*It's a puzzle only one man can solve – how did a reporter with a ginger quiff become an international hero?
And why is he everywhere right now? Welcome to The Adventures of Tintin, and The Mystery of the 30-Year Film Adaptation. In 1981, Steven Spielberg thought about making Tintin, the movie; now, finally, we are days from its release. Starring Jamie Bell as the mac-wearing adventurer, the semi-animated spectacular is being accompanied by a slew of books ahead of the world premiere on 22 October.
*Chocolate and beer aside, Tintin may be Belgium's greatest contribution to world culture, and the film's premiere will be held in Brussels, birthplace of his creator, Hergé. His first Tintin strip appeared in Jan-uary 1929, in a children's supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le XX Siecle. This spawned 24 books, which have sold 350 million copies worldwide and been translated into 80 languages. Though firmly rooted in 20th-century Europe, the illustrations have universal appeal, and the stories cross many genres: humour, adventure, detective fiction, science fiction and travel.
*As a reporter who roves the world, Tintin has inspired many a romantic to enter journalism, although he never actually writes an article. His japes usually begin with a chance encounter and end with Tintin thwarting the dastardly plans of a criminal gang or crackpot dictator. Eager and brave, Tintin may not, however, be the most interesting dinner companion. Philip Pullman likes "his blankness", which makes him "an empty page on which adventures can be drawn".
*Tintin has no parents, partner or children, though he has a loyal band of eccentric friends. They include Captain Haddock, the ex-mariner with a colourful vocabulary, Professor Calculus, the selectively deaf inventor, Thompson and Thomson, the bungling twin detectives, and La Signora Castafiore, an obese opera singer with a volatile temper. The white terrier Snowy speaks to the reader, though not to his master. Sometimes Snowy is crucial to the plot, as in The Black Isle, when he accidentally gets squiffy on whisky but redeems himself by scaring off a gorilla.
*Questions have been raised over Tintin's sexuality, though at no time is he romantically engaged. In The Blue Lotus, he saves a young Chinese man from drowning, and they become good friends. In Tintin in Tibet, written 25 years later, Chang Chon-Chen disappears in a plane crash in the Himalayas, and Tintin risks his life to find him, which has prompted speculation over their friendship. Matthew Parris says the evidence that he is gay is "overwhelming", but an official spokesman rules that he is definitely not.
*Hergé set the Tintin adventures against major political and cultural stories of the 20th century, such as communism, space travel, mysticism, exploration, and terrorism. His drawings were meticulous in their detail, especially his depictions of architecture and cars. One of the best plot twists comes in Prisoners of The Sun: Tintin has been captured by Incas who let him name the date of his execution. Thanks to a scrap of newspaper in his prison cell, he knows of a forthcoming solar eclipse, and times the hour of his death to coincide with it. The tribe, impressed that he can apparently command the sun, lets him go. Hergé has been accused of racism, and there have been calls for Tintin in the Congo to be withdrawn from sale. Spielberg's film deals only with one adventure, The Secret Unicorn, which is mercifully controversy-free.