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Like many this holiday moviegoing season, you're probably curious about Steven Spielberg's new film The Adventures of Tintin. Perhaps you're intrigued by the visually unique motion-capture animation, which blends live-action and cutting-edge special effects. Or maybe you think it looks like a rollicking, old-fashioned adventure film like Raiders of the Lost Ark. But did you know that it's actually based on one of the most popular comic books in the world?
Before you head out to the theater, take a look at our cheat sheet for newbie Tintin fans. The movie is just your first step into one of the richest four-color worlds in modern literature.
Tintin Is Massively Popular Around the World
While something of a cult figure in the U.S., Tintin is one of the most popular European comic strip characters of all time. The creation of Belgian artist Hergé, the adventures of intrepid boy reporter Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy have been translated into more than 50 languages. Children in Belgium and various parts of Europe grow up with Tintin as we do Mickey Mouse or Spider-Man. There are 24 volumes, including the final unfinished work Tintin and the Alph-Art, published between 1929 and 1986. There is even an entire museum devoted to Hergé and Tintin in Belgium. In America, Hergé's work is highly regarded by comic book fans and scholars. Besides inspiring George Lucas and Spielberg to create the Indiana Jones series, Tintin had a profound effect on everyone from comic book greats Carl Barks and Alex Toth to pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. With his crisp, clean line work and fast-paced stories, Hergé also influenced Japanese animation and the work of Pixar (The Incredibles director Brad Bird has cited Hergé as an inspiration).
It's Based on Three Tintin Books
For the brave reporter's film debut, Spielberg and his collaborators chose to combine three Tintin books -- The Crab with the Golden Claws, Red Rackham's Treasure, and The Secret Unicorn. While certain characters and plot points are carried over, all of the Tintin books feature self-contained stories. And though action-packed and brimming with memorable characters and plots, the Tintin books are not without controversy. Hergé was often accused of trading in cultural stereotypes, particularly in his portrayal of Africans with Tintin in the Congo. But starting with The Blue Lotus, Hergé made an effort to do extensive research on the lands he was depicting for Tintin's adventures, leading to comics which serve as a historical blueprint for much of the twentieth century. There's a reason why Tintin books are used in schools.
Spielberg Has Been Trying to Make Tintin Since the '80s
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the director behind Raiders of the Lost Ark has had an interest in bringing Tintin to the big screen for several decades. A longtime fan of the comic, Spielberg was able to score the big-screen rights and Hergé's blessing following the success of Raiders. Following Hergé's death in 1983, Spielberg commissioned E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison to develop a film which saw Tintin facing off against African ivory hunters. (Reports say that Spielberg wanted Jack Nicholson to play Capt. Haddock at one point.) Nothing came of the film, and various other creative teams flirted with the material. (Roman Polanski was even attached at one point.) Eventually Spielberg returned to Tintin and decided that computer-generated animation was the best vehicle with which to tell the story. It took the better part of a decade, but eventually Spielberg got his Tintin film (with a little help from Peter Jackson and the folks at Weta Digital, of course).
Tintin Has Already Starred in Multiple Cartoons and Films
Like Spielberg, many filmmakers and animators have brought Hergé's vision to the big and small screen. A series of live-action and animated films (including a stop-motion animated version of The Crab with the Golden Claws) were produced in France and Belgium, many based on original material. An animated TV series was produced in Belgium in the early '60s, though it was met with criticism. Perhaps the best-known adaptation of Tintin in America prior to the Spielberg film is the 1991-1992 animated series The Adventures of Tintin, which aired in the U.S. on HBO and Nickelodeon. Sharply animated and featuring stories and artwork lifted directly from Hergé's pages, the series was recently released on DVD and continues to have a cult following today.
A Sequel Has Already Been Greenlit
While it hasn't hit theaters here yet, The Adventures of Tintin is already a worldwide hit. So it isn't surprising that Spielberg revealed at a recent press conference that a sequel is already in the works. Spielberg confirmed that Peter Jackson will direct the next outing, which will be based on another Tintin book. (At one point, Spielberg and Jackson were discussing adapting the Tintin books The Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.) Spielberg also revealed that the bumbling detectives the Thompson Twins will play a larger part in the sequel. (Fun fact: The '80s band of the same name took their moniker from Hergé's amusing creations.) With his worldwide popularity, it's safe to say we'll be seeing more of Tintin on the big screen in the future.