Tintin is the universal Everyboy: All we know for certain about his background is that he's European. He has no parents or family. His quaint style of dress—signature plus fours and a sky-blue sweater—locks him in a permanent early adolescence circa 1929. That's when he debuted in the children's supplement of a Belgian newspaper. His nationality and religion aren't specified; we may surmise that he is Catholic and Belgian, like the newspaper and his creator, but after his first two adventures, to the Soviet Union and the Congo, there's scarcely a clue. His final adventure, "Tintin and the Picaros," was published in 1976.
What makes the imaginary world of Tintin special is that it spans the most interesting places in the real world. In 24 colorful, fast-paced graphic novels, known to the faithful as "albums," Tintin and his devoted dog, Snowy, climb the peaks of the Himalayas, sail the high seas, trek across the Arabian desert and the South American jungle, and even fly to the moon—19 years before Neil Armstrong. And what makes Planet Tintin such a familiar, congenial place is the stable cast of characters: his irascible seadog sidekick, Capt. Haddock; the bumbling policemen Thomson and Thompson; the eccentric scientist Prof. Calculus.
The key to successful genre fiction is absolute belief in the improbable. The Tintin books are full of humor, slapstick and absurd, but there's scarcely a gleam of irony. The bad guys are bad, and Tintin is pure of heart, brave and true. Hergé wasn't widely traveled, venturing outside Europe for the first time late in life; nor was he well-read. But like his Everyboy hero, Hergé retained the sense of wonder about the world that most people lose in the transition to adulthood. Perhaps that's why his readers are so loyal, returning to the books later in life and giving them to their own children, to refresh the idealistic enthusiasm of youth that Tintin embodies.