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AISHWARYA  SUBRAMANIAN
LEFT OF COOL

Left of Cool abandons the respectable and the popular, and turns its gaze to the odd and wonderful.

Fanboy Lichtenstein and the ‘blank slate’ that is Tintin

enri Matisse's The Dance hangs on the wall. In front of it sits a young man in an armchair, a table lamp at his elbow and a dog lying at his feet. The young man has a tuft of hair that looks familiar. Someone is trying to kill him, judging by the knife flying through a crack in the door.

The painting is by Roy Lichtenstein, the young man is Georges Remi's Tintin. Lichtenstein was famously a fan of the Belgian artist and writer who was better known as Hergé. He also seems to have been a fan of Matisse; he created another version of The Dance (this one did not feature Tintin) as well. But this layered painting, featuring artwork within artwork and tributes to more than one artist, was created for the cover of a book by one of Lichtenstein's friends, Frederic Tuten's Tintin in the New World.

One of the things that make the Adventures of Tintin so appealing is the character's complete lack of any personality, making it possible for every reader to identify with him. He is a bland do-gooder, unaffected by any strong political beliefs, appetites or emotions. It's his companions who provide that element—Captain Haddock with his anger management issues, his passion for his ancestry and his love of whiskey; Professor Calculus and his single-minded obsession with science; even Snowy the dog displays more emotion than Tintin himself. As for sex, it's hard to imagine the young reporter even contemplating the possibility.

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In many ways the book is deliberately outrageous, playing on the incongruity of Hergé’s character in this setting.

Tuten's book plucks Tintin out of this comfortably emotionless existence. At the beginning of the book Tintin dismisses the world of "Adults ... all for lust and murder". "I shall always be glad to have stayed stunted at twelve," he thinks, but this situation is about to change when an anonymous letter from Belgium sends Tintin, Haddock and Snowy to Peru, to investigate some mystery within the remains of Machu Picchu.

ike the Lichtenstein piece on its cover, Tintin in the New World is a tribute to more than one master. In Peru, Tintin meets a group composed of Herr Peeperkorn, Herr Naptha, Signor Settembrini and Madame Clavdia Chauchat, characters who will be familiar to readers of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. All four characters embody wildly different worldviews and Tintin is sucked into their debates. Simultaneously he falls in love with Clavdia, leading to a sexual encounter that would be permanently scarring were it not so entertaining. ("Oh! Tintin, your words compensate for your inexperience. But leave words now, and let's swim longer in the flowing wet of love.")

In many ways the book is deliberately outrageous, playing on the incongruity of Hergé's character in this setting and often creating an over-the-top parody of its own genre. We see Tintin discussing Second Empire architecture, being psychoanalysed, and turning to vegetarianism; about a quarter of the book is taken up by an extended dream sequence in which Tintin and Clavdia grow old together and fight persecution from the villainous Peeperkorn. Eventually, Tintin will be goaded by his emotions into doing something unforgivable. The world is no longer simple, its lines no longer clear. How can Tintin go about the world bringing justice when, he now knows, "all are guilty, even as they sleep, guilty of mischief done or yet to be done? The human womb breeds human monsters, sucking eel mouths of desire and wilfulness." If this all seems a bit excessive, we're never in doubt that it's meant to.

There can be no doubt that Hergé knew of Tuten's book. While the whole thing was published some years after his death, chapters were published during his lifetime, and the book as a whole is "dedicated to the memory of my friend Georges Remi (Hergé)". Created with permission of a sort, then, it falls somewhere between parody and authorised sequel, homage and critique. I suspect Hergé approved.

 
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