Following Tintin To Real World Adventure (PHOTOS)
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Tintin has hobnobbed with Emirs, cruised the Caribbean seafloor in a shark-shaped submersible and been waylaid by Tibetan snows. An inveterate wanderer, Herge's creation narrowly edges out Waldo and Mr. Peabody for the title of world's most traveled drawing. As comfortable among Arabian dunes as in Shanghai's back alleys, Tintin is the explorer of a world that is exotic yet neat, rendered in sharp colors lassoed by ligne claire strokes -- a geography equal parts childish fantasy and imperial vision.
What began with a Bolshevik uprising in the 1930s, ended in the 1970s with a Pop Art mystery. In the intervening years, Herge taught generations of children that the world is full of treasure and mystery.
Though some of the 24 Tintin books have not aged gracefully -- the Congolese look like Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer" -- Herge's books are still powerful reminders of travel's ultimate goal. The ageless protagonist is forever looking out upon new vistas with wonder or interacting with new peoples he struggles to understand. His tale is one of open questions answered definitively.
"That is Africa," Tintin says to Snowy, his trusty Fox Terrier as they look out on a nearly formless set of brown dunes.
Not the best dialogue, sure, but a beautiful distillation of a point: Africa is not an abstract idea but a solid place. It is a brown stroke on a page, then a vast desert, a jungle, animals, tribes, camels, pyramids and myriad other concrete wonders.
When Tintin first hit the road, Herge's drawings were as close as many of his readers were likely to get to the Andes or Arabia. In fact, Herge himself rarely left tame, little Brussels. The books once owed their romance in part to the lack of verisimilitude that now makes them seem quaint or even silly.
It turns out that Tintin's adventures are less believable precisely because we've been so busy emulating them. He is a victim of his own success: Having proselytized adventure, he's judged by adventurers.
The world is now thick with travelers. Our reality has shrunk to the size of Tintin's cartoon globe. We traded romanticism for accessibility. We can no longer see Tintin as our perfect proxy -- the Western consciousness superimposed on the world -- but we can go where he went.
Here's a guide to take on the world like Tintin: