Tintin: Where Do I Start?

He might have been created a continent away and before your parents were even born, but the comics legend TinTin is a verifiable treasure for the comics medium. This holiday season, director Steven Spielberg is introducing TinTin to the United States at large with the motion capture 3D film The Adventures of Tintin but the real adventure starts and ends with the comics themselves.

Created in 1929 by Belgian artist Georges Rémi (going under the pen name of Hergé), Tintin brought to life the boy’s-adventure genre that would be later carried out by American comics and juvenile literature and film for decades to come. Tintin was a young reporter who travels the world in search of adventure and a new story to tell, only to be confounded by mysteries that takes the help of his friends to solve. Luckily, Tintin had some of the most colorful friends out there – from diminutive dog Snowy to the gruff Captain Haddock, along with a host of other bit players that made Tintin’s world one of the most imaginative of its time.

Now with the movie on its way and American publishers finally (frankly) getting all the Tintin books back in print, iFanboy gives you a comprehensive guide to the must-have books to get to know Tintin for you and even a young child in your family.

The Secret of the Unicorn: Considered one of the key volumes in the 24 Tintin books created by Hergé, this book follows Tintin and Haddock on the search for secret treasure in the shadow of the captain’s long-lost ancestor Sir Francis Haddock and a fearsome pirate named Red Rackham. The artist’s eye for detail is on full display here, from the minute ship detail on the model ships as well as the larger set pieces as their journey goes on. Spielberg’s movie is based on this volume as well as its sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Red Rackham’s Treasure: You can’t get one without the other, as this book tells the final chapters of the story started in The Secret of the Unicorn. As Tintin and Haddock continue their quest for the 17th century Navy ship Unicorn, they come across an eccentric inventor named Professor Calculus who wants the ship for himself – a character that would go on to be one of the most loveable characters in the series. The book is replete with submersibles and diving adventures, as well as appearance by the terror-inducing duo Thomson and Thompson. This book is said to be the best-selling story of the entire Tintin catalog, and is worth a buy in my book.

Tintin in Tibet: This Eastern-oriented tome shows the titular character traversing the relatively sparse terrain of the Tibetan plateau in search of a friend in trouble. Captain Haddock provides much in the way of slapstick comic relief in the book, even when confronted with monstrosities like a Yeti. This volume is said to have been Hergé’s favorite book in the Tintin series, being the result of a breakthrough in the author’s personal turmoil dealing with his success at the time.

The Castafiore Emerald: This later graphic novel by Hergé shows the cartoonist rebelling against the stereotypical Tintin adventure format and finding a new way to delight readers. One of the most straight-up humorous stories Hergé has ever done, this shows Tintin and Haddock being visited by a popular opera star and her entourage that includes photographers, a TV crew, a brass band and even a band of gypsies. This isn’t the first Tintin adventure you’d want to read, but it’s far from the last one you’d read.


  1. You gotta do the two-part Moon mission too. Essential stuff.

    I’d also say avoid the hardcover collections. Go full format paperback. One book at a time. The jam-packed grid layouts make the oversized treatment a must.

    • The Moon story is awesome, too!!!!

    • Yes! I forget if it’s in Destination: Moon or Explorers on the Moon, but I can remember, as a kid, poring over the schematic of that red and white checked rocket endlessly. And Snowy got a bubble-headed spacesuit too!

    • Ah man, you just reminded me I’ve got a poster of that in French, rolled up in a tube somewhere. It was Explorers on the Moon. In French it’s called ‘On A Marche Sur La Lune’ which directly translated just means, ‘We Walked On The Moon.’

  2. Thanks for doing,t his guys. I’ve been wanting to read some Tintin. And when I casually mentioned that to my Mom (who is *not* a comics reader at all), her eyes lit up and she started going on and on about how much those books meant to her when she was a kid. It’s wonderful to see a comics property with that kind of widespread appeal.

  3. What’s with ‘Prisoners Of The Sun’ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    BEST Tintin story ever told!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Tintin was a major part of my childhood reading. I had the large, full format books from Europe than Paul mentioned in his post and they’ve long since fallen apart from the multiple readings over the years.

    I’d add “The Crab with the Golden Claws” to this article’s list. It’s a straight up, globe-trotting detective adventure. And it’s a good one to start with, as it’s the first to feature Captain Haddock.

    I remember being amused as a kid by “Tintin in America”. Hergè’s perception of America, at least as he expressed in the comic, was Tintin battling gangsters (and Al Capone?) in the sprawling metropolis of Chicago and then encountering Indians basically when he left the city limits.

    The series has some bonkers stories, though. “The Shooting Star” has giant exploding mushrooms, a gorilla runs rampant in a Scottish castle in “The Black Island”, and “Flight 714” deals with ancient aliens and telepathy. All cracking stories, but not the best to jump in. Although, who knows? Just pick up a story and dive in.

  5. The two moon adventures are great as well! And if at all possible, read them in their original language. Something about the translation that doesn’t always work.

  6. Good picks. I’d also add the Moon books to the list. There’s a couple of things I’d just note with your picks:

    Tintin in Tibet shouldn’t be read without first reading The Blue Lotus. Without knowing Tintin’s friend Chang who appeared in that earlier volume, a lot of the heart of the book is missing. Blue Lotus was also the turning point for Herge in the type and depth of research he did for his books, and really is the first time his voice became clear.

    Although I love Castafiore Emerald I really do believe it should be the last Tintin book you read. It’s jam packed in terms of easter eggs and returning characters from previous stories which are completely lost if you haven’t read them.

    All of us lucky EU readers have had the chance to see Spielberg’s interpretation of Tintin for the past couple of weeks and personally I was blown away by it both times. It’s different enough to work as a good summer blockbuster but completely respectful in tone to Herge’s work. Herge also makes an excellent cameo in the movie far surpassing any of Stan Lee’s great ones in the Marvel movies.

  7. I loved these books growing up. They showed me a bigger world of comics beyond the superhero stuff. And my daughter (now grown) loves them as much as I do. Helped make her a voracious reader!

  8. Start with an episode of the cartoon. 20 minutes of that and you will be addicted for life.

    There was also a documentary called TinTin and Me from 2003. Great, great stuff, interviews with Hergé, history behind the politics of the comic and it’s social impact.

    My sister had her first children in few months ago. She had been saving stuff for the nursery. Somewhere she found very old copies of TinTin and set them up. The kid has those to look forward to