Over Eader The world according to Hergé

Tintin's world


Tintin's world doesn't exist without numerous actors and secondary characters. The most important are these actors that appear in almost every adventure: Snowy, Captain Haddock and Thomson & Thompson. I will give a short description of these four characters.

Secondary characters

Copyright Stichting HergéTo start with Snowy, the first important actor besides Tintin himself: he is a dog, a white terrier, but not a dog like all others. In the early comic strips he is able to talk, though he will loose this quality in the forthcoming strips. He warns Tintin not to do things that might lead to new adventures, because he is a lazy dog that prefers to sit at home to gnaw a knuckle. The bigger the better. Besides that he likes whisky, to Tintin's great dissatisfaction. Whenever some whisky is being spilt Snowy is the one that licks it from the ground, what makes him drunk at once.

Copyright Stichting HergéSnowy can be seen as the forerunner of Captain Haddock who makes his first appearance in the comic strips some years later. This (former) captain is a man full of contradictions. He can be jovial at one moment and grim the next, brave and dynamic before exploding in fury, shouting names to someone who is blocking his way. He is famous for his collection of swearwords, collector's items among tintinologists, of which over 150 have been counted: Bougainvillea! Bloodsuckers! Nincompoop! Captain Haddock has been addicted to alcohol (preferably whisky) and like Snowy he drinks it with pleasure and eagerness. In Tintin in Tibet he seems to be almost frozen to death, according to his blue skin and face, but the single word 'whisky' gets him on his feet again. Besides whisky Haddock's favourite occupations are smoking a pipe and leading a quiet life. Unluckily for him he seems to have chosen to be among the wrong friends for that.

Copyright Stichting HergéUnlike Snowy and Captain Haddock the characters Thomson & Thompson don't seem to be real friends of Tintin. In fact they are police officers, always trying to arrest Tintin. But they hardly ever succeed in that, due to their stupidity and their feelings of friendship towards Tintin They look like twins but their names slightly differ and suggest something else. One can distinguish them by their moustaches: Thompson wears it straight and Thomson's moustache curls up. Or was it the other way round?

They act like twins, they seem to repeat each other, they walk the same, and they wear the same clothes. Because of their secret missions they often go in cognito. They try to be dressed as the local people to insure they are overlooked but usually this turns out not to be the case. Instead they draw lots of attention. In The Blue Lotus they are dressed as stereotypical Chinese. Hergé made fun of the portrayal of Chinese people with obligatory ponytails by drawing the unfortunate detectives dressed up in what they think is the traditional Chinese attire including mandarin toga and ponytail. They are sincerely surprised to see that the Chinese laugh about these clothes.

The media

Hergé didn't know the Internet, since he died in 1983, before the Net - through the World Wide Web - became open to the public. Otherwise Hergé would have introduced the Internet to us, like he introduced other media and showed their usability. By reading the comic strips one can follow the introduction of all media that came up between 1930 en 1970. Tintin and his fellowmen used a wide range of media for different purposes. Newspapers are used to get important information (Prisoners of the Sun & Tintin and the Picaros), to spread propaganda (The Blue Lotus), to hide behind (The Calculus Affair). Telephone and telegraph are used to transfer information but often cause more confusion than clarity. Radio is both used for information and entertainment, while a record is used to drown out a secret conversation (Tintin and the Picaros). A movie is used to inform about the world's events (The Blue Lotus) and to warn the African blacks against their medicine man (Tintin in Africa). Television is both used for news, propaganda, amusement and commercials (Tintin and the Picaros) and finally telepathy warns Tintin that his Chinese friend Chang is in real danger (Tintin in Tibet).

Clear line

Though the media is not always portrayed in stereotypical ways, the characters are. A reason for this might be that humans are lazy mammals and the easiest way to protect oneself from confusion is to divide the world in two parts of which one is good and the other is bad. This so-called ethnocentrism immediately results in stereotyping, because it leaves no room for intermediate forms, nor greyscales and obscuring shadows.

Looking at the way Hergé drew the Tintin comic strips we clearly see this stereotyping. Hergé's style is called 'the clear line' and he is seen as the initiator or deviser. He didn't use shadow or incidence of light, because he chose to keep his drawings simple and readable. Before he even began using colours, the cartoons really were as black and white as were the characters being portrayed. Later, when colour could be printed, he chose to keep them simple and clear. In his own words: 'In a child's opinion Tintin's jumper is blue, completely blue. Why should the jumper be a lighter shade of blue on the one side (from where the light is coming) and darker on the other side? I think it's the same jumper, isn't it?' As a result of this 'clear line' the drawings need to be simple and straightforward, resulting in rather stereotypic characters and attributes.

Another factor that creates stereotypes is Tintin's heavy reliance on official sources. He hardly ever gets his information from ordinary people. Of course this distorts his information as the officials only tell him what they want to be known. Tintin, through Hergé, labels the actors in a story following rather stereotypic lines. Mistrusted people are labelled as 'that Indian' (Prisoners of the Sun) or 'that fellow' and 'those little lads' (Tintin in Africa).

Tintin's world is full of stereotypes. All countries he visits are portrayed in a stereotypic way. All people behave in stereotypic manners. All? … I found some exceptions to this rule, but they are not common at all. One example is the way the Indians speak in Tintin in America. Deviating from the rule that Indians say things like: 'Ugh! I Big Wonder am! Ugh!' in Tintin's world they speak correct English.

Another example of non-stereotypic action I found is already mentioned above: Tintin's explanation to Chang that people from the west see Chinese as wearing ponytails and eating birds' nests.


Though the Indians speak without any accent double Dutch is not absent in Tintin in America. The reader gets to know a Mexican, who says: 'Caramba! A man! If 'e see me, me lost! Ah, 'e sleeping. Ai, Pedro, now me 'ave a good plan.' But he is the only one. Maybe Hergé was too much attracted by Indians (as he confessed he was). Having them talking gibberish might have felt like being too unkind to this miraculous people. The strange thing with other people talking double Dutch is that they even speak so among each other. I think it would have been more realistic if an African would say: 'I found Tintin's magic machine!' to another, instead of: 'I Tintin's magic machine did find!'

In Tintin, language is often used in the way mentioned above. In the first edition of Sharks in the Red Sea the African people spoke gibberish. After being accused from racism Hergé changed their text in proper French and in turn he changed captain Haddock's text into double Dutch. Making the elite saying something gibberish is rather an exception. I found it remarkable to see that very often the low culture speaks gibberish in Tintin comics while the high culture does not. Sometimes Tintin encounters a foreign language as well. In Tintin in Tibet for example captain Haddock collapses with a local carrier of goods who reacts with calling him names. What the carrier actually is shouting is not explained. Using another language that is not being translated occurs too in Sharks in the Red Sea were Tintin and Captain Haddock meet an Arab woman at the well. The men go in cognito as Arab women and when the other woman asks the (wo)men something in Arabic she gets suspicious when they do not react.

Language is also used by Hergé to give something an extra meaning, an association with something else. Sometimes these associations disappear in translations of his work into other languages. One association that is lost that we know of is connected to the name of Tintin's dog, called Bobby (in Dutch) or Snowy (in English) but which was called Milou originally, referring to a female friend of Hergé. Bobby or Snowy (or Spokie, Terry, Tobi) lacks this feminine childish association.


Not only words can be associated with something else. Pictures can do too. Shohat & Stam describe some examples of these so-called tropes. Throughout the Tintin comic strips I found two of these. One is animalization/infantilization of the indigenous people. This can be seen clearly in Tintin in Africa and in Sharks in the Red Sea. In Africa Tintin is teaching the young Negroes the additional sum of two plus two. The kids haven't got a clue what the answer will be. Their medicine man dresses up as a tigerman to be able to kill Tintin without leaving any human traces. Fortunately for the readers a snake is attacking him at the moment supreme and Tintin has got to save the medicine man's life instead of being killed by him.

Another trope I found is virginity/wild femininity of the land. New countries have got to be explored. They are dangerous and tempting as women. Tintin runs around Africa as if he is in a playground. All African animals that children know of (lions, snakes, crocodiles, elephants) are shot or at least injured in very strange ways. In the first edition of Tintin In Congo the young reporter tries to shoot a rhinoceros. In vain: the animal seems to have a skin like an armoured car and the bullets glance off. Then Tintin gets the luminous idea to drill a hole in the skin to put some dynamite in the animal. After the explosion nothing of the rhinoceros is left. 'I'm sure he has got too much of it!' Tintin says afterwards.

Copyright Stichting HergéIn Tintin in Tibet the characters have to deal with other natural temptations and challenges. In Tibet the virgin snow, avalanches, the coldness and the Yeti have to be conquered. The landscape often is white and empty, an unspoilt nature that hides her mysteries from the outside world.



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