SF State lecturer helps bring Tintin to the U.S.

If American movie audiences embrace world-traveler Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy, SF State English Lecturer Jennifer Arin will have had something to do with that.

The poster for the movie “The Adventures of Tintin.”

Arin translated 50 pages of background documents related to the popular Belgian comic “The Adventures of Tintin” and its creator, Hergé, from French to English for a U.S. website tied to the Tintin film that will be released in the U.S. on Dec. 21. The information is aimed at helping Tintin fans new and old better understand the artist’s creative process as well as the historical, social and political contexts in which he set each story.

“The Adventures of Tintin” follows Tintin, a young investigative reporter, on a series of adventures around the globe. The comic book series, which was published from the 1920s to the 1970s, is well known in French-speaking Europe. “Every kid grew up with this comic strip,” and some European universities even offer courses on “Tintin-ology,” Arin said.

Arin thinks the movie and the big names attached -- Steven Spielberg and “The Lord of the Rings’” producer and director Peter Jackson -- will introduce Tintin and his companions to new generations of Americans. She also hopes they will impart a little about history and geography along the way.

A photo of SF State English lecturer Jennifer Arin.

SF State English lecturer Jennifer Arin.

Hergé carefully researched history and current events -- from World War II and the space race to lesser-known incidents such as the Grand Chaco war for oil fields in South America -- to create accurate portrayals of the various global locales Tintin visits. As a result, the comics and film can be educational, Arin said, contrasting the series with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, which teach their audience little, if anything, about the colonial-era Caribbean.

The documents Arin translated originally came from a number of Belgian writers who created them when the dawn of the Internet age led many Tintin fans to seek more information about their beloved comic series. More recently, one of the film’s executive directors who was familiar with Arin’s work recommended she retranslate the documents for the new website. “I thought that it would be fun. I love being involved in French language and culture,” she said. “If Tintin can have an adventure, so can I.”

She was given a week to not only convert the documents from French to English, but also fill in gaps in the research and correct historical inaccuracies -- all while continuing to teach at SF State. “I don’t think there was a night I went to bed before two in the morning,” Arin said.

Arin, who uses history to give context to her literature courses, described a class where she connected her lesson to one of the Tintin stories to get students excited about world history and help them understand its value beyond the classroom. The translation work also led Arin herself to further explore world history. “All of a sudden I was having the same adventures as Tintin, one day in Peru, the next in Romania in the time of King Carol II,” she said.

-- Jonathan Morales