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The one Tintin adventure that has everything
on 1 June 2010
Tintin's earliest adventures are often rather underrated in favour of the more sophisticated plotting and artwork of the mid-period high-points, but Cigars of the Pharaoh certainly stands up better than much of the latter-day Tintin (Flight 714, Picaros) and in some ways there's a purity and innocence here that is unmatched in any other Tintin adventure.
What some see as a weakness - the episodic nature dictated by the original 1932 serialisation and tendency of the story to lose sight of the main plot - actually works to its advantage, the story accumulating one fantastic incident after another. Some are of the knockabout slapstick humour variety - the Thompsons make a fine first appearance here in a running theme where they are trying to arrest Tintin and inadvertently saving him from worse situations - while others are highly imaginative and thrilling, particularly to the younger reader.
Here in The Cigars of the Pharaoh, while going on a cruise across the globe with just Snowy as a companion (too early yet for the introduction of Haddock, Calculus et al), Tintin is arrested for drug smuggling, is trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb, is abandoned at sea in a custom-built coffin, is attacked by sharks, conscripted into an Arabian army, faces a firing squad (not for the last time) for spying and is buried alive - and that's not even all the incidents in just the first half of the book! But it's more than just an aimless grand adventure in exotic locations that were the theme of earlier Tintin books. Here Hergé introduces a mystery and an investigative element to Tintin's character, tying all the escapades together rather well through the visual element of the secret symbol that keeps recurring wherever Tintin goes.
Originally serialised in 1932, Cigars of the Pharaoh was completely redrawn and coloured for album publication in 1955 with the assistance of Hergé's studio, and the results are outstanding, giving this book a considerably more smooth and professional look than the adventures around it (Tintin in America, The Blue Lotus). A globe-spanning adventure, the seas, deserts, jungles and rocky North African landscapes are magnificently rendered, as pure an example of the brilliance of Hergé's clear-line work as you'll find anywhere.
And then there's the cover. A minor consideration maybe, but for those of a certain generation who grew up with these Tintin adventures, there's something truly iconic in all the Tintin covers and this is one of the most stylish and most memorable. The theme of ancient Egyptian curses all the rage in the years after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, with thrilling mystical elements that Hergé would successfully draw from again in another of the best Tintin adventures, The Seven Crystal Balls. The themes and the use of locations may be better paced and more balanced in individual Tintin adventures, but Cigars of the Pharaoh delightfully has everything in the one story.