Tintin: Destination Moon
Medium: comic
Year: 1950
Writer/artist: Herge
Keywords: Tintin
Format: 62 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 9 April 2021
There was a time when I only knew of two kinds of comics: Asterix and Tintin. They're the big two from European comics in the UK. (The Smurfs are Belgian too, but I never realised that the Smurfs had even been a comic in the first place.) It's worth talking a bit about Tintin in general, because he's an international hit and by far the biggest name in Belgian comics. Herge started drawing the character in 1929 and was still working on new Tintin books when he died in 1983. (His death left Tintin and Alph-Art unfinished.) Herge also invented the ligne claire style, with flat colours, no shading or hatching and always exactly the same clear, simple line quality.
There's a wildly racist one (Tintin in the Congo, 1931), written when the Belgian Empire still owned the Belgian Congo. At the time, it was popular and uncontroversial. Herge later redrew it in colour and ligne claire, with fewer references to colonial rule. That one was published in 1946, but of course today both are still explosive.
Most Tintin books are fine for all readers, though. They're more genre-straddling than Asterix, with adventure, comedy, mystery and action. The later ones were also thoroughly researched. I was an Asterix boy, personally, but I've read my share of both.
Anyway, this was the 16th Tintin book and the first half of a two-parter, with its sequel being Explorers on the Moon. Apparently it puts a lot of effort into being realistic hard SF (for 1950) and has less humour than other Tintin books... but this surprises me, because there's a lot of attempted comedy here. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's amusing. And sometimes it's story-breakingly dumb, e.g. Thomson and Thompson arresting a human skeleton, or Tintin giving food to a bear. It's a baby bear, yes, but that wasn't a clever thing to do. Nice, but not clever.
To be honest, I'm relatively neutral about this book. It's likeable and good-natured, but the humour's capable of misfiring and Captain Haddock's expletives get a bit repetitive in the early pages. The humour's often weak, although it has its moments. The best of these usually involve the deaf old Professor Calculus. I liked the bit where he gets blown through a wall while still in bed, as well as irascible Haddock's ongoing troubles with him. BONK. "Mind out or you'll bump your head!"
I also found it mildly jarring when Tintin's dog Snowy/Milou got dialogue, which was often, although it's clear that this is merely him talking/thinking in Dog Language and that the humans only hear barking.
The serious plot's quite good, though. Tintin, Haddock and Snowy get recruited by the Syldavian government to help Professor Calculus build a rocket to fly to the Moon. This sounded dry and I was expecting a fairly placid narrative, but actually a foreign power is sending spies to infiltrate the mission. There's a death. (Three spies parachute into the base, but we're told that only two of the parachutes managed to open.) One of the named characters is probably a spy, although we don't yet know who. Tintin even gets shot.
The science is impressively accurate and Herge had researched the living daylights out of it. The first real moon landing wasn't until 1969 and even Yuri Gagarin didn't get into space until 1961, but this book from far earlier still mostly stands up today. Apparent errors are explained by plausible-but-different projected technology, so for instance Calculus's rocket doesn't discard bits of itself in stages because it's nuclear powered. It's not just burning rocket fuel. Page 35 is a technical diagram of the rocket. Everyone's scared at the end that they might not survive the flight (a realistic fear) and they expect to black out from the G-force on launch.
There's only one howler and that was unavoidable if the regular heroes were to be in the next book. The first moon landing won't be crewed by trained astronauts, but instead by a deaf old man, a boy reporter, his pet dog and a whiskey-loving idiot who doesn't want to be there.
Visually, it's static. The camera angles are flat and repetitive. Almost everything's the same medium-to-full shot, with all the figures the same size and no high or low shots. It can feel driven by its word balloons, or in extreme cases swamped. (Their positioning tends to cut the page in half and separate the words from the pictures.) It barely even feels as if you're reading a comic a lot of the time, although of course the pictures are important. An artist who drew like Herge would never break into the modern comics industry. That said, though, it's also good-natured, easy to read and sometimes amusing. The art is attractive, in its way. It often feels aimed at children, but I'm sure a lot of them would eat up its gags with a spoon. I'll definitely read the sequel book.
Incidentally, Tintin is known in Japanese as Tantan. Firstly, that's closer to the original French pronunciation. Secondly, "tintin" in a Japanese accent sounds like "penis".