Tintin, Hergé's boy reporter and star of 260 million books sold, has now been facing deadly foes and myriad mysteries for close to 100 years. Is his appeal beginning to wane, some 40 years after the death of his creator?
He's one of Belgium’s greatest and most recognisable exports, a comic book icon whose adventures have been translated into 130 different languages and have been made into TV shows and even a Hollywood blockbuster.
Tintin still occupies a prominent place alongside great classics such as Asterix, the Smurfs or Gaston Lagaffe in comic book stores in Belgium. However, booksellers are seeing fewer young people buying his adventures. Instead, tourists or adults who want to introduce Tintin to their children or grandchildren make up the majority of customers.
Some bookstores no longer even stock Tintin books, especially smaller stores which now focus on more modern titles. They still order copies on demand, but no longer hold large amounts in storage or on the shelves.
While it is difficult to get exact numbers of sales, figures recently published in the Belgian press suggest that four million albums are still sold each year, many of them in China, with Hergé's best-selling story being the controversial ‘Tintin in the Congo’.
Four million is not a number to be sniffed at, of course, but it is clear that the appeal of the Belgian icon is beginning to fade with younger audiences, despite the success of Steven Spielberg's film ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ in 2011.
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Tintin’s fans now tend to be closer to 70 than seven. Some attribute that to the wishes of Hergé himself who demanded that Tintin’s adventures cease upon his death. Unlike Asterix, whose adventures continue despite the death of its two creators, Goscinny and Uderzo, Tintin is frozen in time with the 24th and last book, the unfinished and posthumous ‘Tintin and the Alph-Art’, released in 1986.
The boy reporter continues to be a money-spinner in other areas though with merchandise and toys outstripping the sales of books, with figurines, scale models, postcards and T-shirts proving to be wildly popular.
The clientele for these are still of the older generation, but when a model of the shark submarine from ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ can sell for around 1500 euros, it is unsurprising that it is adults who hold Tintin close to their hearts that is keeping him in business.