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The Books > #23: Tintin and the Picaros

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message 1: by Sammy (new)

Sammy (thecardigankid) | 72 comments Mod
Political unrest spirals out of control in San Theodoros, in Tintin and the Picaros, when General Tapioca - aided by Borduria - ousts General Alcazar in a military coup. When his close friends - including Thomson, Thompson, Bianca Castafiore and her retinue - are kidnapped by Tapioca, Tintin reluctantly is forced to come to their rescue. But it soon becomes clear that the political morass in Alcazar's country won't be fixed so easily, and his band of rugged drunkards may be no help to Tintin at all...

Returning to his beloved reporter for another adventure, Hergé wrote "Tintin and the Picaros" through 1975 and 1976. Now approaching his 70th year, Herge had the luxury of writing at his leisure, and as such had only published three albums in the preceding 15 years. "Tintin and the Picaros" was in many ways a crowning achievement: aside from being astutely political and uncompromising in its portrayals, the album also reunites an abundant cast of recurring characters, and shows a maturation of Tintin himself.

Here, the narrative elements are continually uprooted. Alcazar now has a shrewish wife chastising him for his lack of success: he is a henpecked husband facing domestic concerns, and not simply a comical dictator. Tintin practices Yoga and wears the peace symbol; Calculus is trying to cure alcoholism; and even the Thom[p]sons are forced to find an inner stoicism in the face of impending death. The final pages - in which it becomes clear that Alcazar is only the lesser of two evils - are a stark reminder of the global consequences of Tintin's actions, and the moral ambiguity inherent in such.

On publication as an album - in both French and English - in 1976, there was immediate recognition of this "culmination" effect, and many assumed it was to be Tintin's last adventure. Herge denied this - his love for, and connection with, the reporter had only grown - but certainly knew that at his age, he was finding more time to live his life, and had less interest in being tied to a gruelling weekly schedule.

By this point, 19 of Tintin's 23 adventures had been published in English and the remaining two "official" adventures would shortly follow. (After his death, the two 'youthful indiscretion' works would find English publication as curiosity pieces.) Although interest in filming "Tintin" had died down, his popularity was increasing, and the globetrotting reporter now carried a legacy that would last decades after the artist's death.

By 1978, Herge had settled on the idea for his next project - Tintin and Alph-Art - but would die in 1983, before its completion. His death was mourned around the world, but his work would live on, embracing new generations of fans both young and old.

"Tintin and the Picaros" was published in 1976, long after the original French-language TV and radio series. As a result, it has only been adapted once: as a two-part animated episode for the 1990s TV series.


Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_a...

Tintinologist: http://www.tintinologist.org/guides/b...

24 Days of Tintin: http://tintinblog.com/2009/12/15/24-d...

message 2: by Merry (new)

Merry | 34 comments Places visited or mentioned in "Tintin and the Picaros":

* Brussels, Belgium
* San Theodoros, South America

(This is Tintin's last trip to South America.)

message 3: by Sammy (last edited Feb 10, 2011 06:48PM) (new)

Sammy (thecardigankid) | 72 comments Mod
My review:

"As Napoleon said, 'Think of it, soldiers. Forty centuries look down upon you.'"
-- Captain Haddock to Calculus

I hadn't read "Tintin and the Picaros" since I was a kid, so it's arguably the completed album I know least. Returning to it, I found much to love. After the creative misstep that was Flight 714, Herge was very much back on track.

Of all the albums in the "Tintin" ouevre, "Picaros" is less clearly aimed at children. (Even the formula-defying The Castafiore Emerald features a great deal of slapstick and mistaken identities.) There is a mature, autumnal feel from the first two frames, as Tintin arrives at Marlinspike in different clothes on his motorbike, amidst the barren, tilled fields, dark skies, dead trees and the constant presence of ravens. And there are SO many words! The early pages, during which Haddock and Tintin ponder their connection to the coup in San Theodoros, and whether to travel there to clear their names, is filled with frame after frame of news bulletin and lengthy debate. It's wonderful to see the two personalities going head to head, and for each to make a decision that truly reflects them. (While Tintin's ultimate desire to join his friends is in character, it feels a bit abrupt, it must be said.)

The sequence where Haddock and Calculus travel to San Theodoros must be the longest without Tintin in the canon, and allows them to shine. Here, Calculus is decidedly more subdued, and Haddock seems to have lost his taste for alcohol. (Incidentally, it's nice that many characters - including Nestor - drink, which evens out Tintin's own teetotalism.) Herge is clearly enjoying himself: the crowd scenes are still lively, and he decorates the jungle landscape much more than other recent works (it wouldn't be "Tintin" without a few encounters with the native wildlife), although - oddly - a lot of time is again spent in confined quarters. (Perhaps still echoing his growing interest in comedies of manners?).

There are many small things to enjoy - the comedy of Tintin and Calculus failing to eat the spicy food of the Arumbayas (themselves making a pleasant return after being the focus of The Broken Ear, and General Alcazar has never been more lively than he is here.

It's in the final third of the work that Herge steps things up a level. At first, he makes a point of how alcoholism has destroyed some native tribes, and continues to redress his characters - with Tintin comically forcing the stoic Alcazar to refrain from killing anyone if he wishes for help with his coup. And then we meet Alcazar's wife Peggy: a brash redhead in curlers (who, naturally, only Calculus finds attractive - shades of La Castafiore). Suddenly, the general is washing dishes in his wife's pink apron, and finding himself henpecked morning and night. Over the last 15 pages, Herge begins to deconstruct his own world. "Picaros" is a very personal story, with Tintin forced to step into the local politics to save his own friends. The alcohol mystery is only solved right near the end (when, in a neat bow, it becomes integral to the climax), and Herge delights with some of the later frames - the fire-lit silhouette of the Picaros' last party; the Viva Tapioca party (with wanted posters of the Thom(p)sons in the edge of the frame!).

There's something neat and perfect in the plotting too. Although not much happens (it takes a full third just to get Tintin to San Theodoros, and another third of chases), the climax genuinely feels climactic. There's a haunting sense in the last few pages, as the Thom(p)sons face death with a moving stoicism, while Alcazar cannot get through to the executioner: it's a scene that has played out in countless movies, only here, the soldier first deliberately dials the wrong number, and then gets a voice saying "The number you have dialled does not exist"!!. The delightful climax, in which Tintin travels in an inflatable parade balloon to save his friends, is breathtaking. And the penultimate page ends with an hysterical frame: Castafiore preparing to sing, and everyone she knows looking terrified. We don't even need to hear her sing anymore (and don't here, except on television): the set-up is now as perfect as the joke itself.

I feel like I've said a lot and yet not much. Well, in short, this is never going to be the most remembered "Tintin" album. So much relies on previous events, and - as biographer Michael Farr would argue - the involvement of Herge's studio assistants means that the frames sometimes lose just a little something. (Dialogue scenes, particularly, seem a little less artistically dense than they once were). But truthfully there's very little to criticise: all the supporting cast play roles here, but none overtake the picture. Tintin has developed considerably as a character, with his bike, his yoga and his peace symbol. The politics are clever, the guest cast amusing, and the logic taut.

Of course, it wouldn't be a review without commenting on how things end. Jolyon Wagg has shown up amidst a tour bus headed for the festivities, and Herge has a lot of fun showing these clueless tourists interacting with genuine people, but treating them as if they are some kind of cultural exhibit (perhaps reflecting a little on how readers of "Tintin" could portray themselves as post-racial, while accepting stereotypes and half-truths without question?). On the final page, though, things reach their most terrifying. As Tintin and friends jet off back to the safety of Belgium, they've re-instated Alcazar as General of San Theodoros. In reality, he's already being henpecked by Peggy while - in the album's penultimate frame - Alcazar's grim-faced soldiers patrol a garbage-strewn slum. A happy ending indeed.

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