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At Comic-Con, No Tintin Mania

Today is the first day of Comic-Con, the huge San Diego geekfest that celebrates superheroes, starship troopers, and the fanboys who love them. And while this is not a golden age for comics themselves, never has the comics world had more to celebrate, commercially.
Today is the first day of Comic-Con, the huge San Diego geekfest that celebrates superheroes, starship troopers, and the fanboys who love them. And while this is not a golden age for comics themselves, never has the comics world had more to celebrate, commercially.

"Superheroes saved Hollywood this summer, boosting box office to record heights and funneling $1 billion and counting into studio coffers," notes Underwire blogger Hugh Hart. With Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, and Hellboy II finding box office gold, and with The Dark Knight becoming the rare crossover film that earns comics freaks' love plus critical respect, Summer '08 looks like the apotheosis of Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee and Batman creator Bob Kane at the cineplex.

Hart runs down a list of comics-based movies in production, including the next X-Men saga, the noir cult favorite Watchmen, Will Eisner's revered Spirit, and so on. But he misses what is likely to be the biggest comics movie of all time, and one that involves neither caped superheroes nor grotesquely made-up arch-villains. I'm referring, of course, to Tintin.

The first full-length feature film about the intrepid boy reporter and his fluffy white sidekick Snowy has been in development for years and has the biggest of Big Hollywood Names behind it: Steven Speilberg is directing and Lord of the Rings helmsman Peter Jackson is producing. A trilogy is said to be in the works, with the first installment to appear next summer.

With its bias toward caped crusaders and cutting-edge weaponry, Comic-Con is not a hotbed of Tintin love, either: comics authority Luke Y. Thompson, writing on Deadline Hollywood Daily, doesn't mention Tintin in his convention preview.

While easy to understand, the relatively unexcited response ignores that fact that The Adventures of Tintin, created in the 1920s by Belgian artist Hergé, is almost certainly the biggest-selling and most beloved comic book (or "graphic novel," to use the phrase de jour) of all time. Tintin doesn't have magical powers, his escapades tend to happen in far-off pre-video-game times, and the special effects in the Spielberg film, while sure to be impressive and delightful, will not rival those of Iron Man and The Dark Knight for explosive power or violence.

But for readers like me, Tintin was an introduction to the world's more exotic locales and cultures. Tintin outwitted evildoers in Eastern Europe (King Ottokar's Sceptre), Shanghai between the wars (The Blue Lotus), and Tibet (Tintin in Tibet). He even made it to the former Belgian colony, the Congo, in a painfully racist depiction of Africa that is often dropped from later collections. Famous for his devotion to historic realism, Hergé created intricate, detailed worlds that contain more authentic life in one panel than a Frank Miller gorefest does in an entire series.

Don't get me wrong; I'm also a fan of Frank Miller, whose masterful Ronin is on the drawing boards for a 2009 or 2010 release. But for comics freaks of a certain age (and their lucky offspring, introduced to Tintin as soon as they can read), the real comic-book movie event will involve a European kid in knickers and an odd hairstyle.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing