21 August 2019
He’s been around since 1929 but the adventures of the ever-youthful reporter Tintin, brainchild of the Belgian artist Hergé, remain as popular as ever.
He’s been around since 1929 but the adventures of the ever-youthful reporter Tintin, brainchild of the Belgian artist Hergé, remain as popular as ever. They not only appear in the form of the original comic books but also on television, in the cinema and in a huge array of merchandising spin-offs, many of them relating to motor vehicles.
Hergé’s real name was Georges Rémy (1907 -1983) and cars always had a high profile in his stories. In the early stages of his career Rémy had worked for Ford of Belgium’s in-house publication Revue Ford and in his comic books he took great pains to illustrate authentic vehicles that were appropriate to the various settings. Some of the books were even redrawn to update the cars in use. The Black Island, for example allowed Hergé and his assistants plenty of opportunity to depict British vehicles as the story takes place in the UK. Appearing first in 1943, it was redrawn in 1966, with 1930s cars like the Humber Pullman and Vauxhall convertible being replaced by a Ford Zephyr, Jaguar Mark Ten, MG 1100 and Triumph Herald.
The connection between Hergé and the car was celebrated in January 2006 at the Salon de l’Automobile in Brussels with an exhibition entitled ‘Tintin et les Voitures’ where a selection of real vehicles was on show against a background of reproductions of scenes featuring them in the comic books. The exhibition was just one example of the cult following that Tintin enjoys: there is an entire museum devoted to Hergé’s work at Louvain-la-Neuve near Brussels.
Tintin-mania overlaps with the model car collecting hobby in a number of different ways. The Franco-Belgian Tintin magazine was published from 1946 onwards and many of the stories appeared in instalments prior to appearing as a single volume. Clearly, young Tintin fans were also motoring enthusiasts and there were special editions of the magazine to coincide with the Paris Motor Show when real cars were reviewed. The compilers were very aware of the popularity of toy cars with their young readers, so there are numerous articles, reviews of new releases and advertisements placed by Dinky Toys and other leading French diecast brands such as CIJ and Solido. Old copies of the comic are a mine of information in a way comparable to publications such as the Meccano Magazine and the Eagle comic are in the UK.
In conjunction with the comic, the ‘Cheque Tintin’ scheme allowed readers to collect tokens and exchange these for picture cards, games, puzzles, etc. The tokens could also be obtained on the packaging for various branded products such as Chocolat Poulain, Savon [soap] Ambré Le Chat and Parizot moutarde de Dijon (mustard) and no doubt many children would pester their mothers to buy these so they could get the tokens! 135 tokens could be exchanged for one of a series of plastic cars by Minialuxe, stamped ‘Cheque Tintin’ in gold letters on one side, which included the Citroen DS19, Renault Dauphine and Floride, Panhard PL17, Peugeot 403 and Simca Plein Ciel coupe. These command a considerable premium among French collectors compared to the ordinary versions that could be bought in the shops. The ultimate Minialuxe issue, though, must be the 1/32 scale Citroen H Van carrying advertisements for the Tintin comic with decals reading ‘Le Journal des Jeunes de 7 à 77 ans’, an example of which sold for 650 euros at auction in France in 2017, even though it lacked the original box.
However, it is only in recent years that the link between Tintin and the motor car has been fully exploited in model form, with the launch in 2008 of a series of diecasts marketed by the French publishers Atlas and based on vehicles that feature in the books. There were 70 regular models in the series, plus various specials, accompanied by figures re-enacting scenes from the stories. First in the series was a blue Jeep from Destination Moon which tells the story of Tintin’s involvement in Professor Calculus’ top-secret scheme to build a manned space rocket. As is the custom with these ‘partwork’ series, the Jeep was sold at an artificially low price in order to get collectors ‘hooked’.
At first glance, some of the models, like the Simca taxi, Triumph Herald and Jaguar Mk I saloon look like ordinary diecast replicas but in most cases finely-detailed figures of characters such as Professor Calculus, Captain Haddock or the detectives Thompson and Thomson will be riding inside. Others freeze in time a dramatic action moment from one of the stories: an ambulance with Captain Haddock lying on the road and figures running to help him, or a taxi with Tintin hanging precariously onto the side and pointing his gun in a scene from Tintin in America. The models are not meant to replicate the real vehicles but feature light grey tyres and semi-matt paint finishes so that they look just like three-dimensional replicas of the pictures in the comic books. Most impressive of all is the Saurer coach from the 1956 story L’Affaire Tournesol (known in English editions as The Calculus Affair) which has a removable perspex top revealing a full complement of passengers inside.
Like many modern products, the Tintin vehicles were expensive when they first came out but are now easy to obtain at lower prices via the internet, with around £15 - £20 being the going rate, though the bus costs over £60. A complete collection would make such an exceptionally colourful display that Tintin fans would be bound to exclaim, in one of their hero’s favourite expressions, ‘Great snakes!’
For collectors who want to pursue the Tintin theme, an illustrated listing of the Atlas Collection can be found at: www.wiger.dk/TinTin%20Biler/Edtion%20Atlas%20Tintin%20Car%20Site.htm
Another site, http://dardel.info/tintin/indexE.html, painstakingly lists all the vehicles mentioned in Tintin stories and identifies the real ones.