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Meet the ‘Tintinologist’: interview with Michael Farr


By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt

One of the most iconic comic book heroes of the 20th century, Tintin has gained what can only be described as a cult following since he first appeared in Le Petit Vingtième 1929. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Hergé’s boy-reporter warrants his own branch of academic study, Tintinology. Part literary exploration, part socio-historic analysis, Tintinology investigates the narratives behind The Adventures of Tintin and delves deeper into Hergé’s creative interpretation of real political events.

Michael Farr knows more about this specialism than most; one of the world’s leading Tintinologists, he has written extensively on the topic and frequently traverses the globe to deliver lectures to fellow Tintin researchers (or ‘Tintinophiles’ as they are known).

“I first became interested in Tintin as a four-year-old when The Adventures of Tintin became my introduction to reading,” explains Farr, ahead of the THE WORLD OF TINTIN exhibition at the new ArtisTree. “My family were living in Paris at the time so I first read it in French; it hadn’t yet been translated.”

Tintin didn’t stay limited to French for long, though. The series would go on to be translated in a multitude of languages (presently, the figure hovers around 100), something Farr believes would surprise and humble Hergé, were he still alive today. Fortunately, Farr himself had the privilege of meeting the comic book genius in person before his death in 1983.

“Tintin developed out of a European tradition pioneered by Hergé, one based on realism and probability.”

“[Hergé] once showed me a letter from a nine-year-old Indian boy who said he wanted to follow Tintin’s example,” Farr recalls. “With a tear in his eye, Hergé told me: ‘But I wrote this 50 years ago for Belgian boys and girls!’” The global popularity was something of a surprise for Tintin’s creator, who Farr describes as “one of the most charming, modest and unassuming people I have ever come across”.

Despite Hergé’s modesty, it’s the series’ global popularity that has allowed Farr to pursue his research. He describes Tintinology as “the study of all things relating to Tintin, for fun!” but anyone who speaks to ardent Tintin fans and experts will quickly realise that it’s also an established branch of study with an extensive pool of literature and resources. A simple Google search of Tintinology brings up all manner of journal articles and published books. Farr himself has written several, including Tintin: The Complete Companion, the go-to tome for any Tintin fan.

It’s the timelessness of this un-ageing boy-hero that Farr believes keeps the series as popular as ever. “I believe Tintin has such timeless appeal because of the quality of Hergé’s work,” he explains. “The narrative and the drawing, its intense reality, its page-turning excitement and abundant humour. It is a classic of its kind.”

For Farr, one of the most interesting aspects of the series is that despite years of study, it continues to surprise him. “It’s not that the way I read The Adventures of Tintin has changed over the years, but I surprise myself at how often I can read [the comics] and discover new qualities and aspects each time,” he says.

As a subject, Tintinology largely focuses on the richly depicted variety of Tintin’s adventures; Farr attributes this to Hergé’s attention to detail and varied interests. “[Hergé] saw humour in everything and, like Tintin, supported those who were exploited or oppressed,” he says. “[Hergé] was captivated by modern art as well as new technology and developed a particular interest in Eastern philosophy and religion. Tintin developed out of a European tradition pioneered by Hergé, one based on realism and probability.” 

Michael Farr, Tintinologist will give a lecture, ‘The Art of Tintin’ in blueprint on Saturday 18 November as part of The World of Tintin: Conferences.

Read more: 

The HOCA Foundation, in collaboration with The Hergé Museum, presents THE WORLD OF TINTIN  

Wednesday – Sunday, 17 November – 10 December at the new ArtisTree. Due to popular demand, the exhibition will be open daily from 11 – 26 December.

See the Tintin programme page for more details. 

Follow @artistreehk on Instagram for all the #tintin_Artistree action

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