Tintin has fascinated me since childhood. Growing up in a Bengali household in Kolkata (then named Calcutta), Tintin comics were a prominent feature in our libraries. As a kid, the child-like aspect of his character was endearing; and through his adventures I learned about different cultures. Tintin’s defense of the little orange seller against the Spanish imperialists in the Prisoners of the Sun, owning up to misconceptions about China in the Blue Lotus, and his assimilation with different cultures taught 6-year-old me tolerance and acceptance. His daredevil acts, his bravery, his intelligence and of course, his friendship with Snowy portrayed all that I ever wanted to be or have.
Of all his traits, though, what stood out to me was Tintin’s “Englishness.” His mannerisms, the backdrop of Labrador Road and Marlinspike Hall and even the voiceover artist’s accent from the 1991–92 cartoon series were English. There wasn’t a speck of doubt that he was anything but English. However, my incorrect answer to a question in an inter-school quiz contest made me realize, at age 10, how far — well, the distance between Dover and Zeebrugge — I was from the truth. Belgian?! It blew my mind.
Coincidentally, I moved to Belgium two years ago. Recently, while walking through a local brocante (a bit like the opening scenes in the Secret of the Unicorn) in the quaint town of Nivelles in Wallonia, I found that many shopkeepers were selling comics. I happened to chance upon a Tintin album, Les Sept Boules de Cristal, and as I flipped through the familiar pages, the seller was intrigued: How was this Indian so engrossed in a comic that is so Belgian? I explained in broken French (peppered with English) my childhood fascination with Tintin. The seller, who seemed delighted with the cultural reach of that Belgian character, gifted me with the Tintin figurine shown here. (Two, in fact.) This interaction prompted me to explore Tintin, not through the familiar anglicized version but through the original works. Marlinspike Hall became Moulinsart, Snowy became Milou, Professor Calculus became Professeur Tournesol, and while my beloved Tintin became “Taantaan.”
Two years ago, when I first relocated, I felt alienated from the culture, the language and the people of my new home. But my childhood hero came through once again. By rediscovering his true roots, after removing all appropriated anglicized characteristics, I felt a sense of belonging. In exploring Tintin comics in the original language, I not only re-discovered Tintin and Captain Haddock’s innovative insults and expressions, but a connection, through a shared proprietorship of Tintin, with this country.
Semioticians’ stories: Josh Glenn on MONKEY WHIMSEY | Malcolm Evans on QUEEN MARY FOB | Ramona Lyons on RABBIT BOX | Matthew De Abaitua on HATCHET | Chris Arning on INKSTONE BROOM | Hamsini Shivakumar on SOUL MOTHER SAREES | Lucia Laurent-Neva on SPONGEBOB BUS | Samuel Grange on SALT & PEPPER HOLDER | Ximena Tobi on VASALISA | Luca Marchetti on TEAPOT | Charles Leech on ORNAMENT | Brian McIntyre on BONE & FLINT NECKLACE | Gabriela Pedranti on MAFALDA DOLL | Sarah Johnson on JOAN OF ARC FIGURINE | Vijay Parthasarathy on BINGO | Aiyana Gunjan on WEDDING DUCKS | Serdar Paktin on NEY | Paulina Goch-Kenawy on VASE | Daria Arkhipova on POKER CHIP | Iván Islas on THERMOS | Sónia Marques on CABBAGE TUREEN | Thierry Mortier on BICYCLE BELL | Louise Jolly on CHALICES | Wei Fen Lee on CURRY PUFF POT | Mariane Cara on MINI WINDSOCK | Malex Salamanques Amiel on MARIA LIONZA | Seema Khanwalkar on THANJAVUR DOLL | Maria Papanthymou on KITCHEN WHISK | Martha Arango on ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA | Max Matus on WOODEN ROBOT | Rasika Batra on PRAYER BEADS | Anastasia Kārkliņa on CHESTNUTS | Maciej Biedziński on HAUNTED SPOON | Shirsha Ganguly on TINTIN FIGURINE | Clio Meurer on GLOW-IN-THE-DARK ROSARY | Marta Pellegrini on ELEPHANT PIN.