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Les Impressions de Tintin

Posted at 12:53 on February 17th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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After all those years of hearsay and decades after watching the cartoon series – which left a somewhat bland yet priggish impression to me – I decided to finally pick up and read Les Adventures de Tintin.

Having never actually read any of the comics this is a fine opportunity to take a look at a (supposedly?) great series without rose tinted glasses and see for one how it might have stood the test of time and for two if it has any kind of entertainment value for an actual adult.

The first volume I could get my hands on is Der Blaue Lotos (= Le Lotus bleu / The Blue Lotos). I have not quite finished the album, but there are a couple of things that I noticed right off the bat:

First of all I have to admit that the drawings are gorgeous. So much details in such clear pictures with lively characters that convey lots of emotions. The scenery is especially impressive: Whether it is a stunning sunset or a city bustling with life, I almost always got the feeling of actually being there.

Sadly the writing is not quite up to par: Whether it is the German translation I am reading or if it is the original, the dialogues seem rather functional to me. There is quite a bit of exposition and explaining of what is actually going on, which at times the comic could almost do without. There are attempts at humour, which fall flat most of the times. Still it is somewhat enjoyable and makes for an easy read.

Yet my real problem with this particular book is the plot: Saying that it goes in circles is a bit of an understatement. Tintin gains a bit of information, so he goes to some place to meet someone. Instead of meeting said person he gets captured by one of the many culprits. He shows some strength while being tortured or beaten, then everything seems hopeless until he gets rescued again and again by one of his friends. It is getting to the point where I wonder why they need Tintin in the first place. What is keeping them from stopping their enemies without the need to rescue him in the first place?

Plus I got the feeling that the author is keeping secrets deliberately, at times even when it does not make sense, just to keep the readers in the dark. Prime example: Someone is trying to save Tintin from harm, yet does not even make an attempt at telling him that his life is in danger or why. You will first have to wait for several rescue missions until you get that kind of information.

Of course I am exaggerating a bit, yet as interesting as the overall setup seems to be, said things diminish its plausibility and therefore its potential to tell a really great story.

As far as the characters are concerned Tintin seems to be a rather bland hero, an allrounder who is lacking a bit of edge. And I never would have guessed that Snowy would be that sarcastic and cynical?

The supporting Chinese and Japanese characters are a lot more interesting, yet as much as the author tried to fight against stereotypes (at one time he even points fingers at the usual clichés which where rather common at the time) they are incredibly black and white: The Chinese are the good guys, the Japanese the bad boys, there is no doubt about it. And this almost made me sympathize with the Japanese…

Oh, and speaking of boys: No female characters in sight, let alone one with a speaking part.

Still, as much as the paragraphs above seem like I might dislike the comic, I think it has a perfect sense of wonder. It is a big adventure set in an exotic location. The detective story parts kept me interested (as cheap as some of the tricks it plays might be) and the thing about the cryptic messages was actually quite clever. Also it is nice to read a comic that does not overly rely on humour once in a while.

So overall it is a nice and harmless read with room for improvements. At the very least it did not turn me off the series and makes me want to finish the last couple of pages and maybe read another one or two.
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Posted at 15:55 on February 17th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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I've read Tintin as a kid. Since then, I have regularly re-read the albums. So my views may be nostalgically tinted.

Generally, I believe one major deficiency of the series is indeed that Tintin's role isn't all that well defined in most stories. He's supposed to be a news reporter, but he only ever seems to have any reason for his latest adventure based on this profession in the first two stories (Tintin in the Land of the Sowjets and Tintin in Congo). Incidentally, two horrible stories which have aged incredibly badly. After that, he basically became a sort of secret agent, but without any employer and apparently independently rich to go anywhere in the world, or at least never short of a sponsor.

Concerning the Lotos, I do like this album quite a bit. There is a strong MacGuffin kickstarting the plot, with the messenger who can only deliver one name of his complete message before going mad. There are some aspects of deception throughout the story. The setting appealed to me a lot, being appropriately exotic in a boy's story sort of way.

I do appreciate the re-appearance of some of the series favourites, such as Rastapopulos (or whatever he's called) in a shady role. And indeed, I see more light than dark in the portrayal of "foreigners". It's easy to criticise a story from the 1930s for racial stereotyping – don't read Congo if you are critical of that ;) For sure, at least several Chinese characters receive major, positive roles whereas on the other hand, several Europeans and North Americans come across rather negatively. I do appreciate the setting of the story against real history (actually, at the time, contemporary political topics).

Finally, believe it or not, this album does benefit strongly from the absence and in some cases little usage of some characters. Captain Haddock, a childhood favourite of mine, I grew to really loathe in recent years. Thomson and Thompson / Dupont et Dupond / Schulze und Schultze appear only briefly. Snowy / Milou / Struppi is also not too prominent. These all have the tendency to ruin otherwise perfectly good albums with their one-dimensional humor.

From the top of my head, without having re-read too recently, I would recommend the following (no particular order): Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Broken Ear, The Black Island, King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Seven Crystal Balls, Prisoners of the Sun. Apart from the two first ones mentioned, I recommend to also stay away from The Red Sea Sharks, which resonated very badly with me. The Shooting Star would be an example of an ok story where Captain Haddock is still somewhat bearable.
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Edited by Mr Creosote at 16:30 on February 17th, 2019
Posted at 16:35 on February 17th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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I leafed through Lotos again. You are right on many observations. The German texts for sure are not Erika Fuchs quality. Also, it never occurred to me before how much Tintin plays the damsel in distress part in this story.

The second point, you could even interpret in a positive way. Tintin is now waltzing in as the big "civilized", superior hero solving all the local issues. He's deep inside the events, but he relies strongly on the knowledge and support of the locals, who finally manage to overcome their opposition themselves. The story sort of empowers them. Intentional or not.

There is one laughable plot point where Tintin is shot at from a distance of maybe two metres, standing absolutely still, but the bad guy misses him. This was totally unnecessary.
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Edited by Mr Creosote at 17:23 on February 17th, 2019
Posted at 21:17 on February 18th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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I have been wondering about his travels too, like how easily he is willing to travel back from Shanghai to India right after his arrival. But funnily enough this is something where I am willing to suspend my disbelief the most, because if he would not be able to travel around freely the story would get rather boring or take a totally different route. It is just that usually the hook or reason for the protagonist actually being where the story takes place is planted a bit more clever.

As for the stereotyping: The way they are handled is way ahead of its time. And I just noticed by reading your post how old this comic actually is, which makes it even more amazing. Yet, this is exactly the reason why the black and white morals seem a bit more glaring to me. In the end they are fittingly cartoonish.

And it is true that Tim being somewhat incompetent/unlucky really makes the 'side' characters more important which might be a good thing after all. But like I said: Tim feels just a bit too superfluous this way and the repetition makes this one-trick story feel rather old after a while.

I finished reading it yesterday and I have to say the ending was kind of OK. It wraps up all of the plot points, has a good climax and even takes its time to show how things turn out afterwards. My only (minor) gripe is the twist within twists: Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting and so on… in several monologues which would make every Bond villain proud. :D

Quote:
These all have the tendency to ruin otherwise perfectly good albums with their one-dimensional humor.


I guess this is part of the Flandernization, which is the bane of every longtime running series. Will have to see for myself how much I hate them, but I have to admit, that Captain Haddock is the only memorable character from the TV-series which has stuck to my mind, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing him in the comics.

Thanks for the recommendations, King Ottokar's Sceptre was right the next one on my list. I will have to get that one about the Kongo too. ;)
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Posted at 15:16 on February 24th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Originally posted by Herr M. at 21:17 on February 18th, 2019:
My only (minor) gripe is the twist within twists: Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting and so on… in several monologues which would make every Bond villain proud. :D

That moment when the villains have already marked the barrel Tintin is hiding inside with an X, I actually really like. It makes me smile every time :D (The subsequent revelation that Tintins friends also went along was quite needless, on the other hand, indeed.)
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Posted at 20:14 on February 24th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 15:16 on February 24th, 2019:
Originally posted by Herr M. at 21:17 on February 18th, 2019:
My only (minor) gripe is the twist within twists: Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting Mitsuhirato outsmarting Tim outsmarting and so on… in several monologues which would make every Bond villain proud. :D

That moment when the villains have already marked the barrel Tintin is hiding inside with an X, I actually really like. It makes me smile every time :D (The subsequent revelation that Tintins friends also went along was quite needless, on the other hand, indeed.)

Exactly! It is kind of clever at first but becomes somewhat ridiculous when they take turns in revealing their secret plans.

As for further impressions: I finished Le Sceptre d'Ottokar (King Ottokar's Sceptre/König Ottokars Zepter).

Where Tintin was kind of superfluous in the Blue Lotos, he is the one and only serious driving force in this one. Nothing seems to happen without him being present and the king would stand no chance at all without him. Funnily the villains seem to be aware of this and waste a lot of effort capturing him without having any serious motivation except that he knows a bit too much. Hmm… Come to think of it: Considering how easily he convinces the king when he is finally able to meet him, the coup leaders might be right after all when they try stop him.

But just take a moment and think about the whole setup: A foreigner, who is not even able to speak the countries language and learned everything he knows about said country out of an in-flight magazine, does not have any kind of credentials or even papers (!) is able to just walk up to the king and warn him about the coup… of which he knows almost nothing about besides some gut feeling about a spectacle wearer being able to spot sheeps out of a low flying plane.

Considering that the king has next to no clue what is going on I almost sympathized with the coup. Well, guess what: Scratch that almost, I think the story is actually a lot more exciting if you see it from their perspective. At least they have an actual motivation and character. ;)

I know, I am exaggerating again, but the story needs a lot of suspension of disbelief.

Yet, leaving said things above aside, it is quite an exciting story with an even nicer setting than the first one I read. While at first I felt kind of let down, that this one uses a fictional setting, I think it was a wise choice after all considering the nature of the plot. It is really amazing how the country comes alive in this one, how the author pulls off the portrayal of this imaginary country with its distinct culture and people. I think that if you do not know it you might actually believe that Syldavia might be a real country.

The plot while a bit simple is quite thrilling and involving. A steady up and down, where each party gains the upper hand just for the other one to wrest it from them. Somehow this felt like a lot more fair struggle which made the story quite engaging. Also a lot more showing and less telling this time around and without too much repetition.

Plus it has a nice detective sub-plot. Which I still managed to solve right after seeing the rooms setup, but it was nice to see its inclusion nevertheless. Oh and kudos to the palace security personnel: did they even bother checking anyone going inside the chamber besides looking at some seals?

The characters are a bit weaker this time, I cannot even say that any of them stuck to my memory, besides the Professor and the very incompetent king. Oh, and the diva of course, but then again this might be just because I am into opera. Tintin still seems a real jack of all trades: He just knows how to fly an enemy fighter plane without much ado.

Overall I liked this one a lot, it might be stupid in places but it was a lot of fun, had a setting just to my liking and sparked my imagination. :)


Next one up: Tintin en Amérique. I already read the first couple of pages and I am a bit speechless. It is incredible how much this series improved. :D
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Dear Sir, I object strongly with the last thread, and the next post.
Posted at 20:24 on February 24th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Ottokar, of course, was written at the time of Nazi occupation of Belgium. Hence the "fictional" setting.

Originally posted by Herr M. at 20:14 on February 24th, 2019:
Next one up: Tintin en Amérique. I already read the first couple of pages and I am a bit speechless. It is incredible how much this series improved. :D

Haha ;)
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Now you see the violence inherent in the system!
Posted at 21:02 on February 25th, 2019 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Checking America, there is actually one scene I like:

Tintin discovers oil. He is offered $100000 for it. When he clarifies the oil belongs to the natives, the same guy offers them $25 and then has them chased away with the support of the army.
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Now you see the violence inherent in the system!
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