Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #111: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1 by Herge

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. Now, where have I heard that before?

I've never read Tintin before. I gather the books were available in the US at some point -- I recall seeing albums in the library when my kids were young, and they may have been around when I was young -- but I never saw them then, and didn't come across them in the ordinary way of a voraciously reading kid. (I jumped over to the adult books really early, to hit the SF and mystery sections.)

But there's always time to read a book today, so I just got to the first of a seven-volume series that collects what I think is the whole series by Herge. This one is unsurprisingly titled The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1, and contains the individual stories Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharoah, and The Blue Lotus, originally serialized in the early 1930s, collected soon afterward, and reworked into these color versions ten to twenty years later.

(Doing a little research while writing this led me to Herge's Wikipedia page, where I learned that the books collected here were preceded by the tendentious Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and the racist Tintin in the Congo. Well, just yesterday I read the first omnibus of a bande desinee series that included the first two not-quite-right stories, so it's fitting that today I have a similar book that ignores its even more problematic first two books entirely.)

This is high adventure of the old school, with a boy hero to be more vulnerable and to be more of an identification figure to an audience of boys. Tintin is ostensibly a reporter, though we don't see him put pen to paper a single time in these three stories, and he has no visible means of support at all. Again, adventure story -- Tintin is a fantastic character in a fantastic world, free to engage in battling evil wherever he finds it and inevitably victorious in that fight because he's on the side of good. It's a comforting style of story for young men, who themselves have to live in a world where they do need means of support and where evil wins out probably half of the time.

I hadn't realized these stories were serialized when I read them, but it makes sense -- they have that one-damn-thing-after-another kind of plotting, with Tintin getting captured and escaping repeatedly, as he chases various nefarious criminals. I'm not going to get into the details of the three stories, because they're all the same sort of thing in different places, and each page has some kind of excitement.

This particular format is not great for the Tintin books -- it's a smallish hardcover, about 6" x 9", substantially smaller than the original album pages. Herge crams a lot of action and dialogue onto his pages, so people with eyes as old as mine with have to strain to see all of this -- I found myself peering under my glasses far too often. If you're getting Tintin for a young person with young eyes, this should be just fine.

I find this kind of story a little quaint these days, for reasons I got into more yesterday writing about Valerian. Tintin is obviously even more old-fashioned, by about forty years, and that shows in the plotting and style. It's all fun boys-own adventure, possibly the epitome of that style in comics form. But that mode is pretty artificial to begin with -- that's just something to deal with.

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