Belgium celebrates as Tintin, the timeless boy detective, marks 75th birthday

Blistering barnacles! Tintin, the world famous cartoon cub reporter, is 75 years old today, and his birthday is being celebrated with a blizzard of publicity.

In Belgium, the home of Tintin's creator, Hergé, the national daily La Libre Belgique devoted its first five pages to the event, and two papers plan to fill today's editions with cartoon strips.

A commemorative coin has been struck, featuring Tintin and his dog Snowy, and Belgium's Finance Minister, Didier Reynders, said Hergé's work had "conferred the highest nobility on Belgian art". France, which has adopted the iconic character (to the annoyance of the Belgians), has also gone cartoon crazy, with Le Figaro printing a special 114-page Tintin issue. None of this can have been anticipated on 10 January 1929 when the first episode of Tintin's exploits, In the Land of the Soviets, appeared in a Catholic newspaper called Le Vingtième Siècle.

In the post-war period the strip became famous as it charted Tintin's exploits around the globe with a cast of larger-than-life characters such as Captain Haddock, Bianca Castafiore and the Thom(p)son twins.

The fan club became enormous. According to legend, General Charles de Gaulle once said: "My only international rival is Tintin." More recently the French National Assembly staged a debate on Tintin's political affiliation.

To date more than 192 million Tintin albums have been sold around the world and, although translated into some 55 languages, 116m of these copies have been in French.

Tintin's life and legacy have not been without controversy, however. Hergé, real name Georges Remi, continued publishing during the German occupation of Belgium in the Second World War, provoking claims of passive collaboration. His work includes many racial stereotypes and jokes, most notoriously during Tintin's exploits in the Congo.

Hergé died in 1983 and the commercial exploitation of Tintin has provoked criticism in Belgium, where some fans claim that tight controls on the use of images restricts the popularity of the work. Moulinsart, which owns the rights, has announced plans for a Steven Spielberg Tintin movie, with Tom Hanks being touted as a possible Captain Haddock. But fans should not hold their breath - film plans have been under discussion for more than 20 years. Moves to set up a museum are not expected to come to fruition before 2007.

Nick Rodwell, the British boss of Moulinsart who is married to Hergé's widow, denies reports estimating his wife's fortune at between €65m (£45m) and €130m.

Mr Rodwell was quoted in La Libre Belgique as describing the figures as "ridiculous".

Hugues Dayez, a Belgian broadcaster whose book Tintin and the Heirs criticised Moulinsart, said: "Tintin continues to sell today and that proves that he is still alive. Even without any new titles and any real new events he continues to be read, and that is a miracle."

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