Lovely Five Books interview with Michael Farr, a “Tintinologist,” who discusses his favorite five books related to Herge’ and Tintin. Not all of them are Tintin books, but I found this history of “The Blue Lotus” fascinating:
I think one can safely say that The Blue Lotus is the most important Tintin adventure. Tintin first moves East with The Cigarsof the Pharaoh. The Blue Lotus, written in 1934, continues the adventure in China. When he started it, Hergé got a letter from a priest at Leuven University [near Brussels] saying: “I gather you’re sending Tintin to China. Be sure that you mug up on things Chinese and don’t just stereotype. We have a number of Chinese students here who you could talk to.” Hergé took up this offer and met several of the students. One of them in particular, called Chang Chong Chen, had tea with him on Sunday May 1st 1934 and they immediately struck it off. They were born in the same year, they had the same sign of the zodiac, the same interests, and Hergé was delighted to learn about China through this young Chinaman. A great friendship developed instantly. Chang would come every Sunday for tea, Hergé would give him his latest plate drawings for The Blue Lotus, Chang would write in the Chinese ideograms and they would have long discussions about art and philosophy and everything Chinese.
The result is a masterpiece. Tintin is immersed in extreme realism – Shanghai exactly as it was in 1934. It takes Tintin to a level we hadn’t seen before, because the previous adventures were approximations of a country or whatever Hergé could discover about them. They didn’t have the rich, accurate detail of The Blue Lotus. It is beautifully drawn by both of them, because the Chinese detail was done by Chang. Hergé suggested that Chang’s name should be on the title page, but he declined. Chang then went home and they lost contact for a very long time, but their friendship was reflected in the book in the character also called Chang Chong Chen – the orphan boy who is saved from the flooded waters of the Yangtze by Tintin, and who becomes Tintin’s closest friend in this adventure. That was mirroring in the book what was happening in real life. After The Blue Lotus everything was totally different.
Let me urge you strongly to buy all of the Tintin graphic novels for your kids. They are wonderful. My kids — even Nora — have read them over and over and over. Try to buy the single-issue paperbacks, not the three-in-one smaller editions.