Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tintin, Herge, and the Shadow of Innocence

The news that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson will soon be producing a series of films based on the Belgian comics character Tintin has given more than a few of us — and in the Anglophone world, we are indeed few – some pause. We are those who, from our childhoods, have enjoyed considering ourselves the members of a rarified group lucky enough to enjoy the exploits of this enigmatic piece of European pop culture. Tintin has never taken off in America, and probably never will, despite the best efforts of Mr. Spielberg, who is, if he is nothing else, a master popularizer.

The truth is that Tintin has always been the Gallic hero par excellence. There is nothing remotely American about him. And what those of us who love the character and revere his creator — the melancholic and childlike Herge — have always responded to has been precisely that. For us, Tintin was our earliest window into another world. A world far older, more compromised, more frightening, and more pessimistic than the wide-open dreamscape of American pop culture. A world infused with the ever-presence of the political and that particularly European sense of crisis. Tintin’s world is a fantastic landscape that is always in danger of collapse before real-world forces and real-world violence. There could be nothing that is further from the phantasmagoria of the American superhero comics, with their ubermenschen laying waste to the forces of evil, always rendered, even in the supposedly “grim and gritty” genre, as incredulous grosteques, their evil made manifest by their physical deformity and the derangement of their actions.

This was Herge’s genius. His world of adventure is an inversion of the original. The traditional children’s tale brings the adult world into that of the child, so that it is forced to play by a child’s rules: the manic bursts of energy, the corrosive violence of an unfettered and unapologetic Id, authority and evil as mere caricatures of themselves. Herge brought the child’s world into that of the adult. In the person of Tintin, he creates a character who is neither child nor adult, but an interloper, an androgynous, sexless blank, a neutral center around which the mad, frightening spectacle of the adult world revolves.

Read the rest at The New Ledger.