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"Speaking" with a Closed Mouth: Phostle, the Bird Brothers, and Red Rackham...

#1 · Posted: 9 May 2007 21:47
I always seem to notice it, and it is almost distracting!

It makes me wonder aloud, "why?"

It makes me ask, "Is there a reason?"

It puzzles me!

I am referring, of course, to those select few characters in the esteemed Tintin collection who don't open their mouths to speak.

How about the would-be Red Rackham descendent who presents Tintin with his card? How about the Bird brothers? It's almost ventriloquistic, the very fact that they are able to communicate orally, verbally, without opening their mouths!

How about Decimus Phostle? Actually, I can't find my Tintin book at the moment, so I can't look him up. But I remember he's just as clammed up as the Bird brothers.

It's so odd to see. I'm sure at least one of you is waiting in the wings with a nugget of inspiration to settle my hash, so please do. :)
#2 · Posted: 28 May 2007 01:57
The Thompsons and Calculus never do, either.
#3 · Posted: 28 May 2007 15:11
I suppose the convention of always drawing speaking characters in comic strips with their mouths open is just that - a stylistic convention, and presumeably it's not one that Hergé felt it necessary to use as he evolved his own comic strip "grammar" and visual rules.

If you think about it, there's no special logic about always having all speaking characters open-mouthed within a frame. If a comic strip frame contains two people speaking, one after the other, then during the frozen moment of time captured visually by that frame's drawing, only one of them should have their mouth open. Of course, a comic strip frame doesn't have to represent a frozen moment of time, but can represent several moments all together (I think Scott McCloud analyses this well in his book Understanding Comics), in which case having both the speaking characters shown with their mouth open does make sense. But you can see that Hergé had a range of options on this, especially has he was sort of inventing the stylistic conventions of the comic strip in Europe.

My second thought is that If you think about it, your lips are temorarily shut for quite a bit of the time during speech - ie: when you're making "m", "b", or "p" sounds - and there's no logical reason why one of those moments of speech isn't the one being captured by the drawing. I'd guess that Herge thought that the essense of some of his characters could best be captured with a picture of them in a tight-lipped moment.

Of course, in a single-drawing Punch or New Yorker-style cartoon the spoken words traditionally go in a caption at the bottom of the drawing, rather than in a balloon, so drawing the speaking character with their mouth open is essential to indicate to the reader which person is speaking. But in a comic strip, with speech balloons, it's always clear who's speaking anyway.

Those are my thoughts, anyway. You've raised an interesting question.
#4 · Posted: 30 Dec 2008 05:30
If the character has a moustache, their mouth movements might be blocked by it.
#5 · Posted: 9 Nov 2017 12:43
It's an old thread, but possibly worth reviving, as I just noticed a curious progression through the first three books in black and white, and thought it worth noting.

Tintin starts Soviets with a mouth: it may be rudimentary, but there is usually at least a little dot, or line to show where it is; even when it might be expected to be obscured by the angle of his head, or the position of something in front of it, there is usually an indication of it.

This continues right up until about the sequence in snow where he fights the Cossack, at which point (to my eye), the mouth starts to get shown less and less.

Then we reach the frame after Snowy digs through to rescue Tintin, and, with a cry of "Free! Thanks to Snowy... He dug a way through from outside" [first frame on p.106 of the standard edition], Tintin's mouth disappears, not to appear for the rest of the story.

He holds a finger to where his mouth would be to tell Snowy to be quiet on p.111, and on p.120 manages to drink when toasted (mistakenly) as the "hero of the South Pole to North Pole flight" on his stop in Berlin (there is just the suggestion of the corner of his lips where the glass makes contact), but that seems to be about it.

The following frame (p.121) in Berlin is debatable, as it shows a streak where his mouth might be, but it is actually the tail of the swooping lines encircling his head to show that he has become tipsy with the alcoholic drink.

For the entirety of the black and white Tintin in the Congo he is without a mouth, save for the faintest suggestion of one in the first frame of the seventh page (the B&W facsimile is, unfortunately, printed without page numbers) where he talks to Snowy ("What happened to you?"). The full-page colour plates in the Casterman/ Last Gasp version do give Tintin a mouth, and the cover inset of him in the Model T Ford also has a mouth, but these are later additions.

Tintin in America makes an equally "mouthless" start. Not until the conversation between Tintin and Snowy following the attack on the dummies by the gangsters on (what I think is) the twenty-seventh page ("Well Snowy?... Wasn't I right...", etc.) does the suggestion of a mouth appear.

After a few more pages of mouthlessness, he gets his cowboy outfit, and seemingly a new mouth, as from the moment he is kicked through the wall of the stable at the livery, his mouth returns, and is there, by-and-large, after that.

I'm not proposing that this is entirely rigidly followed, especially when, due to the state of the artwork, it can be hard to tell what is truly intended.
As evidence of this, if you can cast an eye over various versions of the books, you will see that (especially in early re-editions, such as the Casterman Archives Hergé Volume 1 from 1973, which seems to have been produced from less than perfect artwork, possibly copies of the newspapers the strip first was printed in) there are several (many?) instances of Tintin having apparently lost an eye (sometimes two), or a bit of his nose, along the way, which might be restored in another version taken from a more faithful reproduction or original art.

What's more interesting to me is that I think I would probably (subconsciously at least) have thought that the mouthless, Bécassine-like, Tintin was the standard version for at least those first three books, and that the mouth appeared later, as Hergé refined the art style of the series.

It shows that it pays to pay attention when it comes to Pays des Soviets, I suppose!
#6 · Posted: 24 Oct 2018 10:56 · Edited by: snowybella
How about Decimus Phostle? Actually, I can't find my Tintin book at the moment, so I can't look him up. But I remember he's just as clammed up as the Bird brothers.

Professor Phostle is like this thoughout most of the book, but on pages 11 (frames 5 and 7), 12 (frames 5 and 6), 13 (frames 11-13), 16 (11), 19 (12), 21 (8), 26 (10), 33 (14), 34 (1-8), 37 (2), 43 (6), 44 (2), 61 (5-6) and finally 62 (7) he opens his mouth to speak. Since his mouth is always being coloured over in these scenes, you have to look carefully to see his open mouth. I suppose we can assume Phostle is only practicing being a ventriloquist, or else he wouldn't open his mouth so many times!

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