Zealand director Peter Jackson, then riding high on the success of his ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. When they began work on the project, Spielberg was still intent on a live-action adaptation, and had merely contacted Jackson to find out if his Wellington-based digital-animation company, Weta, could create a photo-realistic Snowy. It was Jackson’s idea to use the motion-capture programmes his company had created and perfected for James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ to build an animated world which would directly reflect Hergé’s drawings.

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K is for Janusz Kaminski

One of Steven Spielberg’s key decisions when he agreed to shoot Tintin as a motion-captured animated film was to bring in his regular cinematographer Janusz Kaminski as a visual consultant. It’s unusual for a cartoon to employ the services of a director of photography – largely because there’s no actual photography involved – but Spielberg was adamant that ‘Tintin’ should look like a real-world translation of Herge’s original drawings, complete with ‘natural’ light and shadows. Kaminski’s skill as a cameraman and lighting technician on films including ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ made him the obvious choice.

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L is for Live action v animation

The question of whether to adapt Tintin as a live-action or animated film has hung over every adaptation, especially the new one. Hergé’s illustrations would suggest an easy transition to cartoon, as evidenced in the popular TV series. But equally, the realism of the plotlines and (mostly) earthbound locations means a live-action adaptation is perfectly feasible. Spielberg and Jackson have split the difference with their motion-captured take on the material. But will it work? Trailer evidence suggests a garish, slightly queasy blend of realism and fantasy – but we’ll have to wait for the finished film before we make up our minds. The jury is out.

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M is for Stephen Moffat

The first person Spielberg and Jackson hired to realise their combined vision for the ‘Tintin’ movie was Scottish screenwriter Stephen Moffat, creator of shows like ‘Press Gang’, ‘Coupling’ and the recent ‘Sherlock’ reboot. The writer, who was busy working on the newest series of ‘Doctor Who’, claims he was ‘love-bombed’ into accepting Spielberg’s offer. However, when Writer’s Guild interference and his producer role on ‘Doctor Who’ forced Moffat to withdraw, screenwriting duties on ‘Tintin’ were enthusiastically taken up by a pair of London-based moviemakers, ‘Hot Fuzz’ writer-director Edgar Wright and ‘Attack the Block’ writer-director Joe Cornish. And we find it hard to imagine a more perfect team.

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N is for Noir

From the beginning, Spielberg and Jackson refused to entertain the idea of updating the Tintin stories for a modern audience. This allowed Spielberg and photographic consultant Janusz Kaminski to design a particular look for the film, derived not just from Hergé’s drawings but from the cinema of the time, particularly the work of Alfred Hitchcock and the American tradition of film noir. And it seems to have worked: the look of ‘Tintin’ fuses the pastel-shaded Technicolor elegance of ’50s Hitchcock movies like ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘Vertigo’ with a darker, more starkly contrasted aesthetic clearly derived from classic noir.

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O is for Options

And we mean share options. The financial and legal battles fought to get ‘Tintin’ on the big screen are almost as epic in scope as the film itself. Despite initial enthusiasm when Hergé first gifted Spielberg the rights to his stories, the process of realisation was far harder than either man could have imagined. Despite owning merchandising rights to the stories, NBC Universal declined to finance the film, leaving the door open first for Paramount Pictures, and then Sony to draw up a ludicrously complex worldwide distribution and marketing deal for two films – the first to be directed by Spielberg, the second by Jackson.

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P is for Performance capture

Performance capture (AKA motion capture or mocap) is a filming technique that superimposes a pre-rendered computer-generated character onto an actor's motions and expressions. Since Weta Digital came onto the scene with its new 'virtual camera' and proprietary software package (as used on 'Avatar'), mocap has begun to dominate mainstream cinema. In a nutshell, the latest technique allows a director to shoot characters and background sets as if operating a conventional camera. So when Spielberg looked through the camera’s viewfinder, he would have seen the actors in front of him appear as CGI characters in a photorealistic world. However, there is a caveat, and it’s in the rendering of the characters’ eyes – which in the past have often looked, well, dead.

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Q is for Quetzalcoatl

A minor cheat, perhaps, but rumours persist that the next ‘Tintin’ movie, to be directed by Peter Jackson once he’s finished with his all-important ‘Hobbit’ duties, is set to be a conflation of Tintin’s two South American adventures, ‘The Seven Crystal Balls’ and ‘Prisoners of the Sun’. In the story, Tintin uses his almanac to predict an eclipse, impressing the bloodthirsty followers of an Inca cult who worship a sun-god clearly modelled on the unpronounceable ancient deity. With a first draft of the script already completed, it seems likely that Jackson will get to work within two years.

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R is for Red Rackham

In a slightly confusing turn of events, one of the first people to be cast in ‘Tintin’ was Daniel Craig, purportedly playing Red Rackham, the pirate whose lost treasure sets off the film’s globe-spanning chain of adventures. However, in the books, Red Rackham has been dead for three centuries, so what was Craig’s role going to be? Well, after much internet mining, we’ve discovered that Craig’s role in the film is actually the villain of the piece – not Rackham, but Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine, a Russian maritime enthusiast whose thirst for gold leads him to pursue the same lost treasure as our heroes. Rumours also abound that Sakharine might be a descendant of the infamous pirate – which would bring the whole thing full circle.

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S is for Snowy

Snowy (or Milou as he was originally named in Hergé’s pre-translated stories) is an integral part of the Tintin canon and responsible on a number of occasions for having saved the adventurous reporter’s bacon. Presumably because it would be near impossible – and possibly cruel – to put a furry animal in a high-tech performance capture suit – not to mention getting it to act – Snowy the white Highland terrier is one of only a handful of ‘characters’ in the film to be fully computer generated from scratch. Heel!

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T is for Thomson and Thompson

Despite its Belgian roots, New Zealand location and American money, the ‘Tintin’ movie has a strong British contingent, not least among its almost exclusively English cast. We’ve already covered Daniel Craig as Red Rackham, but there’s also Jamie Bell as the hero, Andy Serkis as his furious foil Captain Haddock and of course Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the stories’ two genuinely English characters, pratfalling slapstick detectives Thomson and Thompson. Even the minor roles are occupied by fine British thesps, including Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and much-missed aristocratic gadabout Cary Elwes.

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U is for Unicorn

The Unicorn in question is a model ship bearing a hidden message that Tintin and Snowy find in a market square. As with so many Tintin adventures, this simple mechanism is all it takes for the titular journo to head off on another mystery-solving jaunt. However, in order to introduce as many main characters from the series as possible, Spielberg et al have padded out the original ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ story with plot elements from three other Tintin tales: 'The Crab with the Golden Claws', 'Red Rackham's Treasure' and 'The Shooting Star'. That way we get to meet the whole cast in preparation for the umpteen sequels that are bound to follow.

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V is for The Volume

Like James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ before it, the live-action element of ‘Tintin’ was shot in The Volume, a massive sound stage at Weta. Imagine a giant, empty white box filled with equally white props and sets – a bit like a particularly unimaginative art installation. Here, the actors in their flattering Lycra motion-capture suits could run, jump, shoot and brawl to their (and their director’s) heart’s content, knowing that all of it would soon be covered up by computer trickery.

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W is for Warhol

Wigged-out pop-artist Andy Warhol was such a fan of the Tintin creator he painted a rarely seen portrait of him. Ever since the two were pictured together in 1977, debate has raged over who was the most artistically influential. Certainly in Hergé’s case, he can lay claim to being a pioneer of the drawing style known as ‘ligne claire’ (clear line) which stipulates a work as being made up of clean, strong, uniform lines throughout the frame with very little shading or shadows. In many cases it also applies to cartoon-style characters set within a realistic background. So now you know.

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X is for X-rated

Every popular success spawns its own fan-produced underground offshoots and Tintin is no exception. From the 1970s onwards, pornographic slash-fiction versions of the stories have been rife, with the most successful being ‘Tintin en Suisse’ (‘Tintin in Switzerland’) from 1976 and ‘La Vie Sexuelle de Tintin’ (‘The Sexual Life of Tintin’) from 1992. The most notorious, however, is the self-explanatory ‘Tintin in Thailand’, in which our heroes embark on a wild sex holiday. But don’t try to track one down: in 2001, Belgian police confiscated every copy they could find.

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Y is for YouTube

The world’s second most popular search engine is a goldmine of digital Tintin artifacts, with page after page of clips, interviews and entire animated episodes. Of course, as with any popular film or TV series, there’s always going to be some smart-arse posting a humorous filth-filled parody of sorts and Tintin certainly gets his fair share. If you want to see how bad it can get, just type ‘Geordie Tintin’ for a shocking round of appallingly delivered twists on Hergé’s dialogue. Fookin’ ’ell.

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Z is for Zinzin

Unofficial Tintin knock-offs aren’t restricted to porn and the internet: there’s an entire universe of lovingly designed and beautifully written stories about the life of the boy hero (often renamed Nitnit or Timtim to avoid legal battles), in which he travels the globe, gets into scrapes and even involves himself in real-world political struggles. One particularly fine example, 1987’s ‘Breaking Free’, had council tenants Tintin and Haddock joining the fight against Thatcherite oppression. But the most detailed work available has to be that of Swiss artist Exem, creator of Zinzin, an antiheroic evil clone of the boy journalist who travels the world intentionally involving himself in nefarious plots and dastardly schemes.

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Users say

4 comments
cpawmvezl
cpawmvezl

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Spirou Fantasio
Spirou Fantasio

"‘... the stories’ two genuinely English characters, pratfalling slapstick detectives Thomson and Thompson." Captain Haddock is also English (although portrayed in the film as Scottish for some reason). The inspiration for the name famously came from Herge's wife description of the haddock as "a sad English fish".

Luc Chartrand
Luc Chartrand

"Were it not for Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, Tintin and his fellow characters might never have ventured beyond the Belgian border. They were commissioned in 1958 with the difficult task of translating the Belgian's works into English. " There is a very wide world out there that does not speak English as its mother tongue. Start with French, Tintin was translated in around 70 languages ! Tintin and his fellow characters ventured beyond the Belgian border right from the start in the 1930-40s into the French and Dutch speaking world (easily 200 million people with 2nd language readers) !