· Posted: 17 Apr 2012 22:23
Just joined the forum, could not resist making a rather detailed comment on this thread.
As a kid I had read most of the Tintin albums, in Spanish being that I am originally from Paraguay, but was more of an Asterix fan having collected the whole Asterix album collection.
Relatively recently, after moving to San Fransisco, I came across a great little store, Karikter, specialized mainly in Tintin and got the itch to re-experience the exiting adventures of Tintin. What a treat!. As an adult Tintin became even more compelling; the depth of the narrative, the weight of a heavy history, the underlying psychological traumas, the strength of the characters, the magnificent art... I can appreciate it as a truly magnificent body of work.
Of course I got to buy all of the albums, from soviets to alph-art, initially the re-drawn color editions but by now I have fetched even the black and white facsimile editions of America, Pharaohs and Blue Lotus, and different language editions of many of the albums.
I am most definitely now a Tintin fan, and Herge's work in my mind without a doubt surpasses even that of my childhood heroes Uderzo and Goszini.
It was hard but here is my ranking of the books, in order:
1 Tintin in Tibet: A magnificent work of art, strong narrative arch, charged with emotions and a masterful minimalism in the drawings. As the pages turn and the scenes become whiter and sparser, the tale of friendship becomes stronger. The vertigo inducing clifhangers provide a stark contrast to the ascending nature of the human will in Tintin. Haddock's role is even more impressive than Tintin's, embarking in an impossible quest he does not believe driven simply by the force of friendship. Willing to give his life for a greater purpose. It is Haddock greatest hour in the whole series.
2- The Blue Lotus: It could have been first in this list. I consider it a duology with Tibet. Here is when Tintin meets Chang, even though this book is written decades earlier. A gripping tale immersed in truly dire circumstances and with the added weight of history to back the story. Wonderfully researched, stunningly drawn, this album captures the sense of adventure in a far away land that would become a theme in the Tintin narrative, and does it even better than the earlier and very good Pharaohs. It stands as a work of art now, I imagine that in 1936 when it first came out it must have been a work like nothing else before it. It is easy to see from this book the influence that Herge undoubtedly had on future artists. I recommend reading both the redrawn color and the original black and white editions, both wonderful and quite different.
3 and 4 The duology of Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun: With most of the characters fully developed by this time this is probably the most exciting and fully fleshed out of all Tintin adventures. The first part is wonderful in its ability to create an erie atmosphere that sets up the adventure to come in Peru. The second part does not disappoint and takes us through a truly epic adventure . I always find the waterfall sequence the high point, beautiful and full of symbolism, two world separated by a thin watery veil. It plays with the notions of reality and dream a bit, a recurring theme in the series. No doubt Herge's work by this time had fully evolved in sophistication and hidden complexity.
5 The Calculus Affair: This I find the best of all Tintin's thrillers. In a perfect example of how Herge's work reflected the times he lived in; this is very appropriately a cold war spy story. The danger feels real, the stakes are high, the pace of the action is masterful and there is a plot twist at every turn. It seems to fit in the series just right after the Moon duology flight of fancy. A delicious pleasure, reading this album leaves me hungry for more.
6 King Ottokar's Sceptre: Written just before the start of the 2nd World War, this shows that Herge did not fancy the Nazis as sometimes is suggested. Here Borduria clearly represents a fascist country intent on war, with the leader Musstler a play on combining the names of Mussolini and Hitler. The invention of the eastern european country of Syldavia is remarkable in its scope, going as far as presenting us with history, traditions and even a tourist brochure!. As Indiana Jones also proves, there is nothing more satisfying than sticking it to the Nazis!. Later on Herge's work for the main newspaper during the Nazi occupation of Belgium has been cited as evidence of collaborationism. However his work during that time on the Unicorn-Rackham Treasure duo is more an escape from reality than collaborationist work, and an escapist dream was probably sorely needed to provide relief from the realities of war. In my mind Ottokar puts these collaborationist ideas to rest and would prove to be a fundamentally important album for the overall Tintin series narrative.
7 The Castafiore Emerald: It has been said that Tintin albums are a strong story that includes a few comic gags for comic relief, in contrast with the Asterix albums that are comic gag after comic gag connected by a story. Written in 1963 it comes 2 years after the first Asterix album, Asterix the Gaul. This album is indeed in a different style of writing and the only Tintin gag-fest. It may be also influenced by its contemporary and very comic Spirou. The writing is so masterful that it manages to keep the tension and its perfect comedic timing in spite of not much of anything really happening. There is no travel to far away lands, or villains, or much of the typical Tintin quest. It oddly reminds me of noir movies such as the Maltese Falcon, that prove that you don't really need a villain (or in Maltese Falcon's case to see the stolen object itself), but rather just the tacit threat of a sinister plot is enough to keep the story going. Noteworthy is also how Haddock overcomes his initial preconceptions about the Roma people (Gypsies), which just turn out to be just the result of his initial ignorance. This is important given Herge's own missteps in the past, such as the obviously colonialist and racist Congo and the conservative propaganda influenced Soviets. I think Herge is making a reference to himself here, making a point that initial preconceptions may be the result of the environment but what really matters is having the fortitude to change them, and I agree with him.
8 The Crab with the Golden Claws Here we meet Haddock for the first time, a character that through his frailties, mistakes and triumphs is to become probably the most interesting of all in the Tintin series. The ensuing adventure is simply wonderful and full of fancy, and the evolution of the interaction between Tintin and Haddock fascinating. I am also particularly fond of this album because it reminds me of an unforgettable trip I did with my wife to Morocco, which included a camel excursion in the Western Sahara. The album images of the town medinas are just wonderful. Another interesting aspect of this book is the possible double-entendres about the nature of Tintin and Haddock relationship. In a vignette in the bottom of a page with a wide vista of Tintin and Haddock walking on the desert, they appear to be holding hands. I don't want to start a flame war in this forum but I think a possible interpretation is there is more than just friendship there. I find that the possible closeted gay interpretation to the Tintin albums rather than detracting actually adds a lot of depth to the overall narrative.
9 and 10 The Moon duology I am a scientist by profession, a physicist actually, so my geek science fiction loving self had to include the Moon duo. It is remarkable how a decade and a half before the actual Moon landing Herge got so much right. Furthermore, the art on the albums is just top notch, the moon vistas are stunning!. Of all the great cars, planes, ships and vehicles of all sorts that exist in the Tintin world, the moon rocket is by far the more iconic and lasting image.
Just outside the top 10 honorable mentions: Paraoh (who can resist an adventure in Egypt, the middle east and India? ) , the Unicorn-Treasure duology (an escapist marine dream, as I pointed out before) and what I consider another decades apart duology, The Broken Ear-Tintin and the Picaros.
The Broken Ear hits particularly close to home for me because it is based on a 1930-1935 war in the Gran Chaco between Bolivia and my native country of Paraguay (San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico in the album). I think Nuevo Rico is Paraguay because San Fancion sounds a lot like my native town of Asuncion, San Theodoros towns though look more similar to Paraguayan towns than Bolivian towns, and there are a number of things that do not fit either country. Both of my grandfathers fought in that war, and it was indeed because of what where thought at the time to be vast oil fields, which turned out not to be there. The war was also about Bolivia's desire to have access to the Paraguay river giving them an access to the sea through the river, both countries being land-locked in contrast with the album. But well I should leave further discussion of The Broken ear for another post.