Over Eader The world according to Hergé

Tintin's personality


What he is…

Copyright Stichting HergéTintin is a neat reporter. He is always nice and friendly. The reader will never catch him at dirty words or impoliteness. According to the Dutch 'Tintinologist' Har Brok he is someone who could easily be admitted to the Dutch broadcasting news service. Tintin is also intelligent, cunning and quick. Tintin is among Kings and Queens, Sheiks and Sheriffs as if he is a celebrity himself. Although Tintin not always is being portrayed as a reporter, his 'star' status is very high indeed. He seems not to be dependent on any newsagent or money.

A brief observation of some of the Tintin comic strips, compared to the characteristics of journalists and their profession, results in the following picture. Tintin is a Belgian, the French speaking kind. He is white, young and male and vaguely middle class. He is always in the mood to gather news and knowledge. Whether Tintin had any education is unclear and he never shows a press card to identify him as a journalist either. He selects his topics in many different ways. Sometimes he reads an item in the newspaper that interests him (Tintin in Tibet), sometimes he is being sent by someone (Tintin in America), sometimes he comes across a wallet or a bookcase (King Ottocar's sceptre), which draw his attention and curiosity. Often the reason why he is interested in a particular case is a personal one: someone he knows is in danger.

In the days when the comic strips were published weekly readers believed in Tintin. Though I assume they knew no such person as Tintin could ever exist (but in the minds of readers and creator), they awaited him in Brussels when he 'returned by train' from one of his adventures abroad. Hergé said about such an event: 'On that particular day I set out with a boy who was going to play Tintin. I made him up myself, I gave him Russian clothes and nice red boots; to make it as convincible as possible we took the train from Colon, so to say from the east, from Russia. The official arrival was announced to be in Brussels. I didn't expect anyone there. But to my great astonishment it was crowded with people.'

Like Tintin was sent to Russia, he is sent to many other places and he can be seen as a correspondent who often seems to know more about the indigenous culture than the local people do. In Prisoners of the Sun the Inca priest doesn't know of a forthcoming sun eclipse. Of course Tintin does, thanks to a piece of newspaper, and this knowledge saves him from being burnt on a stake. In The Blue Lotus Tintin rescues a young Chinese boy, who is surprised to hear of how the Chinese are being looked upon by Europeans: The Chinese all have ponytails, they eat birds nests and throw newborn babies into the river.

…or what he is not.

Though Tintin is staged as a reporter, what he really does for a living is rather hazy: in the comics he never writes a story, not even a single line. Maybe we should see his job in a more metaphorical way. In his book The world of Hergé Benoît Peeters says it this way: 'Tintin is a reporter, but what else is a reporter than a go-between, a mirror, someone who transfers information that he may not even possess?'. This is clearly illustrated in Tintin in Africa where the young reporter shows a movie to the indigenous people. He witnesses the local medicine man and a white man planning a coup. He then records the conversation, films it and shows the movie to the tribesmen afterwards, leaving us with the unanswered question of how the celluloid was developed in the first place. The tribesmen did understand the information anyway: the white man had to die.

Later, in The Blue Lotus, Tintin gets hold of a mysterious message that he receives through Morse Code. In the course of this adventure he gets to understand the meaning of this message and the readers do too.

In this case and many others Tintin can be seen as an intermediary, someone who brought the readers unknown civilizations, adventures that weren't likely to happen in their own neighbourhood. Peeters points to this non-being when he writes: 'The conclusion is inevitable: Tintin is nothing. In fact he is without age: sometimes he acts like a child, at other times he is a teenager, but most of the time he seems to be an adult. He also seems genderless: neither girlfriends nor wedding ceremonies will ever disturb his adventures. Strictly speaking one could say that he doesn't have a character: he doesn't possess something that makes him more this than that.' In French Tintin even means 'nada' or 'nothing'.

Tintin indeed is rather colourless. The power of most Tintin adventures cannot be attributed to the character of Tintin but to the characters that surround him. Through them Tintin gets a meaning, without them he is almost nothing. I will give a description of the most important secondary characters in detail in the second section of this story as being an important part of Tintin's world. But what else can we say about Tintin himself?

He is different

Well, we might conclude that Tintin is not an average journalist in many ways. The reason why he became the archetype of the reporter, might be caused by every journalist's wish to become as famous and independent as Tintin.

And famous he is. In Tintin in Congo the black kids in a classroom in the bush whisper to each other: 'That's Tintin! The reporter Tintin!' The young reporter is well known in Congo: the father is introducing him with the words: 'Boys, this is Tintin, the famous reporter, who will replace father Sebastian for so long.' At the moment he arrives in the Congo a large enthusiastic crowd is awaiting him. Hergé gave as explanation for this fame that Tintin is famous through his adventures in the comic strips, which were translated into many languages, first from French to Dutch then into South African, English, Spanish and many other languages. The comic strips finally were even translated into Arabian. That's why in Cigars for the Pharaoh an outrageous sheik, who has captured Tintin because he sold soap to an Arab what he mistook for something edible, changes his mind when he recognizes Tintin: 'Tintin! What a surprise! … Let me embrace you! I am reading your adventures for years now.' If this would be true the globalisation of western culture started already in 1932, long before the television and the Internet and much earlier than we think.

Shohat and Stam give the reason why Tintin was obviously adored by the indigenous people despite of the colonialist clichés in their book Eurocentrism; Multiculturalism and the Media. It might be converted to a real situation in which their readership forms a trialog between the reader, the text and the reader's community existing in clear discursive and social relation to one another. So this Egyptian sheik might identify himself with the white character Tintin against the Arabs as long he is surrounded by Arabs. Within a different situation among whites the audience preventing him from identifying himself with the white hero might see him as Arab.

One could say that indirectly these readers identify themselves with Hergé or with what Hergé would liked to have been: 'I am Tintin when I want to be heroic, the Thom(p)sons when I do stupid things. I am Haddock when I feel the need to express myself.'



Tintin's personality
What he is…
…or what he is not
He is different

Tintin's world
Secondary characters
The media
Clear line

Tintin's ideology
Anti-communism and colonialism