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Readers and critics have described Tintin as a well-rounded yet open-ended character, noting that his rather neutral personality—sometimes labelled as bland—permits a balanced reflection of the evil, folly and foolhardiness which surrounds him. His boy-scout ideals, which represent Hergé's own, are never compromised by the character, and his status allows the reader to assume his position within the story, rather than merely following the adventures of a strong protagonist. Tintin's iconic representation enhances this aspect, with Scott McCloud noting that it "allows readers to mask themselves in a character and safely enter a sensually stimulating world."
Tintin is an intelligent and imaginative character with good powers of deduction. However, while in deep thought, he tends to be absent-minded and fails to notice things around him. He seems to know multiple foreign languages and reads extensively on a variety of subjects. He is skilled at driving automobiles (including a tank), riding horses or motorcycles, and flying aeroplanes and helicopters. Despite his generally delicate and unassuming appearance, Tintin is quite athletic and possesses great physical strength, often getting into fights where he is able to knock out enemies much larger than himself with a single blow. Although he is small as opposed to the other characters, he is an excellent swimmer, has been shown to be a skilled mountaineer, has been shown to do yoga, and can survive falls that would normally cause serious injuries.
Tintin's age is never accurately revealed within the comics. Other characters treat him as a worldly young adult, as shown by the absence of concerns like parents or school, as well as by his wide solo travels all over the globe. He's old enough to enter a pub and drink a beer (The Black Island) and old enough to live alone with his dog in his own apartment. However, he is still referred to as a "young boy", and a "puppy" in The Crab with the Golden Claws. A 1979 television interview with Hergé settled the matter, when Hergé stated that when he first thought about Tintin, the character was 14 or 15 years old, and by the time of the interview stated: "but now, let's say that he is 17." In one shot in the television series episode The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin's passport states his birth year as 1929 (the year of his print debut
Tintin has no family members: any mention of a mother, father or siblings is noticeably absent. He makes no mention of his family throughout the series. Nowhere is it implied that he is an orphan; it could be argued that he meets his family between adventures. Tintin's lack of relatives is irrelevant to his adventuring; it is the adopted family of friends he makes through his exploits that makes up his family unit.
Unlike other characters such as Captain Haddock or Professor Calculus, Tintin has no discernible past prior to the beginning of the series. Whereas Haddock can recall a particularly fierce storm at sea or Calculus can boast of his athletic past, Tintin's roots prior to Land of the Soviets are never discussed (although in 'The Black Island,' he mentions always loving puzzles). His companions encounter old friends like Captain Chester or Hercule Tarragon, yet Tintin only meets friends or enemies whom he met in previous adventures.
Even the name "Tintin" remains a mystery. Whether it is a first name or a surname is unknown. It is a known hypocoristic form of Augustin. A possibility is that it is not actually the reporter's real name, but rather a pseudonym that the character uses to protect his identity while writing columns for his newspaper, Le Petit Vingtième. At the time when the stories first came out, journalists' usage of pseudonyms was commonplace. The possibility that it may not be his real name is also hinted in Cigars of the Pharaoh when Tintin is accused of poisoning one of a notable sheik's servants. Having been captured and brought to his tent, the enraged sheik demands Tintin's name. Tintin's characteristically placid answer is: "My name? It won't mean a thing to you... but at home they call me Tintin." A simpler theory for his name is the fact that Franco-Belgian comics at the time generally had heroes with eccentric, memorable single names that could pass off as first names or surnames. Many people tend to think of "Tintin" as a surname, but it is likely that Hergé meant to keep it a mystery. Hergé was a great admirer of Benjamin Rabier and may have derived the name (and hairstyle) from Rabier's Tintin lutin (1897). There also have been theories that Tintin is a nickname for Martin or Augustin. One last theory holds that the name "Tintin" signifies nothing, pointing to the character's cryptic nature. As Paul LaFarge writes,
Tintin was a word before it was a name; it means 'nothing,' and the phrase faire tintin loosely means "to go without." Hergé's boy reporter does not bear the name by accident.
Throughout much of the series, Tintin's attitude is characterised by inquisitive tendencies and a noble, forgiving nature. While his idealism earns him the admiration of many people he meets, it also places him in danger on occasion and serves as a foil to the more sceptical demeanour of other characters such as Captain Haddock. And unlike nearly every other character he meets, Tintin can be relied upon to remain calm and cool-headed, even in the worst of circumstances. Only on very rare occasions, such as after Haddock's drunken antics threatened his friends' lives (Explorers on the Moon), does Tintin actually lose his temper.
Tintin's political views are generally ambiguous in many of the books and specific expression of his opinions are rare. While in earlier books such as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo Tintin is characterised as a proud Belgian Catholic, later books avoid specific mention of his views (see Ideology of Tintin). His opinions appear to change over time, though in many situations he can be classified as a pacifist, reflecting a dislike of war. At the beginning of Tintin and the Picaros, he is seen wearing a motorcycle helmet with a peace symbol on it.
Readers of Tintin books have speculated about his sexuality. Marcel Wilmet, spokesperson of Studios Hergé, has confirmed that Tintin is straight. Matthew Parris of The Sunday Times argued that Tintin could be homosexual.
Towards the end of the series, Tintin's character changes to a degree. In later stories, Tintin no longer actively seeks out adventure but is rather forced into a situation by events beyond his control (such as being kidnapped or motivated to rescue a friend. This is especially evident inFlight 714 and Tintin and the Picaros, where Tintin's loss of enthusiasm for adventure is apparent, and his youthful idealism appears to have been replaced by a somewhat more cynical outlook. There has been much debate among readers and critics about this shift in characterisation, as these final adventures have received varying and sometimes negative responses. Critics argue that these books represent either a late period of eccentricity, or puzzling disappointments, while others claim that Tintin's shift represents a more complex depiction of his character. Hergé commented upon this change, noting that in the late phases of his career, "Tintin has lost control, he is not on top of events anymore, he is subjected to them." However, in the unfinished album Tintin and Alph-Art, Tintin regained much of his old adventurous personality, actively investigating suspicious events and murder threats.
The earlier version of Tintin was apparently inspired, at least in part, by Hergé's younger brother, Paul Remi, a career soldier. Tired of being referred to as "Major Tintin" by his colleagues, Paul later shaved his hair and adopted a more Erich von Stroheim look. Hergé subsequently used Paul's appearance as a model for the villainous Colonel Sponsz in The Calculus Affair. Tintin and Sponsz, although physically very different, have actually quite similar hair spikes.
Hergé may have also been inspired by a Danish boy scout and later actor Palle Huld, who was 15 years old when he travelled around the world and wrote Around the World in 44 days by Palle. In the book he describes his tour to the Soviet Union, America, China, and Africa, and about the dramatic adventures he experienced. It was translated into eleven languages and it was certainly read by Hergé. Palle Huld died in 2010 at the age of 98. The similarities between Tintin and Palle Huld are striking, not only in their clothing and posture, innocent charisma, open smile, optimism, and forward spirit, but also in their more elusive similarities: the boy without family or background, lonely, asexual, and strikingly impersonal.
However, the inspiration for Tintin may also have come from a fellow student of Hergé's from St. Boniface named Charles, who had adopted a style of plus fours and argyle socks which caused him to be the subject of no little ridicule. Harry Thompson notes the inspiration may be tinged slightly, suggesting that if "Hergé had been one of the laughers, an element of guilt was involved."
The first three adventures of Tintin visit places visited by photographer-reporter Robert Sexé, recorded in the Belgian press from the mid to late 1920s. Sexé was born in 1890 in La Roche-sur-Yon in Vendée in Western France. Janpol Schulz wrote a biography of Robert Sexé titled "Sexé au pays des Soviets" (Sexé in the Land of the Soviets) to mimic the name of the first Tintin Adventure. This was published in 1996.
Robert Sexé has been noted to have a similar appearance to Tintin, and the Hergé Foundation in Belgium has admitted that it is not too hard to imagine how Hergé could have been influenced by the exploits of Sexé. At that time Sexé had been round the world on a motorcycle made by Gillet of Herstal. René Milhoux was a Grand-Prix champion and motorcycle record holder of the era, and in 1928, while Sexé was in Herstal speaking with Léon Gillet about his future projects, Mr. Gillet put him in contact with his new champion, Milhoux, who had just left Ready motorcycles for Gillet of Herstal. The two men quickly struck up a friendship, and spent hours talking about motorcycles and voyages, Sexé explaining his needs and Milhoux giving his knowledge on mechanics and motorbikes pushed beyond their limits.
Thanks to this union of knowledge and experience, Robert Sexé would head off on numerous trips throughout the world, writing countless press accounts. The General Secretary of the Hergé Foundation in Belgium has admitted that it is not too hard to imagine how a young George Rémi, better known as Hergé, could have been inspired by the well-publicized exploits of these two friends, Sexé with his trips and documentaries and Milhoux with his triumphs and records, to create the characters of Tintin the famous travelling reporter, and his faithful companion Milou (Snowy).
Hergé himself has noted that Tintin existed as his personal expression, and although he recorded in 1947 that he knew "Tintin is no longer me, that, if he is to go on living, it will be by a sort of artificial respiration that I will have to practice constantly and which exhausts me, and will exhaust me more and more", he was also fond of stating "Tintin, c'est moi!" ("Tintin, that's me!").
Shortly before his death, former Belgian Nazi collaborator Léon Degrelle created controversy by stating that the Tintin character was originally based on himself. Degrelle had indeed known Hergé during his early career as a journalist, but this allegation is generally considered a fabrication of the notorious self-booster Degrelle.
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