A Win for Tintin

When I heard last month that Stephen Spielberg was working on a Hollywood-upped digital movie version of Tintin, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. Despite everything I should love about him–his vocation as a journalist, his love of adventure and travel, and of course his French-speaking roots in the brain of the Belgian Hergé–I never was a fan.

Maybe there was a little too much Hardy Boys and not enough Sherlock Holmes for me at that point; Hergé’s famed ligne claire illustrative style also felt a little too serious, and so the graphic novels fell a little flat for me. (Little did I know that the flatness was the beauty of the ligne claire technique.) Or maybe it was a girl thing. A whole lot of guy journalists trace their love of their craft to Tintin; maybe his quirkiness struck just the right chord with young boys lacking confidence in the type of men they would become. But 20-plus years and major movie promotion later, I’m reevaluating my feelings for Tintin.

The first article to make me look at Tintin in a different light was a November book review in “The Wall Street Journal.” Meghan Cox Gurdon described Tintin in a light that I’d not considered:

“He is not a superhero or a young James Bond. He is not even really a reporter. His adventures are dramatic yet human-scale, invested with a spirit of moral enterprise and derring-do, in a cartoon world populated by characters at turns quirky, faulty, comical, and villainous.”

Perhaps I was a little too naive in my childhood to appreciate his amateur sleuthing skills; I had expected a more polished junior James Bond when I should have been looking for more of a resourceful boy scout type.

The other thing I failed to appreciate in my youth that I regard as genius in my life now is exactly how inspiring his adventures were for kids with any thread of wanderlust in their DNAs:

“Through his international exploits–in pre-revolutionary Shanghai, the jungles of Peru, a faux Eastern European police state, even the surface of the moon 20 years before Neil Armstrong got there–Tintin shows young readers that the world in all its complexity is theirs to bestride.”

With my long love of travel, how did I miss that? But now that Conde Nast Traveler came out with this handy guide, I feel like I might already be hooked on Tintin without actually finishing a whole book. The guide is basically structured to say, “If you like X place, you’ll love X Tintin book.” Based on the seven destinations the magazine highlights, I’m thinking of rekindling my acquaintance with Tintin with The Crab with the Golden Claws. With my dreams of visiting the rim of North Africa–Morocco and Tunisia have been calling me for years–some day, what better way to get lost in the dream than a Tintin trek through the Sahara?

I’m sure it goes with out saying that I’ve got seeing the movie on my wish list for the holidays. And after seeing the spectacular Spielberg interpretation, I fully expect to be one of what I expect to be legions of American Tintin converts, who no doubt will make the Euro Tintin purists cringe.

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