Tuesday, May 22, 2007

When Tintin joined Greenpeace

I cannot shut my computer today, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hergé (the father of Tintin) without sharing this image and a few anecdotes.

Like many Francophone men (children) of my generation I have been profoundly inspired by Tintin. If you ask me about the authors who have had a great influence on my upbringing, I will say Ivan Illich first, and Tintin/Hergé second (but of course, chronologically Hergé came first).

So, in 1980 when we at Greenpeace were looking out for a second boat to supplement the Rainbow Warrior, I was seriously impressed when the scoping team we had sent across all European ports came back and recommended we buy an old North Sea pilot boat called the Sirius. The Sirius, of course, was also the name of Tintin's/Haddock's boat in Red Rackham's Treasure!

Next thing I remember: I called the Hergé Studios in Brussels, took the train from Paris, and met with Bob De Moor, Hergé's right-hand (and right paintbrush). Bob de Moor was known for having done a lot of the "real life sketches" that appeared in Tintin, so I asked him if Tintin's Sirius was our Sirius. The answer was no: De Moor had sketched Tintin's Sirius himself from a boat in Antwerp that wasn't called Sirius, and he wasn't sure how it ended up being called Sirius in the book. Never mind, I said: Tintin today (read early 1981) would jump on the Greenpeace boat to save whales and stop nuclear waste dumping at sea, wouldn't he? Bob de Moor agreed, and he said he would discuss it with Hergé.

Things dragged on for a while longer afterward, due to a combination of factors (Hergé agreed but his Finance guys made an initial offer that looked extravagant to the tiny Greenpeace organization of the time; then Hergé got increasingly sick until he died; and Greenpeace management -- did it really exist at the time? -- was in many ways extravagant too). Jean-Marc Pias, one of the main Greenpeace designers at the time (who since made a very successful career in the coffee table book publishing business in Paris' Quartier Latin) followed up some time later, and finalized a deal whereby Tintin became a virtual crew member of Greenpeace's Antarctica campaign. The poster of Tintin on the Greenpeace zodiac sold faster than croissants on a Saturday morning in a Paris bakery.

A couple of years ago, I bought the catalogue of the exhibition "Tintin et les bateaux" (Tintin and boats). The authors did not seem to know that Tintin had been a proud Greenpeace crew member. Or maybe they did, but as the exhibition was displayed at Paris' Musée de la Marine, it's possible that they thought it was better not to emphasize that Tintin had joined the organisation that had campaigned against nuclear weapons testing. After all, according to a legend, General De Gaulle, father of the French atomic bomb once said that his only rival was Tintin...

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