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Friday, March 22, 2002

The boy who's been everywhere

Step into a world of adventure at new Tintin exhibition

Staff writer

Over the last 73 years, this boy's been everywhere. He's zoomed to the moon in a red-and-white checkered rocket, trekked snow-covered Tibet in search of the yeti and has been saved at the last minute from being sacrificed to the Sun God by angry Aztecs. For all his hair-raising adventures, he hasn't aged a day.

Tintin and Snowy heading off on their rocket

He's none other than Tintin, the Belgian comic book character whose adventures with his dog, Snowy, have taken him from the Congo to China, from South America to Russia. If you're not familiar with him, ask your parents. He was the Harry Potter of previous generations, doing all the incredible things that you've ever dreamed of.

And now "The Adventures of Tintin," an exhibition at Shibuya's Bunkamura Museum, brings his escapades to life with 3-D re-creations that you can marvel at and walk around. Some of these objects were collected by Georges Remi, the creator of Tintin, who wrote under the pen name of Herge. (That's how his initials sounded when they were pronounced in French.) After his death, they were preserved by the Belgian Center for Comic Strips in Brussels. They've been brought here for this exhibition that kids will enjoy. That means no looong explanations and no quiet, somber displays.

Tintin's gang
Thompson and Thomson
Bianca Castafiore
Captain Haddock
Prefessor Cuthbert Calculus

Just as you enter, you'll see our heroic duo running off on their next mission to save the world, projected on a large screen on one wall. Tintin, a journalist who's seeking the truth, and Snowy (Milou in the French original) are always getting themselves in -- and out -- of trouble. Of course, with a little help from their friends.

They include Captain Haddock, Tintin's best friend (his best two-legged one, that is), who can't stop drinking Loch Lomond Scotch whisky. And Professor Cuthbert Calculus, an eccentric inventor who designs a rocketship and a submarine specially for Tintin (who, incidentally, happens to be a great mechanic and can drive anything that moves). Not to leave out Thompson and Thomson, the two befuddled police investigators with a remarkably consistent ability to get everything wrong. And of course, Haddock's loyal butler, Nestor; Bianca Castafiore, the diva singer; and the swindling thief Rastapoupoulos. All of them make an appearance at the exhibition.

Not only Tintin's friends, but also his room has been reproduced straight from the comic strip. The room is unoccupied, Tintin's travel trunk wide open, as though he's left it behind in his hurry to be off -- after all, who's got the time to lounge around, or pack, when there are all these adventures to be had?

Also on show are this intrepid traveler's means of transportation -- though they're pretty unusual for you and me. Here is the shark submarine from his underwater exploits in "Red Rackham's Treasure"; and the checkered rocket (from "Explorers on the Moon"), towering up to the ceiling and ready for lift-off . . .

If you thought his adventures weren't real, there are mementos from his travels to convince you otherwise: a bottle of Haddock's favorite Loch Lomond Scotch whisky (it's empty, of course); the box of Flor Fina cigars from "Cigars of the Pharoah," in which Tintin goes to Egypt looking for the tomb of Kin-Oskh and finds that these cigars bear the Pharoah's ancient sign; or the red-spotted toadstool from "The Shooting Star."

Also notice how the people of the lands he visits are sometimes drawn as ugly savages by Herge -- Africans with thick lips and Japanese with buck teeth. These are racial stereotypes that were not uncommon in Herge's time; fortunately, modern comic artists don't use them any more.

Step into one of Tintin's adventures in one of the many rooms that replicate the strange and wonderful locations he's been to. There's the white, light-bathed room, straight from "Tintin in Tibet" -- where you can even see the yeti's footprints in the snowdrifts. Or the room hung with gaudy red Chinese lanterns, where there's a giant comicbook picture of Tintin (from "The Blue Lotus") being wheeled through a crowded Chinese market street in a rickshaw.

And that's the special wonder of Tintin's world. Though Tintin began his globe-trotting from 1929, Herge didn't travel outside Europe until 1971. He sent Tintin off in rockets at a time when such modes of travel were pure fantasy. In fact, when Herge wrote Tintin's adventures, man hadn't even been to the moon. But Tintin had, in Herge's comic strips.

Obviously Herge didn't need an airplane ticket to go places -- he had his imagination. And it created a universe for this forever-young boy with the shock of hair swept up off his forehead.

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