No matter what age you are, if you are a Sri Lankan you will know who Tintin is. He is a character that has enjoyed popularity over many years from generation to generations. Something that has also been true around the world. Since their first publication in the Belgian magazine Le Petit Vingtième in 1929 in comic strip form, “The Adventures of Tintin” have been collected as 24 comic albums and published in over 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies, as well as adaptations on radio, television, theatre, and film. Making their author Georges Prosper Remi, better known by his pen name Herge, a household name.
The titular protagonist Tintin is a plucky young Belgian reporter whose curiosity often gets him into trouble and adventure with a front page story for him at the end. Always with him is his trusted companion “Snowy”, a white Wire Fox Terrier. In later adventures he is joined by the curmudgeonly yet fiercely loyal Captain Haddock, the brilliant but ridiculous Professor Calculus, and the bumbly duo from Scotland Yard, the twins Thomson and Thompson. Together they travelled the world to many locations the world over.
Unlike many comic strips Tintin was in a largely realistic setting with parallels to the world at the time, including equivalents to several major geopolitical situations and world figures. So not only were real world locations like Switzerland, the United Kingdom, India, Egypt, and many other included, many of the fictional locations that Herge dreamed up were based in reality. For example the setting of The Broken Ear is inspired by the Chaco War. The relationship between Syldavia and Borduria mirrors Czechoslovakia or Austria and expansionist Nazi Germany prior to World War II. Syldavia itself is based on Montenegro. Herge even proved a prophet of sorts as the stories Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon accurately predicted many things about a moon landing many many years before the Apollo missions.
In Sri Lanka, Tintin was first published in the Daily News in comic strip form. This was long before they were published as books and fans had to patiently wait for the newspaper according to lifelong ardent Tintin fan Gyan C. A. Fernando.
“Can’t remember the exact dates. It was somewhere in the mid-late fifties… My Mum used to show me the cartoon page of the Daily News with which I was already familiar with. Then one day there was an announcement of a new serial cartoon of Belgian origin! So we waited and on the appointed day the first two strips of “The Crab With The Golden Claws” appeared. It was a long time before the books first appeared in The Lake House Bookshop and so we had to get our hands on the Daily News every day except Sunday.”
According to him, Tintin was almost instantly popular among children and their fathers.
“We schoolboys and our fathers took to it straight away as did my two sisters. We discussed it in school and at home... For a start he is young. This was during the period where comic book heroes such as Tarzan and Mandrake the Magician were adults. Tintin has quick wits and outsmarts his villains without too much violence.”
In fact, there is even a possibility that Tintin arrived in Sri Lanka. According to Gyan Fernando;
“Tintin sailed on the SS Ranchi from Shanghai (The Blue Lotus) which should have touched Colombo but he gets kidnapped long before that. At the end of the adventure he boards a similar but unnamed ship which presumably should have touched in at Colombo. So Tintin might have got to Colombo!”
He even wrote fanfiction of an adventure Tintin might have had in Sri Lanka. An adventure where Tintin and Captain Haddock rush to capture the villain Rastapopulous who is staying at the Mount Lavinia hotel and introduces such scenes as tussles on the top of Sigiriya and at cricket match at Asgiriya, with even the Milanese nightingale Bianca Castafiore singing to a packed house at the BMICH.
“I had retired and got back to Sri Lanka to resettle and was writing for the Sunday Times when Steven Spielberg’s film, which I didn’t like, was released. So I wrote a short and funny article which was received well. People still send me suggestions!”
Tintin inspired him so much that he traveled the world, including making “pilgrimages” to many locations from the comics.
“Tintin was definitely my inspiration to travel the world. When I first went to Peru, I visited the Museum of Gold in Lima. The Inca gold artefacts in this museum were pure Herge! I have made pilgrimages to Peru and Machu Picchu four times (The Temple of the Sun), Petra in Jordan (The Red Sea Sharks), Geneva including lake Geneva and Hotel Bristol (The Calculus Affair), Kathmandu, Nepal and Tibet (Tintin in Tibet), Prague (King Ottokar’s Sceptre), Paraguay (Tintin and the Picaros) Albania which is probably the setting for Syldavia and Borduria, Morocco (The Crab With The Golden Claws) and so on. In Peru, near Puno, I visited the vast cemetery of Sillustani where there were hundreds of Rascar Capac like mummies, trussed up and naturally mummified by the dry air.”
While many fans cannot make such a pilgrimage to show their love for Tintin, memorabilia is a popular alternative. The company Moulinsart was setup to safeguard and promote the body of work that Herge created, and the manufacture official Tintin merchandise ranging from statuettes, sculptures, figurines and box scenes to toys, posters and clothing. They have made these available for purchase all over the world including in Sri Lanka through Collectique. They are the official agents for original Tintin merchandise in Sri Lanka and have a variety of options for the discerning fan, ranging from keyrings and posters to statues and figurines.
In fact through the official merchandise, we now do have confirmation that Tintin did visit Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as the island was known at the time. The Tintin and Snowy figurine, titled “HOMECOMING!” available at Collectique, shows the return of Tintin and Snowy after a trip to China. It's inspired by a cover illustration from an issue of Le Petit Vingtième from 28 November 1935. It clearly shows a baggage tag "Ceylon" on Tintin's well travelled suitcase. Officially proving once and for all that Tintin visited the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Tintin is a unique phenomena in the comic world. To stay in the hearts and minds of so many across so many lands despite there being no new publications is a testament to how good Herge was at his craft. As generations before passed these stories forward, it will surely continue in the same manner for many decades to come.
Cover Image: www.deviantart.com (indioblack619)
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