The Adventures of Tintin at Sea

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 29 August 2004

A week ago I took a day off and travelled to the National Maritime Museum to see their "Les Aventures De Tintin en Mer" exhibition, which closes on September 5th

I enjoyed it a lot, although couldn't help thinking that the prominent sponsorship by Ottakar's had turned it into a merchandising opportunity - demonstrated by two of my friends simultaneously clearing out the shop's stock and their bank accounts. To be honest I find the National Maritime Museum itself a little dull, although this is the second special exhibition I've visited there in the last couple of years, so they are certainly doing something right with their events booking.

Visually the Tintin highlights were frames from the books blown up to wall-size, accompanied by full-size replicas of some of the items depicted within them, a full-size model of Professeur Tournesol's shark submarine from "Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge", the trail of little Milou cartoons on the walls around the whole of the museum, and a set of framed book covers which illustrated how widely the stories had been translated by having the typography changing to different languages as you walked passed.

One thing that came through to me was how much the politics of the 1930's to 1960's had influenced the stories, which was something I had not noticed when avidly reading them as a child. "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" was overtly political, with its exposé of cruelty and corruption in Russia, whilst elsewhere Hergé touched on subjects like the contemporary slave trade in the Middle East, and was himself charged with collaboration for his work in "Le Soir" during the occupation of Belgium. It was also noted that all of the scientific experts in "The Shooting Star" are from Second World War Axis or neutral countries - none of the Allies are represented. Meanwhile, for the Allies part, a translation of his work for the American market saw some sailors recoloured as American publishers didn't think it was appropriate to depict black and white crew members working together in books for children.

The exhibition has left me with a new ambition. I have seen "Tintin et le Mystere de la toison d'or", one of two 1960's live action Tintin films. However, according to the Tintin timeline in the leaflet given to us at the museum, there was in 1947 a stop-motion puppet animation of "The Crab with the Golden Claws" - and I have to track down where I can see this.

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