Recent critics have suggested our favourite fresh-faced explorer was homosexual. Domhnall O Sullivan asks whether we can ever really know and does it really matter?
As a child, how many of you fell asleep with Tintin by your side? Despite our fresh-faced hero never becoming quite as popular in Ireland as mainland Europe, I’m sure that plenty of you are guilty as charged. Yet would you be as free to admit it if you discovered that the intrepid Belgian explorer was in fact also an intrepid homosexual? Probably not, although don’t go phoning the student counselling service to get over this childhood trauma just yet. The death of Tintin creator and comic-book legend Hervé in 1983, coupled with the character’s unwillingness throughout his twenty-four editions to display any more romantic urge than a doorknob, mean that nothing is or can be proven.
So why the now commonplace rumours that everybody’s favourite boy scout was attracted to men? Indeed, does it even matter what the chap liked to do in his spare time, or are we just nit-picking at what should remain a timelessly asexual character? As a birthday tribute(?) to Tintin and his sexual legacy, I decided to explore these questions and to examine whether you really should be worried about sharing a bed with this octogenarian…
In fact, when one considers the ‘evidence’ suggesting that Tintin (an alliterative moniker which hardly conjures images of uber-masculinity, bad start) was actually a homosexual, the first thing that comes to mind is bafflement at how more people havn’t picked up on it before. The character’s saving grace is perhaps the innocence of youth that can cloud later judgements, because to an inquisitive adult he appears to be as gay as Christmas.
From page one, his appearance as a quiffed and slighty foppish reporter dressed in three-quarter length pants does nothing for his heterosexuality, and though it might be prejudicial to discuss his flimsy physique he’s not exactly Jason Bourne. And perhaps it would have been more advisable to have bought a rottweiler or a boxer in the local pet store, rather than a fox terrier with the unfortunate title of Snowy. In addition Tintin is as youthful looking at 80 as he was back in his debut days, an impressive feat which nevertheless points towards careful moisturising and rigourous spa treatments.
But as we all know appearances can be deceptive, so we read on in the hope that Tintin’s forceful and unaccommodating detective’s personality will redeem his pansy-esque demeanour. Sadly not. Again not wishing to impose any stereotypical group of mannerisms onto the gay community, Tintin is disappointingly unconfrontational, sickeningly optimistic and basically a big girl’s blouse. Despite one overwhelmingly out-of-character moment in his first edition (Tintin in the land of the Soviets) in which our hero manages to somehow beat off a bear with his bare hands, Tintin lacks the chauvinistic and aggressive masculinity of contemporary investigator James Bond, while when in Tibet he refuses to label the Yeti which he encounters as ‘abominable’, instead preferring to take pity on the misunderstood creature on the grounds of its lonliness. Ahem.
If his character isn’t argument enough, one only has to examine the facts of the Tintin series to reinforce the image. Female characters? Next to none, the lad’s friends are all single males except for an ebullient Italian opera singer, Bianca Castafiore. Living situation? Dodgy to say the least, Tintin lives with retired sailor Captain Haddock in the lush, inherited country home of the latter, where the idealistic and implausible heroism of Tintin combined with the dry cynicism and alcoholism of Haddock creates quite the matrimonial situation. Love interests? None, apart from Haddock and Chang Chong Chen, the young Chinese boy who (apart from having a borderline racist name) has appeared in Tintin’s dreams and has been rescued by the reporter on at least two occasions. Suspect character origins? Again check, Tintin was based on an earlier character of Hergé’s, Todor, who was leader of the brilliantly named “Cockchafer” boy scout patrol. No joke.
Nevertheless, many Tintin fans have come running to their idol’s defence, although the material they have to work with is much less damning. True, Hergé never actually depicted the character in any comprisingly homosexual positions, but then again the not exactly child-friendly Tintin in Thailand would never had made it past the censors in any case. Plus, we never saw Tintin brushing his teeth, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Indeed, perhaps the best claim the character can make to heterosexuality is that in a world increasingly similar to that seen in Will and Grace, not having many female friends is probably evidence that he’s not gay. As for his androgynous character, the members of Motley Crue all looked like women. And tales of their heterosexual promiscuity are all-too graphically legendary.
Tintin’s defenders have also pointed out the increasing unwillingess of the modern, internet-driven world to simply accept things at face value and its ability to look for conspiracies in affairs as mundane as Brian Cowen making a cup of tea. Tintin’s sexual preferences, in addition to never being explicitly revealed, are not in the least important to the unfolding of the stories.
Plus, they validly claim, if Tintin is gay then what about the inseperable Asterix and Obelix, the spandex-wearing Batman and Robin, and the Teletubbies? Even poor Spongebob Squarepants, the college student’s favourite afternoon character, has been labeled a man-sponge-lover by some elements of the US media. Unfortunately, no longer is any cartoon exempt from the sexual inquisition.
So what is Tintin? Straight, gay? Stray? We can never know. He himself never admits anything, his creator and artist is dead, and Snowy, the one character whom we could depend on to tell us all the sordid details, is a mute dog. Anyway, does it even matter? Perhaps it would be better to simply view Tintin as the asexual and romantically detatched character that we loved reading about as kids.
Take a step back from the over analytical and prying mentality of the modern world and just revel in Tintin’s travels to exotic foreign lands, his often death-defying adventures and yes, his Metrosexual habit of wearing a fetching scarf.
On his 80th birthday, lets remember Tintin not as that guy who goes to the George every thursday, but as that legendary investigative reporter who inspired a curiosity for travel and a lust for adventure in generations of young readers. And try to sleep well.