If Tintin is God, which he is, Michael Farr is some sort of cartoony Jesus. This marvellous man has spent the last three decades researching our beloved. Absolutely everything you could ever want to know is summarised in Tintin: The Complete Companion, which I’ll happily plug the new edition of in the knowledge it’s gonna be good. This is quite interesting because Michael Farr is in fact English, extortionately so. Tintin by contrast is Bruxellois, so originally you had to go somewhere French in order to read him. ‘As a small child I lived in Paris, so it was the first thing I read when I was four. I moved to Britain in the same year it first was published in English.’ I’m one up on him already – I first read it in English aged three.
Still, Farr does have one edge I’d never have. He’s met The Master: Hergé himself. This began when Farr was a reporter. Tintin, of course, was ‘an inspiration’. ‘And then to cap it all, in 1978 I asked for an interview with Hergé. He was very shy of publicity, but I was able to have lunch with him. He was so shy we had to have it in a corner behind a screen. But my academic interest was already there.’
That was that. The great thing about Farr though is that he’s never lost any of his boyish enthusiasm for Tintin the adventurer. He acknowledges it as a fabulous passion. But we shouldn’t take it especially seriously. ‘Tintin and Hergé have been elevated onto this great pedestal. Hergé hated all this sort of flannel – all this philosophising and literary stuff. He created Tintin to entertain children. People were riveted by it, but this was produced for fun. But on the other hand, it’s still serious literature and good art. The point is we need to keep it in proportion. Hergé was a very significant artist. From a literary point of view that quality is much greater than you might think because he put a tremendous amount of research into it. The language, if you read it in French, is also excellent.’
The problem with being a deathcore fan is that there is only so much core you can death over. If I was to read, say, Destination Moon again I would have difficulty deriving a good deal of enjoyment from it. I’ve already read it about fifty or sixty times. There’s no way I can conjure the same magic it gave the first two-dozen times I read it. Farr disputes this. ‘I don’t think it does wear off. It’s terribly rewarding to re-read books. It’s visual, and then you’ve got the story as well. But one is always discovering new slants. People often show me things I haven’t seen before. Look at the backgrounds for example – they are amazing.’
What’s his favourite book? ‘An impossible question’, but King Ottokar’s Sceptre, Blue Lotus and Castafiore Emerald spring to mind. All nice, perhaps a smidge conservative choices. His least favourite, unbelievably, is ‘Flight 714: Hergé stuck his neck out rather further than he normally did in terms of the story.’ Disgraceful, it was always my favourite. Though he is right about the story I suppose.
In the wake of the film, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, Farr is rather optimistic about the future of Tintin – Hollywood and beyond. ‘It’s quite exciting, which you’d expect. It’s a great improvement on what’s been done before. Thing is it’s actually been in the works about thirty years. Three months before his death in 1983, Hergé received a note from Spielberg asking to make the films. He never replied, so they’ve had to wait till now to release it.They’ll have had to pad it out a bit. So you will have these new characters. And I wonder what Hergé would have had to say about that. Because’- a knowing pause – ‘he was rather fussy you know’.