Up until a few weeks ago, I was under the impression that Tintin was a comic book character. I grew up reading and immensely enjoying his adventures (in fact, you could say that they taught me to read, and they endowed me with a preference for rather old-fashioned ways of speaking), and later, I really became a fan. I bought the books, and the biographies; I visited the events and the exhibitions (even though they quite often weren’t that good), and I generally turned a blind eye to the obsessiveness with which Moulinsart protected their posessions. After all, Tintin was a comic book character, and as such couldn’t quite defend himself against plagiarism and satire.
But no more. It would seem that Moulinsart has found a new enemy: the fan. A decade after Paramount tried (and failed) to remove any and all Star Trek material from unlicensed websites (and Fox’s Monty Burns-like lawyers tried the same with fan sites celebrating the X-Files and Simpsons, succeeding only in alienating their own hardcore audience – Joe), Moulinsart has decided that, with all their copyrights and trademarks, their investments still aren’t protected well enough. They need more.
And so they sent a cease and desist letter to Objectif Tintin, arguably the best informed and most enjoyable source of Tintin-related information on the web . Their complaint ? Objectif Tintin used elements from HergĂ©’s oeuvre in their logo and illustrations (even though, as Didier Pasamonik asserts on Actua BD, this is fully covered by the Belgian quotation law), and they mentioned or even advertised events that were not licensed by Moulinsart. In other words, Objectif Tintin, in their attempt to be an objective (hence the name) and complete source of information for Tintin fans, failed to ask Moulinsart first if they could publish something.
(Blistering barnacles! Captain Haddock mirrors the shock and surprise of many a Tintin fan at this strange action which effectively aims to stop free advertising for their own company’s character; (c) Moulinsart)
That, my friends, amounts to nothing more than censorship. And it was then that I finally understood that Tintin is no longer a comic book character – it’s a brand. Moulinsart couldn’t care less that Tintin’s readership is rapidly aging, and that younger readers are a bit bored with his old-fashioned adventures and values. After all, Tintin is a brand for chocolates, toys and most of all, fashion. HergĂ©’s work has become a reference book for the design of t-shirts, jackets, sweaters and more. And brands need protecting. If you put “Coca-Cola” on a rug, you had better asked (and paid) Coca-Cola beforehand.
Oh well, I think I’ll pull out The Black Island tonight and ruminate on how cool it all was.
Wim Lockefeer lives in Belgium and when not trying to save the world from the tyranny of dictatorial machines writes extensively on comics culture and art; you can read more of his work on his own Ephemerist blog.