Captain Haddock, Tintin, Tintin and the Picaros

Tintin and the Picaros

I’m rereading Tintin and the Picaros and it is amazing how many little things I did not notice before.

Tintin for Nuclear Disarmament

Written in the mid-70s, Tintin and the Picaros saw Tintin updated for a new generation. Gone are the trademark plus-fours and Tintin appears more mature, less innocent about the world. This signs are subtle, such as the CND sticker on Tintin’s helmet on page 1, but whether this is a deliberate attempt to modernise the character or a reflection on Herge’s growing weariness of Tintin’s naivety it is impossible to tell.

Haddock and Whisky

Herge’s relationship with alcohol through all the books is interesting but in Tintin and the Picaros we see it develop. The undoubtedly alcoholic Haddock was always a strange companion for the T-Total Tintin. Alcohol is certainly presented as a negative influence and numerous times it gets Captain Haddock, Snowy and very occasionally Tintin into trouble. In Picaros, we see Haddock cured of his taste for whisky (unknowingly) with a pill that is a remarkably like a super-strong version of Disulfiram.

One interesting take on alcohol in Tintin and the Picaros are these two panels from page 8. Loch Lomond whisky advert Tintin picarosThe text reads “Are you depressed? Does the day seem long? We have the answer. Loch Lomand”. A typically Herge ironic attack on advertising and alcohol. Totally unconnected with this, on the same page (panel 8) Captain Haddock uses the word pachyrhizus about General Tapioca. Pachyrhizus is a small genus of five or six species of tropical and subtropical plants, mostly found in Bolivia.

Later on in the book we see Loch Lomand whisky being responsible for drunkenness amongst the native Arumbayas and the Picaros rebels under General Alcazar.

Tintin Monkeys Around

On of the questions about Tintin and the Picaros (and Tintin and the Broken Ear) is where the country of San Theodoros is located. There are several contradictory clues. On page 28, whist Tintin seems to be back into his normal adventuring style despite his uncharacteristic unwillingness to get involved early on the book, a monkey saves Tintin’s life. The monkey looks like a Titi monkey, common in Colombia to Brazil, Peru and north Paraguay. This puts San Theodoros more in a more southerly location than previously assumed.

Callice BrunneusTiti Monkey Tintin Picaros

Further wildlife clues can be found on page 37 of Tintin and the Picaros. A cayman crocodile, an adaconda and an electric eel (Gymnotus) all make an appearance. There are several varieties of cayman crocodiles but the largest (and most likely to attack a human) is Spectacled Caiman and is common in Venezuela but can be found as far north as El Salvador. The largest and most common of the anaconda family is the Eunectes murinus that can grow us to 25 feet (7.6 m) in length. The species is found in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The gymnotus or electric knifefish can be found all over the south and central americas, from southern Mexico to Argentina.

Herge’s Ambivalence to the Picaros

One of the striking things about Tintin and the Picaros is how little Tintin cares about the country of San Theodoros. In earlier books, Tintin would be leading the revolution for the sake of the people. In this book, Tintin is lax in coming to his friends help early on in the book. Later on, he almost walks away from helping Alcazar with the revolution.

The most telling of aspect of the book are the comparison between page 11 (panel 9) and page 62 (panel 11). Both are images of the slums of the capital. In both, there are shanty town houses and rubbish strewed streets. The only difference is the name of the capital has been changed. With this, is Herge indicating his own disillusion with the world? Rejecting the idea that one man, no matter how good or brave, can save so many poor and downtrodden people. If so, Tintin and the Picaros represent a low point for Tintin and Herge.

Tintin and the Picaros, like the best of Herge’s work, leaves us with more questions about Herge than it answers.

One Comment

  1. Pauline

    I recall an interview of Herge where he answered the comments on Tintin’s wardrobe change. He said it began when the comics were being adapted to films and since it will show overseas Herge, for sake of culture sensitivity, decided to make a few adjustments and this being Tintin’s plus-fours. Especially in the US where, at the time, the golf-trousers was way behind the times for men and more of a trend with the women. So, in the end, it was more of a culture thing. He said that it wasn’t “revolutionary” and didn’t compromise Tintin’s characterization in any way as opposed to what many believed.

    As for Tintin’s characterization at the time, I agree with what you’ve said, though Herge was subtle with them, Tintin was undergoing a transition. The Blue Lotus and Tintin and the Picaros were both books for me which marked the period of maturity for Herge, in his personal consciousness and his artistic merits. I was sort of surprised myself when I read in the Picaros that Tintin showed reluctance–caution, suspicion, and awareness. He was almost willing to abandon his friends to their doom. But of course in the end the “need” to save them motivates him to go. But that was it. So, like you wrote, he wasn’t deeply interested in the well-being of San Theodoros from that lane. He was only interested in his friends; however, he did propose to Alcazar a revolution without violence so, he was still concern with the general public’s well-being. However, for me, personally, I think that cake was just too big for our hero to handle. Or probably, like what you said, it reflected Herge’s own disillusionment. But I also felt that that statement only proves true Tintin’s neutrality on the issues he faces, where he’s devoid of any political, societal, or cultural stance. He’s a friend to every kind of creature in the story. He doesn’t take sides.

    As for me, I don’t know, but the Picaros has always been my no. 1 favorite among the entire series. I mean, I liked the mood, atmosphere, and changes…though they might have ‘jeopardized’ the purity of Tintin in some way. I thought it was the period of maturity for Herge. He also said, in the same interview, that he was “nourishing” Tintin by providing him new clothes. As for the more subtle hints on Tintin’s overall characterization and Haddock’s we can only guess. But definitely–something was brewing there.

    Sorry for any errors. English is not my first language. Have a nice day! 🙂

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