The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a courageous young Belgian reporter and adventurer aided by his faithful dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Other allies include the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (French: Professeur Tournesol), incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (French: Dupont et Dupond), and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.
The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its well-researched plots straddle the action-adventure and mystery genres and draw upon themes of politics, history, culture and technology, offset by moments of slapstick comedy.
Georges Prosper Remi, best known under the pen name Hergé, was employed as an illustrator at Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), a staunchly Roman Catholic, conservative Belgian newspaper based in Hergé’s native Brussels. Run by the Abbé Norbert Wallez, the paper described itself as a “Catholic Newspaper for Doctrine and Information” and disseminated a far-right, fascist viewpoint. Wallez appointed Hergé editor of a new Thursday youth supplement, titled Le Petit Vingtième (“The Little Twentieth”). Propagating Wallez’s sociopolitical views to its young readership, it contained explicitly profascist and antisemitic sentiment. In addition to editing the supplement, Hergé illustrated L’extraordinaire aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (The Extraordinary Adventure of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonnet), a comic strip authored by a member of the newspaper’s sport staff. Dissatisfied with this, Hergé wanted to write and draw his own cartoon strip.
He already had experience creating comic strips. From July 1926, he had written a strip about a Boy Scout patrol leader titled Les Aventures de Totor C.P. des Hannetons (The Adventures of Totor, Scout Leader of the Cockchafers) for the Scouting newspaper Le Boy Scout Belge (The Belgian Boy Scout). Totor was a strong influence on Tintin, with Hergé describing the latter as being like Totor’s younger brother. Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier stated that graphically, Totor and Tintin were “virtually identical” except for the Scout uniform, also noting many similarities between their respective adventures, particularly in the illustration style, the fast pace of the story, and the use of humour. He was fascinated by new techniques in the medium such as the systematic use of speech bubbles—found in such American comics as George McManus’ Bringing up Father, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Rudolph Dirks’s Katzenjammer Kids, copies of which had been sent to him from Mexico by the paper’s reporter Léon Degrelle.
Although Hergé wanted to send Tintin to the United States, Wallez ordered him to set his adventure in the Soviet Union, acting as antisocialist propaganda for children. The result, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was serialised in Le Petit Vingtième from January 1929 to May 1930. Popular in Francophone Belgium, Wallez organised a publicity stunt at the Paris Gare du Nord railway station, following which he organised the publication of the story in book form. The story’s popularity led to an increase in sales, so Wallez granted Hergé two assistants. At Wallez’s direction, in June he began serialisation of the second story, Tintin in the Congo, designed to encourage colonial sentiment towards the Belgian Congo. Authored in a paternalistic style that depicted the Congolese as childlike idiots, in later decades it was accused of racism, but at the time was uncontroversial and popular, and further publicity stunts were held to increase sales.
For the third adventure, Tintin in America, serialised from September 1931 to October 1932, Hergé finally got to deal with a scenario of his own choice, and used the work to push an anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist agenda in keeping with the paper’s ultraconservative ideology. The Adventures of Tintin had been syndicated to a Catholic magazine named Cœurs Vaillants (Brave Hearts) since 1930, and Hergé was soon receiving syndication requests from Swiss and Portuguese newspapers, too.
Hergé wrote a string of Adventures of Tintin, sending his character to real locations such as the Belgian Congo, United States, Egypt, India, Tibet, China, and the United Kingdom. He also sent Tintin to fictional countries of his own devising, such as the Latin American republic of San Theodoros, the East European kingdom of Syldavia, or the fascist state of Borduria—whose leader’s name, Müsstler, was a portmanteau of the names Nazi German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and Italian Fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.
In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium as World War II spread further across Europe. Although Hergé briefly fled to France and considered a self-imposed exile, he ultimately decided to return to his occupied homeland. For political reasons, the Nazi authorities closed down Le Vingtième Siècle, leaving Hergé unemployed. In search of employment, he got a job as an illustrator at Belgium’s leading newspaper, Le Soir (The Evening), which was allowed to continue publication under German management. On 17 October 1940, he was made editor of the children’s supplement, Le Soir Jeunesse, in which he set about producing new Tintin adventures. In this new, more repressive political climate of German-occupied Belgium, Hergé could no longer politicize The Adventures of Tintin lest he be arrested by the Gestapo. As Harry Thompson noted, Tintin’s role as a reporter came to an end, to be replaced by his new role as an explorer.
In September 1944, the Allies entered Brussels and Hergé’s German employers fled. Le Soir was shut down and The Adventures of Tintin was put on hold. Then in 1946, Hergé accepted an invitation from Belgian comic publisher Raymond Leblanc and his new publishing company Le Lombard to continue The Adventures of Tintin in the new Le journal de Tintin (Tintin magazine). Hergé quickly learned that he no longer had the independence he preferred; he was required to produce two coloured pages a week for Leblanc’s magazine, a tall order. In 1950, Hergé began to poach the better members of the Tintin magazine staff to work in the large house on Avenue Louise that contained the fledgling Studios Hergé. Bob De Moor (who imitated Hergé’s style and did half the work), Guy Dessicy (colourist), and Marcel DeHaye (secretary) were the nucleus. To this, Hergé added Jacques Martin (imitated Hergé’s style), Roger Leloup (detailed, realistic drawings), Eugène Evany (later chief of the Studios), Michel Demaret (letterer), and Baudouin Van Den Branden (secretary). As Harry Thompson observed, the idea was to turn the process of creating The Adventures of Tintin into a “veritable production line, the artwork passing from person to person, everyone knowing their part, like an artistic orchestra with Hergé conducting”. The studios produced eight new Tintin albums for Tintin magazine, and coloured and reformatted two old Tintin albums. Studios Hergé continued to release additional publications until Hergé’s death in 1983. In 1986, a 24th unfinished album was released, the studios were disbanded, and the assets were transferred to the Hergé Foundation.