Tintin's creator Herge turns 100
Updated: 2007-05-21 11:11

Belgian cartoonist Herge, pictured in 1972

Tuesday marks the centenary of the birth of the man who gave the world the immortal boy reporter Tintin, along with his faithful companions Captain Haddock and trusty little dog Snowy.

The eternally youthful creation of Belgian cartoonist Herge has never lost his charm throughout seven decades, his unmistakable tuft of hair growing into one of the great emblems of popular culture, continuing in popularity around the world long after his creator's death 24 years ago.

Herge, born May 22, 1907 in Brussels, was set to be celebrated here on Tuesday by faithful tintinophiles just days after movie heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson announced they were joining forces to direct and produce a digital 3-D trilogy based on the comic-strip reporter.

"We could not wish for a greater tribute," said Nick Rodwell, head of Moulinsart, a company managing the rights and legacy of Herge.

Herge's name is simply a phonetic rendering in French of the two initials, reversed, of the creator's real name, Georges Remi.

As early as age 17 he was signing his cartoons RG, developing this later into the more fanciful "Herge" -- the French pronunciation of the letters "RG."

By 1926, aged only 19, he had created a cartoon character for the Belgian Boy Scouts called Totor, a forerunner of Tintin who first saw the light of day in January 1929 in the pages of Petit Vingtieme, a youth supplement of the Belgian Roman Catholic newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle (20th Century).

The first adventure was entitled "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets," and by the time of "Tintin in the Congo," in 1931, Tintin already had a huge following.

Then after "Tintin in America" and "The Pharaoh's Cigars," Herge sent his hero off to China, helped by a Chinese student in Brussels called Tchang Tchong-jen.

The outcome was Herge's first cartoon book containing a particularly strong narrative called "The Blue Lotus," in which our hero fights on behalf of the Chinese people against Japanese occupation.

Then come World War II and the occupation of Belgium by the Germans. Herge was to make a grievous error of judgment. He published Tintin's adventures in the Brussels newspaper Le Soir while it was under Nazi control.

Worse still, in 1942, there also appeared a story of his called "The Mystery Star," which prompted charges of anti-Semitism, a charge Herge denied.

But this dark period also saw the appearance of some of Herge's best work, including "The Crab With the Golden Claws," "The Secret of the Unicorn," "The Treasure of Rackham the Red" and "The Seven Crystal Balls."

Herge and his Tintin were quickly back in favour after the war. Tintin, who had his own newspaper by 1946, now achieved new fame among a growing international public.

But Herge, under pressure of work and suffering from personal problems, began to suffer fits of depression that slowed down his output.

Nevertheless Tintin pressed ahead with his adventures, reaching the moon a full 15 years before astronaut Neil Armstrong.

"Tintin in Tibet" (1960) finds Herge turning to oriental philosophy, evoking existential angst in what is considered his most personal statement.

Honours were heaped on the veteran cartoonist throughout the 1970s.

But some of his earlier genius began to fade in the later cartoon books, and he died of leukemia on March 3, 1983.

Fans are going to have to wait a while for the Spielberg version of the Tintin saga. The first of the trilogy is not expected for cinema release before 2009 or 2010.

Meanwhile Belgium is issuing a special commemorative stamp to mark the centenary of its celebrated son.

Tuesday also sees the laying of a foundation stone for a new Herge Museum at Louvain-La-Neuve, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Brussels.

And a special exhibition at city hall in Brussels will be open until June 3.