Cartoon Alley : Tintin in Wellywood

In anticipation of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of Unicorn due December 2011

by Tim Bollinger

With the big production ‘New Zealand-made’ Tintin movie due to premiere in Bruxelles on 26 October, and here in New Zealand on Boxing Day, it seems worth noting a few things about the comic and its history of film adaptation.

I was reminded when reading Pierre Assouline’s ‘Herge: The man who created Tintin’ that shortly before Herge’s death in 1983, nearly thirty years ago, Stephen Spielberg was already negotiating with the comic artist for the film rights to Tintin. Between the making of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, Spielberg courted Herge for a thirty-month option on the rights to make a film of his comic. The main negotiator was Kathleen Kennedy, then Spielberg newbie, now multi-ward-winning producer in her own right, and Executive producer on the forthcoming Jackson-Spielberg Tintin flick – proving that her persistence paid off.

Herge was by all accounts enamoured with Spielberg, and a big fan of ‘E.T.’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (which featured, among other things, a cameo by French film director Francois Truffaut). The aging comic artist saw in the young director the possibility of fulfilling his dream for Tintin to be realised for the big screen with the resources needed to truly replicate what he had imagined on the page.

Tintin had been made into films before, but never with anything like the breadth of scale, detail of narrative, subtlety of character or outright humour and colour of the original comic strip. A full production list can be found here: Tintin on screen.

Herge was not blind to the art of cinema and his hope for something worthy of his original vision had been thwarted many times by commercial considerations, bad scripts or cheap production. Even the animated versions of his comics were artistically pared down and uninspired.

According to Pierre Assouline, Herge was so particular about Spielberg himself producing and directing a film back in 1982, that he was willing to forego all artistic and commercial control of his characters in order to clinch the deal, including full financial and ownership concessions on all merchandising. Spielberg in turn drove a rapaciously hard bargain.

When it became apparent that Spielberg’s contract reserved the right to assign the directing of the film to another director, Herge dropped the proposal outright, and it was not renewed again until after his death.

Childless to two marriages, Herge’s entire estate passed into the hands of his second wife, Fanny, whose subsequent business (and marital) alliance with London lawyer and ‘Tintin shop’ owner, Nick Rodwell forms the basis of Editions Moulinsart, the publishing and franchising arm of the Herge Foundation. It is they who have revived and negotiated the current project – with Peter Jackson and Weta studios thrown in for good measure. This is likely to be a blessing. Jackson may not be European, but at least the books have a heritage and fan-base in New Zealand, unlike the United States where Tintin’s lack of overt sexuality, violence and/or any kind of status as a promotion vehicle for US foreign policy, have found difficulty establishing themselves in the mainstream comic book market (see ‘Tintin in America’ below). Having Tintin interpreted by Jackson and Spielberg is probably the best we can hope for from the Hollywood machine coming even close to doing justice to the original work.

I have no details about how the beneficiaries plan to split the merchandising cake this time around but it can be presumed that, given Nick and Fanny Rodwell’s reputation for strict policing of the Tintin estate (touched on briefly in my web piece about Tintin here: http://books.scoop.co.nz/2008/05/18/five-books-comics/), they are likely to have made fewer concessions than the grand old man was willing to himself, back in the day. In anticipation of the film’s release Herge’s inheritors are already ‘rounding up the usual suspects’, namely the fans – See Tintin fans attacked by lawyer.

Tintin in America

As an interesting aside, back in the 1950s several of the Tintin stories were specifically translated and published for the American market by ‘Golden Press’, with the more pedestrian “By Thunder”, “Gadzooks” and “Holy Smoke!” replacing the colourful British translations of Captain Haddock’s “Blue Blistering Barnacles” and “Ten thousand thundering typhoons”, and with Marlinspike Hall renamed “Hudson Manor”. The series never took off back then, but here are a few extracts from the American version of ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ that may go some way to explaining why. Further information about the Golden Press editions is available on this website: http://www.tintinologist.org/articles/goldenpress.html

**********

Above: The British version.
Below: The American version.

**********

Above: The British version.
Below: The American version.

**********

Above: The British version.
Below: The American version.

**********

Marlinspike Hall – recast as ‘Hudson Manor’:

Above: The British version.
Below: The American version.

**********

The American publishers could not tolerate Herge’s African depictions, even in the series’ end papers:

Above: The British version (featuring Coco from ‘Tintin in the Congo’).
Below: The American version (replaced with one of the Thompsons).

What Tintin means to me

As a way of bracing ourselves for the forthcoming barrage of over-the-top spectacle spectacle we’re likely to see when these stories are retold in living, breathing 3-D digital virtual reality, let’s pause for a moment to observe some of the quieter narrative highlights from the series. These are the things that, for me, make Tintin one of the most intellectually creative works in popular comic art.

A small slice of what these comics mean for me (or “you can’t do this shit with digital animation – stage one”) may be found in the brief extracts below:

Above: A dream sequence from ‘Prisoners of the Sun’


Above: ‘Explorers on the Moon’: Intriguing science fiction without resort to monsters or space guns. And the amplified silence of space.

Above: The icy stillness of ‘Tintin in Tibet’

Below: Since its earliest incarnation, television was used by Herge to convey important plot information in new and interesting ways:



Above: Excerpt from ‘The Castafiore Emerald’

Above: Excerpt from ‘Flight 714’ – black and white never looked so good as it did in full colour.

ENDS