Captain Haddock, Tintin, 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.

Captain Haddock, Editorial, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, The Secret of the Unicorn

Problems Facing the Tintin Movie

I love Tintin. Growing up with dyslexia meant that I always struggled with written words so discovering Tintin was revelation. The beautiful images and fast moving, boys-own style adventures made Tintin’s world real to me in a way that a book never could. Over the years I have revisited Tintin many times and got something new out of it each time but one of the things I’ve pick up is that Tintin isn’t written very well. Before I get ripped to shreds by rabid fans, I need to be clear about what is wrong with Herge’s writing and why this could result in some terrible films.

Tintin and Amazing Coincidences

I’ve got Secret of the Unicorn in front of me as an example. Tintin goes to the market where he meets Thomson and Thompson who are investigating a spate of thefts by pickpockets. Tintin spots the model Unicorn and decides to buy it for Captain Haddock. Just then not one, but two other people try to buy it. After fending off these other buyers, Tintin presents the ship to Captain Haddock who immediately recognises it as a model belonging to his ancestor. Adventures ensue as the other parties interested in the ship try and retrieve it and the clue it contains. Eventually the bad guys are arrested but two of the clues that were hidden inside the ship have been stolen. Fortunately these are recovered when Thomson & Thompson’s catch the pickpocket who had lifted the wallet carrying the clues.

This chain of coincidences stretches credibility. Its a large coincidence that Tintin would happen to buy a model ship sailed by Captain Haddock’s ancestor but one that can be swallowed. However that he buys it just before the two other interested parties also discover it purely by chance is stretching credibility. Add on the whole pick pocket angle and the coincidences become too large. Rather than build a credible, coherent plot, Herge’s has chosen to hang everything on a series of coincidences. This might be a deliberate and clever style of plot construction but it strikes me as bad or lazy writing that posses all sorts of problems for making a Tintin movie.

Tintin: The Next Harry Potter?

The Tintin movies are being made now because the first time, technology allows the film makers to create a real universe and not just an animated version of Herge’s art. This would not matter if it wasn’t for the success of the Harry Potter and the Narnia films. Studios have seen that creating a faithful, high quality adaptation of a children’s book can draw in lots of adults and not just those with kids. This poses the makers with two problems. Firstly they have to make a faithful adaptation of the books and secondly they have to make a good film that appeals to adults who aren’t not die-hard fans of the books. With the Harry Potter and Narnia films they achieved this but can it be done with Tintin?

I don’t think they can. What mainstream film’s plot is so dependent on coincidences as in The Secret of the Unicorn? None. Sure, in action sequences you see heros dive out of windows and just happen to land in a pile of boxes but that isn’t the same thing. Audiences accept that because it makes the film exciting and dynamic. Coincidences that drive the plot are something else entirely. This leaves the film makers two options. Change the plot and nature of Tintin (thus angering the fans) or just do a faithful adaptation (thus alienating the non-fans). Neither of these option will make a good film.

Once the film makers start altering Tintin to fit the big screen, as they must, I think the magic of Tintin will unravel. What makes the Tintin books so enjoyable is the farcical nature of the plots but I don’t think these will work on the big screen. Modern films, even children’s films, are relatively complex where as Tintin, despite the busy and detailed artwork, have a simplicity to them. To recreate the magic of Tintin on the big screen the makers of the Tintin movie have to get a square peg into a round whole. Jackson and Spielberg are great directors but this may be beyond even their talents.