There are really no humdrum pages in the adventures, which is a reminder of their origin as weekly comic strips. To keep the attention of young readers, Hergé crammed his stories with conflict and sight gags, with explosions and pratfalls and jets and cars and rampaging animals. This energetic pacing, sustained over 60-odd pages in book form, manages to make the experience of reading Tintin both prolonged and quick. It also speaks to the narrative taste of young readers, who love action and do not require the emotional psychodrama or character development adults so enjoy.
There are other reasons that Tintin has resonated with so many readers for so long. 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.
The resonance with children can’t be exaggerated. When you are young and your hero crash-lands in the Sahara or treks through the snows of Tibet, you do, too. The Himalayas and North Africa then become, in an elusive yet significant way, “yours,” part of your personal geography. When your hero outwits assassins, solves riddles and escapes execution by firing squad, you do, too. And when your hero, in pursuit of a baddie after dark, steps on a rake and knocks himself out (with comical stars circling his head to show it) or finds himself duped into drinking an intoxicating aperitif, you too experience his concussion and befuddlement.
My grandfather loved Tintin and read the books to my mother when she was a kid. My mother read them to us, and I read them with my grandfather, and also my aunts and uncles in Belgium. And now, my mother reads it with my niece and nephew.
The Tintin adventures originally appeared in magazine form, but were later compiled in hardcover editions. I loved those books, they were sturdy, and felt more important than the flimsy-looking American comics that were printed on cheap paper. These books were made to last, the colors were bright, and of course, Herge’s compositions were formal, meticulous, and strong.
For more on Herge, click here.