Reposting a piece I wrote for Movies.com giving some background on the boy reporter/hero and inspiration for the new Spielberg film. [I give the film a B+, for "Blistering barnacles," I really enjoyed it, to be precise. There are some really excellent Herge homages at the film's start, and then the spirit of the comics lives throughout. The writers may have tried to cram too much in (3 comics into one story) but changes otherwise seemed good, kept humor but added more.--cgp]
With the big-budget, CGI The Adventures of Tintin film hitting the world in a big way -- directed by one of the most famous of directors and produced by another no stranger to blockbusters -- it's hard to imagine a time back in my childhood when I innocently clutched faded reprints of Hergé's comic books and dreamed of a movie.
The year Raiders of the Lost Ark came out was when I first discovered this series, which shared many elements with Spielberg's crowd-pleasing adventure: A brave, young, globetrotting hero battles nefarious crime syndicates and villains over artifacts and heirlooms—though Tintin, a boy reporter instead of an archeologist, was younger and more innocent (and asexual, though this thought didn't occur to me as much as a lad) than Indiana Jones; and at times Tintin got into trouble more by sticking his nose into other people's business when things struck him suspicious, rather than venturing forth for his own gain. But these beautifully illustrated comic books captivated in much the same way as Raiders, and the stories took Tintin from England, the character’s home base, all over the globe: from South American jungles to Tibet, from fictional countries to, yes, the moon (before anyone really set foot on it).
Belgian artist Hergé began Tintin as a serialized newspaper strip, before segueing to comic book form. Quite a few of the best stories were written before, during and right after WWII, so Hergé, an anti-fascist who tried to remain apolitical due to worries about Gestapo censorship—and worse—in his occupied country, certainly knew the territory. In that period Tintin was more an explorer like Indy, rather than a reporter (lest he sniff out something the real-life ruling fascists didn't care for). The earliest Tintins, in the 1930s, also had elements of discomfortingly dated racial portrayals, though now it seems clearer that Hergé's work tended to be a sign of the times without much maliciousness to the caricatures; as a judge recently ruled, Hergé's intent was not racist in Tintin in the Congo even if some of the drawings sure seemed that way. But you can trace his progression as an artist and observer reading through to his later work (the last, Tintin and the Picaros, was published in 1976).
In the 1970s and 80s, Tintin had more of a cult following in America than a widespread audience, even though he'd been popular around much of the rest of the planet for decades.