Blog | As Tintin turns 85, we look back at his Scouting origins

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Today marks the 85th birthday of Tintin, Hergé's world-famous comic book character. But Tintin has much to thank the Scout Movement for…

Honest, resourceful and compassionate: in many ways, Tintin is the archetypal Scout. Through his quick thinking, heroic actions and good turns, the intrepid boy reporter is always able to solve the mystery and save his friends.

Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé, Tintin first appeared in 1929. His first comic strip adventure paved the way for 23 more dramatic, action-packed tales in which Tintin hacked his way through jungles, crossed deserts, landed on strange islands, trekked across mountain ranges, descended beneath the waves and even voyaged to the Moon. Tintin has also starred in video games, a television series and numerous feature films including Steven Spielberg’s 2011 blockbuster The Adventures of Tintin.

Hergé join the Scouts

The key link between Tintin and Scouting is his creator, who was a keen Scout in his youth. Hergé joined the Scouts of Belgium in 1919 at the age of 12. It was a revelation. ‘My childhood seemed to me very grey,’ Hergé said in 1973. ‘Of course I have memories, but these do not begin to brighten, to become coloured, until the moment I discovered Scouting.’ It is clear that the fun, challenge and adventure he found there brought out something wonderful in the young artist.

As a Scout, Georges was a natural leader, with a quick sense of humour, a gift for inspiring others and an insatiable appetite for adventure. He soon became Patrol Leader of Squirrel Patrol, assuming the name ‘Curious Fox’, an apt moniker, for he had an inquisitive nature and keen powers of observation.

An eye for detail and a big break

Hergé sketched obsessively in the Scouts, often squirreling away details for later use. Some of this material later became the visual inspiration for the Tintin adventures. A sketch of the St. Boniface Scouts roped together on a 1923 expedition climbing in the Pyrenees for example, would later be transformed into an illustration for the 1959 adventure Tintin in Tibet. ‘The Pyrenees,’ he said, ‘discovered with the St. Boniface Scouts, was the Tibet of my youth.’   

As well as providing Hergé with a love of the outdoors and a chance to experience the wider world, Scouting gave him his first opportunity to be a professional artist. His illustrations for the St. Boniface Scouts’ magazine caught the eye of Rene Weverbergh, the Scouter responsible for the Brussels Scout District. Before he knew it, aged just 17, Georges had landed himself a job on Le Boy Scout (later Le Boy Scout Belge), the national magazine.  

Tintin

Tintin and Totor

One of his early cartoon creations for the magazine was a Scout Patrol Leader named Totor, who became the prototype for Tintin. Modelled on Remi’s own experiences, Totor bore a passing resemblance to the young reporter and was also accompanied by a faithful ‘Snowy-esque’ dog. Hergé later described the two characters’ relationship as that of ‘little brothers’, and always maintained that Tintin forever kept ‘the spirit of a Boy Scout.’

The Belgian Scout magazine proved to be a stepping stone towards even greater things, as Hergé’s mentor Rene Weverbergh subsequently recommended him to Le Vingtième Siècle, where he worked initially in the subscriptions department before getting a break in the art department. As an illustrator, his creative impulses were given free rein, giving rise to the first appearance of Tintin in a full-length adventure on 10 January 1929.

The year before, in 1928, Hergé had been aware of the travels of a 15-year-old Danish Scout called Palle Huld, who went around the world in 44 days. Palle's experiences may also have helped to shape Tintin's own globe-trotting adventures as Hergé remembered newspaper reports and contemporary accounts of the young Scout's epic voyage.

Shared ideals

Renowned Tintinologist Michael Farr has summed up the special relationship between Tintin and the Scouts. ‘As a young man, Scouting was Herge’s main preoccupation; even passion. Its code, principles and enthusiasm were his and were to be embodied in Tintin, as much a Scout as a reporter.’ 

Although Hergé died in 1983, his character continues to thrive and today, Tintin books have sold more than 200 million copies in 70 different languages. The eponymous hero’s 85th birthday will be marked with events across the globe, including festivals in Belgium and a special academic symposium for Tintinologists in London.

Scouting has a similarly global reach, with more than 40 million members in 162 countries. Get involved and become part of this worldwide Movement. You can find out more amazing facts about Scouts here.

Win Tintin treasures!

Scouting magazine also has five copies of a new Tintin book to give away. Hergé and the Treasures of Tintin by Dominique Maricq (RRP £30), with illustrations from Hergé’s personal archives, delves deep into Tintin’s world with more than 20 removable documents. For your chance to win a copy, email your contact details to scouting.magazine@scouts.org.uk with the subject line ‘Tintin giveaway’ before 31 March. Scouts can also save £10 on each copy ordered until 30 April – just call 0844 576 8122, quoting code AD196.

Many thanks to Michael Loomes for his help with this blog; Michael is curator of The Story of Scouting Museum at Waddecar Scout Activity Centre, in Lancashire.

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