Of Tintin and Literacy

When I learnt to read at about eight or nine, I developed a love of books that I’ve never lost. Books were precious, bundles of excitement that needed to be collected and treasured. This developed into a love of series of books such as the Famous Five that gave me joy in the reading but also joy from the act of collecting the series and my two favourite series of books as a child have stayed with me into adulthood. One was Swallows & Amazons as these were the first books I ever read for myself at my own pace. I still own the old, tattered hardback copies I had as a child. The other books were Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

My love for Herge’s Tintin was different from that of my other books. Obviously Tintin is a comic rather than prose which meant they were quicker to read but you could spend hours going over each picture, marveling at the details. They also differed in the nature of the stories. Famous Five and Swallows & Amazon were adventures starring children. Tintin is an adult (or at least a teenager) who has guns, fights real enemies, flies planes and has fantastic adventures.

Even as a comic, Tintin stood out from the other comics I was reading. Beano, Dandy and other British children’s comics had a very simple style. Tintin wasn’t like the more intricate pen & ink work of Commado comics either. Herges ligne claire style was bold and above all colourful. Each Tintin album is a careful controlled riot of colour. Strong blocks of colour both compete for attention and balance each other out.

It was this colour (it was years later that I learnt the Tintin books were originally in black & white) plus the excitement that captivated me. I was further hooked by the illustration on the back of the book. In the early UK edition there was an image that used iconic elements from all the books, including ones that weren’t available in the UK. As a kid, this intrigued me. Later, when all the books had been translated into English, they did a montage of all the covers and I could look at each in turn, marveling at the ones I did not own.

Now, years later, as my problems with dyslexia fade to a bad memory and my artistic ability improves I find myself pulled towards Tintin once more as I strive to capture Herge’s clear and bold style. Just like as a child, Tintin captures my imagination and dreams but as a child I wanted to be Tintin, now I want to be his creator, Herge.