Tintin is a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the series of classic Belgian comic books written and illustrated by Hergé. Tintin is the protagonist of the series, a reporter and adventurer who travels around the world with his dog Snowy.
Tintin debuted in Le Petit Vingtième on 10 January 1929. He was largely based on an earlier character created by Hergé, a chubby boy-scout named Totor. The comics starring Totor, Les aventures de Totor, chef de patrouille des Hannetons (The Adventures of Totor, Leader of the Cockchafer Patrol), appeared in the magazine Le Boy-Scout Belge between 1926 and 1929.
In the later comic book series, Tintin is a young reporter who is drawn to dangerous international intrigues in which his quick thinking, bravery and chronic good luck save the day. Almost every adventure features Tintin sent off to investigate an assignment, but rarely does he actually turn in a story without first getting caught up in an adventure. Although the strip was Belgian, Hergé was inconsistent or vague about assigning Tintin a nationality, depicting him instead as broadly European. In some of the early books, like Tintin in the Congo or The Black Island, a Belgian identity is fairly explicit. In The Secret of the Unicorn, the reader can unmistakably recognise the streets of Brussels at the beginning of the story. In the television series, Tintin states that he and Snowy are from Brussels in the episode of The Crab with the Golden Claws. Brussels is also explicitly mentioned as Tintin's home address in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. In later adventures, as with other aspects of his character's history and family, Tintin's nationality is usually not directly stated, although some of the street scenes in The Red Sea Sharks have been identified as happening in Brussels.
Readers and critics have described Tintin as a well-rounded yet open-ended character, noting that his rather neutral personality—sometimes labelled as bland—permits a balanced reflection of the evil, folly and foolhardiness which surrounds him. His boy-scout ideals, which represent Hergé's own, are never compromised by the character, and his status allows the reader to assume his position within the story, rather than merely following the adventures of a strong protagonist. Tintin's iconic representation enhances this aspect, with Scott McCloud noting that it "allows readers to mask themselves in a character and safely enter a sensually stimulating world."
Tintin is an intelligent and imaginative character with good powers of deduction. However, while in deep thought, he tends to be absent-minded and fails to notice things around him. He seems to know multiple foreign languages and reads extensively on a variety of subjects. He is skilled at driving automobiles (including a tank), riding horses or motorcycles, and flying aeroplanes and helicopters. Despite his generally delicate and unassuming appearance, Tintin is quite athletic and possesses great physical strength, often getting into fights where he is able to knock out enemies much larger than himself with a single blow. Although he is small as opposed to the other characters, he is an excellent swimmer, has been shown to be a skilled mountaineer, has been shown to do yoga, and can survive falls that would normally cause serious injuries.
Tintin's age is never accurately revealed within the comics. Other characters treat him as a worldly young adult, as shown by the absence of concerns like parents or school, as well as by his wide solo travels all over the globe. He's old enough to enter a pub and drink a beer (The Black Island) and old enough to live alone with his dog in his own apartment. However, he is still referred to as a "young boy", and a "puppy" in The Crab with the Golden Claws. A 1979 television interview with Hergé settled the matter, when Hergé stated that when he first thought about Tintin, the character was 14 or 15 years old, and by the time of the interview stated: "but now, let's say that he is 17." In one shot in the television series episode The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin's passport states his birth year as 1929 (the year of his print debut).
Tintin has no family members: any mention of a mother, father or siblings is noticeably absent. He makes no mention of his family throughout the series. Nowhere is it implied that he is an orphan; it could be argued that he meets his family between adventures. Tintin's lack of relatives is irrelevant to his adventuring; it is the adopted family of friends he makes through his exploits that makes up his family unit.
Unlike other characters such as Captain Haddock or Professor Calculus, Tintin has no discernible past prior to the beginning of the series. Whereas Haddock can recall a particularly fierce storm at sea or Calculus can boast of his athletic past, Tintin's roots prior to Land of the Soviets are never discussed (although in 'The Black Island,' he mentions always loving puzzles). His companions encounter old friends like Captain Chester or Hercule Tarragon, yet Tintin only meets friends or enemies whom he met in previous adventures.
Even the name "Tintin" remains a mystery. Whether it is a first name or a surname is unknown. It is a known hypocoristic form of Augustin. A possibility is that it is not actually the reporter's real name, but rather a pseudonym that the character uses to protect his identity while writing columns for his newspaper, Le Petit Vingtième. At the time when the stories first came out, journalists' usage of pseudonyms was commonplace. The possibility that it may not be his real name is also hinted in Cigars of the Pharaoh when Tintin is accused of poisoning one of a notable sheik's servants. Having been captured and brought to his tent, the enraged sheik demands Tintin's name. Tintin's characteristically placid answer is: "My name? It won't mean a thing to you... but at home they call me Tintin." A simpler theory for his name is the fact that Franco-Belgian comics at the time generally had heroes with eccentric, memorable single names that could pass off as first names or surnames. Many people tend to think of "Tintin" as a surname, but it is likely that Hergé meant to keep it a mystery. Hergé was a great admirer of Benjamin Rabier and may have derived the name (and hairstyle) from Rabier's Tintin lutin (1897). There also have been theories that Tintin is a nickname for Martin or Augustin. One last theory holds that the name "Tintin" signifies nothing, pointing to the character's cryptic nature. As Paul LaFarge writes,
Tintin was a word before it was a name; it means 'nothing,' and the phrase faire tintin loosely means "to go without." Hergé's boy reporter does not bear the name by accident.
Throughout much of the series, Tintin's attitude is characterised by inquisitive tendencies and a noble, forgiving nature. While his idealism earns him the admiration of many people he meets, it also places him in danger on occasion and serves as a foil to the more sceptical demeanour of other characters such as Captain Haddock. And unlike nearly every other character he meets, Tintin can be relied upon to remain calm and cool-headed, even in the worst of circumstances. Only on very rare occasions, such as after Haddock's drunken antics threatened his friends' lives (Explorers on the Moon), could Tintin actually lose his temper.
Tintin's political views are generally ambiguous in many of the books and specific expression of his opinions are rare. While in earlier books such as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo Tintin is characterised as a proud Belgian Catholic, later books avoid specific mention of his views (see Ideology of Tintin). His opinions appear to change over time, though in many situations he can be classified as a pacifist, reflecting a dislike of war. At the beginning of Tintin and the Picaros, he is seen wearing a motorcycle helmet with a peace symbol on it.
Readers of Tintin books have speculated about his sexuality. Marcel Wilmet, spokesperson of Studios Hergé, has confirmed that Tintin is straight. Matthew Parris of The Sunday Times argued that Tintin could be homosexual.
Towards the end of the series, Tintin's character changes to a degree. In later stories, Tintin no longer actively seeks out adventure but is rather forced into a situation by events beyond his control (such as being kidnapped or motivated to rescue a friend). This is especially evident in Flight 714 and Tintin and the Picaros, where Tintin's loss of enthusiasm for adventure is apparent, and his youthful idealism appears to have been replaced by a somewhat more cynical outlook. There has been much debate among readers and critics about this shift in characterisation, as these final adventures have received varying and sometimes negative responses. Critics argue that these books represent either a late period of eccentricity, or puzzling disappointments, while others claim that Tintin's shift represents a more complex depiction of his character. Hergé commented upon this change, noting that in the late phases of his career, "Tintin has lost control, he is not on top of events anymore, he is subjected to them." However, in the unfinished album Tintin and Alph-Art, Tintin regained much of his old adventurous personality, actively investigating suspicious events and murder threats.