When the Belgian cartoonist known as Herge died in March 1983, not even Fanny, his widow, thought the extraordinary success of The Adventures of Tintin would live on.
She was wrong. The intrepid cub reporter and his faithful canine companion keep attracting new readers. Today comic-strip lovers around the world will mark the centennial of Herge, nom de plume of Georges Remi (the French pronunciation of his reversed initials is "Herge"), a native of Brussels.
Herge's ligne claire style of drawing, French for "clear line," has influenced generations of cartoonists. And people of all ages are devoted fans of Herge's bequiffed boy hero Tintin, his clever white terrier Snowy (Milou in French), curse-happy Captain Haddock ("ten thousand thundering typhoons!"), the half-deaf Professor Calculus and bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson. The booklets, translated into 70 languages, sell about 3 million copies each year. More than 120 million copies have been sold to date.
Even Hollywood has taken an interest in Tintin and Snowy. The administrators of Herge's estate announced recently that director Steven Spielberg would shoot a series of Tintin movies.
The first, presumably Destination Moon, is scheduled for release by 2010. Whether it will be animated is unclear.
British author Michael Farr, an ex-reporter and well-known "Tintinologist," attributes Tintin's timeless popularity to Herge's simple, inimitable drawing style as well as to his stories' humor and multiple layers of appeal.
Children are excited by the adventures, Farr has noted, while adults appreciate the political satire and wordplays.
"Readers can easily identify with Tintin no matter where they're from and which language they speak," Farr said.
Tintin is not sharply defined, in contrast with characters like Captain Haddock. His precise age, his family, and whether he has a girlfriend are mysteries.
"Tintin, that's me!" Herge once declared.
"Herge would have liked to have been a journalist -- he was fascinated by news," said Farr, who said Herge had written his stories based on international events.
From the Japanese invasion of China in The Blue Lotus (1936) to Tintin's flight to the moon in Destination Moon (1953) -- 16 years before the US landing -- "the comic books chronicle the 20th century, which makes them interesting to more mature readers too," Farr said.
The Adventures of Tintin elevated the comic book to an art form. Herge's admirers have included Andy Warhol and the Dalai Lama, who honored the cartoonist last year for Tintin in Tibet. Herge seems to have "arrived" in the world of high art just in time for his centennial.
The current exhibition of Herge's work at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is its most successful exhibition ever, Farr said, adding that the museum had even decided to include several pieces in its permanent collection.
"Herge has long been seen as a father figure in the comics world. If he's now recognized as a modern artist, that's very important," Farr said.
Tintin first appeared on January 10, 1929, in Le Petit Vingtieme ("The Little Twentieth"), the youth supplement to the Brussels newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle ("The Twentieth Century"). His earliest adventures took him to the Soviet Union and Belgian Congo. Both stories were full of anti-Communist and racist prejudices that Herge later called "youthful folly" and partially revised. During the course of his career, Herge's obsession with accuracy and detailed research grew.