Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Tintin back in bother in Belgium

On the eve of the release of Steven Spielberg’s Tintin movie, racism charges and spats over artist Georges Remi’s legacy dog the superhero

By JEROME RIVET  /  AFP, BRUSSELS

Photo: Bloomberg

"Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” As Tintin prepares to take on the world in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, the fearless boy reporter’s adventures are hotting up at home.

Thirty years in the making, the Avatar-style film hits screens worldwide this week as the Belgium-born comic-book hero fends off racism charges, squabbles over his legacy, and whisperings over his sexuality and morals.

A children’s bedside classic in much of Europe, the movie and its sequels by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, look set to fire up sales of Tintin’s 24 adventures from Tibet to the Moon that have left heirs to their author, Herge, sitting pretty on a pot of gold.

But the couple overseeing his legacy — worth almost as much as Sean Connery and far more than Hugh Grant according to this year’s Sunday Times “Rich List” — are under a barrage of “thundering typhoons” from Tintinophiles over the merchandising of the intrepid boy crusader.

If the movie, as expected, turns out to be a box-office hit in tune with the spirit of the original comic character, the Tintin revival may soothe the squabblings and turn the page on his creator’s controversial dealings with the wartime far right.

Herge, real name Georges Remi and one of Belgium’s most beloved sons, died childless in 1983 at age 75, leaving the estate to his widow Fanny Vlamynck, a coloring artist 28 years his junior.

By all accounts more interested in Buddhism than business, and more focused on Herge’s groundbreaking graphics than his art as storyteller, Vlamynck for the past decade has left business dealings in the hands of second husband, Nick Rodwell.

The controversial Briton, 18 years her junior, has slowly but surely taken Tintin’s face off mustard pots and the like to refocus the brand in line with his belief that “Tintin is the Rolls Royce of comic books.”

The couple to that end gifted an original Herge plate to Paris’ contemporary Pompidou Centre art house, and in 2009 opened a US$20 million museum to his glory, designed by a Pritzker prize-winning architect and largely dedicated to Herge’s art, rather than best-selling cartoon character.

Rodwell, said Hugues Dayez, author of a book on the Tintin legacy, “has completely cut Tintin off from children and from popular culture.”

While Brussels’ official Tintin boutique does offer small figures at around US$5.50 a shot, prints go for US$76 and collectors’ items such as the iconic red rocket range from US$61 to US$417.

The couple moreover have irked the press as well as the Tintinophiles.

In 2009, Rodwell kicked off a local storm after branding a journalist “a liar” and attacking two others on the official Tintin.com Web site. With Belgians already smarting over Rodwell’s increasing restrictions over the use of the image of their favorite cartoon, the Web site shut down Rodwell’s blog.

Worth US$101 million, according to the Sunday Times, the couple will be under strict scrutiny by critics over the movie’s treatment of Tintin under a deal between the pair and Hollywood.

“There’s a risk that Spielberg’s vision will undermine Herge’s,” Jean-Claude Jouret, a former manager of the estate said. “It’s undoubtedly good business but perhaps it won’t help the long-term preservation of his work.”

Belgian critics, however, hailed a sneak preview of The Adventures of Tintin — The Secret of the Unicorn as “a bull’s-eye” earlier this month.

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