This book is an amazing source of information for the real Tintin fanatics. For those of us who love Tintin, but aren't really up there with the fanatic Tintin worshipers, it's a bit too much.
To start with, note that "Tintin - The Complete Companion" is the English version of a book that, as far as I can determine, was published simultaneously in both English and French ("Tintin, le rêve et la réalité: L'histoire de la création des aventures de Tintin"). Michael Farr is bilingual and I'm guessing (although I don't know for sure) that the two versions are somewhat different. The English version, which I'm reviewing, is primarily focused on discussing the English editions of the Tintin books.
Following a 2-page Introduction the remainder of this book consists of 21 very detailed chapters, each of which discusses a single Tintin adventure. As three of the Tintin adventures are published as a pair of books this implies that all 24 of the Tintin books, from "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" to "Tintin and Alph-Art" (the final unfinished adventure), are covered.
The amount of detail is incredible. Each chapter averages 10 pages, and although there are a lot of pictures and photographs from the Tintin books and other sources, there is also a lot of text.
The following material is present, and often very detailed:
- A synopsis of each story.
- Information about the historical background for each story, for example the Japan-China war, the build-up to WW II, WW II itself (a period of Tintin escapist stories), the Cold War, etc.
- Detailed discussions (sometimes excessively long-winded) about the characters and explanations of how many of them become members of "the Tintin family", reappearing regularly or occasionally in later adventures.
- Discussions of where Hergé found inspiration for stories, characters, locations, machines and other items that made their way into the drawings. There are often pictures from Hergé's files shown side-by-side with the resulting drawings. (The cover of this book is a masterful merging of a drawing from a Tintin book and the photograph that Hergé used as inspiration for the drawing.)
- Some of the Tintin adventures were revised and produced in new versions. For example, most of the stories that were originally in black and white were re-released in color, and sometimes revised once more later. The various versions of each story are compared to see what was changed.
- Although the English version of this book is primarily focused on the English versions of the Tintin books, there are many discussions of what was changed from the original French versions to the English translated versions.
- An analysis of Hergé's development as an artist and storyteller, from fairly primitive drawings and political naivety to sure artistic style and worldly understanding and finally political cynicism.
- Information about how Hergé's life was influenced by his work with Tintin. For example, Hergé was charged with being a collaborator after WW II because he had continued to produce Tintin during the war, and he had medical problems from the stress that accompanied his success.
- Similarly, there is information about how the Tintin stories were influenced by and reflected Hergé's private life: the down-beat "Tintin in Tibet" created while Hergé was depressed and getting divorced, and the hilarious "The Castafiore Emerald" created after his divorce and reflecting his happiness with a new love.
- Hergé's habit of putting himself and his friends into the stories.
- Occasional mistakes made by Hergé are uncovered.
The book ends with a comprehensive index.
If you set out to read this book then you should have a complete collection of the Tintin books in English at hand. And be warned: You will end up spending many, many days before you finally put this book aside. That's because you'll pick up a Tintin adventure to check up on something Michael Farr says about it, and end up reading the whole Tintin book before you return to "Tintin - The Complete Companion".
Even if you have all of the Tintin books on hand, you may still find yourself feeling overwhelmed when Michael Farr begins to compare the various versions of the adventures. Unless you're a die-hard Tintin fanatic you probably don't have the old black and white versions of the early stories in your possession.
I'm giving this book five stars, and it really does deserve it for the incredible amount of detail. But at the same time I'll warn once again that this is a book that is really intended for Tintin fanatics. For more down-to-earth Tintin fans such as myself it is over-kill. I would personally have preferred that Mr. Farr had written a shorter book that only touched on the highlights of his research.
Incidentally, Michael Farr participates in a wonderful little video called "Tintin et moi" ("Tintin and me"). Unfortunately, this video is not readily available, but you may be able to find it on an Internet auction site. Highly recommended. (Not to be confused with the book of the same name.)