Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tintin at Sea

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

NEILL says:

Ah, Tintin. If there is one sight that makes me happier than anything else in the world, it is.. well, let's be honest, it's a big pie. But if there's anything else that even comes close, it is the back of a Tintin book: miniature versions of the covers of all the other books in the series, arranged in a perfect grid, their bright colours and dramatic scenes promising adventure and intrigue and... you know, all that good stuff. Many happy childhood afternoons were spent staring at these back covers, trying to imagine the grass-is-greener excitement to be found in the volumes our local library didn't have in stock. For example: to this day, I don't think I've ever read 'Flight 714'. But I'll tell you this: it looks DAMN exciting. I would go so far as to venture that the back covers of Tintin books must be one of the most successful cross-promotional marketing ventures in the history of publishing. A quick google tells me that the series has sold over 200 million volumes worldwide to date. Which, to put those figures into perspective, is a little bit better than dumbass comics has been doing lately. Little bit.

So, what is it about these books that has such enduring appeal? Why have readers around the world been gripped for the last 75 years by the globe-trotting adventures of a young boy in plus-fours, his live-in salty seaman pal, and his little alcoholic dog? It seems unlikely, you have to admit. Well, after admiring the superb 'Tintin at sea' exhibition at the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which displays many of Tintin creator George Remi's original pages of artwork for the series, I think I have the answer: it's because they're really, really great. It's very easy these days to knock Herge for the appalling imperialistic racial stereotypes on display in 'Tintin in the Congo', for the bizarre and disturbing attitude to animal rights which sees Tintin, in same adventure, insert dynamite into a rhinoceros for shits and giggles, or for the fact that he was, indisputably, a Nazi collaborator. And to be fair, no-one likes a Nazi collaborator. But the fact remains, the guy could work a pen like few other mortals. He was a true artist and a true professional, studying the world with an intense and passionate observational eye and transforming it through his graceful linework into a unique, coherent and beautiful body of art. His gift for narrative is all the more breathtaking when you consider that he was basically making up the rules from scratch as he went along: laying the groundwork for an entire medium. The chance to see his original drawings at this well-designed and thoroughly engaging exhibition was by turns humbling, fascinating, genuinely inspiring... you know, all that good stuff.

What can I say, I like Tintin. Also, afterwards I got to have a big pie. Score!


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